Like most people, I make New Year’s Resolutions every year. It’s the usual stuff: eat better, exercise more… all of the promises we make to ourselves and never keep. But last year, I did something different. Rather than making resolutions for myself, I made them for my business.
The number one cause of clutter is paper. It’s understandable; every day paper arrives at your home in the form of mail, notes from school, kid’s artwork, etc. If you don’t have a system in place for dealing with these items immediately, they will quickly pile up and in a very short time, become overwhelming.
If you have endless piles of paper, try tackling one pile at a time. Oftentimes you have to read through, even briefly, the piece of paper before you can decide what to do with it. Commit to one hour at a time so that the task feels more manageable.
Simply follow this 10 step guide to clear your home of all that clutter!
Helpful Tools: Label maker or labeling system; shredder; file folders and filing cabinet; archival sleeves; digital scanner
1. Analyze – If you have been following my organizing guides this month, you know by now that my first step is always “analyze.” It’s impossible to create and implement an organizing system without clear goals in mind of what you wish to achieve.
Are bills piling up? Are you children wonderful artists, but you’re running out of places to store their drawings? Is your filing cabinet so full that you can’t even close the drawers? Think about what it is you wish to achieve and make note of these goals.
2. Categorize – When organizing documents, there are typically 4 categories:
Archival, Permanent – Documents that are permanently archived are items that you must keep forever, but most likely will not need to access regularly, such as your birth certificate, deed to your house, or a death certificate of a family member. These items should be stored properly, in archival sleeves in a fireproof lock box.
Archival, Temporary – These are items that must be kept for a certain period of time, and once that period has passed, they can be trashed or shredded. This is going to consist of mainly your tax documents. Always consult your account or attorney for the length of time temporary archival documents should be kept.
Actionable – Actionable papers are those items which must be dealt with immediately. This includes bills, party invitations, and permission slips. If you have a large amount of paper to sort through, actionable items should be the first thing you tackle. Actionable items can also include magazines that have articles you want to read but haven’t gotten to yet. Basically any material that will require an action within the next month goes into this category.
Trash – Trash is an easy one. Any item that doesn’t fit into the above categories is trash and should be removed from the home ASAP. Things like junk mail, temporary archival items that you no longer need to hold onto, used envelopes, and old newspapers or magazines.
3. Empty – Now that you know your categories, empty that overflowing file cabinet or inbox or whatever area it is you are currently using as your paper catchall. It’s important to empty it completely so that when it’s time to re-file everything, you aren’t mixing organized papers in with clutter.
4. Sort – As you empty, sort each item into a new pile under one of the above categories. If you sort as you empty, the organizing process will go much faster.
Try not to completely read every item. Just skim through until you know what it is. For example, when you come across your child’s birth certificate, it might be tempting to read the entire thing, reminiscing on such a special day. However, imagine if you did this with every piece of paper you come across? It would take you all year to get organized! Move quickly through the items to get them sorted efficiently.
5. Decide – This might seem like an easy step, but it’s the one that most people struggle with. Your home has a limited amount of space for storing important documents. So when you must make decisions on things like your child’s artwork, it can be hard to let go. Especially if you know you just don’t have the room to keep everything.
Luckily there is a wonderful website that lets you save the artwork in one easy place: plumprint.com. Plum Print creates books from your child’s artwork, allowing you to keep it all in the bookcase, instead of packed away in a box.
For other items such as tax documents, consult your accountant or attorney.
6. Store – Once you have (finally!) finished sorting through all of your papers, decide which system of storage you want to use.
Many people are switching to digital storage as an easy way to keep needed documents without taking up any space in your home. Keep in mind that for some items, such as birth certificates, you must hold on to the original documents. For these items, invest in acid-free archival sleeves and a fireproof, waterproof lock box.
7. Organize – After you have selected the right storage solution for you, begin to organize your documents. If using a file cabinet, keep actionable items in the top drawer, where they are easy to access. Temporary archival items can go in the bottom drawer, along with other items like your lock box and label maker.
8. Label – Be sure to clearly label all of your folders (physical or digital). Use a consistent system so that you will be able to quickly locate what you need. For example: tax documents for 2014 would go into folder: “Temporary – Taxes – 2014.” This system of labeling is “category – type – year.” Create a system that works for you and that you will stick with.
9. Shred – This is probably the most satisfying step of all the organizing processes. You get to destroy that clutter called the “trash” pile!
What goes into the trash pile? ANYTHING with your name on it, even junk mail, which you are 100% sure you do not need. In this day and age of cyber-crimes and stolen identity, it is very important that you shred items instead of just throwing them into the trash.
I strongly recommend investing in a shredder of your own. You will never have to deal with the clutter of a discard pile if those items are getting shredded on a daily basis.
If you don’t already own a shredder, and don’t want to invest in one for the home, keep in mind that most communities have a shredding day. Check with your town to see when this is. In some areas shred day happens once a month, but for others it may only be once a year.
10. Analyze… Again – Once you have organized all of your paper, create a daily system for tackling any new paper that comes into the home.
The idea with preventing clutter is to only handle it once (the OHIO rule). When you bring in the mail, sort it immediately into actionable, archival, or trash. This way the clutter won’t have a chance to build up again.
After one month, analyze the system. Are you sorting items into the actionable pile but never getting to it? Is your “to shred” trash pile starting to build up? Make adjustments to the system as needed so that it works for you and your family.
The most important thing to remember is that your home will only stay organized if you are using a system that work for YOU. Don’t follow the latest craze just because it is claiming to be “THE” solution to getting organized. If a system isn’t working for you, change it until it does!
I can’t believe we are already half way through GO Month! Time is flying by and it just so happens that Time is this week’s topic.
Time tends to be a difficult thing for people to organize because it’s not tangible. You can’t touch or weigh or move an hour. This is probably why so many busy moms (and dads) constantly feel like they are running in circles trying to keep their family schedules straight. The same can be said in the workplace, where it feels like there is always more work than hours in a day.
If it seems like you are always playing catch up, these 10 tips will get you back on track.
Helpful Tools – Post-Its, blank paper, colored pencils, and a weekly planner with appointment slots or a digital calendar system such as Google or Outlook.
1. Analyze – Analyze your goals for the family. Do you want to be able to have a family game night? Does one of the kids want to add another sport to their already packed schedule? What items are getting pushed aside? Think about an ideal week for your family and write it down.
2. List – On separate Post-Its, list all of the activities your family is involved in. From work, to school, to chores, to sports, even any upcoming birthday parties, write it ALL down. Don’t worry about when these activities occur, just be sure to each one gets put onto its own Post-It.
3. Categorize – On a piece of blank paper create columns with categories for each of the activities listed. The categories can include work, school, social, chores, family time – whatever categories work for your family. Take your activities post-its and place them each under the appropriate categories. You can color-code each of the categories as well. Ex: black = work, red = errands, blue = sports
4. Label – Label your categories into three types: Set Activities, Must-Do Activities, and Flexible Activities. Set Activities are the items that must be done and cannot be moved to a different time of day such as work or sports practice. Must-Do Activities are those things which must get done, but when is not as important. This includes things like errands and household chores. Flexible Activities are those fun to do things that are optional and may or may not make it onto the calendar.
5. Block – Now go to your chosen calendar system, and start blocking out the family’s set activities. Some items may overlap in the time slot, such as work and school. To help prevent confusion, put each family member’s name next to their corresponding activity.
6. Decide – In the remaining time slots, decide when your must-do activities can be done. Try to keep the must-dos in the same time slots each week. This will help the whole family stick to your new system.
7. Schedule – Once your Set and Must-Do activities have been added to the calendar, look for empty slots for scheduling family time and flexible activities. It is important to always have at least one night a week for family time. It can be game night or movie night, something that allows the whole family a chance to be together for some quality time.
8. Ask – This is a family calendar, so the whole family should be involved. Ask everyone their thoughts on the new schedule. Kids will be much more likely to participate when they had a hand in creating it. Be sure each family member’s needs are met.
9. Implement – For the first month, strictly follow your new system. This will get the family settled into the new routine. It also provides a chance to review the system to be sure it is working for everyone. Do not overbook during this first month. If there isn’t room on the calendar, it can’t be done.
10. Analyze… Again – At the end of the first month, have a family meeting to discuss the new schedule. This is the time to do any tweaking and get it just right. Even if the new time management system seems to be working, it should be revisited as the start and end of every school year. As the kids get older, their school and sports schedules may change and adjustments to the calendar will be needed.
It’s week 2 of GO Month and it’s time to talk space organization. Organizing spaces is difficult because often times you have to work around the furniture already in the room. It isn’t always feasible to replace items you already have, so it’s a “work with what you’ve got” scenario. Don’t stress, there is hope! These 10 tips will walk you through organizing the most chaotic spaces, using the existing furniture.
Helpful Tools – Before you begin, gather some graph paper for diagraming, plain white paper and markers for making signs, garbage bags and boxes.
1. Analyze – Take inventory of everything in the room. Seating, shelving, tables, lamps, even art work. Before you can create an organizational plan for the room, you need to know what items will be in the space. This is also when you create the list of goals for the space. How will the room function? What activities will take place here?
2. Diagram – Draw up a simple flow plan for the room. Knowing how people need to move through the space will determine where the furniture can be placed.
3. Zone – After diagramming the flow, create the different zones. For example, in the family room there may be the reading zone, the play zone, the TV zone, and the craft zone. Block out on your flow plan where each activity will take place. Look for opportunities to create double duty zones. Maybe the craft table you use at night can be the kids’ coloring table during the day. Double duty pieces make organizing and staying tidy that much easier.
4. Empty – This is where the first 3 steps begin to be put into action. Empty the room of every last item, furniture, area rugs, etc. It is much easier to work with a blank canvas than to have to organize around piles of stuff.
5. Sort – As mentioned in last week’s post, my favorite system for sorting is the “Friends, Acquaintances, Strangers” system created by Judith Kolberg. Your “Friends” pile should be the items you absolutely love, cannot live without, and use on a regular basis. Your “Strangers” pile is all of the items that are so old and unused you completely forgot you even owned them. Anything remaining goes into the “Acquaintances” pile. These are the items that you may not use often, such as a fold-up table, or items you aren’t quite ready to part with, such as the antique side table from your grandmother.
6. Sort… Again! – Take that “Friends” pile, make a sign for each zone you created in step 3, and sort your items out into more organized piles. In order to determine storage container needs, you need to see what exactly goes into each zone. Never purchase storage containers until you know exactly what your needs are. The last thing you want is to create more clutter from unused containers!
7. Box and Donate – Any “strangers” that are in good condition can be donated to your local charity. As for the “acquaintances,” those items can be boxed up and put into longer term storage in the basement, garage, or attic. Revisit those items when you need them (such as holiday decorations) or in 6 months to 1 year. After this time, if you haven’t used any of the items, consider donating them as well.
8. Arrange – Now is the time to start adding everything back into the room. Start with the largest items, such as area rugs, furniture, and storage shelves. Following your zone and flow plan will make this process go quickly.
9. Label – Label storage containers as needed so the family knows where to find all of their items such as DVD’s and art supplies. Having labels also insures that the system you have put in place can be followed. A place for everything and everything in its place helps prevent the buildup of clutter down the road.
10. Analyze… Again! – Anytime a new system is implemented, it’s important to be sure it is working for everyone. About 1 month after organizing the space, analyze how it is working for you and your family. Is everyone sticking to the zones that were created? Are the children able to use the space as easily as the adults? This is a good time to tweak any areas that don’t seem to be working. Keep in mind, even the most well organized space should be reanalyzed once a year to be sure the room is adapting as your family’s needs change.
It’s officially Get Organized Month! All month long I will be bringing you my top tips for getting your whole life organized. From your closet to your time, this is the year to actually stick to those New Year’s resolutions!
Week 1 of GO Month tackles possessions. This is a great way to start out the month and help you figure out what to do with all those holiday gifts!
These 10 tips focus on organizing your closet, but can be applied to any area of the home where items tend to gather, such as bookshelves, DVD cabinets, and even junk drawers.
Helpful Tools – Before you begin, it’s a good idea to have extra hangers on hand, paper and markers for creating signs, garbage bags and boxes.
1. Analyze – Decide what your goals are for the items. Are you trying to downsize? Do you constantly have to rummage through piles of clothes to find the one item you want? Know what you want to achieve before you begin to help stay on track. You can even draw a rough diagram of how you want the closet to look at the end of the project.
2. Empty – Empty every last item out of the closet. Hangers, shoes, belts, it all has to come out. Don’t try to start sorting yet, just focus on getting the closet empty.
3. Categorize – Create signs with different categories and place them around the room. This is going to guide you through organizing every item that will be going back into the closet. Categories are up to you, but they can include things like “seasonal”, “belts”, “scarves”, and “shoes”.
4. Sort – My favorite system for sorting is the “Friends, Acquaintances, Strangers” system created by Judith Kolberg. Your “Friends” pile should be the items you absolutely love, cannot live without, and wear on a regular basis. Your “Strangers” pile is all of the items that are so old and unused you completely forgot you even owned them. Anything remaining goes into the “Acquaintances” pile. This includes items that you may not wear often but have a need for, such as your winter coat. If possible, put “acquaintances” into seasonal storage. Make sure you try on anything you haven’t worn in the last 6 months. If you love the item but it doesn’t fit, place it with the acquaintances.
5. Sort… Again! – Take that “Friends” pile and sort it into the different categories you created in step 3. Seeing everything sorted into categories allows you to take inventory of what you have. If the goal is to downsize, you will easily be able to spot duplicate items that can be donated, such as an extra winter coat or pair of boots.
6. Box and Donate – Any “strangers” that are in good condition can be donated to a local charity. As stated in step 4, acquaintances go into storage. Label these boxes and in 1 year, if you haven’t gone into that box, consider donating that to charity as well. Make a separate box for those items that don’t fit but you aren’t ready to toss. In 6 months, try on everything in the box. If they still don’t fit, it’s probably time to donate those items.
7. Decide – Before you can start putting everything back into the closet, you should pick your organizing system. Maybe some items will go on hangers, but other items would be better suited to baskets on a shelf. Take inventory of how many hangers, baskets, or shelves you already have and how many you need. Never buy storage containers before doing this. The last thing you want is to create more clutter from unused containers!
8. Buy – Now is the time to buy any extra storage containers or hangers that you may need. A good tip to keep in mind: no mismatched hangers. The closet will look more streamlined and tidy if your clothes are all on matching hangers.
9. Replace – Now is the time to start adding everything back into the closet. Pick an organizing plan for hanging up your clothes and stick to it. I use type – style – color to organize my closet. This means that all I put all dresses together, then shirts, then pants. From there I organize by style. Short dresses, then medium dresses, then long. Next I organize by color according to the color wheel, starting with white and ending with black. It makes it easy to find exactly what I’m looking for every time I go into my closet. It doesn’t matter what system you create, as long as you know it will work for you.
10. Analyze… Again! – Anytime a new system is implemented, it’s important to be sure it is working. After 1 month of using your new system, analyze how it’s going. Is it easy to use? Are you sticking with it? If you see something that needs tweaking, now is the time to do it. Once you are happy with the system, you should reorganize once a year. This will help you purge unused items and, more excitingly, make room for new stuff!
As a member of the National Association of Professional Organizers, I can’t tell you how much I love January! The New Year means a fresh start, and what better way to get that fresh start than by getting organized? That’s why NAPO has designated January as national Get Organized Month.
Throughout the month, I will be doing my part by bringing you a series of articles and weekly tips to organize your whole life. From the junk drawer to your important documents, whatever your organizing goals for 2015, I’m here to help!
As an added bonus, anyone who schedules an organizing project* with me during the month of January will receive the initial consultation for free! That’s a savings of $150!
If you want to be a GO-getter this month, check in each week. I’ll be posting my top 10 tips for organizing your possessions, your space, your time, and your documents. Every Tuesday will be GO Tip Twitter Tuesday, where I’ll be tweeting a bonus tip related to that week’s topic. And finally, check out my GO 2015 organizing board on Pinterest for some of my favorite organizing systems, hacks, and inspirational images.
Let’s make 2015 your year of getting organized!
*Organizing projects involve a minimum of 2, 2-hour sessions, $300/session.