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Tackle your reading pile by reading smarter

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WHEN I HELP clients sort through their papers, we often end up with a big reading pile. On the bright side, this is a nice “problem” to have, indicating many interests and resources. On the other hand, it can signal not-so-nice problems such as distractions and cramped spaces. How to tackle the reading clutter?

Get choosy
If you want to reduce your reading pile, be choosier. Looking at your magazines, can you name a specific benefit you’ve gained from reading any of them in the last three months? (Enjoyment and relaxation count.) Or do you receive it as a gift, but rarely read it? How many publications are you receiving? How many do you realistically have time to read?

Determine which publications contribute the most value to your life. You can alternate years between subscriptions. Note the publications that come free as perks; if it’s not worth paying for, dump it or pass it along to someone who might enjoy it more.

Read smarter
Review the table of contents for articles that relate to your interests, then read the opening and closing paragraphs to get the gist. Read with pen in hand. When you want to save an article for reading later mark the page number on the cover so you don’t have to search for it later. Keep scissors and highlighter handy. To minimize bulk in your files, tear or clip the article and highlight a few key sentences to jog your memory for later reference.

If you are addicted to reading every thing that comes your way, take action to remove yourself from mailing lists. Send your name, address and signature to the Direct Marketing Association’s Mail Preference Service, P.O. Box 9008, Farmingdale, NY 11735-9008.

With the reading pile, there are three choices: read, file for reference or toss. Here are tips to manage time for reading:

  1. You can take it with you. Compile a “grab and go file” of reading to enjoy while you’re waiting for the kids after school, for a BART train or for a doctor’s appointment.
  2. Do you have times when reading is more attractive to you? Work with your natural rhythms. Keep a basket of reading where you are most likely to read, such as in bed or on the family room sofa.
  3. Lunch hours. Once or twice each week, read through lunch.
  4. Alternative reading. Buy, rent or borrow books on tape — perfect for commuting or for the whole family during road trips.

Catalog clutter
Browsing through a mail-order catalog can be relaxing, but most of us get far too many of them. When the container is overflowing, that’s a sign that you need to toss some. Relax and let them go; the company will send another. One client reduced her catalog glut by requesting that the company send only two a year. This way she can still order from her favorites without the excess. I helped another client organize his catalogs in a rolling crate with hanging files by color; i.e., clothing catalogs were in yellow hanging files, with the catalogs in alphabetical order within the hanging files. As a new catalog arrived, he pulls the old and replaces it with the new.

Pass it along
Here are some places to take those books and magazines you have read or won’t read:

  1. The library; if they can’t put the book on the shelves, they can sell it to raise money.
  2. Used-book stores will give you some cash back on the sale of your books.
  3. Children’s books can go to and
  4. Magazines are welcome in waiting rooms everywhere; just remove your address label. If your company has a break room or lobby, your magazines might be welcome there.

How long should you keep books, magazines and newspapers? There is no pat answer to this question. How you feel about these publications, how much available space you have and your tolerance level for clutter will determine the answer.

Some people love to be surrounded by books. Books also provide an element of decor to a home. But watch out for book piles that are filling up valuable space, and even disabling your home.

Someone who loves cooking and entertaining may decide to store Gourmet magazine issues. For storage of this sort, keep “like with like” and put them in plastic or cardboard racks to hold each year of the same magazine.

For newspapers, my guideline is “if I don’t get to it by day’s end, tomorrow’s news will be here anyway,” and it goes to the recycle bin. If there is an article I didn’t get to, but want to read, I clip it and put it in my “grab and go” file. Anything date-specific, such as TV guides and news magazines, quickly lose value and make them no-brainers for tossing.