opt in opt outIf the largest source of paper clutter in your business or home office is mail, you are not alone.  The statistics quoted by the National Association of Professional Organizers regarding mail are staggering.

  • The average American buys 668 books and 9,000 magazines annually. That is the equivalent to a small town library in the US in one person’s lifetime.
  • The average American receives 49,060 pieces of mail in their lifetime; 1/3 of it is junk mail.
  • About 80% of clutter in your home or office is a result of disorganization, not lack of space.

The good news, is that there are a three simple things you can do to develop a better paper mail management system.

The first step to managing your paper mail is to identify what is necessary to keep but could be obtained in an electronic form.

For instance, if much of your paper mail consists of bills, consider switching to paperless statements.  This can be accomplished easily by connecting to your account online or contacting your provider directly.  In lieu of a paper statement, you can request to receive an electronic email notification.  The electronic form of the bill can be saved, if required for tax purposes, in a digital filing system.  If you have no legal need to keep the bill after payment is made, simply delete the email. Uncertain what you need to keep and why?  Establish record retention guidelines for your business or home office.

Take the whole process a step further and sign up for automatic or online bill pay.  This allows you to pay your bills through your bank account, credit card or electronic accounting software such as Quicken or QuickBooks.  You will be certain to avoid late fees and, if you are using electronic accounting software, you will have the ability to track your finances and print timely reports at tax time.  Not only have you successfully reduced paper clutter using this strategy, but you have simultaneously streamlined your bill paying process while keeping an electronic copy of bills as needed for tax time!

The second step to managing your paper mail is to discard what is not needed and set limits for creating new sources of paper mail.

If the remainder of your paper mail consists of magazines and other literature, think about how many of these items you actually read.  If you haven’t read something within 3 months of purchasing it, what is the likelihood that you will ever read it?  Of those items that you did read, what happened to them when you were done?  Are you like many people who keep magazines and books for future “reference”?  Have you really ever gone back to that “reference” material?  I am betting the answer is no.  You have not gone back to that information or by the time you did, the information was outdated or irrelevant.

If you already have more literature than you have space to accommodate, begin by removing the items you have already read, that are outdated or that you know you will never read.  Let go of the guilt that this is wasteful.  Your local library will typically take books and magazines and this gives the added benefit of a tax write-off.  Perhaps you can donate to a local senior living facility, school, or book club.  Maybe you can make an agreement to swap with a friend.

Having given some thought to your buying and reading habits, develop a strategy for managing your purchases.  If you have a tendency to order books and magazines, but then you never have time to read them; check yourself and create some buying limits or guidelines.  Use the 1 In, 1 Out principle; for every book or magazine that you purchase, you must remove one.

Catalogs are probably an even bigger problem.  Purchase anything from a retailer and you will be asked or, even worse, automatically added to their mailing list.  Ask yourself if you really need the catalogs you are receiving.  What information do they contain that you couldn’t find online or at the store?  Do the catalogs entice you to spend money that you don’t have or really don’t want or need to spend?  Are you sucked into buying because “the deal was too good to pass up”?  If so, the catalogs are working as intended for the retailer, but not necessarily in your best interest.

The third step is to reduce or stop the incoming mail at its source.

Again, identify which catalogs or pieces of literature are truly important and necessary to you.  Then, start the task of removing yourself from the ones that are not.  Call the phone number or contact customer service through the company website and ask to have your information removed from the mailing list.  This contact information is usually available on every page of a catalog, if not on the back cover.

If I am placing an order online, I add the additional statement: “Please do not sell, rent or otherwise distribute my information for any reason whatsoever, other than to fulfill my order” in the comment section of my order.  This has very effectively kept me off of that particular companies mailing list.

If magazines and other literature is generated by your membership in a professional association, again, contact the association and request to have yourself removed from the mailing list for these particular items.

Finally, you can Opt-Out of Telemarketing and other Consumer Marketing lists by updating your preferences regularly.

In summary, managing your paper mail comes down to identifying what important correspondence you could be receiving digitally, discarding the paper mail that does not fall within your record retention guidelines and then reducing or eliminating unnecessary incoming mail at its source.  The Streamlined Office provides process solutions, including assistance with mail management, for small business and home offices.  Contact us today for a free consultation on how we can help you become more efficient!