How to find your dining room table under that pile of mail

By on Dec 22nd

japanese junk mail © by eblaser, used under Creative Commons license.

I was wondering if y'all have any suggestions for filing/storing things like mail/bills/tax information/etc.

Right now, I tend to just throw it on top of (what used to be) a dining room table, but it has gotten to the point where it is just too much. Halp?


This is a huge question, and I'm going to focus on exactly one part of it: dealing with the mail. I realize this is just one part of your question, but it's the part I have my own obsessive system to share with you.

First: getting to zero.

Schedule 30 minutes. Sort through every piece of mail, recycle the junkmail, and then open every single envelope. (Use a sharp letter opener! Always makes it more fun for me, somehow.) Recycle the outer envelopes. Then…

Go paperless

On your bills, use a red pen to circle the websites for each company. Go to those websites and sign up for paperless billing. It will seriously take you half an hour, TOTAL, and will save you SO MUCH PAPER coming to your house. These companies don't want to send you these papers — it costs them money they could be saving by just sending you an email. They all want you to go paperless, and you want to go paperless.

Ok. Now you're down to zero, and you've ensured that less new mail is going to be showing up. That only took half an hour, amiright? NOW, let's get down to some incoming organizational hotness:

Have a recycling bin next to your mailbox

For the stuff you can't stop (coupon mailers, direct mail, alumni publications you can't escape), have a recycling bin as close to your mailbox as humanly possible. We have ours directly underneath the postbox that sits outside our door. Junk mail doesn't even get into our house — I stand there and sort the mail as it comes out of the box. If it's junk, it's not coming in my front door. (Pro tip: don't recycle financial stuff that could get swiped from the bin and lead to identity theft.)

Deal with it immediately

A couple days a week, we will have legitimate mail arrive — a royalty report from my long-suffering lit agent! Dre's yoga journal! A card from a friend. (NOT ENOUGH! I miss snail mail. Remind me to tell y'all about how I grew up obsessed with pen-pals and had a hand-drawn spreadsheet to help me keep track of who I'd written and when.) When I walk in the door from my recycling binge with this fresh, legitimate mail, I try to treat it like fruit: perishable.
My goal is to walk in the door and make that piece of mail my first order of business. Usually it's something like this:

  • BILL: pull out my checkbook and write the check. Stamp it and put it in my bag to mail. All before I take off my coat.
  • PERSONAL: hang it up on the sentimental laundry line where I can enjoy it and be visually reminded (pleasently!) to respond
  • SOMEONE ELSE'S: prop it on Dre's laptop keyboard for him to deal with, which leads me to my next tip…

Have a non-pile place for later-mail and/or other people's mail

For material you can't deal with right away, or that needs to be dealt with by someone else — store the mail vertically. Pinned to somethinging, hanging from something, propped on something. Do not let the mail go horizontal, because then it becomes a Pile Of Shit, and no one wants to go through that. Seriously: I am impeccably organized, and even *I* hate a fucking a Pile Of Shit. (The worst are mixed-media Piles Of Shit, where you've got a shirt, a fork, one cell charging cord and some bills all in one stack. DID YOU HEAR MY HEAD JUST COLLAPSE!? Order-implosion and now I cease existing because I imploded from the freaking out.)

The goal is to keep the mail QUICK and ACTIONABLE. Circle the shit that needs your attention and tape it in front of your face. On the inside of your front door, on the edge of your computer monitor covering the bottom left corner. I find computers are a great place for putting mail that needs attending to, and if your mail was on top of your laptop instead of your dining room table, you couldn't have sent in that question without sorting through it. SEE?!

Stick that mail between the keys of your computer. Tape it to the middle of your tv screen. Stick it in your fridge, on the carton of your choice. Put it somewhere vertical, somewhere visible, and somewhere that you like to go when you're killing time that you could be spending getting stupid piddly mail shit out of your way so that you can fully enjoy your day without that shit hanging over you — OR your dining room table.

So, are you feeling me here?

  1. set aside 30 minutes to sort backlog
  2. switch bills, statements, etc. to paperless
  3. recycle outside
  4. have vertical, non-piled ways to store mail

This is the method that works for me, but my brain certainly isn't everyone's brain — I'd love to hear how y'all manage the flow of paper into your homes.

(PS: Don't get me started on USPS and their direct marketing-based failed strategies. I have unpopular opinions.)