Mail: How to Set Up an Organizing System That Will Work Even if You Don't Like Paper
Mail. It's something many of us have a complicated relationship with. We approach mail in different ways which can prove interesting and sometimes challenging in households. Here are some tips and strategies that can help you make dealing with the mail a lot less painful. Maybe even nice :)
Step One: Getting the Mail from the Box to the House
Assign someone the job of bringing in the mail
Really? Yes. Who brings in the mail can be a source of frustration in some households. Because who brings it in (or doesn't) and where they put it sets up how easy it is to find and who sees it. In households of two or more assign the job of getting the mail to one person. It should be the person who has the least resistance to it. In couple dynamics there is usually one of the two who leans more toward structure. If that's you then play to your strength and own it.
Get your mail every day
Another thing that sounds pretty basic is that you should get your mail from the mailbox every day. But, for people who really don’t like dealing with paper this is a real thing. It’s not the end of the world if you don’t get the mail every day, but you’ll be better off in the long run if you do. By owning the daily walk to the mailbox you are taking the first steps in creating a new habit that will serve you well moving forward.
Step Two: I've Got Mail in My Hand. Now What?
First Stop - Recycling
Most mail is junk and can be recycled without opening. Keep a recycling bin at the door you come in through and do a quick sort to cull out the recycling before you come into the house. This is easy to set up especially If you are coming in from the garage or through a laundry room. You will probably be left with only a couple of pieces of mail to bring in.
Second Stop - Mail Drop
Designate one place in the house for the mail to be dropped. If there are multiple people in the house it needs to be a central location so everyone can check to see what's theirs. This is where you should be clear about who is in charge of bills and mail that effects the whole household like city notices and coupons.
The Mail Drop can be a tray, basket, or caddy, but keep it small. This is only a temporary stop for the mail. If you're a household of one, you can go directly to our next stop - Mail Central.
Third Stop - Mail Central
Designate your mail opening location. Once you’ve gotten your mail from the Mail Drop location it’s a good idea to take it directly to Mail Central. Ideally this is in your home office, or bedroom or wherever you've set up an office space. It’s really important to have a designated space in your home for office related things like bill pay, files, important papers, computer and printer accessories, office supplies, electronics, cords, work materials, etc. You don’t need a designated room for your home office. You can carve out a space with just a desk or table or even a cabinet. You could even turn a closet into an office area. But your mail is really part of that larger home office system. If you’ve got a trash can, recycling can, a shredder, and a file drawer with a file system you have everything you need to process paperwork.
I know many kitchens have a small desk area. This is fine for the Mail Drop, but I don’t recommend using that space for opening the mail. Without a way to sort your paper you will be creating piles that don’t always make sense and probably won’t go away any time soon. Kitchens tend to attract clutter so give yourself one less thing to have to manage in there.
Each person in the house should have their own Mail Central even if it's in the same room set up in a way that makes sense to them.
Step Three: I’ve opened my mail. What's next?
Time to sort! Most mail can be classified into four categories:
Immediate Attention – Requires action within one week
To Do – Requires action within the month
To Be Filed – Document categories such as bills, employment, financials, insurance, medical history, taxes
To Be Shredded – Personal info containing things like Social Security numbers, bank accounts, and sensitive medical info
This is where your personality will help you create the system that's right for you.
If you don’t mind dealing with papers and are good with follow through, then having a four-part set of sorting trays or a multi section caddy will work great. Most people don't have a lot of surface area to work with so trays that stack will help you save space. Again, I recommend they be relatively small so you will be prompted to empty them out sooner than later. Labels will make things even easier. If you have a shredder and shred every day then you only need three trays.
Even if you're really good with paperwork I would steer clear of drawers - the black holes of the paper world.
If you don’t do well with papers tucked away - out of sight, out of mind, then you may need a more lateral layout. Maybe four open trays side by side instead of stacked so they are more visible. You could even try putting your Immediate Attention mail on your computer keyboard. I have even had a client who pinned their Immediate Attention mail to a bulletin board so it was always visible. Do whatever works for you. The most important point is that whatever sorting system you choose is intuitive to you and easy to use.
Step Four: Mail sorted, check. I’m ready for the next step.
Congratulations! You’ve created some organization in your daily routine.
Now comes the part that pretty much all of us struggle with to some degree. Taking action.
Even the most organized person has trouble sometimes getting motivated to deal with the mail that comes in. It’s usually something that requires a phone call, some internet research, reading, or some multistep process that involves other people. It may just be something we find stressful like paying bills or tedious like filing. Whatever it is, most of us are resistant to some degree or another. The more resistant you are the sooner the piles form and the taller they get. I know because I am a recovering pile maker.
Think about how you feel when you sit down to start or even think about starting to work on your papers. Does it feel constrictive, boring, heavy? It is possible to change how you feel about something. You just have to change the way you think about it. Feelings follow thoughts. It takes practice, but it is possible. Really :)
Your two greatest allies in this shift are having fun and the momentum of habit. Make the process something pleasurable and light:
Play your favorite music or podcast.
Have your favorite beverage ready - and spill proof.
Turn on the diffuser with your favorite essential oil.
Choose the time of day that you are at your best and have good energy. If you always open the mail when you are exhausted after a long day at work you will start to associate that feeling of fatigue and maybe even powerlessness with the mail.
If you have a negative association with getting mail come up with the opposite scenario and imagine that every day. Instead of dreading a bill imagine getting a check for $100. Your imagination is a powerful tool and over time can change your beliefs which in turn change your emotions.
If you start out well, but begin to feel negative and shut down take a break! Nothing is gained from powering through - except to reinforce the idea that mail and paperwork are a burden.
My best advice in dealing with mail
Create a system that works for you and be consistent. It may take a couple of months to fine tune it, but once you've got a system in place it will make everyone's routines better. Households work better when there are systems in place because everyone knows what to expect and how they contribute for the good.
Stay ahead of it. If you're not able to take care of things on a daily basis then calendar one day a week for a couple of hours and knock it all out. If you go for more than two weeks things will start to get overwhelming.
If you have had a chronic problem with mail and the piles are getting to you it may be helpful to call in a professional. An organizer will help you reset your space so you can get a fresh start. Many also provide quarterly maintenance sessions to help you stay on track with your paperwork goals. Don't be embarrassed to ask for help. I can promise you there are more people who struggle with mail and paperwork than don't.
Eliminate as much mail as possible. If you haven't already, go to paperless billing and get document notifications via email. This lessens your paper load and helps the environment.
I cannot tell you how great it feels to see a clean desk. And, when it’s consistently clean it’s a game changer in your attitude about yourself and your home.
Make the mail your friend. It feels nice. Really :)