I consider myself a fairly tidy person. I make my bed first thing; clean the dishes (and the sink!) before sitting down to watch TV at night; and spend countless hours picking up tiny shoes, hair bands, teacups, and baby doll accessories from every corner of the house. But despite these tendencies, there's one spot where clutter — my own clutter, not the kind I can blame on the kids — constantly seems to exist. We have a nice, long countertop where paper just loves to migrate (as I glance over, I see at least four stacks of paper in varying sizes). Just looking at it is stressful!
So I called a few professional organizers certified by National Association of Productivity and Organizing Professionals (NAPO) to talk it out. Here's what I learned.
1. Paper clutter in the kitchen is actually totally normal.
All three pros I talked to agreed: The kitchen is the prime spot for paper clutter. "In many homes, you enter and exit near the kitchen, so it's the first place you encounter when your hands are full and you just need to put stuff down," says Amy Tokos of Freshly Organized. Plus, as you may have heard, the kitchen is the heart of the home. Meaning, it's likely to be the first place you'll go with all that mail.
2. But that doesn't make it okay.
Everyone has different tolerance levels for the piles, so I'm not talking about how it looks. The main problem with paper clutter is that it's basically a visual reminder of things you're procrastinating on: bills to pay, magazines you want to read, coupons you intend to use, etc. If enough time goes by, you can miss deadlines or opportunities because they're buried in a pile. If things get really bad, you could risk incurring late fees on bills. "There are both tangible and intangible costs of paper clutter," says Jennifer Truesdale of STR8N UP. For most people, it's not catastrophic — just a source of low-level anxiety.
3. Paper clutter really should be addressed daily.
The pros also all agreed that the best practice is to address paper clutter daily. "There's no magic wand for paper — you just have to address it or you'll get overwhelmed," says Tokos. While that may sound like a lot, Tokos stresses that it's quick: She timed herself once, and it took literally three minutes. And that was a big mail day!
4. A file box and some folders can be your secret weapons.
Tokos and Truesdale like to keep an open file box on their countertops to quickly drop papers they'll want to reference or file away for later. One folder can be your to-do list of papers that need to be signed, bills to be mailed, receipts for new items in case you want to return anything, etc; other folders can be broad categories like kid stuff, house projects, or finances.
5. Going through the paper doesn't have to be a slog.
To incentivize herself to get through the to-do items, Mindy Godding of Abundance Organizing likes to "batch" them with an activity she likes — specifically, having coffee and watching the Sunday morning news. "When you group an undesirable chore with a better activity, it's easier to get through it," Godding says. While you need to open new mail and sort new papers each day, you only really need to go through this to-do list once a week (hence the Sunday morning news).
Anecdotally, I've now discovered that the best way to address your paper clutter is to interview a bunch of people for an article about paper clutter, then sit down to write the article — all of a sudden, that pile seemed pretty urgent! I'll consider it a win!
How do you deal with paper clutter in the kitchen?