Paper Trail–4 Lessons I Learned From My September Paper Declutter

“We tend to think of decorating as adding things, but one of the best ways to get started on your living-space autobiography is by subtracting – ridding your home of objects that make you feel bad.”

–Martha Beck

(Note: I did not start my changes by decluttering. I started by adding something I love to my days!  My latest effort in decluttering grew out of the new clarity I gained by painting. With this clarity I could see the difference between the things I really wanted and didn’t want in my life. My home was a reflection of the “old” me.  It wasn’t reflecting what was most important to me, so I decided to make more room for what I really want by getting rid of some of the things I don’t really care about.)

Decluttering my home is like peeling back the layers of an onion.

Each time I do it, I go a little deeper and uncover some new layer I didn’t expect to find.

My latest adventure in decluttering my home was to take care of as much book and paper clutter as possible in the month of September.

These were my goals:

  • Plan and organize my school items.  It should be all wrapped up this weekend. I need to order some books and reserve some at the library and pick them up.
  • Go through and make decisions on my paper piles.  All my piles are gone. I have a couple pieces of paper that are not “put away” because they are something I’m planning on dealing with in November (when I’m taking care of unfinished business) or they are part of creating our new site and I’m currently working on them.
  • Declutter 100 books! (Yikes!) I DID it!!  I didn’t think I would do it but I did.
  • Declutter our filing cabinets I cleaned up what I could. The remaining few files weren’t touched because my husband was out of town and I didn’t want to dispose of something he didn’t want me to. That should also be taken care of this weekend.
  • Create a system for capturing and keeping all my ideas and notes. I think this will involve utilizing my iPad and Evernote a whole lot more. I haven’t really explored this area but now is the time to DO it. This was HUGE!  I’ve stared taking notes on my iPad and taking time to go through my notes of the day before bed.  Can I just say that Apple and Evernote both rock?

Lessons Learned

1. Scattered is just as distracting as cluttered.

I had a LOT of paper floating around but as I dealt with it this month I found out that it wasn’t just quantity that was the problem. It was scattered all over the place.  I home school my children and I had school paraphernalia in 5 different rooms!  I think this happened because there wasn’t room on bookshelves so I’d find a shelf somewhere else to put said school item.  I was wandering from the garage, to the laundry room, to the living room just to find some book that I just knew I had.  Clutter can suck up your time but so can being scattered.  I spent this past week “relocating” many scattered items into one same location.  With all the decluttering of books, magazines, and paper, I found space for all our current school books in ONE room.  I found this to be the case for recipes, art supplies, and theater information as well.  Not having to check in multiple places for an item has really simplified my life.

art desk clutter

2. Half the battle is keeping only what you really NEED to keep.

I have developed a habit of collecting images that I would like to paint one day.  That isn’t a bad thing to do but without a conscious plan it was getting out of control.  I had 10 wildlife calendars and 12 nature magazines stuffed into a bag in my closet for painting inspiration.  In most of these there was only one or two pictures I actually wanted, but I kept the WHOLE thing.  Those, along with some other papers, including old paintings that I no longer wanted, made for a huge arm load weighing about 8 pounds that I took to the recycle bin. (I didn’t count any of that towards my book declutter.)  There are lots of pretty things to paint.  One small bag full is probably enough inspiration for a while. 😉

paper clutter

Also in this category are: school papers, bills, receipts, old business cards of businesses I no longer used…

3.  Flat surfaces are vacuums that “stuff” wants to fill.

Flat surfaces accumulate stuff.  Period!  It doesn’t matter where the flat surface is, stuff gets places there–unless you’re really paying attention.  Which leads to my next lesson.

4.  Reality doesn’t always match up to fantasy. (Shocker, right?)

Most of my adult life I’ve fantasized about having a library.  A cozy, dark wood room with 2 big leather chairs in it.

beautiful library means I made it

photo credit: Marcus

If I couldn’t have that, well then, I wanted a wall of shelves filled with books and a stuffed chair with an ottoman waiting for me. In fact, having this library or wall was one of the markers I was holding onto to determine when I had “made it!”  You know, when life was all perfect and I had everything I wanted. 😉

Turns out, I don’t really want any of that!  Nobody is more surprised than me, but the reality is (at least my reality!) that books gather a lot of dust.  They are also sort of loud.  What I mean is that they can be distracting for me.  I, personally, feel better with fewer books, not more.

I have 2 book shelves in the garage waiting to be painted and brought into the house right now.  One of them isn’t coming in. The other one is coming in but it’s going next to my art desk.  It has 3 drawers for storing ugly art supplies!  It will be the answer to my art supplies being a bit scattered, not for storing more books.

Of all the things I have decluttered, cleaning up my paper clutter has had the most impact. It seems like such a little thing, but in controlling my paper clutter I found some of the simplicity I was longing for.

Here are a few resources for dealing with paper clutter:

I was really surprised that dealing with something as small as paper turned out to make the biggest impact on moving me closer to what I really want.





Kel Wilson

I am a wildlife biologist turned wife and mother, and more recently artist and blogger. It’s my mission to spread this idea to as many women as possible: Stop punishing and depriving yourself! You are so important, unique, and special! Start loving yourself enough to make the changes you need to find your happy place. Start doing this by adding something you love to your everyday life. I promise you, it will rock your world!

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6 Responses to Paper Trail–4 Lessons I Learned From My September Paper Declutter

  1. Nin-Carol says:

    I guess I’m dealing with paper clutter, too, this month, in the form of a huge pile of quilting magazines. What I’m doing (right now, in fact!) is scanning what I want to keep and then taking the rest to my quilt guild meetings where other quilters are happy to take them home. What doesn’t get taken after two months goes to the library book sale. I think I’ve gone through about 2/3 of my pile now. It’s only going to clear off a small part of one book shelf, but the psychological space is much bigger than that.

    • Kel Wilson says:

      I agree with your last statement so much Carol. The psychological space created by dealing wtih some of this stuff is enormous. So many books, magazines and piles that I would look at and think, “I really need to…(read it, save the pictures that I want, file, etc.)

      I find it interesting that this month has resulted in the most noticable amount of peace and simplicity in my life.

  2. Thank you for sharing my post, Kel. I’m glad you found it helpful!

    • Kel Wilson says:

      I’m not sure you remember, but we met in the hallway in Portland at World Domination just before entering the class rooms. :)
      I adore your blog and have found it SO helpful.
      Thank you for all the tips and help you give.

  3. Isn’t it nice to have everything you need for a certain task in one spot? And where you know it should be? I am enjoying having all my crochet stash (yarn, books, etc) all in one room and organized! Kudos to you, Kel, for getting all that paper weeded down and under control!

  4. […] paper clutter-files, books, magazines, art word, receipts, and general piles of white stuff.  You can read more about this category here, and here. […]

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