Getting to Zero – Sorting the Mail

January 2, 2008

When we returned from a week in California this was the mail pile. No it’s probably not nearly as bad as what some return to, but it is still much more mail then we get on a daily basis.

That being said I knew I could get through all of it in about an hour because of the systems I have set up.

Here’s how I approach sorting mail
– Open your mail near a recycling bin. My mail station is the dining room table, where I have a small mail opener that I got at Staples, and a paper recycling bag we bring out every few weeks to the side of the road!

  • Categories
    • To be shredded
    • To be dealt with (emailed, called, inputted into computer, etc. – basically this pile comes with me to my desk where I take another look)
    • To be read
    • To be tossed (you’re already near a recycling bin – do it now!)

– Immediately TOSS all junk mail, catalogs you’re not interested in reading, notes you receive but don’t want to keep etc.

Credit Card Offers: We get probably 8 of these a week -I guess that could be viewed as a positive sign of our good credit but for me it’s just a pain. I open the envelope, throw out the return envelope and any enclosures, and put the actual offer in a pile to be shredded

Christmas Cards / Thank you Notes / Personal Correspondence: Many clients I work with feel guilty about throwing away personal correspondence lest it somehow offend the person who sent it. My view is that you received the card, have enjoyed it, and now will let it go on it’s merry way into the recycling bin! If you do want to save any of this correspondence create a place for it – a box, a file folder, a drawer, and immediately bring it to that spot. I have one spot for business correspondence i.e. Christmas cards from clients, Thank you notes, etc. and another for personal correspondence that I want to save.

Bank Statements: Can you choose paperless billing instead? Do you have your accounting software that needs to be reconciled on a monthly basis (the answer for any small business owner should be yes!!)? If you do receive a paper statement put it in a pile to be dealt with at your desk and then do it. I file my bank statements in a binder and keep them for one year. After that I shred them. Arguably with the advances in online banking you probably don’t need to keep your statements at all once you’ve reconciled them but for now it’s a habit for me and can be useful to easily look back on.

Solicitations: We all get solicited by many different charities each year. Just because you are sent a solicitation does not mean you have to give! If you do want to make a donation put it in your “desk” pile. If not – recycle! Don’t let it sit on your desk while you decide – do it today!

Magazines: How many magazines do you subscribe to? Do you enjoy reading all of them? Is it overwhelming to you when you get behind? I deal with business and personal reading differently

  • Business:
    • I subscribe to Rangefinder and Professional Photographer
    • I put them in a pile for when we go away for a weekend – then I catch up!
    • I keep them for now but truthfully doubt I’ll really go back and re-read them. Recently I’ve started flagging articles I think could be helpful in the future so I can immediately see where the pink flags are.
    • Some people like to keep them as decoration in their office or to show off to clients when they come in. That’s fine – just make sure they have a place and are contained.
  • Personal
    • I subscribe to Cooking Light & Real Simple
    • I recently let my subscriptions lapse to Everyday Food and Bon Appetit. Jeff and I love to cook but I have over 100 recipes we haven’t tried in a folder in our kitchen and I figured I didn’t need to keep adding to that πŸ™‚
    • These magazines go by the bed so I can enjoy them before bed
    • After I’m finished with the magazine I “pay it forward” and pass it along to someone else – a friend, the person sitting next to me on the bus – whoever. They are usually thrilled with the gesture and it gets the excess paper out of your house

Bills: Bring these to your desk or wherever your “station” is. At my desk I have my checkbook, stamps, return address labels, envelopes, and pens. In short – I have everything I need right at my finger tips so I don’t need to get up and get distracted when paying bills. After I’m done paying them I file them in the relevant folder (Utilities, Marketing, Health)

Basically the point of all this is to have a place for everything and a plan for everything so piles don’t start to build up. Often piles happen because you don’t know what to do with something – don’t have a plan for it.

If you’re confused about a piece of mail ask yourself:

  • What do I have to do about this?
  • Where will that happen?
  • When will I do it? (hopefully that same day so it can then be filed)

What else comes through your mail that you don’t know how to deal with?

How can I help?

Have a great night and happy sorting πŸ™‚

Get your mail to zero each and every day and voila – it doesn’t build up!! Good luck!

Grazier Photography

This is such a great post! From where I’m sitting I can see….. 9 piles. Time to catch up! Miss you – it would be so much fun to get together and hang out to catch up on boot camp goals and stuff!

Even worse than mail lately, has been my son’s book bag. Everyday he comes home with papers he worked on at school and little craft projects. I have been trying to toss as much as possible, but there is always that MOM guilt of not saving something that I should.

Smith Gallery Photography

you have to have one of the coolest photography logos I’ve ever seen- it’s striking! Your photos are beautiful as well!

Krista Guenin Photography

That’s exactly what I do! I always thought it was SO obvious – until I moved in with a roommate who literally goes through all her mail once a month!!

p.s. I LOVE Real Simple – if you ever feel like passing some on my way πŸ˜‰

Robin Dini Photography

Awesome tips Amanda! I am happy to say that I do most of those things when I check the mail. Frank and I each have our own small basket (from IKEA of course) that we use to put our daily mail. Next to it is our swanky tin “Peanuts” wastepail which we throw the envelopes, inserts, and excess in. Bills have their envelopes paperclipped to them and put into a yellow folder on our desk. Magazines go straight to the bathroom πŸ™‚ and once every few months, we purge the magazines and rip pages out to paste into an inspirational journal or store for reference. I have a magazine addiction! W, RangeFinder, Rachel Ray and Organize Mag.

anywho….thanks for the inspiration.

im with you on the christmas card/recycling point — i still feel guilty about it a little sometimes, so good to know someone concurs!

fantastic post! I HATE mail and how more & more of it piles up every day. I started throwing stuff out right away and it’s been so much better! Now we just have to get better with the “to be dealt with ” pile!

can’t wait for lunch! when are we doing that by the way?


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