We all have mail coming in every day, and for busy people, dealing with it can be a drag. However, a simple system can help you get on top of your bills, letters, and circulars before they turn into serious clutter.
Before you can get your mail under control, you’ll need to sort through your current paper and mail clutter. Check out our article on how to organize paper clutter, which covers going through old mail, documents, and the like.
Once you have your paperwork, including old mail, sorted out, you’ll be able to start clean with new mail as it comes in.
Setting Up Your Mail Space
We encourage you to have a space to deal with your mail. Most of us these days have a computer desk, and that’s a great place to set up your new system. You may also prefer to take care of it at the dining room table, while sitting in an easy chair, or something else that works for you.
We’ll cover how to set this up at your desk. If you choose to work elsewhere, you’ll need to either bring certain things with you, or have them nearby.
Set up a physical inbox, “current” box, and outbox. These may be trays you keep on your desk, or hanging wall trays that go beside or above it. We prefer wall trays, because they help save precious desk space and are less likely to get knocked on the ground. Also, three trays can take up a lot of room on a desk, but three wall trays can look sharp in a row or a column. In order from left to right or top to bottom, you’ll have your inbox, “current” box, and outbox.
Keep your checkbook, stamps, envelopes, and pens nearby, such as in a desk drawer or on your desk.
If you don’t have one already, get a file box for hanging folders. After you have paid a bill, keep the paperwork for several months before you shred it. You can also designate a few folders in your file box for business or personal correspondence.
Beneath the desk, or under the hanging trays, keep a trash can specifically for mail recycling.
Finally, consider getting a shredder. As we explained in our article on organizing paper clutter, a shredder makes it much easier to protect your personal information.
Using Your Setup
All this shouldn’t take up too much space, and it will make dealing with your mail much easier. Before we get to how to use it, however, we recommend going paperless when possible. Most services will now allow you to pay over the phone or online. You may still opt to get a paper bill, and if you do, that’s fine. Rather than writing a check and sending it off, consider the physical bill a reminder, and pay it online.
That said, the system works like this.
Pick up your mail from your mailbox and take it to your desk. As you go through it, get rid of junk mail right away. If you get discount mailers and like to go through the coupons, that’s fine. You’ll know what you don’t need. Put it right in your recycling bin. That will quickly lower the amount of mail you need to deal with.
If you want to, you can deal with the mail right away, but perhaps you can’t get to it until after dinner or before bed. That’s fine. Just make a time to get to it. After you’ve dumped the junk mail, put the rest in your inbox.
When you get to the substantive mail, check your bills, your letters, and so on. Put anything you can’t take care of immediately into the “current” basket. Respond to what you can, seal and stamp the envelope, and put it in the outbox. The next time you go out, take it with you, and mail it at a post office. If there’s paperwork left over, such as with a billing statement, put that in one of your hanging files.
The next time you get your mail, repeat the above. However, look through the “current” basket before you deal with the mail in the inbox. There may be a letter you’re ready to respond to, or a bill you’re ready to pay. Take care of it, then deal with the inbox mail.
About once a month, go through your hanging files and shred bills and bank statements more than three or four months old. Put full shredder bags in your recycling.
When your paper recycling gets full, put it in your recycling pickup. If you don’t have that, we encourage you to drop it off at a recycling center.
That’s it! With these steps, you should have no trouble keeping up with your mail as it comes in.