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Excerpt from The 8-Minute Organizer

8 Minutes to Paper Peace

B A S I C 8 ’ S

Pockets of chaos abound when it comes to paper. Let’s continue to rout them out, including those pesky cash receipts, your beloved briefcase, and those ubiquitous tax receipts from years past that clog every home.

Simplify Your Banking

If you own a computer, it behooves you to learn how to access both your checking and your credit card accounts electronically. After you set up your online access and get comfortable with the process, you can make payments and check your balance in no time. Have your statement and bills sent by e-mail and save a tree—as well as reduce paper clutter. I bet you never realized how many options you had to save trees and clutter.

Find a New Home for Income Tax Receipts

Do you have a four-drawer file cabinet but it is full of tax backup material? Uncle Sam does require that you save certain receipts for an extended period, but the best place to store this material is in boxes you can shove to the back of your office supply closet. Your file cabinet is meant to make current information available to you at a moment’s notice.

First separate the actual tax returns from the backup material. (As time goes by, you will be able to shred or recycle the backup material. Uncle Sam doesn’t require you to keep them forever.) If possible, store the returns themselves in a fireproof metal box. Put the backup material in a cardboard box, label the box clearly, and then find a spot suitable for long-term storage. If you are a homeowner, you might place a four-drawer metal file cabinet in your garage just for tax material and anything else you might want to archive (such as home remodel records and work projects). Be sure the cabinet locks and designate a spot for the key.

Streamline Your Briefcase

I don’t want you to stop using your briefcase, laptop bag, or tote bag for work, but I do want you to spend 8 minutes cleaning it out. Try to boycott the use of your briefcase or bag as a lunch box, trash can, file cabinet, or Staples outlet. When I clean out briefcases for my clients, I typically end up with a pile of items that belong elsewhere, such as the following:

• Stale gum, candy bars, health food bars, tea bags, and fast food items such as ketchup or sugar

• Papers from projects long completed or abandoned

• More office supplies than a room full of executives could use in an afternoon

• Convention premiums that will never be used

Make it a habit to clean out your briefcase regularly. You never know when one of those mustard packets will decorate one of your important papers! Avoid the risk.

Check Your Office Supplies

You don’t want to be in the middle of a project and discover that you need a paper clip or highlighter. Are your backup supplies handy? Take a minute to see whether you need to add such critical items as copy paper, fax paper, and printer cartridges to your shopping list.

Likewise, when you overbuy supplies, you waste space and money. Gather what you know you will never use and find a friend, colleague, or family member who will use them—donate or toss the rest. Remember, Sharpies, highlighters, and pens dry up eventually, and your stash may be defunct when you are finally ready to use it. The next time you’re moved to take advantage of a sale, ask yourself if you are being penny wise but pound foolish.

Unsubscribe Your Way to Freedom

When you’re at the computer, why not reexamine your need to receive the glut of newsletters, catalogs, and sale updates you are currently subscribed to? Just because you once had an interest in clothing from the XYZ store doesn’t mean you have to stay in touch with them forever. Spend 8 minutes a day until you have finished unsubscribing to sites that no longer interest you. You’d be surprised how this will lighten the load in your inbox.