There seems to be an unlimited amount of paper that can be thrown away in our home at all times. No matter how much I feel I’ve already thrown away, there always seems to be more, lurking in the office, under the coffee table, in the bathroom. And every week scads more of it try to find a way into our home in the form of junk mail, free local newspapers and catalogs. We have a 240L (64 gallon) trash can just for paper and it is full to the point of overflowing every single month.

It’s hard to imagine, but I have thrown away about 15 pounds of paper trash this weekend. Some of that was catalogs, some was just general stuff that had accumulated, and a good chunk of it was a collection of little magazines published every 2 weeks that had info about local happenings in it. Somehow in my mind, I thought I was doing us a favor by saving them. I kept saying that we could look back in them at some point to help us find contractors or whatever…but the truth of the matter is that a 4 year old booklet is going to be rather useless because companies change, people go out of business, and we’d probably never find the info we wanted in there anymore now. Instead we just use the Internet which is wildly faster and more up to date.

If you look around you and notice that there are magazines and old newspapers piled up, if you filing cabinet is overflowing, if you can’t find the top of your desk, it’s time to get started.

  1. Throw away last year’s (and even last season’s) catalogs – the prices change, the products change, and you can usually find it all on their website anyway (and more quickly than flipping through the catalog muttering that you know it’s somewhere on a left page…)
  2. Get rid of the magazines you just know you’re going to read one day. My mother-in-law is digitizing recipes (mostly because they split their time between Germany and Florida and she wants her recipes to tag along) and I LOVE this. Making them JPG’s so she can flip through them as images, zoom in, etc. When we finally break down and get another scanner (since ours has become a large paperweight), I am totally doing this.
  3. Let go of the old financial statements like credit card statements, old utility bills and pay stubs from five years ago. I won’t go into all the details which have been rehashed over and over (you can find some good guidelines on what to keep here) but chances are you have a whole lot more paper in your filing cabinet than you actually need!
  4. Old newspapers that you have no use for should get tossed. We have a big stack of old papers for newspaper pots and other random projects that require protecting something from paint, glue, etc…but all the new ones get tossed now after browsing (or until the new ones come) and anything we want to save for the future gets clipped and filed away.
  5. File the important stuff regularly. Try to set aside 10 minutes a day or a time once a week to file stuff so it doesn’t pile up and become a daunting task. Keep tax stuff together (receipts for stuff you are writing off, showing proof of, etc). Create a system that works for you. It can be file folders, an accordion file or even binders like they use here in Germany–just make sure you’re comfortable with it and keep following up with the filing process. I use a combination of things, mostly my legal hanging file folders (which I brought with me from the US and have become amazingly thrifty about since they don’t really have anything comparable here) but also a few German binders for stuff that deals with our house, our German banking statements, and so on (which amusingly enough is mailed to you with holes punched in the side most of the time, showing that Germans and binders go together like lamb and tuna fish).
  6. Reuse what you can (as needed) before you recycle it. We’ve started using the backs and bottom half of papers (without the personal information) to write grocery shopping lists on, as scratch paper or for Mackenzie to draw on. We now seem to have an unlimited supply of paper for to doodle and sometimes I even find things that I can print recipes on for future dinners.
  7. Sell, donate or swap books you have never read or never will again. I know they aren’t exactly the same as old bank statements or magazines, but books can take up a LOT of space and if you never intend to read that terrifying book about how horrible pregnancy is again or just couldn’t get through some book in the first place, why is it still sitting around in your house? There’s plenty of places to sell used books, from amazon to ebay to (in the US), there are lots of book swapping clubs popping up, and if you can’t get rid of them any other way, donate them to a library, charity, youth center or via freecycle.
  8. Don’t let the junk mail into the house. Each person consumes 230 Kilos of paper in Germany, almost 40% of it for unwanted mail. If you’re extra conscious, you might want to tear off your name and address before you drop it in the recycle bin to lower identity theft risk. I always tear up or shred things like credit card or loan offers as well. There are no junk mail lists in the US but here in Germany, all you need to do is put a sticker on your mailbox that says “Keine Werbung” (No Advertising). Just google for them to find companies selling them. Or download and print one of these cool Keine Werbung stickers.
  9. If you don’t have time to read the magazines or newspapers you are subscribing to, you might as well cancel the subscriptions and save the money for something else. And you won’t have to look at them staring at you from the corner anymore.
  10. Take baby steps to get rid of the buildup. You didn’t collect all that paper in one hour, so don’t expect to get rid of it that quickly either.

Is paper overtaking your house? What have you done lately to control it?

Do you have curbside paper recycling options in your area?