Passing on the Skills to Your Children

A mini-you: your children are supposed to be that, right? Or at least hopefully the best parts of you. Not necessarily. At least not immediately. Looking back at some of the good qualities of your own parents though, you probably have some of those in yourself. Until that someday for your kids, it is easy to get frustrated that their household duties are not done with more enthusiasm or with the attention to details that you would like. Children may act like they do not hear much of what you say, but it sinks in and stays there.

A mom posted a comment on my first blog on chores: “I think I’ve got this mastered for myself, but how can I teach my 7-yr old? No matter how many times I try to explain that if we “do as we go” it won’t be so overwhelming, he just doesn’t seem to catch on!! :(” My mom teased me about this, commenting that I was not much different as a kid myself, yet look at me now. She also shared a memory of her own life: there was a chair in her room which would collect piles of clothes over the week and each week her mom had her clean it off. She cannot imagine doing this now and cannot remember quite when or how it changed. The habits and behaviors that we had as children and adolescents do not always last. Life seems to happen along the way and we change. It is common for kids to explore and test limits, even completely rejecting the way a parent wants it done. I don’t remember caring whether my room was clean or tidy. It started to matter to me much later in life.

I hear how kids need limits, and how they secretly want and need rules. This is just one reason that it is a good idea to set up those expectations. My mom knew that once a week she was expected to pick up her room and clear off the chair. These house rules also help teach what it takes to maintain a welcoming house as well as return your home to that state you want it in. The key in setting these guidelines for your children is to accentuate the positive, think of Baloo talking to Mowgli in the Disney version of The Jungle Book, compliment the efforts you see. The last thing you want is for the task to become so dreaded that they avoid it.

Demonstrating skills consistently is an effective way of passing on the know-how to your children. This can also apply to showing them how to not do something. If you fall behind on doing your dishes, be real, let them see how if affects you. Do you get more frazzled? Are you more likely to drop something? Or miss some food particles and therefore create more work for yourself? If you are comfortable and the kids are old enough, talk to them about it and share the consequences. When you have not kept up with doing laundry, does someone need to where dirty clothes for a day? How much time do you lose catching up on the one thing while other things have to put on hold? Does it negatively affect your energy level? Do you get more snappy and short-tempered? Some of these things may be obvious anyway, and the point is that by doing, just doing, you are teaching your kids.

There are so many different approaches to organizing and the ways for it to be effective. It all depends on the individual. This includes kids and adolescents. If you are determined to try to find a way that they will be more orderly, think about different ways and what will work for their temperament. Maybe having some neat containers will inspire them to put everything away. This is not likely a long term solution as nifty new things lose there appeal after a while. There are pros and cons to the different approaches and so finding a way that accentuates the strengths already present means it is that much more likely to be successful. We are frequently changing and adapting, so what works for any of us at one moment may not work down the road, so knowing the other options just benefits us in the long run.

The most important thing though is simply sharing and passing along the knowledge. Even if the behavior does not change right now, the knowledge is there for them, and when they are ready for it they have it on hand. This is not unlike passing along the skills of cooking. Most people I know after they moved away from home, resorted to eating ramen and any boxes or cans of food. Yet down the road, when they became motivated, they started cooking meals. Even if they are not used, skills and knowledge remain with us.

I hope that you are not frustrated or sad that your child is not obviously picking up the skills you are trying to impart. Just remember that they are still absorbing the information and will have it available when they are ready for it. I would wager there are examples from your own life where you had habits that would make you cringe now, yet you changed and created habits that you appreciate. Providing the knowledge is what matters most. In the meantime, the rules of your home set the limits and give the opportunity to practice the skills. There is hope!

Considering Your Possessions by Time as well as Space

As humans, we have many possessions. We need clothes and kitchen items for cooking. The things we own can be out of necessity or from simple appreciation. The amount varies from person to person as well as the amount of space available to each person. The decision of what to keep and what to get rid of depends on the values of that person as well as the space they have available. The individual, who is an avid cook, will likely keep all the various accoutrements for whipping up things in the kitchen. Finding a way to think about the things you collect in a new and different light can be challenging, yet can offer realizations, changing your view of the collection.

I think we all have something that we treasure and are reluctant to part with. This is illustrated by the person who will make other sacrifices to make room in a less logical place for those items. The bookshelf in the bottom of a closet or kitchen items in other rooms are two examples.

One standard approach is to assess the space available. There are the concrete limitations of your space. The amount of flexibility you have can depend on the size of the rooms. There are tools and furniture to help try to maximize the area you have available. The layout of the closets and cupboards can significantly constrain options for you. Unless you are able and willing to move or do major renovations, this is what you need to find ways to cope with. This is the time to think about what you value enough to consider putting in an “odd” location. If you are serious about living without excessive clutter, having small spaces can help you figure out what matters most of your belongings. What are you willing to part with so that you can keep something else? When you start thinking about what you are willing to sacrifice in order to keep something else demonstrates where your priorities are.

Lately I have found that thinking in terms of time to be even more powerful. It is useful for those things that might even have space available, but just because you have the room for something, does not mean that you need to be holding onto it. Using time as a gage can shift the way you think of things.

Last year my husband and I decided that we wanted to make a point to listen to each CD we owned. We were sporadic about it last year, and as we were talking about it, I looked up the number of albums we own. It struck me that we could listen to one album every day and it would take almost two years to get through our collection. With that number of albums, it is not surprising there are albums that we cannot remember the last time we listened to it. Part of the reason we wanted to listen to every album was to evaluate whether we wanted to keep it, so we are continuing to review our collection of CD’s. Framing the number of CD’s in relation to how long it would take to listen to each one, helped illustrate how hard it can be to appreciate some large collections.

Yet, we want to appreciate the music and with that number, how much are we truly appreciating it? Are they all worth the valuable space they take up? Would someone else appreciate them more? The answers to these questions help figure out what is worth keeping and what needs to find another home.

Media, in most forms, is something that I collect: if you can read it, listen to it, and even watch it, I am reluctant to part with it. With the CD’s, it would have been simple to ignore it until we ran out of room in their cabinets. This inspired me to look at the other media I own and consider it in terms of the time it would take. The video collection was excessive, considering how often and what I watch, so this too I have trimmed down, only keeping what I love and value.

Considering your possessions in terms of time can prompt a completely new way of thinking about your things. Use any increment of time that makes sense to the context and ask yourself how much you will be able to use or appreciate the items within that time frame. In the course of a year, are you going to use all of those 12 muffin tins? If you have clothes that you wear less than once a year, how much (if any) of them are worth keeping?

Only you can decide what is worth keeping, no one can come in and tell you definitively what to keep versus what to get rid of. Your values and interests determine what needs to stay, though thinking about them in terms of space and time can help you figure out what things are no longer important or necessary. As a human you will always have possessions, and determining which things are worth holding onto can only maximize your appreciation of those items.

Closet System Decisions

Let me say it and get it out of the way: buying a closet system will not solve organization problems. Nope. Nor will any number of bins, containers, cabinets, or shelves. However, if you are committed to working at increasing your level of organization, these things can be useful tools, if they are used correctly.

It makes me sad how many times I’ve seen someone install a closet system that doesn’t meet their needs, or buy the perfect bins for organizing, which end up in the basement, piled up with all the other stuff.

If you are considering a closet system, there’s some important considerations you need to take into account.

First, you need to figure out what you need. Do you like to hang almost everything or do have a fair amount of things folded? How many shoes do you have and do want a system that contains them? Do you want room for purses, jackets, belts, or ties? What do you currently have in your closet and what you realistically want in your closet? Do you want to use for something other than clothes?

Second, consider whether you will want drawers, baskets, or one-purpose holders for those purses, belts, or ties? What happens in five or ten years from now, will you still want those things? These can be useful though a more generalized system is more modifiable. Closet systems often have various shoe gadgets built into them, some are really clever, yet I cannot help thinking that it limits the use of the space. What if someone suddenly decided that they would have a shoe rack by the door for their shoes? That nifty area in the closet suddenly is useless. Shelving is wonderfully versatile, holding purses nicely displayed or stacks of clothing. One thing that is universal, large, deep drawers or baskets are not as useful as they appear. Anything kept at the bottom of these disappear and if you need to actually get at them, you mess up the things above it. Stay away from deep drawers or baskets, maybe one if you insist for large purses which can be lined up and equally accessible.

Third, how easily can the system be modified? Although you might hang almost everything right now, things can change down the road, so can shelves replace part of the hang area? If you want to have a system that works well for your child right now, that may not be good when they become teenagers. Some companies are constantly revamping their product line, will the closet system you get become one of those? If they might be, it could be challenging to get different parts if you want them. As with the specialty features, a system that can easily modified is ideal, allowing the system to benefit and conform to you and not trying to force you to adapt to it.

Fourth, what is the design of the shelves? There seem to typically be three types of materials used: wire, laminate, or metal. Wire shelving comes with serious drawbacks: things can topple, fall through, or get things caught in them. They do make a plastic covering you can buy separately, though these are made for specific shelves and cannot be used on every wire shelf. The laminate or metal at least are solid and will hold things evenly.

Fifth, how sturdy is it? There are so many systems out there these days that you can go to Walmart and pick up a system to put into your closet. How long will it last? The unit itself needs to be sturdy as well as the part that attaches to the wall. Although price is rarely not an issue, going for the least expensive will probably waste your money in the long run.

Finally, are you willing or able to install it yourself? There are companies that specialize in closets that will offer a do-it-yourself option with a minor price cut. The Container Store‘s Elfa system is mostly a do-it-yourself system though they are providing an installer for some areas, but they offer extensive phone support for installing the Elfa system. Some companies only have the professional installation option. Interestingly, I found that the professional installation does not always add up to costing more.

These are the major points that I have come across when people have or need a closet system. I would not wish the bad closet design on anyone, so if you decide that you want to have a system for your closet, consider these points, or maybe even consult with an expert who will know what questions to ask to get you the system that will fit your style and needs. As with any tool, you need it to benefit you and not end up making you change to use it.

Is a closet system the thing for you? Not necessarily. It is not the simple, easy answer to all problems. If used correctly, it can assist you in your efforts at getting organized. This is what matters most, finding ways to help yourself, which means that a system may not even be useful to you.

Life is Blossoming Again, Time to Clear the Dust

Has spring arrived where you live? It feels like it has here in Wisconsin, despite the small snowfall last weekend. The crocus and tulips bulbs are peeking out. The tradition of spring-cleaning beckons. The time has arrived to air out the house and rid yourself of the dust that has collected over the winter. Of course, officially Spring is here, the equinox was a few days ago, and the days will just get longer and theoretically the weather will just get warmer.

I recommend taking one room at a time. It does not matter which room you choose to start with, but stay focused on that one room. It is easy to get distracted and lose focus. If you happen to stray from that room, stop what you are doing, and return to the room you chose. Then just pick up where you had left off.

Since dust just falls to the ground, work with the gravity and begin with the top of the room. Clean the light fixture and ceiling fan, if you have one. Knock down the pesky cobwebs from the ceiling and corners.

Take down the curtains and any other else in the room you can get laundered. Decide whether you can throw them in your washer or if you need to take them to the dry cleaner. This is also a great time to take out any rugs and shake them out if possible. Even just hanging them outside while you are working in the room can freshen them.

Continuing with the clearing the dust, wipe down whatever is on your walls. Any shelves and décor items need to be wiped down. This can be a great time to consider whether you love the items in the room. Is it time to move some things around, or for items to leave?

As you examine the things living in the room, grab a container or three and pick up whatever does not belong. The container can gather things for another room. I will use one container, even a plastic bag, for getting items together that belong in another room. Depending on the amount of things, I might even use one container for another level in the house, like upstairs, instead of a specific room. The key to this is to stay in the room in which you are working. The container is there so that later it is easy to transfer the items. Leave the container to the side of the room or just outside the doorway while you are working. You might find more items as you continue as well as keep yourself focused on the room you’re working on.

Remove the cushions and vacuum them, and don’t forget to do both sides. Find what might have fallen under the cushions and then vacuum up what remains. It is always surprising to me how much dirt and debris collects under our cushions, even when there are no “treasures” discovered. If you are able, this is a good time to move the furniture out and vacuum under and behind it.

Wash any windows in the room, inside and outside if possible. Don’t forget to wipe down the light switch plates, they gather fingerprints surprisingly noticeable if you stop to look!

The rest of the floor comes last, sweeping and mopping or vacuuming, as required. Be sure to check your canister in the vacuum and change the water for your mop periodically as you go.

Depending on the room you are working on, you’ll need to apply the principles to that room. I might be forgetting some things, but here are a few additional details to remember:

  • Flip and/or rotate the mattress – check your manufacturer’s instructions for their recommendations, as some newer mattresses are not made to be flipped
  • Clean out the refrigerator and freezer
  • Go through all medications, disposing of anything that is expired or that you don’t anticipate using
  • Wipe down washer, dryer, refrigerator, microwave, and cabinet fronts
  • Empty trashcans and clean out, don’t forget any lids, too
  • Clean any litter boxes after empty
  • Clean stairwells – vacuum or sweep

Unless you have time and energy to spare, pace yourself and do not try to do it all in one day. Having a nice day where you can hang out the rugs or even the linens, where having the windows open is a possibility, can bring home the change of seasons.

Are you ready to jump into a room and get it ready for spring? It is a good time for the blossoming of life and clearing the dust and clutter is just one aspect.

Happy Spring!

Somehow, Someway Not Making the Progress You Planned?

Being disorganized, having clutter doesn’t mean that you don’t have any type of organizational system. Quite the contrary, for some. I should know. If you’ve been following my blog for a while, you probably have noticed that I enjoy systems, patterns, and knowing how to handle things. I like things to have a place where things belong and a methodology in getting them to that place. It helps make sure that I know where things are and can find them easily. This is what true organization is all about.

I may not always be as prompt as I plan on following through on the methodology. The perfect example for me is the filing, I have a bin that collect the papers to be filed and have tried various time frames for when I will move them from the bin into the filing cabinet. They often live in the bin longer than I intend. The acceptable aspect of this is that if I have procrastinated filing, at least I know where to look and know it will be in the bin. This is why the bin works for me.

The problem arises when no part of the system is working. If you decide to use a bin to collect something and yet the bin is empty or worse yet there are other things suddenly in the bin, the system is not working. This can happen from the moment you set up a new system, or it can happen down the road, even after using the system for a while successfully. Trying to establish new routines and systems for dealing with things often carries the hazard of backsliding and therefore the tendency to berate ourselves for the failure to be perfect.

Slipping up or backsliding happens to everyone. Yes, I mean everyone. There are times that we make progress and are thrilled with the changes that are happening. Then at other times, we suddenly look around and see that chaos has returned. We are not using the systems that we created. The Room Re-Vamp I talked about in another post was a large-scale example, where the room had become a dumping ground.

This same thing can happen on a small scale, for example when the mail is piling up and not even where you intended to keep it. Piles anywhere we do not intend, is a sign that systems are not working, that is assuming that you have decided on a system to try.

This is one of the frustrations (and in some ways, joys) of organizing. There is no one way to do something; there are a plethora of approaches to the same thing. It allows for the ultimate in personalization of systems. It also requires a perseverance and determination to create new habits. Even the best system, tailored to your personality and habits, does not function independently of you.

As an organizer, I come in, ask questions, and attempt to find a system of approaching problem areas that will work for that person. If something is working, even partially, do not change what works. When something is not working though, it means things to need to change. The larger the struggle, the smaller the steps I try to find for you to start taking. Sometimes even those small steps might be challenging or completely avoided. This is just another part of the struggle of making changes.

The worst aspect to backsliding is the guilt and shame that often accompanies it. Whether you are working with a professional organizer or not, this happens to everyone. We are all human; yet somehow do not give ourselves some slack to stumble, on our way to making changes. I wish I had a magic wand, where I could just wave it around and erase all the guilt and shame people feel for their simply being human.

Change is challenging, plain and simple, and regardless of what change we are attempting. We need to be ready and prepared to tackle all the emotions that arise from attempting change. This is when our determination and perseverance is critical, and with it can eventually develop those habits we want. Sometimes it is just a matter of time: time to prepare ourselves for changing and to adjust how we approach things. No matter the timing or success of our attempts, guilt and shame deserve no place with us.

True Purchasing Power

I walked into a client’s home a while back and the first thing out of their mouth was, “So tell me what I need to buy.” Nope, not the way I work. “There is no way to know what might be needed until we’ve gone through things, until we can see what we’re really dealing with, and even then there might be items already here that can fulfill the needs we find.” Ironically, by the time we finished working together, I had recommended one purchase, at which point, they decided to just throw away the items.

There are so many organizational products available with all these variations. We see a neat item on sale that seems to meet our needs, and we take three of them home. It is tempting to think that buying some organizational products will solve the mess around us. Unfortunately, these items do not fill themselves, removing the disorganization for us and often just contribute to the situation.

I mostly use three criteria to judge when to make purchases, and they can apply to virtually everything you might find yourself spending money on. It stays at the store until I know it will fit, where I will put it, and I actually need it. I heard a saying once that has stuck with me, “Let the store – store it for you.” Cute yes, but true.

  • Starting with finding out if it fits. This can apply from furniture to clothes to organizational bins. Furniture is the most obvious, and not many people buy items before knowing if it can fit in the space available. Even furniture comes with a variety of features though and if it fails to fit the things we need or want it for, then it does not actually fit. Clothes are often frustrating to take the time to try on in the store, so we guess and take them home, thinking it is easy to keep the receipt and return them later if they do not fit. This just makes more work for us, easily falling into the “I’ll do it another day” category; meanwhile we have excess stuff around. The nifty bins and boxes many stores sell might fit anywhere, but they too can become clutter around us.
  • Next, do you know where you will put it? It might be pretty or useful, but before you buy it, think about where precisely you are going to put it and how you will use it, if applicable. I have a penchant for decorative boxes, but started considering where I would put it as well as what I would put inside it before getting it. I contented myself with admiring it in the store and then walking away. If you know where it would go, but do not actually have room in that place, are you willing to get rid of something else to make room for the new item? If your pajama drawer is overflowing, are you going to get rid of one or two to make room for a new one? You can ask yourself, “What are you willing to give up in order to make room for the new item?” If you buy something because it is pretty when you don’t have a place to put it, it just ends to adding clutter and defeats the point of getting it.
  • Maybe in some ways the hardest question, do you actually need it? Now I think this is worth asking, though the literal meaning of need is not my intent. I probably do not need another book, yet I also know that I am willing to sacrifice many things to make room for books. I once had a couple of makeshift shelves at the bottom of my closet, and eagerly purged my shoe collection to make space. Nevertheless, thinking in terms of whether it is needed can help filter out some of the temptations of that item. Despite not being much a cook, I find myself drawn to gadgets to make cooking easier, yet they end up being deemed “not needed.”

Other questions can help you determine when to pass up a new item in the store. If you start thinking about the things that tempt you, the ways you catch yourself, and what helps you walk away, you can find questions that fit you. You can then use those to test the importance of getting something right then.

Some other questions that can be helpful:

  • How many do you already have of that type of item? How many black sweaters do you need, even if this other has a different twist? How many rings are you reasonably going to wear over the year? How many bins do you need and will you use?
  • Do you love the item, or is it just good enough? There is no need to clutter our space with things that we do not deeply appreciate and make us happy.It is important to keep in mind that until you have gone through what you already have, you cannot know what exactly you need. Even if you know precisely what you have, deciding to buy something still needs to be approached with care. Some organizers believe in the idea of if you bring one thing into your home, you need to take one thing out. Although I view this as too extreme, the idea can remind us to be cautious in bringing more stuff into our home.

The things that stores offer us are supposed to benefit us, so it is up to us to be mindful of the choices and purchases we make. When we get the items that serve our needs and wants without creating clutter, we rarely have regrets about wasted money or time. We reinforce the idea that the stores and items can benefit us, yet do not, and cannot, dictate what will match our needs. When our money is not lost on indiscriminate items, we have the money to get what we need, when we need it. By approaching all shopping with the mentality that all purchases have to meet our specific needs, we have the truest form of purchasing power.

Organizing Papers, Ugh! Even More So… Part 2

In our last installment on organizing papers, I was only able to get through what to do with the short-term papers. If you didn’t see that post, don’t fret – you don’t need to have read it in order to read this post. So, that said, we come to an all-too common problem: long-term papers and what to do with them. Do you struggle with that? Don’t be afraid to say so. I know that I’ve struggled with it and overcome it, and helped many people do so, as well.

Long-term papers are those things we need or want to keep. They can be anything from papers we need for filing taxes to recurring bills to the recipes we clip in order to try them. We need to keep the different long-term papers organized with a system that allows us to easily find the various things we might need.

Everyone needs to file taxes, so the papers necessary for this need to find a place and need to be kept. If the size of your tax file is not huge, I recommend a file in a filing cabinet. I make sure to have a tax file for the following year so that anything that arrives during the year can immediately go into the file and it is all together when it is time to prepare taxes.

A few categories that relevant for taxes have a separate file, like the specific business expenses. Medical receipts are another separate category since those need to be itemized and totaled before taxes can be completed.

For some, the paperwork that accumulates for taxes is too large to fit comfortably in a file. One person I know uses manila envelopes to gather each month’s papers together, which are then labeled and kept in a box and organized chronologically. However you choose to keep your tax papers together does not matter as long as it makes sense to you and can be easily accessed.

Any papers that relate to financial investments and property, such as your home and car, need to be kept as well. Credit card statements and pay stubs are often kept; at least until additional paperwork arrives that confirms the important information. Receipts are often necessary for warranties and for valuing your property.

There are many differing philosophies and approaches as to what to keep and for how long. I know some people who keep every utility bill and credit card statement for a certain number of years. I know others who discard these same things as soon as they have paid them. There are plenty of resources available with advice on how long to keep various papers and the most popular one is to consult with your financial advisor. The IRS publication 552 addresses paperwork to keep, if you can slog through the legal-ese!

I am not going to tell you how you should handle your papers. The truth is that it does not matter that much. What is important is that you know where your papers are when you need them. Whether you put them into files, accordion folders or manila folders is completely irrelevant. You need to decide on a system that makes sense to you and how you will look for the items so that you can find them easily when necessary. The system you create needs to work for you.

When I help someone who is starting from scratch to create a filing system, I gather all the relevant papers together, trying to make sure there are no other papers in the pile. I sit on the floor (I find it easier to spread piles around me that way, though as I get older this is less and less appealing!). I then dig into the one big pile, making smaller piles. Each pile is going to become a file in the filing cabinet, so each different kind of paper needs to be separated. I like the hanging folders with categories, so after creating the smaller piles, I would make a list of the files to be created on a sheet of paper. Then I can look through it and divide those into categories for the hanging folders. At this point, I start labeling the hanging folders and file folders, labeling and putting the papers into their files.

Personal preference becomes important, so sharing my system, I have a bank category and each account, even ones with the same bank, will get an individual file to go within the category. My husband’s work papers are put in the company category and then the papers are divided up into files within that. How you decide to organize your papers is dependent on how you will look for them and how many papers exist since you want to watch out for putting too many papers into one file.

One caveat to this process can be the amount or types of papers to be filed. One client I worked with ran a business out of her home, so we divided the initial pile into two large piles. One was for home-related papers while the other was the business. After those were separated out we started making the smaller piles. If there are other types of papers you want to save long term, these kinds of papers can be separated out as well. For example, when I was attending school, those papers were kept in a different drawer and during the initial sorting process would make a general school pile which I would later divide up for the various files within the school category. My vet bills are another example of a file that is not kept with the general household files. This is just my preference, yet provides an example of some things that could be separated from the general household files.

I know many people who have a collection of recipes they have culled from newspapers or magazines, and it is important to find a way to keep track of them and most important have them accessible so you can try out the new recipes. Something as simple as a solitary file folder on a kitchen shelf can work. This was the first stop for one client. The recipe stayed there until she’d tried it, and then she knew if she wanted to keep it. It could get thrown away if she was not impressed or added to a binder if she wanted to make it again. Recipes from magazines are often available online through the magazines website, and I save paper by copying any recipes I’m interested in to my computer’s hard drive and where I can easily make notes as well.

There are so many types of papers that you might want to save, it would be impossible to cover them all. Let yourself be creative in finding solutions that work and strive to be able to retrieve any papers you might need or want without difficulty. Be sure to set up some routines to maintain control over the never-ending papers coming in your door.

Organizing Papers, Ugh! Part 1

Papers never stop arriving. The mail is delivered 6 days a week barring a holiday and even if most of it is junk mail that you throw away, there is bound to be papers that you end up with. If you are well organized then they will not clutter up your home, but how many of us are THAT organized? There are so many ways to organize your papers and the different kinds of papers that you may decide to keep, whether short term or indefinitely.

Everyone has a system for dealing with those papers coming in, although whether it is working well is another matter. It is a system even if the papers are piled or dropped somewhere. Most critical for the system is whether you know where to find things easily and are paying your bills on time. Yet, this often is not enough.

The first step is to figure out what you want to keep. Period. Start this simple. Is there a reason to hold onto something right now? If there is no reason to hold onto it, throw it away.

Next, with the things that you are keeping for right now, what is short-term and what is long-term?

Starting with the short-term papers: coupons, catalogs, and sometimes magazines are easily put into this category. Coupons and catalogs expire or become outdated. Find a place to hold onto these short-term papers where you know where to look for them. Make a point to look through the catalogs within a short time and decide whether it is now trash or something to hold onto for a while longer.

Some people keep catalogs until the next one arrives. If you want to do this, find a relatively small place to keep them. I have seen catalogs kept in a small drawer, an upright magazine holder, and in-box container just for them, to name a few. Creating a place to keep them that helps contain them temporarily helps to make sure that the older version can easily be thrown away after the newer one arrives.

Similarly, with coupons, if there is a small place you keep them, you can see when it is time to review them, purging anything that has expired, and reminding yourself what you want to use. They can be kept in an envelope, a small bin, in your purse, or wherever you find convenient and logical.

Magazines ideally are read before the next one arrives. If you enjoy the magazine and are loathe to just throw away the unread magazines, stop getting more until you are caught up and you can always start getting it again. Canceling a subscription or not renewing it is important in avoiding unnecessary clutter when you do not have time to read them. Try to be realistic about what you can read regularly; no one else can determine that for you.

Deciding what to do with the magazines after you have read them varies from person to person as well as the type of magazine. I am a fan of tearing out articles that you want to keep and finding a way to organize them that way. There are times when you want to keep the whole magazine though. My husband and I have a combination of both these approaches.

If there are articles you want to keep, one option that saves space in your home is to find them online and save them on your computer, where you can do keyword searches for them. If you keep the paper copies, create a way to organize them. You can put them into files with appropriate labels so can find them easily or create binders that keep them altogether.

If you are keeping the magazine as a whole, you also need to find a way to keep them organized. Theoretically, if you decide it is important enough to keep, you are going to want to have access to it at a later point or you do not want them to be ruined. They make binders that are designed to hold magazines without damaging them or what I like using are the magazine holders. The magazine holders can be as decorative or plain as you want and in different materials, from heavy cardboard to plastic, to metal ones. I use each holder for a specific magazine after it has been read and been moved into the keep category and they can be kept altogether.

Organizing papers is a detail-oriented process and I will begin the section on long-term papers in the next post.

Do You Have a Collection or Does a Collection Have You?

We all collect something. There is something that we value or are drawn to own. We have all heard of the stereotype of the woman with tons of shoes. I’ve known people who have collections of binoculars, watches, portfolio bags, muffin tins, CD’s, figurines, and the list goes on. It matters little what the collection consists of, we often have something we collect.

Recently we decided to go back to the House on the Rock. At one point I turned to my husband and said, “Now, this is where I would step in and say, ‘Do you really need more than 300 Santa coffee cups? How about we try to cut this down to a more manageable size?’” Although some were unusual or antique looking, most looked like the typical mugs you would find at Walgreen’s each Christmas.

And it wasn’t just Santa cups, but cigarette lighters, whiskey barrels, rifles, scrimshaw, and far more. Picture of: Scrimshaw, Model Ships, Ship in a Bottle, Wooden Sailor

Alex Jordan collected things, to the point that he kept adding buildings to contain all the things he was collecting. This is not something that many of us can realistically do. If we run out of room to have access to or display the things we collect, we need to start to make hard decisions.

How often do we collect something and then stop to consider whether this still reflects who we are and what we want? We continue changing and evolving throughout our life and need to make time to re-evaluate what we have around us.

If you have been keeping up with my newsletter/blog you know that I recently went through my collection of class notes, some dating back to my middle school days. Taking the time and knowing it was time to part with these things, I was able to recycle more than 90% of the papers I’d saved.

On the other hand, I loathe parting with books. I was so pleased that, in planning our redecorating of a room, we had come up with a way to combine the functionality of holding more books, without limiting the use of the room. Although the total count of books is not yet complete, it looks like there will be more than 2,000 books in our home! (See why I think the term hoarding can too easily applied?) So far in the rearranging, I have only found 4 books that I willing to part with. Books hold importance for me.

Whatever we collect, the determining factor is whether there is room for the items. Are there things that we can part with, if need be, to make room for what we are determined to keep? Unless you have the resources of Alex Jordan and can keep expanding your house as your collections expand, you have a limited amount of space to work with and it is important to live well within those dimensions.

I want to be able to appreciate the items I value enough to keep. I do not want to be overwhelmed by the things surrounding me or even to become blind to them by their familiarity. It is a continual process. I periodically will look around the house with a critical eye, watching for things that have lost some of their value to me. It is important to not forget the things that are behind doors, in drawers, anything that is not immediately visible are worth going through.

Is there something you are reluctant to examine with the possibility of parting with it? When was the last time you looked through your collection and pared it down?

Don’t Get Stuck in Your Filing System

I realized recently that the way I was organizing my business paperwork was not working. How did I realize this, you ask? Well, I was dumping all the papers I needed to keep into a bin and ignoring it. Not good. At least I was keeping the papers all together, and when I needed to find something, I knew where to look.

As you have probably guessed, I have embarked on the task of setting up a better system for myself.

There are many aspects to setting up a filing system as well as choices to make about the organization of it. For myself, I have always preferred handing folders with broad categories, with ordinary file folders sitting within the hanging folders. Sticking with what I know and know that I like, I began sorting my business papers.

The problem arose when I found myself getting frustrated with the broad category names I should give. Interestingly, on the NAPO member listserv recently there was a discussion on creative file names. This was fascinating to me as I have always been quite perfunctory with my filing labels. Yet I see the value of funny and silly names – it can be a way to make the dreaded filing more interesting, even bringing a smile when the names are personal to you. As Kate Varness of Green Light Organizing wrote, “The more a title makes her smile, laugh, or look aghast, the better she will remember it and the less she will dread it.”

There were interesting ideas shared on the forum and one was to call a file “Toupee” instead of the more typical “To Pay.” Now I do not even have such a file name, yet if someone uses this, the more creative name is undeniably more fun and silly. It can lessen the sinking feeling of pulling out the contents and sitting down to deal with it. Another idea was “Stuff I look for but can never find” and how great a file name if the contents do not fit somewhere else logically or easily.

Now, back to my recent filing dilemma. The whole point of broad categories is that there are several file folders within each, and this helps narrow down where things can go. Yet, with my business papers, I am finding that I do not have that many files. This makes broad categories seem cumbersome. Also, there are some papers that feel like they could fit into more than one broad category.

When helping clients with their filing, I advocate that the system meet their needs and function in a way that makes sense to them. I thought I knew what was best for me. I was wrong! It brings the point home that different things can require different approaches and how we need to always be open for revisions.

The files that I established years ago still work well for me. I know where things go and everything is logical for me. The business files are not even going to live in the filing cabinets. Instead, I decided I wanted to use an old file bin I had handy. I realized that if I was to put them in the filing cabinet, I would have probably just labeled a hanging folder “Business” and put all the files within that category.

My thinking needed to shift a little and I needed to reject the idea that I had to do things for my business papers in the same way I have done my other files. I have so much on the computer anyway that is well organized and the papers for my business are minimal. In addition, it is easy to create hanging file labels at a later point if it becomes necessary.

There are so many different ways to set up your filing system, from the everything is simply alphabetical to having hanging folders and file folders within them. Some people put the most recent item in front while others put them in the back. I’ve known people who have not even used files, but instead, used manila envelopes or accordion folders. There is no right way to handle your papers.

However you choose to organize things, it needs to make sense to you. You need to be able to put things away and even more importantly be able to find them. As I recently discovered, you also need to continue to be flexible, even when you think you know how you like things organized!