Is your life out of control? Mine often is. By this I mean there is more to do than time to do it, and I end up frantic about what’s left undone.

I have papers overflowing on the dining room table which I hastily put away in disarray when company comes.

The average person spends three-quarters of a year in the course of a lifetime just opening junk mail and wastes half an hour a day looking for lost papers on their desks. Paper-management skills should be taught in high school or certainly in college.

So let’s try to figure out a system that will help us all to deal with the ever-increasing pieces of paper that come across our desks everyday. I always sigh with relief that there is no mail on Sundays, although this is compensated by the Sunday paper and the e-mails that know not of evenings and weekends.

I bought one of those plastic or metal racks in a stationery store that holds a four-shelf vertical stack of papers. So now when I have a piece of paper in my hand, there are five choices.

If I think (in the vague distant future) this may be useful someday, or some, as yet unknown, person might want it, I toss it.

If it is important to keep but of no immediate use, I file it. I have a tickler file (with a section for each month) for invitations, events, tickets, whatever has a timeline attached to it. So if I have tickets for a show in August, it will go in my August tickler. I also write in my calendar in red ink the birthdays I need to remember; you can also put those names in your tickler file.

Then there are the bills and all the “do this week” items. I also have a “do this month” pile. Finally, there is the “do at leisure” pile - the magazines and articles cut out of newspapers, catalog items to be ordered, whatever can be dealt with when there is time and also can be tossed when too much time has passed.

With every piece of paper that you plan to file away, ask yourself these five questions:

  1. What category does it fit into?
  2. Why would I want to keep it? (A precise answer is needed here.)
  3. When would I use it, need it? (Give a time-specific answer.)
  4. Where would I look for it? (This is important; I have a miscellaneous file I never look at - bad idea.)
  5. Can this information be found elsewhere? (Will be available at the click of a mouse, with a phone call or at the library?)

And finally, toss this column after you have organized your papers; if you haven’t organized in a month, toss it anyway. You will continue to live in your paper jungle, always hoping for a time when you’ll be better organized. If that is your fate, accept it and be happy - you obviously feel you have better things to do with your time, and you just might be right. Good luck!