I’m going through my vast accumulation of paper notes, and it is interesting what’s coming up. From professional experience, I can say that paper is the most common type of clutter, and that some households have no clutter other than paper. Paper is a category unto itself. Most of it looks alike: 8.5”x11” white copy paper or note paper; business envelopes; receipts. The information content on a single piece of paper may represent several hours of work to be done, or it may be meaningless.
Most households have the same sorts of paper:
· Junk mail
· Bills and account statements
· Scraps of paper/envelopes with unidentified phone numbers on them
· Grocery lists
· To-do lists
· Academic papers, including children’s homework
My paper hoard is different, mostly because I took steps years ago to avoid the usual sources of paper clutter. We pay our bills online whenever possible, and always choose the paperless option so we don’t get a printed statement. I opted out of junk mail, and whenever anything shows up that I don’t want, I use the PaperKarma app to opt out of that too. We use Mint to track our spending; I avoid taking receipts for anything that doesn’t need categorizing, and then toss anything we aren’t worried about returning or documenting in some way. Mystery phone numbers are a relic of the pre-Internet, pre-social networking age. Shopping lists and reminders stay on the phone. Neither of us really hung onto any old academic papers, although we have three degrees between us. So the paper flow into our house is almost entirely generated by my creative output.
It turns out that my papers fall into a few clear categories:
· Writing ideas (scenarios, titles, characters, plots, scenes, lines of dialogue, drafts)
· Strategic planning (bucket lists, projects)
· Journaling (of the ‘brain dump’ variety)
· Current study notes (foreign languages)
· Lists of books, movies, music, apps
Only the first of these five categories is really important to me. My failing is that I used to jot down important notes anywhere, including in the midst of a list of books. It turns out that many of the papers I have saved are for the sake of only a few words relevant to a writing project. Clearly, I need a system to capture these ideas.
I did set up such a system this year, using my phone. I have a Notes page called Idea Log, and I start a new one each month. I write down all my random thoughts throughout the day, if there are any, and date them. This has worked out really well, especially because I can use Spotlight Search or just skim through them quickly. I also have a couple of active Notes for my front-burner projects. The flow of papers and index cards is slowing to a trickle. Now I just need to go back and record the backlog.
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I've been working with chronic disorganization, squalor, and hoarding for over 20 years. I'm also a marathon runner who was diagnosed with fibromyalgia and thyroid disease 17 years ago.