daily-mailThe End of the Mail Trail

When does mail stop being mail? The second it comes out of your mailbox. That stuff piled up on your dining table is not mail. It’s bills to pay, solicitations to toss, statements to file, magazines to read, and material to review. Each envelope contains paper that requires action. Because those actions are hidden inside those envelopes, one fears the worst, but expose them to the light of day and you realize that your necessary actions are either a. easy or b. unnecessary (for now).

The most important habit in the ongoing effort to stay organized is to convert mail into clear actions DAILY. The actions (e.g. paying bills) may happen later and take longer, but the conversion should take no more than five minutes.

Clients often ask me “Where’s the best place to keep mail?” That’s like asking “where’s the best place to keep groceries?” Even the most disorganized among us recognize that perishable items better get into the fridge right away or they will spoil and it’s generally recognized that the rest of the food needs to get off the counter if we want to have room to prepare dinner tonight. Since kitchens have more built-in storage than any other room in the home that’s usually not a problem.

Don’t get me wrong. I’ve seen my share of disorganized kitchens, but I’ve yet to be called because someone is overrun with groceries. Mail calls, on the other hand, I get all the time. Our stomachs compel us to open our fridges and pantries every day but we don’t get that compulsion from our bills and other papers that require action.

There is nothing I can say to make those paper demands more compelling, but I CAN tell how to make them less daunting. Divide and conquer right out of the gate. Get rid of as much as you can. Face it, you’re NEVER going to read that prospectus booklet! Store your bills vertically and visibly, so you don’t miss a payment. Be brutal with the rest. Discovering what’s available online can make it a lot easier to toss something you have may have second thoughts about.

After you’ve tossed the junk mail, filed the statements and useful information, stripped the envelopes and inserts, and reviewed what’s left, you should be looking at 0-25% of what came out of your mailbox. Getting to that point should take no more than five minutes.

No matter what the remaining actionable items, get them off the dining table. These items need to get to reliable homes, whether it’s as organized as putting bills-to-pay into a bill organizer or as simple as putting magazines on the coffee table. Dedicate the dining table to a processing zone and not a storage dump and you will win the most important battle in the war on clutter.