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7 Ways to Reduce Paper Clutter

By: Stacy Yu

Paper is often the primary cause of home and office clutter.  Although services such as electronic statements and receipts can help reduce the clutter some, often times, it may not be enough.

If your home or office is engulfed in unwanted paper clutter, here are seven ways that can help you take back control of your valuable space.

1. Junk Mail

Whether it is in your inbox or your mailbox, junk mail can become quite a nuisance.  To reduce the paper clutter that reaches your home in the form of junk mail, simply remove your name from company mailing lists. Montgomery County, in association with Catalog Choice, offers a free service where residents and business owners can request that their names be removed from mailing lists.  Simply search for the junk mail provider, and make the request.   Once done, you should no longer receive unwanted catalogs, coupons, credit card offers, phone books, circulars, and more. 

For junk mail that does reach your mailbox, paper recycling is a fantastic option.  Montgomery County's paper recycling will accept pieces that contain envelop windows, staples and paper clips.  All of the non-paper items commonly found on junk mail are sorted out during the recycling process.

2. Tax Returns

When it comes to taxes, in the event of an audit, it is a good idea to have hard copies of old tax returns on hand.  Depending on the situation, the length of time that official paperwork should be kept can vary. If you have questions regarding how long you need to have hard copies of old returns available, the U.S. Internal Revenue Service has provided some good guidelines to follow on their page, "How Long Should I Keep Records."  Records that go beyond the necessary time period for kept documents should be shredded for security purposes.

3. Receipts

For business expenses, medical expenses, home improvements, and items requiring proof of purchase for warranties, receipts should always be kept. For all other expenses, keeping the physical receipt is not necessary.  However, spending amounts should be recorded for budgeting purposes.  There are many receipt scanning software programs on the market that can help keep your spending records organized, without accumulating additional paper clutter.  All unwanted receipts should be shredded to protect any personal or credit card information.

4. Utility Bills

Electronic billing can make reducing paper clutter caused by bills easy.  Whether electronic or paper, utility payment information should be kept for up to one year in the event of any billing issues. If you claim a portion of your monthly utility bill as a business expense, statements should be kept for 3-7 years in case of an audit. In addition, always keep one utility bill from each addressed where you have lived.  When applying for new lines of credit, creditors will often require information on the last five places of residence.  For those situations, having old utility bills can be useful.   All unneeded bills should be shredded to protect any personal information listed on the statements.

5. Pay Stubs

All paystubs should be kept throughout the year. Once a W-2 is received at the end of the year, verify the amount. If the amounts match, keep a copy of your W-2, and the remaining back-up documents should be shredded.

6. School Work

If you have children, a large bulk of paper clutter enters the home in the form of schoolwork.  Many of these items need to be saved for a short period of time as references for future tests or teacher conferences.   File folders and boxes are a great way to keep it all in order while needed.  At the end of each school year, keep only a few examples of work, as well as report cards and formal assessments to show progression for your records. The remaining work can be recycled.

7. Arts & Crafts

If you have little ones at home, the number of art & craft projects entering the house can be overwhelming.  Many small children can bring home anywhere from four to five larger crafts plus a countless number of pictures a week – all of which are waiting to be proudly displayed throughout the house.  To keep these labors of love from taking over your home, every few weeks, select one of two of your favorites pieces to keep in a memory box to cherish for years to come. As you receive pieces that you prefer over the ones previously selected, replace one of the pieces that may not be as high on your "must keep" list with the new project.  For the remaining masterpieces, try to re-use materials for new projects if possible. Recycling is a great option too! Montgomery County will collect all paper products, as long as it is not contaminated with paint, food, chemicals, or kitty litter. Paper with crayon and acrylic paint can be recycled. If a craft has been adorned with special pompoms, sequins, or other special accessories, try removing the extras before putting them in the recycling bin. If you can't get all the non-paper off the project, Montgomery County's Recycling Center has a mechanism to handle small non-paper items during the recycling process.  Photographs of your favorite art pieces in lieu of keeping the actual piece may be an even better option to reclaim even more of your space from paper clutter.


FREE PAPER SHREDDING EVENT! MAFCU will be hosting a free community shredding event on Saturday, May 14 at the Germantown Branch.  Bring sensitive paper documents to be destroyed at our Germantown MAFCU branch.  All paper documents will be accepted. Materials received at this event will be destroyed by Office Paper Systems (, a NAID certified organization.



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