General Papers: Magazines, Junk Mail, Coupons and Other Papers

Product Warranties

Many warranties are almost generic, and it’s difficult to tell exactly which watch, appliance, or tool they are for. Write a description of the item on the cover or first page. Staple the receipt to the warranty, for proof of date of purchase. Just a little organization may be sufficient. Instead of trying to sort your warranties by type of product or location in the house, just keep all your warranties in one place such as a box or pocket folder.

Junk Mail [Back to top]

There are a number of things you can do to reduce junk mail. You’ll never eliminate all of your junk mail, but you can reduce it significantly.

  • Read your mail with the recycling bag within reach. Shred pre-approved credit card offers and any other mail with sensitive information.
  • Call 888-5OPTOUT (567-8688) to stop credit bureaus from providing your name for pre-approved credit card offers.
  • Go to for help with opting out of various companies and services selling your name to others.
  • Tell magazines not to sell your name. Look through the magazine for a statement similar to this:
    "From time to time, we share our subscriber's addresses with companies whose products may be of interest." You may find it labeled Consumer Information or it may be with the subscription information. Write to the address provided and tell them not to share your information.
  • Call catalogs companies and sources of other unwanted mail to take you off their lists.
  • End your enrollment in frequent-buyer clubs, frequent-flier programs and other programs where you will receive statements and advertisements by mail.
  • Fill out only the pertinent information on registration cards for purchases.
  • Write the Direct Marketing Association’s Mail Preference Service to request that your name be removed from mailing lists.
Mail Preference Service
Direct Marketing Association
PO Box 643
Carmel, NY 10512
  • Whenever you sign up for anything where you are providing your address, phone number or email address—a free drawing, membership at a movie rental store, or a frequent buyer club—look for boxes that let you “opt out” of receiving mailings from that company or from others. If there isn’t any opt out opportunity, consider whether you are willing to take the risk of your name getting on a distribution list.
  • Take advantage of the “opt out” options described in the Privacy Notices you receive from all of your financial institutions, credit cards and other lenders, insurers, and investment companies. You only need to respond to these mailings once from each company. You may want to keep a file labeled “Privacy Notices” to keep these in. Then, when you receive a new notice, you can quickly check whether you have already opted out with that company.

Floating Pieces of Paper/Notes [Back to top]

Eliminate floating pieces of paper by having only one place to write things down, and identifying a home where it will always be kept. You might choose to make your notes in a notebook that stays by the phone, a small notebook or pocket sized planner that you carry in your purse or pocket, or a PDA that you always carry with you.

Never jot something down with the idea that you’ll rewrite or type it later. Write it down in its permanent location to start with. If the information eventually needs to be in electronic form, type your original notes or compose your first draft on the computer.

Magazines and Newspapers—Whole Ones and Clippings [Back to top]

Unread newspapers

If you have stacks of unread newspapers, you have already lost most of their value because what they contain isn’t news any more.

  • The most sensible approach would be to recycle the entire stack of them, and consider reducing the number of days a week you receive the paper.
  • If you contend that you are going to read them, give yourself a deadline: If you haven’t read at least two old papers per day by the end of the week, admit that you’re not going to read them and toss them.
  • If you can’t be convinced to get rid of the old papers without reading them, you should cancel your subscription (which will also save you some money) until you get caught up.
Unread magazines

Two possibilities exist: you really aren’t that interested in what the magazine covers, or you haven’t made the time to read them. In either case, consider canceling the subscription. If you eventually catch up reading the old copies, then you might re-subscribe. If after a few months you still haven’t read any of the old copies, toss them and don’t even think about subscribing again!

Magazines and magazine articles you’ve already read

Few magazines other than Consumer Reports are indexed. As a result, you can’t access the information in a stack of magazines the way you can the information in books. A stack of articles torn from magazines isn’t much easier to use.

Old, intact magazines are generally only useful if you intend to read through them again as you would a new magazine. Retrieving and using the information from them, or from articles you’ve torn out, requires separating the bits of information and organizing them in such a way that is accessible. That takes time and effort, and most people don’t have the time or won’t expend the effort to make it work. If you want to give it a try, choose one magazine on a topic that you’re extremely interested in. Then, try these suggestions:

  • First, convince yourself that magazines do not need to remain pristine. If turning down page corners, writing notes, or highlighting sentences helps you make use of the information, don’t hesitate.
  • As you read the magazine, mark the pages or articles that you either want to save or that contain a fact or piece of information you want to retain. Either turn down the upper corner of the page or use a sticky flag.
  • For facts or figures you want to recall, highlight the info or draw a line along the side of the paragraph.
  • Write at the top of the page the topic that this article or fact will eventually be filed under.
  • For entire articles you selected, tear out, staple together, and file. (Don’t have a file yet? Then make one, using the topic you wrote on the article. And if you have files already set up and you have written the topic at the top of each article, someone else could even do your filing!)
  • For individual facts or thoughts you marked, transfer to a central database using one of the following strategies:
    • Cut out the info, tape to pages in a notebook divided according to topic, or onto a standard-sized piece of paper to file by category.
    • Write the info in a notebook or log, with sections devoted to various topics.
    • Type the info into a text file or database on your computer, or PDA (personal digital assistant, such as a Palm). Computer files have the advantage of being searchable.

Small stacks of papers lying around, already grouped into some sort of category, are a sure indicator that some files are needed. But before you create file folders for each of these stacks, ask yourself, "Will I EVER pull out the information and look at it?"


Envelopes or accordion files work well for storing and organizing coupons. Separate coupons by purpose or according to where you use them. For instance, coupons you would take to the grocery store should go in one envelope. Coupons for fast food should go in another. Make additional envelopes for other coupons you keep and use, such as dry cleaning and car service. Fast food and take-out coupons might be kept in the car.