KonMari Tidying, Organize

Tidying Up the KonMari Way: Papers

Tidying Up the KonMari Way Papers

I recently discovered the KonMari Method of decluttering and organizing, and I’m using it to go through my whole house, discarding everything I don’t want or need (read my introduction here.) Three things set KonMari apart from other methods:

  1. sorting by category instead of location
  2. keeping only the things that bring you joy
  3. discarding everything before you organize

In her book, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing, Marie explains why traditional organization methods fail and how you can avoid rebounding after decluttering. She recommends a specific order for tidying: clothes, books, papers, komono (miscellany,) and mementos. After sorting my clothes, shoes and accessories, and books, I’m completely devoted to Marie’s way of thinking about clutter. There is something exhilarating about letting go of things that do not bring you joy. Not only do your rid your house of clutter, but you also free your mind from things that make you feel sad or guilty.

The third category on Marie’s list is papers. Papers don’t bring me joy, but I can’t just throw out everything I have! One of my problems with paper is that I don’t have a system for dealing with mail, bills, letters, business expenses, etc., so I shuffle papers from pile to pile, losing important documents in the process. I also have a lot of paperwork from my mom’s estate. I put it in boxes in my attic last summer because I didn’t know what to do with it; now I know: shred early and often!

The section in the book about papers is a scant ten pages long. Marie recommends discarding anything that does not fall into one of three categories: what you’re currently using/needs attention, what you need to keep for a short period of time, and what you must keep indefinitely. Papers you’re currently using might be invitations to which you must reply, forms to fill out, and bills to pay (although electronic billing and banking can significantly reduce this paperwork.) Once you’ve attended to these, you can throw them away. Short-term papers might be school calendars and sports schedules. Once the school year or season is over, you can dispose of these, too.

Marie says you should store frequently used papers in one place, within easy reach. She recommends vertical storage, with labels for each category (bills, invitations, forms, etc.) The key is to discard the papers as soon as you no longer need them, which is where most of us fail, I think. The Container Store has many options for organizing papers; these are my favorites:

Paper Storage Options

One, Two, Three, Four

Papers you have to keep indefinitely include home and car loans, insurance policies, tax returns, and contracts. Marie suggests putting everything in one clear plastic folder without sorting them into categories, but I didn’t follow her advice on this one. I like to keep these papers in folders with labels. It’s visually appealing and helps me remember where things are. To maintain this category, you should discard things like bank statements, credit card statements, old checkbook registers, pay stubs, etc. We used to need paper records; now we can look up everything online, so it doesn’t make sense to keep them. Since they have identifying information on them, it’s best to shred these papers when disposing of them.

I set aside an afternoon to tackle papers. I started by putting everything but the boxes in the attic on the floor in my second bedroom/office, which is really a sitting room. You can’t see them, but there are three containers to the right of the etagere with really old documents like my maternal grandmother’s will and my dad’s continuing education certificates.

Paper Office Before

This closet is a great example of the pitfalls of other organizing methods. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve taken everything out of it, discarded some things, corralled what was left into baskets and containers, and put everything back on the shelves neatly. There are several baskets of miscellaneous items – a white noise machine from Bed, Bath, and Beyond; a picture frame I got on a trip; random cords and household supplies – things I mean to use or should store elsewhere. I have a feeling their days are limited.

Papers Closet Before

After I put all the papers on the floor, I went through them, container by container. I set up a basket of active files, my version of Marie’s “needs attention” category and decluttered my permanent filing container. (I’m not using all the hanging files and folders in the tote – everything from the second set of red ones is empty.) I don’t have a designated office or command center; horizontal filing systems work for me because I can move them around when I’m doing paperwork. I whittled my mom’s papers (recent tax returns, her will, and other estate documents) down to two small containers, and got rid of paperwork from my dad and grandmother that spanned from the 1940s to the 1980s. It felt so good to put it in bags for shredding! This is what I have left:

Files After

I got the tote with the colored hanging files and folders from The Container Store many years ago. I actually had four of them – one for each color folder. I set up the folders according to the FileSolutions Home Filing System, which I also got from The Container Store. I got the brown basket at The Container Store, too. They don’t carry it anymore, but these are similar. (I ♥ The Container Store!) When I quit teaching four years ago, I got rid of decades of files – oh, so many files – and culled the colored file system down to one box. It’s even leaner now that I’m not keeping years of financial statements in it.

This is going to the shredder, along with all the papers in my attic:

Papers Bags for Shredding

The closet looks like this now:

Papers Closet After

I can access the files easily – the brown basket with the handles is tucked between the hanging file container and the wall – and the shredder is ready for action.

I cleared everything from the sitting room except bags for sorting. I’m going to use this room as a staging area for komono. I really love this room but haven’t used it much because it was a catch-all for clutter. No more!

Papers Room AfterIn case you can’t tell, I’ve embraced KonMari. It’s the right thing at the right time for me. Clothes, books, and papers make up about 15% of what I own, and it’s been pretty easy to go through them. The next categories, komono and mementos, will be harder. In addition to the sitting room closet, I have closets and cabinets in two bathrooms, a utility closet, a coat closet, a kitchen, and a garage full of stuff to sort through before this is all over. Oh, and the attic! There is stuff in the attic that I haven’t touched since I moved into my condo seven years ago. I am determined to go through all of it. I think I will end up donating, selling, or throwing away about 40% of my belongings. That sounds crazy, but it’s possible.

I feel like I should make this disclaimer: results may vary! I am single, and I don’t have kids. All the stuff in the house is mine. I get to make all the decisions about what to keep and what to discard. If it doesn’t bring me joy, it’s not staying. I don’t have to negotiate with anyone. I am also self-employed and have a flexible schedule, so I can designate a lot of time to this task. If you live with other people and have a full-time job, KonMari-ing your whole house might take longer, and you might have to keep things that make other people happy. Don’t let that sway you from doing it; just know that your process and results will look different from mine.

Kelly Gartner Style KonMari

Click here to read more posts in this series.

14 thoughts on “Tidying Up the KonMari Way: Papers

  1. Enjoying this Kelly! I have a friend who is also into this method and I have been sending your posts to her. Looking forward to what you have to say on mementos – that is a huge problem for me!

    1. Thank you for sharing my posts, Mary Clare! I know mementos are going to be hard, but saving them for last makes a lot of sense because by the time you get to them, you are a pro at KonMari, which should make discarding things a little easier. I know I don’t need to save every picture from 4th of Juy at your house or all the ones from our Galveston trips, but I’ll try to be conservative and pick a few that represent all the fun we had together. 🙂

  2. My cousin Dana Klusener mentioned that you were doing the KonMari method after I posted that I had just started the book. I am so overwhelmed with all these papers, a full craft room–I couldn’t do a craft if my life depended on it, a full garage, and a full shed! Oh yeah, and a storage unit I pay $ for each month, which is so dumb! I am hoping I can do this, so reading your posts is an encouragement! I’ll check back often. One question: did you throw away your grandmother’s Will?

    1. Hi, Gail! So glad Dana connected us. I did throw away my grandmother’s will. My mom inherited from my grandmother, and my mom passed away, so now that my mom’s will has been executed, I don’t need to have a copy of my grandmother’s.

      I can understand why it seems daunting to start this process – it sounds like you have a lot of stuff in different places. Don’t worry – you aren’t the only one. Wait till you see my blog post about my home decor/entertaining purge! And all my mementos – it’s probably the biggest category I have, since I have my stuff, my mom’s, and my grandmother’s. The best advice I have for anyone starting is to read the book at least through the section on clothes and don’t worry about the rest. Doing the clothes teaches you how to go through everything, and the more you do it, the better you’ll get.

      Good luck, and let me know how it’s going for you!

  3. I came across your blog this morning after a quick search for “KonMari papers”. Great post! I shared your post on the Facebook group page I lead pertaining to decluttering and interior design.
    I am in the third week of leading my group through the KonMari method, and following the practice myself. We are all loving it!! We are having fun supporting each other online as we declutter together.
    I definitely will be reading and sharing more of your posts!

    1. I’m so glad you found this post helpful. What is the name of your group? I love decluttering and interior design. This really is life-changing!

  4. Hi Kelly! I just got the book last week and devoured it!! I started last night with my clothes, and it took several hours, but it felt so liberating. I currently stay home with my two kids, but taught elementary school for 9 years before that. I’ve kept a ridiculous amount of “teaching stuff,” and it’s all up in the attic, waiting for me to return to teaching when the kids get older. In addition to all the papers, I have thousands of children’s books. Any words of wisdom or advice on culling all that stuff?? I see you did most of your culling prior to KonMari, and also, it seems you don’t plan to go back to teaching, so we are in slightly different spots. But I have a feeling I have a LOT that will be going…

    1. I’m so glad you are starting your KonMari journey! It’s an incredible feeling to get rid of all that clutter, isn’t it?

      Ah, the teaching stuff. What grade did you teach? My last couple of years of teaching, I found that I really didn’t need all the files I had accumulated. When I wanted something, I searched for it on a curriculum website, printed it out if needed, then saved it into a folder for later use. I kept paper files for so few things that I probably could have gotten rid of my old ones a lot sooner. It’s hard to part with it, though!

      I had an extensive classroom library, so many books that I couldn’t put them all out at once, which actually worked out okay since rotating the book baskets kept it fresh for my students. You need to have a variety of books for elementary school kids, so many different types, categories, and reading levels. I would probably go through each category, removing any books that are worn/damaged. You can do the “does it spark joy” test with your students in mind. Do they really reach for a certain author or series, or do a few kids read one book and then they lose interest? I think I kept certain books because the kids might read them, but they never really did.I don’t know what I would have done if I had KonMari in my life before I quit teaching, but I know I would have benefited from reducing my teaching materials.

      I would put teaching materials into komono as a special sub-category. You also might think about the 20/20 rule. I’m not sure it’s in the book, but I’ve read about it in conjunction with KonMari, and it makes sense. The guideline is that if you can replace something for less than $20 at a store less than 20 minutes away, it’s worth it to discard now and then buy it again later if you need it.

      Thanks for commenting, and I’d love to hear more bout your KonMari adventures!

  5. Hola Kelly, Gracias por enseñarme tu método, conocía el método de Kondo, pero al ver tu blog me han dado más ganas de ponerme manos a la obra. Vivo en España y tuve que ir traduciendo alguna cosa así que hasta he aprendido algo más de ingles. Un beso

    1. Hola, Teresa! Me alegro de que le está dando el método KonMari una oportunidad. Realmente cambiará tu vida como ha cambiado mi. Espero que leyendo mi blog posts te ayuda con cada uno de los pasos. ¡Buena suerte! Me encantaría leer sobre tu progreso! P. S. no es inglés < ---> traducción en Español de gran! 🙂

  6. Hi Kelly. I checked out both books 3 weeks ago and devoured them!! I found your blog after googling “KonMari paper storage.” Right now, I’m going through all my papers and this post helped me figure out how to sort/store everything out post-purge.

    What I need to figure out is how to sort all knitting/crochet stuff.

    1. Hi, Angelina – so glad you found the blog, and thanks for your comment! I am so glad that I purged all the paper. I still use the file boxes I created when I purged, and I’ve gotten really good at recycling everything I don’t need.

      I wonder if something like a file cabinet with drawers and dividers would work? Or even stackable drawers? These drawers from The Container Store might work. You can get different sizes and combine them. I always like products I can customize.

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