Managing the mail (and all the other paper that regularly enters your home) doesn’t have to a dreaded chore. A mail management center gives you places to stash those papers so they don’t have to clutter up your kitchen counter or get lost behind the sofa.
I recommend your mail management center go as close as possible to wherever you tend to drop your mail. Chances are that it will take up less space than all those piles of mail you have been avoiding. Ideally, you will also have a trash or paper recycling bin within arm’s reach.
There are several product options for a mail management center: desktop files, magazine files, binders with pocket dividers, desktop sorters, or wall pockets. The Container Store is great for a large selection of attractive items, but Target, Wal-Mart and your local office supply store may all have some good options, too. You want something that offers a way to keep multiple, LABELED categories of paper together and easily accessible in one space. I am not in favor of stacking trays for people who are paper-challenged. They tend to become dark holes where things go in but never come out. Use with caution!
It may take a bit of trial and error to find what works best, so you might want to start with inexpensive options using things you already own or items purchased at a thrift store. Once you have determined what type of product you like, get the best/most attractive version you can afford. You want a product that you absolutely love, so that you will look forward to coming home and sorting those papers! On the other hand, you can also do this relatively inexpensively. I used a cut-down cereal box covered with my son’s artwork for several years before I upgraded.
Now, the categories! The goal of the mail center is to act as a filter and holding zone for new papers that come into your home. It is not intended for long-term storage of important papers that you need to keep indefinitely.
Here are some common categories and how they might be used:
- To pay: Bills
- To do: Papers that require action, like permission slips, smog check papers or questionnaires for your insurance company
- Events and activities: Invitations, tickets, flyers for upcoming events, schedules for gym classes
- To read: Magazines or other literature you’d like to review
- Shopping: Catalogs and coupons
- Pending: Papers to keep handy until something else happens, such as lab slips or a referral for a doctor appointment
- Receipts: Receipts for relatively inexpensive items to be kept only during the return period
- To File: Papers that require no further action but need to be kept, such as insurance policies and auto maintenance records
- Project: Papers pertaining to a current project, such as “Bathroom remodel” or “trip to London,” which can be tossed or filed away once the project is complete
- Other family members: These categories would have the names of the family members, to be used for papers to be given to them
- Shred: Paper that needs to be shred
Get creative naming your categories. As long as it makes sense to you, that’s all that matters. Too many categories can get confusing, so you may need to consolidate. For example, I combine my To Pay/To Do categories, since all those papers require action. If you’re having trouble coming up with categories, go through your mail and consider what you will do next with each piece of paper, when you will need that paper again, why you should keep it or who it should go to. You will probably start to see categories emerge.
Regular maintenance is essential for keeping your mail center from becoming overstuffed and unusable. Schedule time for taking care of To Do items, filing papers that will go to long-term file storage, and purging papers that have become obsolete. Once things are in good working order, maintenance often takes less than 10 minutes a week. A small price to pay for living without piles and the fear of unopened mail!
Want more exmaples? Search images.google.com for “desktop file storage,” “desktop sorters,” “magazine files,” and “wall pockets” for a plethora of ideas.