Visual Peace: Calming the Chaos in Ten Minutes or Less

clutterLet’s just face it: keeping up with everyday life is not for sissies. No matter what your station is in life…student, professional, parent, retiree…your must do/should do list always seems to outweigh your available time.

As an indentured servant working mother, my list seems to grow exponentially with each item I cross off. I’ve found that the key to keeping your sanity is organization, and the first step in getting organized is to trick yourself into a sense of control over your environment. Quieting the “visual noise” that surrounds you will help you focus on what you need to do to actually take control. Are you with me?

No matter how messy your house is or how much you have on your plate, spending just 10 minutes each day to tidy up first will help put you in the right frame of mind and allow you to turn your attention to more important things on your list. Start with the things that will make a big visual impact while requiring little time/effort:

  1. Make your bed. Do it as soon as you get up, before you are awake enough to talk yourself out of it.
  2. Pick your clothes up off the floor. Better still, never let them touch the ground. Either put them away or toss them in the hamper as soon as you take them off.
  3. Close drawers and closet doors. You’ll be amazed at how much cleaner your whole room will look…it’s like magic!
  4. Wash/put away the dishes. Load them into the dishwasher right away to keep them from piling up. If you hand wash them, dry them and put them away too. Nothing creates clutter and a sense of despair like a pile of dishes cluttering up the counter/sink.
  5. Recycle old newspapers/magazines and junk mail regularly. Establish a deadline for reading them. (If you miss the deadline, go ahead and toss it. Life as you know it will not end…I promise!) In the meantime, keep them tidy and contained in a designated spot.
  6. Set up baskets/bins for shoes, backpacks, reading material and toys. This makes it easy to just toss in the trail of surface clutter left lying around by your messy spouse/kids loving family. Assign them the task of checking the baskets daily and putting away their own stuff.
  7. Hang up your bath towel. Put away toiletries immediately after use to keep the bathroom looking respectable. Nothing is worse than sending an unexpected guest to facilities that both smell and look atrocious.
  8. Declutter the front entrance. It is the first thing you see when you come home and can make the difference between a relieved “Ahhhh, I’m home” feeling or a desire to run away from home. Create a functional yet orderly “landing pad” for keys, phones and other essentials, but keep it free from other clutter.
  9. Hang up coats/jackets and put away hats, gloves and scarves. Your home should make you feel warm, cozy and safe, not remind you that a cold world awaits just outside your door.

Creating designated homes for all of your belongings will make all of this quicker/easier, but so much of getting organized is just about establishing good habits. Start here and you will be well on your way to feeling in control.

“Instead of spending time being bothered by things that you cannot control, invest your time and energy in creating the results you desire.” – Jensen Siaw



How Balanced Is Your Budget?


I love seeing everything at once in my tiny, organized pantry!

I love seeing everything at once in my tiny, organized pantry!

I’m bracing myself for a barrage of hate mail for posting this, but my recent discovery has brought me such freedom that I simply must shout it from the rooftops!

I’d like to think I’ve proven myself as a reasonably frugal consumer. When I say “frugal”, I mean that I am budget-conscious and put some effort into finding decent bargains while also recognizing that my time is at least as limited as my finances. 

First an admission: I do not coupon (gasp). I found it to be too time consuming and confusing. On top of that, in order for couponing to work, you have to actually remember to give the cashier your coupons…oops!  I used to be a regular shopper at warehouse stores like Sam’s and Costco because of the low per-unit price you could get by buying in bulk. But then I realized that while spending $400 in one week for 3 different items may save me money in the long run, my short-term cash flow was precisely that…short. So I began shopping at a discount grocery store that stocks mostly off-brand products but where the prices (and the quality) are at least as good as the coupon and warehouse deals without the hassle or the huge outlay.

Finally, I had managed to secure a low unit cost without having to purchase a high quantity. I began to see the benefits of fitting normal-sized products into my tiny pantry (pictured above…I just love my pantry). Gone (eventually) were the 2-liter bottles of soy sauce and vats of olive oil. Crackers, pretzels and cereal were no longer going stale before they could be consumed. I was able to reclaim part of my garage for storing other items besides overflow food. And it no longer took the National Guard to help me unload all the groceries each week.

Unfortunately, I kept buying more cans and boxes than I actually consumed each week out of pure habit…”just to have some on hand”. I still had one large shelf reserved in the garage for storing all my extras. In the garage, mind you…where I hate to go. I would send the kids down to get stuff for me, so I lacked a keen sense of what was actually there. I was always buying things we didn’t need and not buying something we did need simply because I assumed we already had more of it down in the garage.

And then something happened to knock some sense into me. I fell down the stairs and dislocated my shoulder…badly. I could no longer carry as many groceries and was forced to shorten my weekly shopping list to only what I knew we would use in the next week or two. 

Eureka! Now I can fit everything into my pantry where I can easily see at a glance just what we need. Everything is fresh and actually consumed rather than wasted. Putting the groceries away is quicker and easier, and I now have even more room in my garage. I feel so FREE!

All of this has made me realize that being a “frugal” consumer means respecting not just your financial and time limitations, but your space limitations too. My father used to always say, “Space is at a premium.” It surely is a precious commodity to be used wisely. Don’t squander your spacial budget just to stretch your financial or time budgets. Find a balance of all three.

How do you balance your financial, time and spacial budgets?

Note: Your Sam’s or Costco membership may still be worthwhile for purchasing household items, office supplies, electronics, etc. at a great price or for when you are feeding a large crowd. I am not suggesting you ditch it!  Just don’t let bulk purchases of regular groceries eat up all your space.

The Inconvenience of Conveniences

Is your bread machine covered in flour or in dust?

Is your bread machine covered in flour or in dust?

I recall the look of complete amazement and bewilderment on the face of my British friend as I described to her, sometime back in the late ’80’s, how a drive-thru bank worked. I’m not sure if she was impressed by the ingenuity of such an idea or astonished at the sheer laziness of an entire culture where such a phenomenon would even be needed, much less commonplace.

Indeed, we Americans seem to be almost obsessed with an ongoing demand for more and more “convenience”. As though drive-thru restaurants, pharmacies and dry cleaners are not enough, we now have curbside pickup, hands-free concierge service on our cell phones, and remote controls that open our car trunks for us from 50 feet away. Of course, being the queen of laziness, I love it all and can’t wait for the day that someone invents an exercise machine that allows me to burn calories and tone muscle while napping.

But if we aren’t careful, our never-ending quest for convenience can become downright inconvenient, particularly when it comes to all those “convenience” kitchen appliances: juicers, bread makers, rotisseries, countertop grills, food dehydrators and vacuum sealers. Look around you. Are the appliances that are intended to conserve your time just consuming valuable the real estate in your home?

As with anything else, it’s all about choices. Choose which convenience you want…drive-thru burgers, or easier homemade burgers? Vacuum packed groceries you can freeze for fewer trips to the store, or door-to-door grocery delivery? Be realistic and consider your lifestyle and current needs to determine which you will really use. If you want to keep the food dehydrator, fine. USE IT! Commit to it. Let go of that notion that you’ll use it “someday”. If “someday” ever does come, the newer models will be better, even easier to use, and probably worth the cost of buying a new one, so there’s no need to keep this one around and in your way until then (unless it’s Grandma’s old ice cream maker and you are keeping it for sentimental reasons…but that’s another post). Realize that there is nothing convenient about having to move the juicer every time you need to find a glass for your store-bought juice. ALL conveniences require some type of sacrifice–time, money, space, accessibility–so choose wisely.

I have a bread maker I bought about 15 years ago but rarely used because it was too big to store on the counter and required too much effort to get it out when put away. Storing such a large and infrequently-used appliance in my tiny kitchen was a luxury I could no longer afford, so I gave myself an ultimatum: either start using the bread maker regularly or get rid of it. Thus I re-organized my kitchen to make it easier to access my bread maker and  have started using it at least weekly to make homemade dough for pizzas, pita bread and hamburger buns from pre-measured, homemade mixes I toss together once a month or so. I am choosing the convenience of having easier homemade pizza over the convenience of ordering pizza delivery, but that’s a personal choice. The point is, you need to evaluate your current needs and priorities and stop allowing your convenience appliances to inconvenience your life by either finding a way to make using them easier or getting rid of them to make room for a different kind of convenience.

By the way, unused space is a pretty versatile convenience of its own. Just saying.

The Road to Hell Is Paved with Avoidance

Have you ever noticed that things always tend to break when you are broke…and when you really, really, really, really need them the most?

That’s what happened this morning. My husband returned home from his first night shift back at work after a much-needed two weeks off and reported that the brakes in his car were making that dreaded grinding sound. You know the one. It means “Cough up at least $250 immediately” in car language. And of course it didn’t happen while he was off and we didn’t need both cars so that each of us could get to work. It happened right in the middle of a particularly tight budget week.

But it is what it is, and there was no getting around it. We needed that car and couldn’t avoid the necessary repairs, so we put our heads together and came up with a solution within five minutes. I was so proud of my husband (aka “Mañana Man”) for facing the issue head on instead of avoiding it the way he has often done in the past. I used to tease him about how whenever he noticed the car making a funny noise, he’d just turn up the radio so that he didn’t have to hear it anymore. Job done…right?!!

We all have stuff we avoid. I avoided our finished basement for years because the carpet and sofa were stained, the kids’ toys had taken over, and it was dark and dingy and ugly, and I didn’t have the money to get new carpeting or a new sofa. I found myself trying to fit all my stuff into the main level of our house, making that more cluttered than I wanted, just so that I didn’t have to go down there as often to get  the things I needed. I dreaded doing the laundry, because it meant I had to spend time in that depressing environment. I refused to hang out with my husband or children down there. It felt like a dungeon.

Eventually, I got so annoyed at having to relinquish the use of one-third of my house just because it was ugly that I finally decided to do something about it. I painted it, bought slip covers and new drapes, purged  all the toys the kids had outgrown and re-organized the rest, and cleaned the carpet. When I was done, I not only liked it again, I spent most of my days working down there. I even made sure we had a Christmas tree down there so that we could open up our gifts in front of the fireplace. It was awesome, and I was left wondering why I hadn’t done it sooner…why I had wasted all that precious time avoiding the thing that would lead to such a positive outcome. The work and inconvenience of it was far worse in my head than it was in reality and was well-worth it. It took about three days but I have now been able to enjoy that part of my house for over a year. Winning!

One of my favorite shows on TV is “Buried Alive” on Discovery Health Channel. If you haven’t heard of it, it’s a show about extreme hoarders who decide it’s time to get the psychiatric and organizational help they need to clear up their clutter. Avoidance is the main M.O. for practically all of them. They have developed hoarding behaviors as a means of covering up, or avoiding, their emotional pain. They avoid cleaning up and putting things away. They literally build up barriers of stuff to avoid dealing with their nagging spouse or kids. They avoid the reality of their financial issues by continuing to shop for more stuff they don’t need with money they don’t  have. They avoid making repairs in their home and thus often go without power or water for years. Then they begin avoiding relationships because they have to hide their hoarding problem. Life eventually becomes so miserable, the smallest tasks so cumbersome, the mess so paralyzing and their self-esteem so low that they are forced to confront the issue and fix it. And most of them do and then can’t believe how wonderful it is not to have maggots all over their kitchen and to be able to take a shower in their own bathroom or sleep in a bed again. They spent so many years bathing in the sink or eating takeout and robbing their kids of their childhoods that they couldn’t remember how incredibly easy normal life could be in comparison.

One of my clients this week told me that she found herself avoiding looking at  the new “Action” folder we set up for her incoming mail and other papers. After asking her several probing questions to get to the bottom of the issue, it came to light that she was afraid she’d make a mistake in filling out a form or would not be able to find some important document she needed in order to submit her health insurance claims. I pointed out to her that there are very few mistakes in life that cannot be corrected, and there is almost always someone somewhere who has a copy of any missing document or who can help you figure out how to achieve your goal without it. Perhaps it will require some inconvenience or may cost time or money you think you don’t have, but there is always a solution as long as you look for it instead of avoiding it. But more importantly, finding the solution is how we grow and learn, and isn’t that the whole point of living in the first place? To avoid the problem only avoids finding the solution, which in turn avoids learning and growing and living.

The old adage, “Never put off until tomorrow that which can be done today” really means, “Never put off the relief and joy and sense of accomplishment you feel when overcoming an obstacle if you can experience it today”. So next time you find yourself avoiding an unpleasant task, realize that you are also avoiding the sense of freedom that only comes from having completed it.

The Secret Key to an Organized Home

I’m lazy. There, I said it!

They say that “necessity is the mother of invention”, but my cleverest organizing ideas are born out of pure laziness. The truth is that the reason my home is so organized is because I’m just too darned lazy to live in clutter. I will literally spend hours organizing one cabinet in just such a manner as to never have to lift something up in order to get something else out. I clean out my closets very regularly because I figured out a long time ago that the less stuff I have, the greater percentage of that stuff can occupy the prime real estate in my home. The more stuff occupies prime real estate, the easier it is for me to find it and put it away. Laziness… the secret key to an organized home. Who knew?

I may have mentioned this before, but I am a huge Pinterest addict. I spend most of the time I save from not having to look for stuff and lift stuff on surfing Pinterest for new ideas on how to be even more organized and efficient. It’s pretty pathetic, I know, but I really enjoy seeing all the clever ideas people come up with for storing things in non-conventional, super-accessible ways. Using a cupcake stand to store tiny craft embellishments without having to open any containers… stuffed animals hung conveniently on the wall in a mounted planter where they won’t fall out easily and have to be picked up… pocket shoe organizers for holding the entire contents of a cabinet where you can see it all at once and not have to move anything…Brilliant!

But there’s danger lurking among the boards, too. In the pictures, the cabinets always look so nice and neat and orderly with their matching containers and coordinating labels. It can be a little intoxicating and make you forget yourself a little. Before you know it, the quest for efficiency can turn into a Martha Stewart Living nightmare.  I recently saw a photo that made me shiver. A professional organizer had helped someone organize their linen closet and attached beautiful labels indicating the sheet size to each sheet set using safety pins. Say what?!!  Oh, it looked gorgeous, but it failed the laziness test immediately. Who on earth is going to un-pin and re-pin those labels every time the sheets are used or put away?!!! Not me!

Never underestimate the power of the slightest inconvenience to prevent you from doing something you don’t want to do anyway. If your drawers and closets are too full, you won’t put things away, so you may as well just pile everything up on the tables and chairs instead, because that’s where they’re going to end up anyway.  Closet door broken? Sock drawer stuck? Can’t reach that top shelf? Maybe it isn’t such a coincidence that the things that live there never made it back home last time you finished using them. Take a good look at your biggest pain points and ask yourself why they are so painful. Dig deep down into your subconscious and identify the problem. Nine times out of ten, it’s because of some minor obstacle you’ve tolerated (or haven’t) for too long without even acknowledging its existence.

Let Martha keep her matching hang tags and adorable zippered pouches. She’s got a whole TV crew to put stuff away for her! Lazy works just fine for me. In fact, I’d even say “It’s a good thing”.

“Outside of a dog, a book is a man’s best friend. Inside of a dog it’s too dark to read” –Groucho Marx

I am blessed to have two children who love to read! In fact, my 7-year-old son is known for swiping his Dad’s Playstation Magazine and hiding it under his bed before my husband has had a chance to read it. We knew his zeal for reading had reached new heights when he started making off with his nursing journals too.

My daughter insists on saving all of her birthday and Valentine’s cards and routinely reads through her current stash. She reads our Webster’s dictionary quite regularly, and I had even encouraged her to share a “word of the day” with the family each night at dinner until I started noticing a disturbing pattern in the words she chose…Adder, Anaconda, Asp, Cobra, Copperhead… Last Fall, we had to confiscate her Harry Potter book at bedtime in order to keep her from reading it in the dark. After discovering that she had been sneaking downstairs in the middle of the night to read in secret, we had to tell her that an alarm is set to go off if anyone is creeping around downstairs after Mom and Dad go to bed. (Of course, this backfired on me months later when I wanted her to run downstairs to fetch something for me after we’d all retired upstairs for the night.)

Whether it’s library books, greeting cards, yard sale finds, magazines, or another generous Amazon shipment from Grandma, there seems to be an abundance of reading material circulating in our house. Even the shortest car trip requires a traveling library, and I want to encourage their bookishness. To contain all this fabulous print, we have bookshelves strategically placed in every major room of our house and magazine baskets in all the bathrooms. Yet it remains a struggle getting my little bookworms to re-shelve with adequate frequency.

Thus I have introduced the “book basket”, where reading material can be tossed with ease by the day’s appointed “librarian” during our quick evening tidy-up. Every couple of weeks, the kids re-shelve the contents of the basket and I slyly seed it with a few neglected titles from the shelves upstairs to encourage them to select a variety of different texts to read.

“So please, oh PLEASE, we beg, we pray, Go throw your TV set away, And in its place you can install, A lovely bookshelf on the wall.”
— Roald Dahl, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory

Choose Your Setting

I have a 7 year-old son and a 9 year-old daughter. They both insist–rather frequently–that they plan to never leave home. This is sad news, because I really had my heart set on A) seeing them happily married with children of their own some day; B) replacing all the scratched up furniture and stained rugs at some point once they were no longer around to ruin the new stuff. I’m reduced to hoping that my son will eventually revert back to his original plan of becoming a hobo. Maybe then I could at least get some new end tables.

Don’t get me wrong. I love my children very much, but I’d be lying if I said that boarding school never crossed my mind when I read “The Chamber of Secrets has been opened” scrawled in red crayon on my daughter’s dresser. For some reason, I was under the impression that once she was old enough to watch Harry Potter movies, she’d be past the stage of coloring her bedroom furniture. Apparently I failed to figure the need for proper set design into the equation.

Anyway, the point is that I love my home and want it to look nice. I feel good when I can look around my living room and see all the pretty things I picked out to decorate it. It makes me smile to see the framed photos of the people I love sitting atop the sideboard, and I enjoy sitting on the comfy sofa watching a favorite TV show or blogging on my laptop without being surrounded by chaos, dirt or mess. Sure, there’s a small price to be paid to maintain this order, but 10-15 minutes here and there to tidy up is worth it to me. Like everything else in life, it is a choice…just like the choice I am making to keep my son, despite his recent failed attempt to make a ghost costume out of one of my pillow cases using scissors.

Once upon a time, you made an important choice too. You chose your home, and you were excited about it. You chose the color on the walls (probably), the sofa you sit on, the rugs you walk on, the desk or table you write on. And you were excited about them too. When you look around your home today, what do you see? Are you still excited about it? Are you still able to see all your favorite things? Is it the environment you chose, or just the one you tolerate?

Life is short. Make sure the set design is appropriate for the story you hope to live.

Germantown Woman Hits Head and Dies After Getting Feet Tangled in Husband’s Dirty Underpants

This was nearly a headline in my local newspaper this morning. Talk about going out with a bang! I am forever chastising my husband for leaving his dirty clothes on the floor at the foot of our bed, and last night I had a rude awakening from my half-slumber as I got tripped up in his skivvies on my way to the bathroom in the middle of the night.

Dirty clothes on the floor is just one of the many hazards I have faced in our seemingly-innocuous three-story suburban household. A barefoot stroll across the living room can feel like walking on broken glass because of all the stray Legos, and one misplaced BoysLife or American Girl magazine on the stairs makes a heck of a slip-and-slide.

So in the interest of home safety, I’ve set up a small basket on each set of stairs in our house and do regular sweeps throughout the day to keep the floor clear. It only takes a few seconds, and anything that isn’t in current use  but belongs on a different level of the house gets tossed into the appropriate upstairs or downstairs basket. You’d be amazed at how much neater a room looks with a clutter-free floor. The kids need occasional reminders to empty the baskets and put things back in their proper place, but I find that they are fairly good about it.

So if you want to cut down on trips to the ER and save your vacuum cleaner, give this a try and save your 15 minutes of fame for something a little less fatal.

“The way to get good ideas is to get lots of ideas and throw the bad ones away.” –- Linus Pauling

I try to make a point of going through my storage area at least once or twice a year to pare down things I no longer need and to stem the tide of the post-Christmas or post-party chaos that sometimes creeps in and threatens to take hold in there. I have a couple of “memorabilia” bins that had been added to quite a bit since the kids started school and had not been looked through in quite a few years, so I decided it was time to take a look and pare down the contents to just the items that were really worthy of taking up that valuable space.

One of the things I found in there was my old “idea folder” of holiday crafts, kid activities and recipes that I had begun collecting back when I was single and bored and hoping to someday have a family, which would naturally come with oodles and oodles of time and energy for executing all these brilliant ideas. It was pretty amusing to realize that there had once been a time when I actually thought I’d someday master the culinary expertise required for making individual edible violin desserts out of a pear half with chocolate frets and spun sugar strings like the one featured on the cover of a Harry & David catalogue. Seriously, Valerie?!!!

Clearly I was living in a fantasy world where work, laundry, grocery shopping, menu planning, homework tutoring and ironing do not exist and motherhood is all about making homemade herb and cheese crackers, cupcakes that look like Sesame Street characters, and hand printed wrapping paper. I obviously didn’t count on having children who were picky eaters with little desire to decorate sugar cookies and with more interest in finger painting outside in the mud and acting out a pretend episode of Scooby Doo Meets Darth Vader than creating faux stained glass Christmas tree ornaments out of tissue paper. If you had told me this cold, hard truth back then, I would have been devastated, but life has a funny way of changing your priorities. Sure, there are moments when I wish my kids shared my love of crafts and baking, but I wouldn’t trade my little actress and Picasso for anything in the world. I delight in watching them show their creativity in a million different ways that are uniquely their own and take pleasure in surprising them with mine on special occasions. The truth is that now that I am a wife and mother, I would rather spend my time cuddled up with my kids watching The Lion King or using my imagination to come up with creative ways to teach them their table manners.

Easy peasy living isn’t just about getting organized and managing your time more efficiently. It’s about keeping your goals in sync with your priorities and adapting them to life’s ever-changing perspectives. I thought about keeping the “idea folder” for a time in the future when the kids are grown and I once again have time to indulge in learning how to make individual edible violin desserts, but I quickly realized that I would prefer to keep that space available for remembering what my children and I actually did do together instead of what I might (or, more likely, might not) do someday in the future by myself.

How often do we hold onto things that might benefit us someday and by doing so give up something that most definitely will benefit us today? Throwing out the idea folder not only freed up about 6 inches of space in that bin, it freed me from my regrets at not having accomplished my outdated, unrealistic goals of yesteryear. And most importantly, it gave me permission to move onto new goals, to collect new memories, and to rid myself of all the “someday” stuff hogging up valuable space in my brain as well as my storage area. If you are storing materials for use in projects from your old someday idea folder, ask yourself these questions:

  1. How important is this project in the grand scheme of my life? If it is really that important, why haven’t I completed it yet?
  2. If it is truly important, do I have a firm plan in place for when and how I will complete the project?
  3. Do I have a clear vision for how I will use these materials, or is it just a vague sense that they might come in handy “someday”?
  4. Will completing this project improve my quality of life or that of someone I care about?
  5. Will completing this project make me feel more fulfilled or make me a better person?
  6. Could these materials be put to good use by someone else who is more likely to actually use them?
  7. Did I even remember that I had these materials or what I had been planning to use them for?

I’m not saying that you shouldn’t have dreams and visions for the future. I am a bona fide Pinterest addict, after all. Just be sure you update your “idea folder” from time to time, whether it be in your head, in your computer or stashed in some dark corner of your storage closet. Throw out those ideas that once made sense but are no longer relevant. Realize that storing a lot of stuff for “someday” carries overhead. Just how much overhead depends on how much you are storing and for how long. Don’t be afraid to re-evaluate and delete an old dream that is no longer in sync with your current priorities. Life is too short and space is at too much of a premium to spend it on storing regrets.

EasyPeasy QuickTip #3: Taming the Paper Dragon

No matter what business you are in, how organized you are, or how committed you are to converting to a “paperless system”, you cannot escape the tsunami of wood pulp that engulfs our society every week. Sure, we’ve made great strides in reducing the amount of paper in circulation in the last 20-30 years, but the fact remains that a truly paperless society is not yet a reality.

When people learn that I am a professional organizer, many of them feel compelled to share their frustrations over the constant tide of paper swirling around their homes. Even I find that I must remain vigilant if I want to stay afloat in the storm of bills, schoolwork, junk mail, reminders, and general correspondence. So in honor of National Organize Your Files Week, here are a few simple tricks to help you remain above the fray:

  • Establish a “landing pad” for papers coming into your home, such as a small basket or bin to hold incoming mail, school papers, etc.
  • Set aside 5-10 minutes daily to go through and process the papers in your in-box. (The in-box should remain completely empty for at least some period of time every single day.)
  • Somewhere near your in-box, set up a small file box or magazine holder with the following folders: To Pay, To Do, To Read, To File, To Deliver. These folders are temporary “holding cells”, not permanent homes.
  • During processing:
    1. If the item is a bill to be paid, either pay it immediately and file a payment record in the To File folder (if required) or place it in the To Pay folder.
    2. If there is an action required that takes 2 minutes or less, do it immediately and then either file the paper in your To File folder (only if necessary for record-keeping) or throw it away.
    3. If it takes longer than 2 minutes, file the paper in your To Do folder.
    4. If no action is required, but you need to remember something, record a reminder in your day planner (if you don’t have one, get one) and throw the paper away. (Hint: electronic calendars and planners are a great way to further stem the paper tide. I love Cozi Family Calendar for keeping up with everyone’s schedules, and you can even add things to your spouse’s To Do list…big bonus!)
    5. File news articles, letters, etc. in your To Read folder.
    6. File things you don’t need to do anything about but may someday need to refer back to in the To File folder.
    7. Anything that needs to be processed by someone else goes in the To Deliver folder. (You may find it easier to have in-boxes for each member of the household so that you can immediately deliver these items to the appropriate person’s in-box instead of an interim folder.)
  • At least once each week, set aside 30 minutes to an hour to:
    1. Pay any bills that are coming due from your To Pay folder and file any payment record as appropriate.
    2. Review the items in your To Do folder and either do them or schedule a time in your day planner to do them.
    3. File your To File items in a larger reference file cabinet that has folders for categories that make sense (Medical Records, Insurance, Tax Records, Vital Records, etc.)
    4. Deliver anything in your To Deliver folder to the appropriate person.
  • Grab your To Read folder on your way out the door to doctor appointments, meetings, or anywhere that you might be waiting for awhile so that you can make the most use of your time by reading. Just be sure you either throw the reading material away when you are done or process it appropriately as soon as you return home.
Taming your paper dragon doesn’t have to be complicated or time-consuming but it does take commitment. If you are currently sitting on top of a mound of papers and feel overwhelmed at the prospect of processing them all, don’t. Grab one handful each night and deal with just those until the pile is gone, but keep up with everything new as it comes in. Once you’ve established a routine, you’ll see that it takes far less time each day to process and file your paperwork than it does to search for that one missing paper you desperately need but can’t find in the heap.