As a former middle school English and History teacher, I know a thing or two about paper. Invented by the Chinese during the Han dynasty, it is an effective fiber for spreading both ideas and nasty flu and cold viruses. It is the party animal of communication tools, always cramming itself into dark backpacks or throwing itself onto tall, gorgeous stacked papers. It has mad ninja skills, stealthily sneaking around a classroom or home so that when you need a particular sheet of it printed with important characters, you can stare right at it and not see it, so skillfully can it camouflage itself.
One of my former colleagues was a Zen Master of the Paper Dragon. I went to her pristine, paper-free classroom one day, bowed at the waist, and said, “Sensei, please teach me the ways of taming the paper dragon.” She deadpanned, “Touch Paper Once, Grasshopper.”
Touch Paper Once is a mantra I find myself repeating when things start looking a bit flammable in my office, car or bookbag. Here are three systems I employ to Touch Paper Once.
1. Stop paper at the threshold. I will go into my devotion to the concept of “threshold” in a future blog-post, but the essential gist is that once things from “out there” cross the threshold of your house, they become your possessions, and they will drain the joy out of you drop by drop if you let them. If you have a paper grinder, put it in the garage. When you get the mail, walk directly to the paper grinder and grind up things you did not request. If there are catalogs that will tempt you to spend what you do not have, rip off the cover with your name and address, grind that, and toss the rest in a bin for recycling. If there are bills or notices, take them out of the envelope and grind anything you do not need, then carry the essential part directly to the in-box or the money center of the home. Put magazines in the car and read them when you are waiting for your child’s piano lesson to end. Tear articles you want and recycle the rest. Or donate them to the piano teacher. Other parents will be grateful.
2. Pay everything online with a credit card or two. I discovered that on manilla.com I can manage my bank statements, credit card bills, mileage accounts and most of my utilities so that I don’t have to bounce around from one website to the next, trying to recall passwords. I pay everything from my mortgage to my electric bill with autopay, and can see everything laid out in a virtual desktop to keep my sanity when paying bills. Because most recurring bills go to my Amex or Visa bill, I am accumulating points which I use on Amazon.com or to book travel. And manilla.com emails me reminders to pay bills that aren’t on autopay.
3. Create a portable file system in individual, colorful plastic crates. Then take the small stack of paper that has slipped over your threshold, turn on Real Housewives, and file papers into appropriate files. I love those plastic filing crates because they stack easily, they add virtually no weight to the paper you are putting in them, and they suggest impermanence or “These papers will someday go in the shredder” unlike a huge, dull, gray filing cabinet.
You have probably figured out that the “Once” in “Touch Paper Once” is a playful suggestion of a low number, but if you can make three changes to your paper habits like the three I have outlined here, you have a pretty good chance of keeping that Ninja Dragon from doing the Conga across your threshold.
© Sarah Gant, edit Organizing 05/3/12
Photo: Artist is Matt Clark, wehaveaproblem.com