Envelopes are necessary to help deliver mail, but mail stops being mail the second it comes out of your mailbox. At this moment envelopes are not only unnecessary, they are a natural enemy to staying organized.

Envelopes help in the sending of paper information in three ways. First, they conceal the information from outside eyes. Second, they bundle the contents in a safe package. Third, they create a standard shape appropriate for a mailbox. As soon as you pull your mail from your mail box, these three helpfuls turn into three hindrances. Consider how the envelope works against these three organizing rules.

1. Reveal, Don’t Conceal. A sealed envelope is about as inspiring as shredded wheat. Get inspired to take action even if (or especially if) that action means tossing, by opening the envelope IMMEDIATELY. I really can’t think of a more important organizing habit. Don’t be afraid of the contents you are keeping. Break it up! Separate bills to pay, items to file, and things to read and you’ll discover it’s harmless.

2. Purge the Excess. Professional organizers get a bad rap as people that “make you throw everything out.” Not true. We are, however, all about separating the wheat from the chaff, removing the unimportant stuff so that you can get to the important stuff more easily. This applies to something even as small as an envelope. In a typical bill for example, you can toss the outer envelope, the useless inserts, and, if you pay online, the return envelope. Perhaps you’re saying “Big Deal!”, but this can reduce the bulk by 50% and when you get thousands of envelopes a year, that makes a signifiant difference.

3. To File = To Find. You can reduce the bulk of the statements you are keeping by 66% by simply unfolding them. While envelopes work well in a mailbox, they are clumsy to file. An opened, flattened file makes it significantly easier to find, which is the whole point of filing. I seem to be stuck on this theme a lot recently, but it is truly remarkable the stress I have seen from people distrusting their file cabinets. If a file is not important enough to be able to find, don’t bother filing it. Toss it. Otherwise, that file, along with it’s army of weed-like friends, will suffocate the files you need to find.

TODAY’S KEY TO UNLOCKING CLUTTER: Envelopes are right for mail, but make organizing fail.