HOW TO QUICKLY SORT THROUGH PAPER CLUTTER
Let’s talk paper. Specifically, paper clutter and how to eliminate it. When not dealt with regularly, paper quickly gets out of control. If piles of paper are taking over your flat surfaces, stuffed in drawers or overflowing from files, you need the RAFT system. A simple, effective way to quickly sort papers, and the first step to getting rid of your paper clutter.
Dealing With Paper Clutter
Organizing paper is just like organizing anything else. First, you have to “pull everything out”, or in this case, gather all papers. This means all papers from all rooms, including post-it notes, receipts, unread mail etc. The next step is sorting the papers and this is where you use the RAFT system.
The RAFT System
RAFT stands for READ, ACT, FILE and TOSS and as I said, it’s a simple way to quickly and efficiently sort papers. You’re probably thinking “Heather, just sorting my papers is not going to solve my paper clutter problem”. And you’re right. Sorting alone isn’t going to solve any paper clutter problem. But it’s a necessary step in the process of dealing with piles of papers, particularly if you’re not even sure what’s in them.
I promise future posts on more detailed systems, but you can’t create a system that works until you know what you need. And you don’t know what you need, until you sort through and see what you have!
Sorting Paper Clutter With The RAFT System
Read: Put any items for future reading here. Articles, magazines, flyers of interest etc.
Act: Put any items that require you to “do” something here. Bills to pay, invitations to RSVP to, permission forms to sign etc.
File: Put any items that need to be filed for future reference here. Think tax documents, legal documents, business receipts, household information etc.
Toss: Put any items you don’t need to keep here. Junk mail, out-dated information, events that have already happened, etc. And by Toss, I mean recycle and shred where appropriate.
For each paper or document, ask yourself these 4 questions:
- Is the information still relevant to my life?
- Has it become outdated?
- How easy would it be to find or replace if I needed the information later (you can find almost any information online from schedules, instructions and manuals, to recipes and directions etc.)
- What’s the worst that could happen if I got rid of it?
If it’s not relevant, it’s outdated, you can easily find it online or there are no negative consequences to getting rid of the document, it goes in the Toss pile. For everything else, decide what needs to be done with it next and put it in the appropriate Read, Act or File pile. Every piece of paper should land in one of these 4 broad categories.
#1 Obstacle When Dealing With Paper Clutter
It seems easy right? And it is, once you discover how to avoid the biggest obstacle of dealing with paper clutter: interrupting sorting to complete a task you come across. I know the urge will be strong, but please DO NOT do this. If you stop to act on every “to-do” item, or to file or read every paper, you will NEVER finish sorting. Right now, the focus is on sorting and sorting alone. Subsequent steps (covered in future posts) will address what comes next.
The brilliance of the RAFT system is it makes dealing with overwhelming piles of papers manageable by focusing solely on an initial sort. You don’t act on, or deal with, anything. You are simply determining broadly what needs to be done next with each paper or document. In the process, particularly if there are piles that haven’t been touched for weeks or months, you will discover papers that are obsolete and can be tossed for one of the above reasons. This reduces the overall amount of paper and makes taking the next step of dealing with what is left less overwhelming.
Are you ready to tackle your paper clutter with the simple, effective RAFT system? Let me know in the comments below how it goes. Remember, all you have to do is sort the papers at this stage. In the process you will reduce the overall amount of papers, clear your flat surfaces and get motivated for the next stage: dealing with the 4 piles, which I will address in a future post coming soon! Aren’t sure how long you need to keep certain documents? Use my free one-page printable Guideline to help determine if you need to keep or toss it. And if you liked this post, please share it!