This is supposed to be a paper-free era. Nearly all documents can be digitized through the use of computer filing, smart phone apps and other techno wonders. Yet an estimated 115 billion pieces of paper are still used each year for print-outs.
“To many people, information from the Internet seems magical. Printing is the poison in the apple,” says Linda Anderson, a productivity consultant who heads an organizing firm called Getting Clear (www.gettingclear.com).
“Paper-mania,” as it’s sometimes called, still afflicts a large segment of the older population, including many baby boomers born between 1946 and 1964 who are less comfortable with technology than younger generations.
“Some people are just hard-wired to accumulate information and they feel a certain comfort in having it in paper form. Even in nature, there are creatures who can’t stop feathering their nests,” Anderson says.
Ironically, many who like keeping a large volume of paper—including print-outs, junk mail, recipes, coupons and clippings from magazines and newspapers—can also feel vexed when trying to locate key items from unsorted stacks.
“If you have too many papers and they’re in a jumble, it’s very hard to find your passport or that $9,000 check you received. You have to go through the papers one by one,” says Clare Kumar, a spokeswoman for the Institute for Challenging Disorganization (www.challengingdisorganization.org).
Kumar says just 3-5 percent of the population has a psychological disorder that causes them to hoard papers. But she says many more people have a strong urge to generate and keep paper copies.
She says anxiety about “what if I’ll need that item in the future” afflicts many who stockpile papers. Another group includes highly creative people, including entrepreneurs, who imagine many potential future uses for the papers they save.
Eventually, even creative savers can feel overwhelmed by the sheer magnitude of their collections. To free themselves of all the superfluous clutter, they are motivated to reduce the inflow and accelerate the outflow.
“There comes a time when older people face their mortality and realize, for example, that they’ll never have time to use all those hundreds of recipes. Often people come to terms with this fact when they have to downsize to a smaller place and know they can’t haul all that stuff along,” Kumar says.
Here are a few pointers:
• Analyze the causes of your paper problem.
Crystal Paine, the author of “Say Goodbye to Survival Mode” and other self-help books, advises those plagued with too many papers to determine the primary sources of their problem.
“See if there’s anything you can do to cut down on some of the inflow. For instance, you could automate your bills with online bill pay.
• Deal with your backlog before accumulating more documents.
Linda Samuels, president of the Institute for Challenging Disorganization, says some people over age 50 so love to accumulate printed information that they develop a huge backlog of papers and periodicals. When finally they must cull through the backlog, they do well to call in friend, family member or an organizer to keep the project moving. One source for referrals is the National Association of Professional Organizers (www.napo.net).
“If you don’t bring in an outsider, you can easily get bogged down and lose momentum,” Samuels says.
• Try to digitize as many papers as possible.
People who value information highly often find an over-abundance of material through their online searches.
In cases like that, Anderson recommends that the collector scan his print-outs and organize them into searchable files and folders on his computer. Alternatively, he could use an app such as Evernote (www.evernote.com) to archive and organize his documents.
“You may not feel digitally savvy, but learning to use technology can make a world of difference if you love keeping valued documents,” Anderson says.