By Nicole Anzia
Special to the Washington Post
— Just as I was beginning to feel caught up on paperwork after Thanksgiving, the mail dropped through the slot in my front door. The enormous thud actually made me groan. In December, the constant stream of catalogues, bills, invitations, solicitations from charitable organizations, holiday cards and packages is relentless, leaving even the most organized among us wondering what to do with it all.
The key to making it through the month without feeling like you're buried in paper is to take time to "process" your mail each day. Here are some tips for how to manage almost everything your mail carrier delivers.
Even though we all receive fewer catalogues than in the past, the stacks still pile up daily in December. Take a quick look at each day's arrivals. Recycle as many as possible and set aside only those that you know you will look through. Many people are nostalgic about holiday catalogues and find them difficult to discard, but try not to get too attached. Many retailers send almost the same catalogue each week, and you can always find what you need online. To reduce the flow of catalogues in the New Year, go to www.catalogchoice.org to opt out of mailings from specific retailers or simply call the number on the back of each publication and ask them to stop sending to your home.
Cards are definitely the most fun thing to open this time of year, but they also pile up quickly. After you admire your cousin's new baby, make note of the return address and recycle the envelope. All of the cards should be kept in one place. You can hang them or place them in a basket, but don't leave them scattered throughout the house.
Open them. Ignoring them will not make them disappear. Discard everything except the statement and the return envelope (if you plan to mail your payment). Place all the bills in one place, pay them every two weeks, and file at the end of the month. Because we can pay bills from almost anywhere now, it is easy for statements to end up in a purse, on a bedside table or in the car. Try to pay and save them in one location. And while you're at it, create new file folders for 2013.
Solicitations from charities
As 2012 draws to a close, charitable organizations are making their final push for donations, and all of those solicitations are arriving in your mailbox. If you're stalling because you don't have a record of your giving throughout the year, take some time to find records of your previous donations. Look through bank statements, your email inbox and your credit card statements. Log them all into one document. This will make your final giving decisions easier. And even though you still have almost four more weeks to donate for this tax year, it is far better to have this wrapped up before the celebrations begin.
During the holiday season, paper invitations to special events and parties will arrive in your mailbox. You have probably received a few already. RSVP to them immediately. It takes only a minute, the host will be thrilled for the prompt response, and you won't have to add the task to your growing to-do list. Don't forget to put the details on your calendar.
Gifts from family and friends will also start appearing in the next week or two, as well as some of those cyber purchases. Resist the urge to just stack them in the corner. The contents of the boxes can probably be condensed significantly. If you need the items to remain secret, wrap them or consolidate them in a sealed container that you can store temporarily. As you unpack the boxes, keep the receipts and instructions for making returns so you are all set in case you need to send something back. Place all the paperwork in a large manila envelope and keep a running list of whom each gift is from. This will help with thank-you cards in January.
Carefully consider each of those postcard-size mailers that contain coupons or discount certificates from retailers. They are so tempting to keep "just in case," but chances are you won't need them. If you do receive a coupon that you know will be useful, either put it in your wallet so you have it when you go to the store or place it next to your computer so it's handy when shopping online. Discard all the others.
December is a busy month and not the time when most of us are motivated to get our papers in order. But reducing end-of-the-year clutter by doing even one or two of these things each day will make you feel better and might be the most valuable gift you can give yourself.
Anzia is owner of Neatnik. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.