How to declutter a paper ephemera collection

If you’ve been crafting for a while, you’ve probably collected a huge amount of paper, photos, magazines, and junk— not to mention all the paint, ink, stamps, and stencils that you need to make an art journal. Having a huge ephemera collection can be great, because you’ll never run out of things to use in your journals…but it can also be very frustrating because it’s so easy to lose something.

Can you find that one specific photo you want to add to a page? Do you know where you put your decoupage napkins? Have you even seen that one blue ink pot recently, or is it buried until piles of paper?

Paper ephemera is the worst culprit because it’s the easiest to collect and store. You might not even notice how huge your collection has become until you try looking for a specific piece and can’t find it in all the piles of paper in your craft area.

If you find yourself spending more time looking for supplies than using them, it might be time to declutter your paper ephemera collection.

I had to do this myself recently! I had boxes and boxes of magazine clippings, travel brochures, tickets and booklets and stickers and and and. It just kept going on, and it got to the point where I didn’t even want to bother looking through a box because I’d have to dig through so much to find something. I tried organizing my collection, but eventually I realized that it’d be easier if I actually took the time to trim it down to just what I REALLY wanted to use.

Here’s how to get started on sorting and declutter a paper ephemera collection:

1. Pre-sort paper by type.

This step is the fastest and should go pretty quickly.

The goal is to put like goes with like. Art magazines will be in one pile, old books in another, paper pamphlets in yet another pile, etc. That way the vintage books aren’t crushing your movie tickets, and you can see just how many magazines you’ve been keeping.

It also makes it easier to sort through the collection later on, because you don’t have to worry about picking up big stacks of books when you want to look through your pamphlets.

2. Put collection into lidded boxes.

I have a bad habit of stacking paper wherever it will go, including places like shoeboxes that’re missing their lids. Makes it hard to stack, which then means I have lidless shoeboxes of paper sitting in random places. It’s a huge mess and very annoying.

That’s why I’m recommending you use medium-sized boxes with LIDS that you can stack somewhere neatly while you work on the next part of the decluttering plan. Those cheap plastic shoeboxes work great (as long as you have their lids!!) for smaller ephemera like pamphlets or tickets. These short, clear tubs are very good for larger pieces that you don’t want to fold or bend.

Another idea is to put use cardboard file holders. They don’t have lids, but can work great if you have a huge magazine collection and a lot of shelf space.

Whatever you use, be sure that you can physically lift them when they’re full of paper. You’ll need to be able to actually go through those boxes in the next step of the plan…

3. Sort through one box (or stack) each week.

Now comes the hard part. Now you’ll have to do a deep dive and really get into your collection.

If you’ve been collecting paper ephemera for a while, you probably have some really old pieces in your collection and a good chunk of it probably doesn’t fit your needs any longer.

For instance, from my own decluttering journey: I had some Teen Vogue pages from when I first started making junk journals over 15 years ago! I don’t even really use magazines in my junk journals nowadays, and definitely not fashion magazines. I was never going to use those clippings because I didn’t like them, so I got rid of them.

Do the same thing with your own collection. Find the things that no longer resonate with you, and get rid of them. I recommend putting them into a separate box (with a lid!!) and physically moving them out of your art space so they don’t get mixed back up into the rest of the collection.

I recommend doing one box a week so you’ll be able to completely go through your collection without mixing boxes together AND without getting tired of sorting to the point where you want to quit. (I’m speaking from experience!)

4. Get rid of papers.

The hardest step of all!

Hopefully you’ve followed my guidelines and have put that unwanted paper into a box and moved it out of your space– it’ll make it that much easier to complete the process and get rid of it.

It can be tough to get rid of something that you’ve had for years, even if you know you won’t ever use it again. There’s a weird nostalgic feeling that takes over rational thinking, which leads to big boxes of outdated fashion magazines from 2008 (speaking from experience…). But honestly, if you can’t see yourself using that paper in the next year, do yourself a favor and get rid of it. Otherwise it’ll just be taking up space that COULD be used for new, better ephemera.

What to do with your old ephemera?

Honestly, most of it can be trashed. If it’s personal ephemera then probably nobody but you really wanted it anyway, so it’s okay to throw away. If it’s vintage ephemera, you could always sell it on Etsy or give it to an artist friend. Magazines and books can be gifted on crafting Facebook groups. Sometimes schools can use old magazines and books for art projects as well.

If you want to be able to use your ephemera collection without having to spend hours digging through boxes of old paper, you’ll need to pare it down to what you’re actually going to use. Declutter the stuff you’re no longer interested in, and physically remove it from your art space so it doesn’t get mixed back into the stuff you’re keeping. Give what you’re not using to someone else who might need it– and revel in the freedom that having a usable, well-organized ephemera collection brings.

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