How to Organize Your Mail

Here's how one of our editors removed stress by finding a way to get organized.
Carolanne Griffith Roberts

Everyone organizes paper items differently--there is no right or wrong way. Some people feel better when things are in strict order, while others are perfectly happy with organized clutter. Finding your comfort level is the most important aspect of dealing with excess paper.

Personally, clearing away the chaos makes me feel less stressed. When our tabletops--from the kitchen to bedrooms--disappeared under mountains of incoming mail and such, I knew I needed help. I was spending too much time finding lost items.

"I've seen it so many times," says Angela Camp, whose First Things First business in Birmingham helps clients get organized. "People start to feel healthier and have more energy once they get the clutter cleared away."

Angela came to my rescue with two initial tools--a wastebasket and a game plan. Here's how I eased stress and started working my way toward a better sense of well-being.

  • The 'round file': Angela gets tough with paper. I tossed out the flyer for a carpet cleaning service (I have hardwood floors) and the offer for a beach house on a faraway island (dream on). If it's not pertinent to your life right now, trash, trash, trash.
  • A blizzard of catalogs: No time to read 'em? Pop the promising ones in an attractive basket near your favorite chair--dump the rest.
  • Never-ending bills: Unless you pay them the day they arrive (good for you), get an accordion folder or freestanding file numbered with the days of the month. Tuck new bills behind the date you intend to send payment.
  • Picture this: Loose photos seem to drift away. Angela suggests cardboard photo boxes (available at most discount stores). They fit nicely on shelves or tuck under beds.
  • The right ingredients: Recipes you clip from magazines shouldn't end up stuffed between the pages of your cookbooks. Staple or glue each one on an index card, and drop it into a categorized recipe box. If recipes are too big, insert them in a three-ring binder with plastic sheet protectors. Thus, you create your own cookbook.
  • Personalized stacks: Rather than wait for your family to notice the mail on the counter, separate items into folders, and place in their personal spaces for immediate attention.
  • Hang ten (or more): You can't throw everything away. Buy colorful file folders. Label and hang them in a file drawer or a freestanding file on your desktop.
  • Call a professional: Look in your phone book for organization experts. It may be one of the the best New Year's resolutions you make.