Conquer Paper Clutter
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Conquer Paper Clutter

Here's how to end your paperwork nightmares.

The mail arrives daily, and you place it in neat little piles. After a few days, the piles grow into a mountain of bills, statements, brochures, catalogs and solicitations. The bigger it gets, the more daunting it is. To keep the mail under control, and make sure nothing falls through the cracks:

Make a space.

The best place to tackle mail, says organizational expert Julie Morgenstern, is where it naturally piles up. "It's easy to forget mail that's been dropped on a desk in the spare bedroom," she says. "Instead, make your workspace where the piles accumulate -- like the kitchen table."

Get a freestanding file folder for action files (bills, school stuff) and reserve files (paid bills, brochures, medical forms). Each family member should have a file for correspondence and invitations.

Make it routine.

Set aside time each day to sort and stamp. You can probably sift though a pile a day in less than 15 minutes. "Whatever you open, deal with it right away," says Morgenstern. "If it's a bill, pay or file it. A form, fill it out. A letter from the school, read it. An invitation, respond."

Snap-to decisions.

Give mail that requires more consideration a finite amount of attention. "One of the biggest time wasters is thinking about something too long," says time-management pro David Allen. You could spend hours pouring over camp brochures, weighing the pros and cons of each place, talking about it with friends. Or you could make an executive decision, and take action.

Pay bills online.

"All major banks offer this free service to account holders," says Morgenstern. The way it works: At the bank Web site, you set up a list of payees (e.g., the phone company) and your account numbers. Arrange for automatic payments whereby the payee will electronically send a bill to the bank, and the bank (with your approval), will wire transfer the amount within 2 business days. All you need to do is click "yes." What's more, the bank will keep permanent records, so you don't have to.

When all else fails, call in a pro.

A one-time consultation with an organizational expert might be just the thing. The National Association of Professional Organizers can provide you with a list of pros in your area, free of charge. Go to www.napo.net for details.

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