Dear Juli,

I cannot get a handle on my mail. It seems like it would be easy, but it just piles up and I get overwhelmed and then it gets worse. What do you suggest?

—Lauri M.

Dear Lauri,

You are in very good company! This is one of the most frequently asked questions that comes to me so I am delighted to address it here. Mail – and we are speaking of “snail mail” here, not email – will become a problem if not dealt with in a timely manner. Here is the best process I have found in my 28 years of coaching and consulting.

Juli Shulem

1. Get your mail into your home at a time when you can actually spend a few minutes opening it. If you are racing out the door and think to yourself, “Oh, I’m just going to grab the mail and drop it on the kitchen counter,” therein lies the root of your problem. Wait and get it a little later.

2. Once you have your mail inside and in your hand, open it – standing up – near the recycling trashcan. Standing will keep you on task and will often help you get through a task just a bit faster. Have a letter opener and open all envelopes first.

3. Once everything is open, throw out all the superfluous junk that is often comes in the envelopes or anything that you know you don’t need. Now the pile should be considerably smaller and less threatening than it was to start with.

4. Most of what’s left in the pile will be either a bill, an invitation/announcement, or a task-related item. Here is how to handle them. For bills: Paperclip them so that the statement is fitted under the return envelope flap and you can see the due date and amount due on top. Put those in a stack.(More detailed advice on what to do with those bills will be a topic for a future column.) If you have something to respond to, like a letter or invitation, place those items together and set aside a time to deal with them. For any other piece of mail requiring some action or decision, place it in an area you can get to, and note on your time-management system (planner, calendar, or to-do list) each item needing attention and when you plan to do it. I strongly suggest that mail be kept somewhere other than the kitchen counter or bedroom.

Once the mail is opened you will invariably find that there is less overwhelm in dealing with it. Left for days or weeks it becomes a daunting and time-consuming ordeal, particularly because problems develop such as late bills, missed events, and missed opportunities. . It should take less than 8 minutes to complete the process I’ve just shared if you do it daily.

Thank you for your question, and watch for next week’s article for help with other areas of organizing, time management, and life management.

You are invited to submit questions and pose problems for Ask an Organizer, which Juli will attempt to answer in her column. Email her at to submit your questions and put “Question for Column” in the subject line.


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