Remember when mail seemed fun? A letter carrier at the door might've meant a postcard from a friend, a special birthday card, a package, or a new magazine to read. Those were the days! Today, if you're like most of us, what hits your mailbox inspires groans or frustrated sighs far more often than it inspires squeals of glee.
Mail tends to be one of the biggest organizing headaches my clients complain of. And no wonder: like it or not, more mail arrives almost every day, and staying on top of it takes time and effort. While I don't have a magic solution for making mail disappear (with no negative consequences), I do have a way of reducing the amount of mail you're left with by the end of the week. Read on for details.
The wheat and the chaff
Here's what you need for this exercise: a stack of mail. A recycling bin. A shredder (or a designated shredding pile). A few paper clips. Perhaps a letter opener, if, like me, you're prone to paper cuts. And about 60 seconds.
Here's your mission: to recycle or shred everything from your stack of mail that you clearly don't need. You don't have to act on the mail (by paying bills, for example, or responding to correspondence). You don't have to read magazines or newsletters. All you have to do is get rid of the obviously tossable.
Here's how it works: start with whatever's on top of the stack. If it's an envelope, open it. Do a quick scan, pull out anything you clearly don't need, recycle/shred it, and set aside whatever you want or need to keep. For example, if you open a bill, pull out any inserts and recycle them. If the bill is one you pay online, recycle the return envelope as well. Return the bill to its envelope, or recycle that envelope, too, and use a paper clip to hold the bill together. Put the bill in a pile and move on to the next piece of mail.
Remember, your main objective isn't to take care of everything you need to do with your mail right away; it's to get rid of the obviously tossable. What fits in that category?
- Bill and bank account statement inserts (such as news from your utility company)
- External envelopes for bills (unless you use them to hold bills waiting to be paid)
- Circulars for stores you don't shop at
- Donation requests from organizations you're not interested in supporting
- Unwanted credit card, mortgage refinance, and other financial offers (be sure to shred these)
- Magazines, catalogs, and newsletters you have no intention of reading
Weeding out this stuff takes very little time, and can reduce your volume of mail significantly. (Some of my clients can get rid of 50% or more when we do this exercise.)
Yes, yes. I know.
So, OK: I know that by the time the mail arrives, or by the time you arrive home to the stack of mail that's shown up, you've already had a full day. There may be a pet or two, a child or two, or some combination thereof, clamoring for your attention. You might have meal prep on the brain. Perhaps you're trying to shake off a stressful workday. I know there are plenty of reasons why it's not necessarily a snap to go through the day's mail right away.
If you're truly swamped the moment you walk in the door, don't worry about doing the mail thing immediately. Focus instead on doing whatever you need to do to keep yourself and your family sane. But do make a concerted effort to take the minute--and I do literally mean 60 seconds--to do a quick mail sort before you hit the hay. It's like taking a multivitamin each day: sure, it's something else to add to your To Do list, but it takes so little time, and the payoff is so well worth it. By the end of the week, you'll have a much more manageable pile of mail to deal with, and actually working through it will be easier.