Why Clutter Costs You

Just how many hundreds of unnecessary emails do you have sitting in your inbox? What about that pile of mail you stash away and forget to review until who knows when?

It happens to the best of us because, well, we're desensitized to the 41 pounds of junk mail and over 2,000 nonsense e-mails we get each year. It's an overwhelming amount of clutter that, in the end, impacts our productivity, organization and our money.

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Want to know much time digital junk like spam, texts and even Facebook ads waste? On the low end, corporations figure 4-5 seconds each. Based on that math, this easily leads to a couple of hours wasted every year, but for some of us it could be far worse. Think about it. How much time do you spend searching for buried email?

And with paper, it's the same. One study found that 47% of workers reported lost time, 16% said they've been tardy to meetings, and 14% have missed deadlines over simple desk disorganization.

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King among the clutter is junk mail and it impacts not just households, but the government, as well. In fact, the U.S. Postal Service calculates it throws out about 35% of all mail due to non-delivery.

"There are 10 billion pounds of unwanted mail sent in America every year," says Chuck Teller, chief strategist officer for TrustedID. "Households across America have to manage that. Our cities are the ones that have to pay to throw that away. It costs over a billion dollars a year."

Now 60% of the mail you receive actually comes from companies you do business with, but while they're sending you legitimate mail, they're also sending you junk. All this excess can make you misplace bills or tax information, and, as a result, suffer from late fees and accrued interest.

How to stop all the clutter madness?

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With email, you're only a few clicks away from an organized inbox. Just make proper use of all your tools: mark junk as spam, unsubscribe from lists, and use labels to filter out promotions. In fact, experts recommend determining an email's importance the very first time you glance at it. "Delete," "archive," or "star" for easy reference, or leave as a "to do" in your inbox. It all takes just seconds.

"In our email inbox, we have a lot of control, " Teller says. "We can file things, we can filter them, opt out with a click. In our postal mailbox, it all comes in one chunk. There's really no good way to opt out. You have to go online and do a lot of research."

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To help with postal mail, sign up for a free removal service like Catalog Choice, which lets you unsubscribe to over 8,000 companies at once. Or, you can do the work yourself. First, register at the Direct Marketing Association, which stops unsolicited commercial mail for up to five years for $1. Then, email: optout@abacus-us.com to receive fewer catalogs and visit OptoutPrescreen.com to stop credit and insurance solicitations. But be warned: no opt-out service is perfect. For best results, contact companies directly and file complaints if they don't comply.

Finally, for paper mail, employ the same strategies as email. Make sure the first time you touch it is your last by making a quick decision as to whether it gets filed, put in your to-do folder, recycled or shredded.

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"It's a lot cheaper and more environmentally sensitive to stop the waste at the source, rather than send the garbage truck to your house to pick it up and throw it away," says Teller.

And, as always, we want to hear from you. How much is your clutter costing you? Connect with me on Twitter @Farnoosh and use the hashtag #FinFit..