The Clutter Coach


How to Tame the Paper Pests

Cynthia EstesBy Cynthia Estes, Mountain Democrat columnist
Senior Tab - Mountain Democrat - June, 2011
Reprinted with permission of the Mountain Democrat, Placerville, CA

Is there anybody out there who doesn’t have Paper Pests (otherwise known as paper clutter)? Be honest with yourself. Even if your desk is cleared off most of the time, what’s in the drawers below?  And yes, the six boxes of old National Geographic are Paper Pests too,  as is every drawing your children made, as well as the wrinkled wrapping paper that you were going to iron and reuse. 

Ninety percent of my clients say that Paper Pests are their most common cause of clutter, even though the process of de-cluttering paper and any other items is the same, but it’s the sheer volume and daily bombardment of paper in our lives that make it so daunting.  Let’s practice taming the Paper Pests together because practice and diligence are what it takes to keep it under control.

Keep Paper Pests out of your home
Unlike other types of pests, Paper Pests don’t come through the cracks in your walls. In fact, your family brings them in from school and work and in shopping bags from the latest home show or the local mall.  You bring them in with the mail, including bills, catalogs, and advertisements. You even pay them to come in by subscribing to magazines and other publications.  You may think you’re saving money on $12 per year magazine subscriptions, but if you neither read nor recycle them, you’ve created a Paper Pest. You could spend that money to purchase single issues of magazines you really want. If you want to stop receiving all those catalogs, pre-approved offers and other unsolicited commercial mail, visit the Federal Trade Commission’s website at and click on the Consumer Protection tab.

How to exterminate Paper Pests
Deposit many of these Pests in your outside recycle can instead of bringing them into the house. It just takes a minute to flip through the mail and discard non-personalized junk mail. For the rest of it, I suggest buying a Paper Pest extermination machine called a paper shredder.  Make a habit of shredding any personalized junk mail as soon as you get in the house. I prefer to shred all paper I don’t need, as a separate paper recycling bin is a known breeding ground for Paper Pests. For those big jobs, you can take your boxes of taxes from the 1970’s, and have them confidentially shredded for little cost at M.OR.E on Placerville Drive or  Office Max.  If you’re not sure how long to keep your records, go to IRS link below for Recordkeeping for Individuals,  Another type of Paper Pest that frequently takes up a lot of room is gift wrap, bags and greeting cards. If you must keep some, at least get rid of the half-empty bulky rolls of paper and store the smaller bags inside the larger ones. You can easily buy more tissue paper at one of the dollar stores. Even better, buy your gifts at  stores on Main Street that  gift wrap and support the local economy at the same time.  I purchased a pre-made greeting card organizer as I prefer to have them on hand, but you can label file folders with the types of cards you stock up on.  For an alternative to recycling those used greeting cards, you can donate them by visiting

Finding a home for those Pests you have to keep
Eliminate Paper Pests by giving them a home (important note: this does not work on People Pests like your 35-year-old son). Most paper is homeless and cluttering every surface because we’re afraid will lose it or forget to take action if we can’t see it. A great way of making a home for your papers is to scan them into your computer. If you have an all-in-one printer/scanner, it’s relatively easy to scan your document and store it in a computer file. This works especially well for receipts you have to keep for income taxes, as the original receipts fade with time.

The One-Box-Office will keep you organized
After years of experimenting with every paper storage system imaginable, I created my own system, and it has worked well for me and for my clients. If you use this system consistently, you’ll never lose an important paper again. It’s called the One-Box-Office and it fits easily inside a filing cabinet, and since it’s portable, can be carried into any room you want.  The One-Box-Office allows you to immediately store and find any papers that you would normally pile on your desk or other surface. It also includes a dated reminder file, the files you’ll need on a daily basis and a customized to-do list. The One-Box-Office system comes with one and one-half hours of help with sorting all your papers, one-on-one or in a group at your home or office. For more information, go to my website

Cynthia Estes is a Professional Organizer, owner of Uncluttered for Life, and a member of the National Association of Professional Organizers. Uncluttered for Life serves clients throughout Western El Dorado County. 

Call (530) 957-2975 for a free 20 minute phone consultation and estimate!