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Paper clutter can be cut down to size

Start this year with simple but life-changing habits that will get you out from under all that paper. Clutter problems can be easily remedied with small changes to your routine.

Paperless banking : Paying bills online reduces the mail you receive. Plus you'll use fewer checks, save on postage and won't worry about bills or payments arriving on time. You can pay through a biller's Web site, through your bank's online service, or research other reputable options online. Look for services that are free or have minimal charges, receive your bills and send you e-mail reminders or allow automated payments.

If you're still storing monthly bank statements and posted paper checks, sign up to have your bank deliver them online instead.

Sort the mail: Identify the area where the mail typically piles up. Is it a hall table; a desk? Clear it off, wipe it down and set up your organization system.

You'll need a recycling bin, a paper shredder or scissors, and a tray. When you bring in the mail, everything has a place: toss junk mail into the recycling bin, shred mail that might contain personal information, place bills and other important mail in the tray. Empty the shredder and recycling bin often to keep the area clean, sorted and pile free.

Read and recycle : Most people hang on to newspapers and magazines because of an article they hope to read. Solution: remove the article, staple the pages together, recycle the rest. Keep articles in a place where you're likely to read them or carry them in your purse or car for when you are waiting at the doctor's office or want to read during lunch hour.

To keep periodicals from piling up, try this experiment: if you get your newspaper daily, give yourself 24 hours to read it. Do this for two weeks; then ask yourself if you really read the newspaper everyday. Could you find the same news online? Answering this question could help you save space and money.

Try this for magazines, too. If an issue arrives weekly, give yourself no more than seven days to read it; biweekly, 14 days; and monthly, 30 days. When the new issue arrives, the previous issue should be recycled. This test will let you know which reading materials are worth the investment.

Categorize tax receipts : Make a list of all the categories from your Schedule A or Schedule C tax forms, the ones you take as deductions (expenses related to a job search, medical and certain travel). Label one pocket folder for each category and place it in a filing cabinet or file box where you have daily access to it. When you have a receipt, drop it into the appropriate folder. At the end of the year, there'll be no need to search for receipts.

Tote purchases home : Where do you keep your collection of grocery and shopping bags after a visit to the store? Next time you go to the market or drug store, bring along a tote bag to carry items home. Most stores sell reusable bags for a dollar or two. It's a great investment that will save trees, cut down on plastic bags in landfills and free up storage space.

Web posted on Thursday, January 21, 2010

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