Figure Out the Zones

Our lives are full of various activities and interests.  These need space to live.  Some of these are simply requirements of being alive – we need a place to sleep, shower, get dressed and ready for the day, for eating – you get the idea.  Then there are things we want to do.  We can break these activities into zones in our homes and how you do this depends on you.

If you or your spouse is an insomniac, your bedroom will likely be relegated to being strictly for sleeping and getting dressed, so any sleep struggles can be limited.  Others will use their bedrooms for a relaxing space.  I’ve known people who do most of their work from the bed – it doesn’t matter what you do, as long as you think about how you want to use the space.

I challenge you to start fresh – make a list of your activities and interests. You can start thinking about what you do in each room in your home, but try not to get stuck thinking you have to do those things in the same room.  How are you spending your time?  You also want to consider what draws you to working in various areas.  Are you inclined to do various things when you have the TV on in the background (or even the foreground)? Are you more comfortable working in the solid dining room chairs and table?  There are no right or wrong answers, just information for yourself as you try to figure out setting up some new systems.

Once you’ve thought about your activities, whether current or hopes for the future, you start thinking about where those activities will be best suited.  The idea is to acted some dedicated space for these activities and their related items. Some people talk about also limiting how many activities there are in one space.  I think this depends on several different factors.

  1. How large the space or room is
  2. How many things are needed for the activity, i.e. if all you need for a reading nook is a light and a place to sit that’s different than a place to put a scrapbook together
  3. How you feel about a more sparse versus full space

Living in old bungalow, all of our rooms are small.  When we think about making space for different activities, we need to limit how many in each room. Part of this equation is how much stuff goes along with the activity too.  In one of our rooms, there are 3 zones, and that feels tight sometimes.

Also important is to consider alternative storage areas for some things.  I have a lovely sewing machine that I almost never pull out.  I’m not prepared to part with it, but it doesn’t need to take up a “prime” area either.  It won’t matter that on rare occasions I need to go lug it from the broom closet to where I work on my crafts. If I actually used it frequently (or even regularly), I might not recommend storing it further away.  It will vary from person to person as well as the need for the item.  There’s also the option of storing things higher when they’re used less.

Take your list of activities and look at your answers for the above three questions.  Now let your creative juices flow and consider where you want those activities to happen and how you can set up specific zones for yourself.

The Cost of an Item

Something weird has been happening to me – and it’s reached a new height.  I don’t want more stuff.  Now, some of you might be rolling your eyes at me – yet until just recently I always wanted some book or CD (usually several of each) at any given moment.  Media is where I tend to collect, despite some women collecting shoes, purses, or jewelry – I’ve had a hard time resisting another book or three. 🙂

I mentioned a while back my husband inspiring me to consider purging most of my cassette tapes, which then led to my examining my movie collection.  Meanwhile, he and I are currently going through our CD collection.  There’s a local place that is frequently a temptation for me – Half Price Books – where they specialize in media: books, music, and movies, oh my! I enter the store sporadically, sometimes because I just don’t want to be tempted and sometimes because I’ve been disappointed at not finding something to bring home.

Movies have been one of the media I’ve collected – not that my collection ever approached the number of CD’s, let alone books that I have; yet I had over 300 movies at one point.  I still peruse the movies they have – especially the clearance area of the movies – since they’re all between $1-3.  This is how I achieved the original number of movies – used and sometimes clearance.

Yet now when I look through those movies, I pull something interesting off the shelf and look at it – the idea of paying $2.00 for those, it isn’t worth it.  This is truly a little mind-boggling for me.  Really.  And I can’t say it’s about saving that two dollars plus tax.

What it does seem to be about for me is the greater cost:

  • the cost of space in my home
  • the cost of my time if I was to watch it (except I wouldn’t watch it much)
  • the cost of spending money for something that I won’t truly appreciate
  • the cost, potentially/probably, of feeling bad at owning it when I next purge (and never having appreciated it)

There are other factors to consider as well:

  • how much of what you have are you currently appreciating? (I still have over 100 movies and watch maybe 10% of those.  Now the movie needs to be pretty special to come home.)
  • do you have the time or even the inclination to appreciate this new item? (Most movies that come home with me, I usually don’t manage to watch for more than 6 months!)
  • if you avoided spending on this and that over time, is there something else you’d deeply appreciate?  (I’ve been drawn to experiences lately, so I’m inclined to avoid spending on “minor” items and feel good about going for a horseback ride.)

There’s also a joy in buying only what you need or are going to appreciate.  I was touched to arrive at a client’s and she looked at me and said, “It’s amazing how light and free I feel not buying just stuff and in turn also getting exactly what I need.”

My reasons for not spending $2.00 on a movie aren’t going to match yours.  On any item.  Yet, is there a way for you to consider the value for yourself of what you buy?  With any purchase, the cost is more than financial.  I know this isn’t something I thought much about until recently.  I was focused almost exclusively on just the financial part – hence why a $2.00 movie with a great actor or a good plot would usually come home with me. 😉

I continue to find this perspective to be unnerving – it’s still relatively new for me.  Yet, it’s also tremendously freeing.  I wish I could share the internal space I’m in with everyone, just so they could know what it feels like.  I encourage you to examine the temptations, the random “unnecessary” items that come into your home, and see if you can find those other “costs” as they apply for you.

Guidelines for a Happy Home

Have you seen the “rules” of a happy household – where it starts with “If you take it out, put it away”? Many of them are useful rules for limiting the degree of chaos, while others are to make Mom happy! If we could all put things back where they belong when we’re done with them, we’d have greater organization. Sometimes this is easier said than done.

Mom’s 10 Commandments For A Happy Household

1. If you take it out, put it away.
2. If you eat on it, wash it.
3. If you turn it on, turn it off.
4. If you mess it up, clean it up.
5. If you drop it, pick it up.
6. If it rings, answer it.
7. If it barks, walk it.
8. If you open it, close it.
9. If I cook it, eat it.
10. If I say do it, don’t ask why.

I know from my own behavior that there are times when I’ve taken something out, and after I’ve finished using it, I think to myself – “I’m going to use this again tomorrow…” Then, there are times that I say to myself – “I’ll put it away later…” To some extent, I think this applies to all of us – even the most organized – we don’t always put things away right after we’re finished using it. Nor do I think we have to.

What we do need to work on is getting it put away regularly and before too much time has passed. If I toss my tissues toward the wastebasket, when I walk by it, I then bend down, quickly pick them up, and put them in the trash. If I make a pile for another room, when I next get up and move around, I grab the pile and move it into the right room.

I’ve talked about this before in “Getting Things to Their Home,” and focused on finding ways to “Make It Fun.” There are other ways to work on these applicable rules for organization – use a timer. You might be rolling your eyes at me – here she goes again with that timer. Yet seriously, if you have a stack of CD’s that haven’t been put away, time yourself on putting them away – or time yourself with whatever it is that isn’t getting put away.

Another way to approach working on putting things back where they belong is to set the timer for a set amount of time and work on it until the timer buzzes. Use the timer to help you – whether to time yourself or you designate a specific amount of time with it.

It is easy to say to yourself, “I’ll just do it later” and that “later” doesn’t arrive (or it arrives in a week or a month). If you make it part of your routine, just those few seconds of picking up the trash that missed the trashcan or whatever it might be – your home can be that much more presentable and more importantly, pleasing to you. There’s not many of us who don’t automatically close the drawers and cabinets in our kitchens – and might even dismiss that as easy – yet it’s the same idea – “If you open it, close it.”

Putting something away after we’ve taken it out can be just as easy, we just need to work on making it as automatic as closing the drawers after we’ve gotten something out of it. The timer can help with the idea that it’s more time consuming than we realize. In working to keep things organized:

  • If you take it out, put it away.
  • If you eat on it, wash it. (I don’t do this each time, but I do it regularly!)
  • If you turn it on, turn it off.
  • If you mess it up, clean it up.
  • If you drop it, pick it up.
  • If you open it, close it.

None of these things would take us that much time – test it out and use your timer to find out for yourself.

Find Your Motivation

We all have different reasons for why we want to get organized or even to stay organized. There is no one right answer – what matters is why you want it. Do you know what your reasons are? It’s worth it to give it some thought and find as many reasons as you can. These personal reasons are what can help get you going if (or when) you falter.

Some of what I hear a lot is how overwhelmed people feel with what they’re dealing with – from piles of boxes on an unused room to the mass of papers they have to a house that has simply collected lots of things. It doesn’t matter what the size or scope is, what matters is how it feels to you. A few people are concerned about how their loved ones are feeling and reacting to the state of their home. Others are adjusting to difficult transitions in life – from the death of a spouse to downsizing (voluntarily or not) to new health issues.

Although the above are fine reasons for wanting to get and stay organized, some of them are phrased on negative terms. If we went to a list of our reasons for getting organized and saw as a reason “because I’m overwhelmed” or “because my spouse is always yelling at me” or even “because I cannot concentrate the way I used to” it’s unlikely to inspire us.

Find a way to make the reasons positive. If you’re overwhelmed, you are looking for an easier way to doing things, a way to simplify things for yourself. If a loved one is badgering you, you might be looking for a way to improve your relationship and become closer with them again. Sometimes those life transitions are challenging, yet I believe there are positive ways to view your situation. For me, it was a chance to learn new ways of doing things and I love learning.

The point is that you want to figure out the reasons that matter to you for getting organized – maybe you want more time to enjoy life. I’d suggest that you actually write them down somewhere. I don’t think you need to look at them every day, although you certainly can. The idea is that you have them to pull out when you get discouraged or falter in your efforts. It could also help if you find yourself procrastinating working on things.

When you’re feeling discouraged, you not likely to remember the real reasons why you’re trying to change things. You’re also more likely going to remember the negative reasons, which are not usually motivating! By having a list of positive and personal reasons to change, you can refer to it when you need to. You can even add to it as things occur to you – since life is a process like organizing, your motivation can shift and change too.

Knowing what your motivations are for getting organized is probably the very first step you need to take toward getting and staying organized. Just as it’s hard to remember what inspires you when you’re feeling discouraged or overwhelmed, our reasons for being more organized can get lost when we’re struggling. Those underlying reasons can re-inspire us to keep working (or start trying again). When we have a list to refer to, it’s easier to re-energize ourselves.

Preventing Slips, Trips, and Falls

June is National Safety Month, where each week has a different theme – this week’s theme is preventing slips, trips, and falls. This ties in well with organizing – as no one wants to be injured unnecessarily. When we have excess stuff around, on the floor especially, we’re putting ourselves at risk. I say this from experience since I’ve bashed my toes more than once – and not usually from clutter.

You might remember that I have issues with the term “hoarding” and certainly, the concerns of the families is not limited to the “hoarders.” We can surmise from the National Safety Council’s focus for a week on preventing slips, trips, and falls that this is something that applies to all of us – clutter or not. Heck, I’ve broken toes from a certain degree of clumsiness. And that was from major pieces of furniture being where they’d always been! (I’ll take a brief moment to promote the idea of wearing shoes where your toes are covered – and this despite being someone who loves being barefoot. ☺) If we can prevent ourselves from slipping, tripping, or falling, this is what we all want.

Whether you have lots of stuff around or not, it’s important to look around – try to notice those things that we become blind to because we’ve gotten used to them. I’ve tripped over cat accessories, even with them in plain sight. The cat toys now live in a tin, without a lid, over in a corner in our living room. It’s even cute to see the ones that get pulled out and we’re limiting the risk of tripping or twisting an ankle from stepping on them. They also get put back periodically, since if they didn’t they’d be a hazard again.

Stairs are a popular place to put things down on as they wait for their turn to be carried to the top. I do this frequently since I procrastinate making a trip upstairs until I need to. Are you aware when there are things sitting on the steps? It’s remarkably easy to become a bit blind to a constant pile. I rarely put more on the steps than can go up in one trip, and rarely ignore or procrastinate carrying them up. Items along the stairway are a dangerous hazard – it’s bad enough to trip on a flat surface, and exponentially worse on stairs.

This week’s topic for the National Safety Month interestingly coincided with my finishing a book, Digging Out: Helping your loved one manage clutter, hoarding, & compulsive acquiring by Michael A. Tompkins, Ph.D. & Tamara L. Hartl, Ph.D. As a “hoarding” book, it takes a different approach – it focuses on helping your loved one make the home as safe (and comfortable) as possible. It examines what I’ve already talked about – stairs and floors being clear of loose items. They also address other serious hazards – such as papers on or near the stove.

Keep in mind any areas that seem to cause problems – I moved a chest from the foot of the bed since I banged my toes more than once in the middle of the night, to another room. In the spirit of this week’s safety theme, look around your home and office with fresh eyes and see if there are ways to improve safety.

Getting Things to Their Home

I was working with a client, and I told her to toss her clothes toward the laundry basket.  “Um, huh?” you might be thinking to yourself.  The point I was making was that we don’t need to be stodgy and particular about how we do something.  We can try to have fun with what we need to do – not unlike my entire blog post about “Make It Fun.”

When we’re looking at people not getting things to where they belong – there’s two situations we might be in:

  1. we’re leaving things wherever we’re at when we’re finished with them or
  2. we’re getting them close by, or near their “home.”

Therefore, in dealing with things that don’t move from where they were last used – we can toss things towards where they belong.  Of course, you’re not going to throw your CDs at the shelf! The other way is to start baskets/bins of things that belong in other rooms.  I’ll admit that I will often drop that bin off in the other room where it will sit ignored for a few days sometimes.  At least it’s in the right room, if not it’s “home.”

The situation I described was with a pre-teen girl and I talked about acting like it was basketball.  The truth is I’m not into sports and neither was she, but it’s intended as a way to get the items closer to where they belong – making it easier.  She had been dropping her clothes on the floor and leaving them there, which isn’t unusual.  Yet trying to make a game of getting the clothes closer to the laundry basket makes it interesting. To some extent, it’s also about retraining ourselves to new habits.

Often, I’ll do similar things with paper trash – throwing them towards the basket.  I find myself curious about how close, or not, I’ll be.  Or whether if I bounce it off the wall just so, will it make it in.

Sometimes we know what we need to do – that item needs to go there, but we still don’t quite get to happen.  Right now, I’m not talking about the things we’re undecided on or are still active.  You’ve made a home of various things, yet there are still piles.  Is there a way to make it more fun – like tossing them?

Unfortunately, we still need some discipline.  If you toss things towards a basket – you’ll still need to take some time to put the things where they into the basket.  If you move things into the room where they belong, you still need to take some time to put them away within the room.

This is the time when your perceptions of time are likely to be exaggerated – it will take much less time than you anticipate to put them away.  Could you time yourself to see how fast you can put all the desk supplies away (once you’ve got them all piled on the desk)?  Or set your timer for 10 minutes and put everything away that you can before it goes off?

It takes time and practice to make sure things make it back into their “homes” after you’ve used them.  I know my suitcases are notorious for sitting out after a trip – yet we can find ways to improve our behavior in returning things to where they belong.  After you’ve identified where you falter – are things left where they “fall” or do they make it partway?  From here, you can begin to find ways to get them the rest of the way home.

Organizing Your Kitchen

Is your kitchen where people congregate when they visit?  We’ve probably all seen our fair share of TV shows and movies where people gather at the kitchen table and talk – hence the idea of the kitchen being the heart of a home.  Then there’s the other side where the kitchen is only peripheral to socializing.  Whatever the case may be for you, having an organized kitchen only makes life easier – simplifying preparing food, storing food, and cleaning up.

The idea of organizing your kitchen might be daunting; there are so many different aspects of it.  If (or hopefully when) you decide to organize your kitchen, here are some steps you can take to make it easier.  As you begin to sort through your kitchen items, think about the kitchen work triangle.

The kitchen work triangle typically focuses on the cleaning/preparation area, the cooking area, and the refrigerator, as the cold storage area.  These are the areas where you spend most of your time and if you can simplify the process of moving between these areas – the easier your time in the kitchen will become.  This may not be the time to actually rearrange things, but a good time to think about if there are better ways of placing things.

First, break it into distinct steps – don’t pull everything out all at once.  Depending on the size of your kitchen and the items you have, decide on pots and pans only.  Pull all of those out and see what you have.  In our small kitchen, we could pull all the dishes out and not be overwhelmed, but this will depend on your specific situation.  The idea is to break the groups into manageable sections – you need to decide that for yourself – and try to err on the side of too little, so you won’t become overwhelmed with all that you’ve pulled out in one fell swoop.

Some idea of distinct groups

  • dishes
  • glasses and mugs
  • pots and pans
  • baking pans
  • plastic containers
  • silverware
  • utensils

We often use only 20% of what we own and this applies to our kitchen things too.  As you look at the duplicates or close to duplicates, consider whether one thing actually functions for other items.  If you have 5 frying pans – all different sizes – are there two or three that use almost exclusively?  How many do you need – what’s the largest party you’ve had?  Going from there, you can potentially eliminate the rest of the dishes.

As is usual for me – I am not telling you that if you don’t use something all the time that you need to get rid of it.  It’s completely appropriate to keep things you only use once a year – for me that would be the cookie cutters!  There’s only your conscience to guide you as you evaluate your things.  If you recognize what you use infrequently, you can then find a place to store it that won’t take up valuable space.

The second step will depend on the time you have and the size of your kitchen and number of things, which is then to put them back into the cupboards and drawers.  It can feel counterintuitive to put things back in if you’re going to be rearranging some of the groups.  This is when you need to be realistic (this can be challenging) and avoid rushing or doing too much at once.  Even if you’re just putting them back in temporarily, it’ll be easier when you are more prepared to rearrange.  As you decide where the things are going, you want their placement to be easy to access for pulling them out as well as putting them away.

Corner cabinet shelf

Baskets for under the shelf










Under the cabinet cup storage - sliding or not

This is also the time to consider whether some cabinet accessories might help your organization. Ideally, you want to keep things simple, so don’t stack plates and pans too high.  In our kitchen, these tools don’t work since the height and depth are minimal.  Some items to consider are: shelving (like the corner shelf), under the shelf baskets, or cup storage.  Deciding on accessories will come preferably after you’ve sorted and purged what you want.

In an average to small kitchen, pulling out a different group one at a time can still be accomplished in a four-hour time frame.  It doesn’t need to be overwhelming, yet it’s still important to work with each group independently.  I believe that there’s always room for improvement – my husband and I have been talking about going through our kitchen and look for ways to improve the organization and work triangle.

Look Out – Papers Incoming

I’ve got the NAPO conference on my brain – from the three and a half days education in San Diego – to the state chapter meeting just four days after the end of the national conference.  I have absorbed some of the mass of information available and gathered even more, for when I can handle more!  This may not be a situation that happens regularly, yet it’s important to have ways to deal with it.

For last year’s national conference I printed out all these sheets – the map of the hotel and expo, the slides for the presentations I wanted to attend as well as some back up slide presentations in case I changed my mind. I took lots of notes in the workshops and gathered flyers from most, if not all, the companies exhibiting their products.  Lots of paper.  Within a month I had the business cards and flyers organized.  Those notes though, those are still sitting in the binder I took, waiting for my good intentions for organizing them.

This year I had my nifty iPad, so I decided to take a risk and load all the slide presentations and maps on that.  I took a small spiral notebook just on case I couldn’t make do with typing on the iPad.  I’m thrilled to say that using the iPad was a complete success.  I’m even more excited that I won’t need to worry about transcribing the notes – as they’re all electronically searchable and ready for me to use the information when I’m ready.

I took with me 2 empty document envelopes, like Peter Walsh’s,

Peter Walsh's Document Envelope

Peter Walsh's Document Envelope

and at the end of each day separated the flyers and various papers I’d accumulated into 2 piles.  One pile was for things that I want to follow up on in one way or another – companies I want to look at their websites, articles to read, or people to e-mail after conference.  The other pile was for things to save, but more for archiving – things I might want to refer to later but needed no action or attention in the short term.  Each pile went into one of the document wallets. I’ve begun the process of dealing with the small collection of papers that need action, and it’s easy since they’re all together.

With the small context of our local meeting, I simply made a list of the things I want to act on, separate from the notes gathered during the presentation.  I’ve figured out that taking notes electronically is ideal for me – no need to make time to transcribe notes, and I’ll keep them organized in my Evernote account where I can search and access them anytime.

Although this can be an ideal way of handling any information you get – making a separate list of action items – for me, the amount of information from the national conference was overwhelming and I wanted it to be simpler.  I’ve already started acting on the items, though I’ve certainly got more to do.  Yet now I’m ready to add them a to-do list, therefore simplifying things even more.

Papers are often the biggest struggle – despite the aim toward a paperless society, we continue to have a plethora a paper bombarding us.  I was excited to limit that some by not printing the handouts, yet I certainly brought a good amount of additional paper home.

Having a plan for what you want to do with those papers is important – figure out whether you want/need to take action and you need the physical papers to remind you or if you simply want to archive them for reference at a later point.  Or do you want to pass them along to someone else? What is the next thing you want to do with them?  This will help you deal with any papers coming into your life.

Evaluating System Breakdowns

Life is always changing – it’s not a static environment.  I addressed this not long ago in the We Must Always Change.  This is one of the reasons that our organizing is never actually finished.  You can create good systems and maintain the organization for any number of years, yet it’s likely that there will be pieces that can be improved after some time.  Our situations and approach change as we move through life.  This can be daunting to many people – “you mean I’m never really done?”  Truthfully, no.

This can actually be an uplifting thing.  Really and truly.  It opens up possibilities and can create space before your eyes.  Unfortunately we often need to look at things with “new” eyes, ready to see opportunities we’ve previously missed.  We also need to make sure if doesn’t mutate into a reason for self-flagellation.

I’m the first to admit that I’ve created systems for myself that end up falling flat on their faces.  It’s usually not obvious right away.  Only after a number of weeks or months does it hit me that that new way of doing something is just not working.  Sometimes it’s about how my husband uses the items.  Other times, I’m dealing with something new to me – like when I started scrapbooking, I had all these various things, and there are just so many ways of organizing them. I struggled to find a complete system that worked – and had to fight chastising myself for the lack of total success.

It’s too easy – and I see this too frequently – for us to recognize only the negative.  We are glaringly aware of our failures and gloss over the pieces that do work.  When you’re looking at systems that have broken down, you need to search out the ways it does work for you.  Those scrapbooking supplies may not have completely worked, but there were always ways that it did work.  There are ways your systems are working – you need to figure those out.

However small those pieces might be, the successes are clues for you about what does work for you.  You can examine those and see if any of those principles can apply to the rest of the system.  Do the successful pieces work because they’re easy to access – like putting away new scrapbooking things?  Do they work because they’re close at hand when you’re doing it – like sorting mail by the trash?  Leaving behind the idea of “good” and “bad” – we’re more likely to succeed at things when it’s relatively easy.  Are there ways to make pieces easier for you?

This is when you need to not rush blindly ahead, you need to take time to think about and evaluate what you need.  Take time to plan, figure out what goals you need to meet.  It can feel like planning is a waste of time, yet according to Dr. Donald E. Wetmore, “1 hour planning will save 10 hours doing.” Each time I re-did the craft supplies, I waited to give myself time to think about what wasn’t working and come up with what I needed to modify.  Only after I figured that out did I dig and starry changing things.

It can be daunting that our best intentions didn’t end up working out the way we thought they would, yet it can be an opportunity to make things exponentially better.  It also reinforces how change is not only just a part of life, but also part of the journey and growth integral to living.  When we apply that to our organizational systems, it means that we can improve our efficiency and productivity too.

It’s Coming – Tax Day

Last weekend my husband sat down to do our taxes.  Yes, it’s that dreaded time of year.  Some of you might have already filed them – I know many people who do it within in the first month or two of the year, eager for the refund.  Then, others put it off, searching through mounds of random papers looking for all the receipts and other relevant information.  From what I see, whether you’re relatively organized or not, it’s not something any of us look forward to.  Despite this, if we can be organized, it can reduce the stress and anxiety associated with this process.

I’ve always been a big proponent of making a specific place to hold all the tax information – a place where you can put it over the course of the year – knowing where to get it when it’s that time to deal with taxes.  This can be a file or a box, it doesn’t matter as long as you put the papers there consistently and avoid putting other papers in that same place.  I’ve made files with upcoming years on them so I don’t even need to think about making another file and every time I get to filing papers, I put them in their correct spot.

There’s one exception to this for me – the medical expenses.  In years past, I’ve had an envelope that lives by other frequently used papers in a desktop file sorter, where I can add to it easily.  Then, before my husband does taxes I pull out all those receipts, divide them into categories, and add them up – giving my husband that grand total on what we spent on doctor visits and prescriptions.  Because of the way I’d set it up, I’d need to add the numbers multiple times, making sure I’d not entered one (or more) of them incorrectly. Toward the end of this year, I decided to make a spreadsheet for medical expenses; columns for the categories and let the computer do my calculations.  I still need to make sure the numbers are entered correctly, but I make a little effort throughout the year, and it’s that much easier when it’s time to do taxes.

Do you have papers that are important for taxes yet also relevant for other activities?  Although not everyone has this to deal with, businesses and those who volunteer extensively are commonly faced with this. It might be “easiest” to make duplicates – then you can have one copy with tax information and the other copy with the other relevant papers.  Even I cringe at that – who really wants MORE papers to deal with?

As with any organizing, the bottom line is being able to find it when you need it and having a system for tracking what you need.  If you file those papers with the relevant papers and forget that at tax time, you’ll be unhappy.  Also, as with most things, there’s multiple ways of dealing with these dual use papers.

When will you use those papers next?  Are they something that you’ll need next in September?  Put them with the relevant papers.  Rather, will use them next for taxes?  Put them with the taxes.  After you’re finished using them for their next purpose, move them to the next place they’ll be used.  Part of how this can work is to make a note for yourself and put in the opposite place from where they’re stored, telling you that these papers are important and then where to look to get them.  Once taxes are completed, papers you’ll refer to for their other purpose can live with that related information.  You’ll only need access to them from a tax standpoint in case you’re audited.

If you’re computer savvy, you can make a file – spreadsheet or document.  If you just need the totals of your different receipts, it can be easy to enter that information and even track it from year to year.  It’d be more concise and immediate to have just that information you need in a computer file.  This does mean that you’d need to be consistent in adding the information into the file.

It’s not too late to decide on and create a system for handling all the tax documents you’ll need for next year.  Think about where you struggle – what papers do you waste time searching for? Why those papers?  Brainstorm ways to cope with how they interfere with your system.  Let it evolve.  My medical receipts lived in an envelope for years before I decided to add them to a spreadsheet throughout the year, making my life and the taxes easier.