When we were kids we looked forward to the mail delivery, but as adults we dread it. It’s not just the bills we hate, but the piles of flyers, solicitations, coupons, periodicals, circulars and advertisements. Ugh.
I know what you’re thinking. “It takes more than ten minutes to go through my mail.” “I get so much stuff I can’t possibly go through it all in one sitting.” “What if I pitch something I need?”
These are all valid concerns. But unless you stop viewing this process as a chore, and start treating it like the important, goal-oriented activity it is, you’ll never take that first step. As for throwing out something you might need later, you have a choice. You can keep everything, or you can make the decision to pitch the stuff you’re pretty sure you won’t need. Keeping unneeded mail results in chaos, and if you really need it back, you can usually get it again. Follow the tips below, be consistent, and your daily mail sort will go from drudge to done.
Before you begin, dedicate a spot for your mail sort. A desk of some kind works best. Ideally this should be the same space you use for other bookkeeping tasks, but anywhere will work: the kitchen, the family room, even your bedroom. The key is that this space must be off limits to other family members. They can wander past, they can peer over your shoulder if it doesn’t bother you, they can drop stuff on your desk for you to read later, but they can’t touch anything on your desk. This is your spot. Set up your shredder and a recycling bag or bin within throwing distance and you’re ready to go.
Divide your mail into four piles. These include a shred pile, the recycle pile, the go-through pile and the reading pile.
- The Shred Pile: Any mail you don’t want that contains personal information should be shredded. This includes banking information, balance transfer checks, credit card offers (especially that plastic card inside), and the front cover of any periodicals that have your mailing information on them. Any personal information in the wrong hands, even your name and address, could cause you significant damage. After the paper in this pile is shredded, it can go in your recycle bin. If you don’t have a shredder already, you can get one at most office supply stores. The best power shredders shred in a cross cut style. Good shredders aren’t cheap, but they’re an investment in your protection against identity theft. They are also an investment in your time because they cut much faster than tearing each page up by hand. If the thought of buying a shredder isn’t sitting well, consider establishing a standing appointment with a professional shredding company. Most will come to your house and shred those pounds of paper while you watch.
- The Recycle Pile: The recycle pile is for unwanted mail that contains no information specific to you. This includes annoying form letters, mass mailings, unneeded charity solicitations and coupon booklets. The paper in this pile can be tossed directly into your recycling bin.
- The Go-Through Pile: This pile includes bills, insurance statements, financial records like bank or investment information, invitations that require a response and other information that needs addressing.
- The Reading Pile: The reading pile includes periodicals and magazines that you will actually read. If you don’t think you’ll read something, pitch it. If you paid for something and you haven’t read it within two months of receiving it, pitch it. If it was a gift from someone and you dislike the material but feel obligated to read it, pitch it. Don’t spend time reading something that doesn’t enrich your life. You’ll want to put the pieces you chose to keep by your unwind spot (more on that in a minute.) Don’t even think about reading them now—they’ll distract you, they’ll slow you down and they’re not part of the mail sort. Read them later when you can relax.
Tackle the Go-Through Pile. Open each envelope in your go-through pile and recycle the outer envelope and any inserts. Keep items with their corresponding return envelope, if any. Bills go in one pile; other items in another. The bills can be set aside and paid later, but make sure you have a dedicated place for them to nest where they won’t get lost or be forgotten or ignored for too long. Make a date with yourself to pay your bills at least twice each month. Mark it on your calendar and schedule a reminder on your computer or phone so you don’t forget. It’s best to pay bills at least seven days before they are due.
Reward yourself after your daily mail sort efforts. Pick a spot in your home where you can relax. Your unwind spot should have a comfortable place to sit and a small table. Place your reading pile from the mail sort on the small table. Keep anything else nearby that you need to settle down and get comfortable, like a coaster for a drink or a blanket. Give yourself a few minutes to relax.
Lisa Mark is a Certified Professional Organizer specializing in residential organizing, time management, productivity coaching & organized moves. She founded The Time Butler Professional Organizers in 2004.