Once an older adult has gotten past avoidance and committed to doing something about that growing paper clutter, it can be helpful to have a tried and tested strategy for success. In an interview with Suite101, personal organizer Kate Rhoad says it can be done, adding that one key is to break the job into one small decision at a time.
Seniors Find Increasing Paper Around the House is Product of Indecision
Older adults may find themselves picking up a piece of paper, looking at it or flipping through several, then laying it back down without taking action on it. There are some guidelines which may help:
- Handle paper only once (a good lesson some have learned from time management knowledge).
- At the very least move it along the continuum. For example, it can be put in a phone call stack, pending, or filed in such a way retrieving is painless.
- Put on the calendar if action is needed by a certain date, and the paper can be retrieved from files.
Tips for Seniors to Use When Opening Mail
Open the mail in the same place daily, where there is a trash can and recycle box at arm’s reach. It is vital to discard what is not necessary and have a system for working through the rest. Grab a cup of coffee or tea and deal with the mail immediately as it is being opened – choosing discard, recycle, or pending file.
- If it is a bill, put in the “Bills to Pay” file and mark the calendar with due date. (Many older adults prefer to pay bills only once or twice a month to avoid constant deadlines with due dates. That is a good choice.)
- If it is a bill, keep the return envelope and place the part to be returned in the envelope the right way for mailing. Then unfold the rest of the bill as to be visible when the “Bills to Pay” file is opened.
- If it is not a bill, the usual choice is to discard. Rarely there will be something to be put on the calendar like an invitation or something needing a response. Items needing a response may be placed in a “To Do” folder and/or list.
- For items like auto insurance renewals use the “One in, one out” rule: As the new one is put in the file, remove and shred the old one as there is no archival need to save it. Thus the file doesn’t keep growing.
Resist the habit of laying any paper down; deal with it on the first handling. If it’s to be filed; if it is pending, put it in the pending file.
Only Three Things Can Happen to a Piece of Paper
- After asking oneself “Do I care?” and finding it not personally important, trash or recycle.
- If a person cares about the piece of paper, take action (pay bill, mark calendar, hang on bulletin board, etc).
- If really needed, file for archival purposes, avoiding filing items which will never be needed like old bills which have been paid since the new bill verifies the account is current. Filing shouldn’t be a dead end street; paperwork can keep moving through the system and much of it should end up being recycled or trashed.
The idea is to think of paper like a sink – keep it flowing so it moves along and doesn’t stop up. Perhaps learning about the Bucket Theory by Kate Rhoad will help people visualize a way to succeed in the war against growing paper stacks. Older people sometimes say paper seems to multiply in their living space. The secret is to keep it moving and make one decision at a time but use a system of making these little decisions on a regular basis.
Why are Seniors Surrounded by Paper?
There are several reasons paper can overwhelm seniors. One is emotional attachment involving memories; keep in mind giving up the paper doesn’t mean letting go of the memory. Another stress factor is expectations; older adults at times set expectations of high-energy performance which they are not able to live up to any more. However, by making one little decision at a time, both of the overwhelming issues can be made more manageable.
Seniors can deal with the paper in their lives. Since growing stacks of paper around the house are a product of indecision, people can take proactive steps to get the system flowing. They can open mail in a way which requires them to touch each paper only once, making small decisions as they go. Since only three things can happen to a piece of paper, making the needed choices won’t be as hard as previously thought. This can be the day to get that paper moving!
Source: Most of the above ideas came from interviews in the fall of 2009 with Kate Rhoad, professional organizer in The Woodlands, Texas.