Win the Battle with Paper Clutter

Win the Battle with Paper Clutter | By Cassandra Oshinnaiye, Manager, AARP Education & Outreach

You don't have to be a character on A&E's "Hoarders" to struggle with the endless amounts of paper in our lives.

Still, "Hoarders" provides a bit of a cautionary tale about why staying organized can be a matter of life and death. In one episode, a woman died because paramedics couldn't ferret through a junk-filled apartment quickly enough to get to her. In our life, our family may not be able to find important legal documents - like health care decision-making documents - when they are buried among mounds of papers.

AARP has a few tips to help you reduce the paper stacking up in your home and focus on the pieces that really matter.

1. Trim Down Your Paper Piles
* Pick one area at a time. Start with a bookcase, a drawer or your desktop.
* Empty the selected area completely and then sort through items as you put them back.
* Try setting a specific percentage goal to toss or recycle, sell or donate. For instance, you could promise yourself you'll aim to throw out or recycle 50 percent of the items, donate or sell 25 percent, relocate 5 percent and move just 20 percent back into place.
* Know what you need to keep and toss. For example, review your year-end financial statements and then toss the monthlies out. Trash your bank receipts as soon as you match them up with your monthly statement. Toss paper copies of your credit-card, utility, phone and cable bills as soon as the next month's bill acknowledges your last payment (unless you need them for tax purposes like a home office deduction).
* According to the IRS, tax records should be kept for seven years from the filing date. Find more helpful information on how long you should keep various documents at:
* Discard paper with personal information using a cross-cutting shredder.

2. Organize the important papers
It's wonderful that you understand your unique way of filing important papers, but do you think a family member needing to find out information in an emergency would feel the same?
For your family's peace of mind, consider lining up the important papers and taking the time to show someone how to access them. For example, documents you need to save include:
* a durable power of attorney for finances;
* a will;
* a power of attorney for healthcare and a living will (often referred to as an advance directive);
* original copies of birth, marriage, divorce, military discharge certificates, deeds and more.

3. Keep the Area Clutter Free
Some of us manage to clear things out only to have the paper pile up again. Use these tips to avoid the clutter from returning:
* Stop junk mail and solicitations from coming into your home by registering with the Direct Marketing Association at and have them remove your name from mailing lists. Stop credit card offers by going to or calling 1-888-5OPTOUT (1-888-567-8688).
* Create a sorting area for items to be immediately reviewed and acted upon.
* Pay your bills online and request paperless statements.
* Scan documents to your computer.
* Purchase an e-reader to cut down on the number of books lying around.

Have you noticed your parent or loved one falling behind in bills? Is their home being taken over by junk mail and piles of paperwork? We all fight the good fight against paper clutter, but decline in organization and home management can indicate a decline in health as well. You have an ally with Sound Options. We can provide you with eldercare coaching and help you talk with your loved one about life changes, getting help, and planning for the future. Aging is a strange and wonderful journey and every road is unique. We are here for you every step of the way.  

Published on January 11, 2013.