paper-shapes-2Are you flooded with paper in your home? BIG paper challenges require BIG steps.  An easy way to be as aggressive with your paper flood as it is with you, is to start by sorting shapes.

The biggest deterrent to dealing with paper is making decisions.  The vast majority of these decisions are easy, but we tend to tie them to the minority of difficult ones.  The best approach, therefore, is to take the majority of easy decisions out of the way first. Here’s how.

Establish a dedicated sorting table, 2’ x 4’ is perfect.  NOTHING but paper should go on this table while you are sorting.  Get a black marker, some Post-it’s, and some empty boxes (10” x 12” x 15” is good).

Bring every box, bag, and pile of unsorted paper to one side of the room.  Grab the first container of unsorted paper and just dump it on your sorting table and think only in terms of SHAPES.

This will seem counter-intuitive, because we are used to thinking of paper in terms of its value.  What I’m saying is forget the value and just start with the shapes.  What sort of shapes? For one, there’s the envelope shapes.  Toss those in the empty box labeled “envelopes.” Do the same with magazines, newspapers, catalogs, files (paper already contained in folders), small bits (less than 8-1/2 x 11), and loose (8-1/2 x 11) paper.

You are going to be tempted to say “But I can see that this is mostly junk mail and I want to toss this now.” If it’s easy to toss now it will be even easier to toss in the next round.  The reason to keep sorting is because you need to work up a momentum.  It’s easier to move more quickly when you have a singular focus.  At this stage, that focus is STRICTLY sorting.

Once you clear the table completely, grab the next bag and keep sorting, FAST! Before you know it, ALL your paper will be sorted by shape.  The next step will be easier than you think because you will be in a singular mode.

Start with the catalogs box.  That’s usually a quick win that brings a huge psychological boost.  One heavy boxful GONE! Whew that felt good!  Next Magazines.  Keep a few of those, the rest, GONE!

Now the envelopes: toss the “definitely junk mail” and box the “maybes.”  Grab a letter slitter and JUST slit the maybes.  Grab the slitted “maybes” and JUST extract the contents.  Grab the envelopes’ contents and JUST sort between “to file,” “to do,” and toss.

When you can focus on one singular activity at a time, you not only accomplish much more, much faster, you also work much more SAFELY.  By taking the less important bulky stuff out of the way first, you are able to focus more on the smaller, more important pieces, that require more careful reading.

Sorting through paper can be torturous, especially if it is just one piece at a time.  Working in focused stages gives you a real sense of accomplishment throughout the process because you can clearly see how you are advancing your progress forward.

I’m aware of the organizing advice of “only touch a piece of paper once,” but I disagree with it.  These piles of paper have eaten up enough of your space and time already.  It’s time for these piles to go, FAST!  This starts with sorting by shapes.