In the last post, I gave an overview of how I process paper. In addition to a regular review, I've found the key to staying on top of the paper in my life is a manageable and accessible filing system. My old filing system was anything but manageable! There were hanging folders stuffed with files - some with labels, some without. Many times, it seemed easier to create a new folder than to figure out where the piece of paper I had in hand should be filed. I ended up with too many files for my space, and even though I had attempted to be organized, it was still hard to find things. When I started reading more about organization, I realized I would never look at a majority of the paper I was saving OR I could access it online, so I didn’t even need the physical piece of paper.
It was necessary to do a major paper purge to unclog my drawers. At the end of the purge, I had two large boxes full of paper to shred and a realistic amount of paper left that would fit into my new system. In this post, I’ll go through the specifics of the purge, and next time I'll talk about my new (and improved) filing system. Note that I’m not providing tax or financial advice, so please consult your tax or financial professional to determine what’s best for you!
Bank and Investment Statements
Other Financial Documents
Health Related Documents
Property Related Documents
I felt amazing after “the purge”, which I’ll admit took a few weeks because I worked on it in pieces. There were lots of piles of paper on the floor and many evenings spent sorting in front of the TV. Shredding all that paper was scary, but it's been over 2 years since I did this, and I haven't needed ANYTHING that I shredded - phew! Remember, everyone's purge will be different, and if you have any doubt if you should save something, keep it until you've consulted the appropriate professional.
After all that work, I wanted to be sure I didn’t get back into the same scenario a few months down the road, so I gave myself some finite boundaries in which I could store future paper. I created an archive for long term storage, a binder system for things I need to keep and be able to access more regularly, and a simple set of clear plastic bins for memorabilia. Next time, I’ll walk you through how I set those up and how I use them on a daily basis. Have you done a paper purge of your own? Was it worth the effort? Share your tips with us in the comments!
If you would like any of these in the Excel format, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or use the contact form and indicate which forms you'd like in the comments section.
Anna, a quiet girl from my college dorm, said something which, at the time made me laugh, but in the years following, I’ve reflected on many times. Anna was going on a first date and declared that she needed to prepare by cleaning her dorm room so she would be calm on her date. As a college student, I didn’t yet understand the power of order in my environment on my mental and emotional health, but fast forward about 15 years, and Anna’s words began to make sense. There’s so much I can’t control about my life, but when I can control something like the clutter in my house, it gives me momentum to be able to handle other challenges.
Many years removed from college, I was a working mom completely overwhelmed by life, and I began to crave order. Any little bit of order was comforting - even if it was just that my bed got made or I cleared my bathroom vanity. An empty kitchen sink suddenly became a source of energy and made me wonder how it might feel to really have it all together with a system to organize my home.
When I decided to stop longing for order and do something about it, I searched for a magic formula to give me more time with my kids, declutter my house, develop creative storage systems, track my spending, file my paperwork, and curate my memorabilia. I read productivity books and listened to organization podcasts looking for the answer. There are certainly many, many tools and frameworks to help us, but all of them have one thing in common - you have to DO the work!
I decided to start with the thing that bugged me the most - PAPER! Even in this digital age, "adulting" has a lot of paper involved- bills, statements, magazines, health and insurance documents, coupons, invitations, kids' school papers and artwork. Choosing paper as my first organization challenge certainly gave me a lot of material to work with! I started with a period of trial and error which included various shapes and sizes of baskets that I simply relocated all the paper into. It wasn’t until I came up with a system of how to actually process the paper that I really saw results. I took bits and pieces of various organizational gurus' systems and made my own. Everyone’s system will be (and should be) unique, but I hope learning how I do things might give you an idea or two to use in your own system. Download the printable visual diagram of my process and then read on for more explanation.
Paper comes into our homes from all directions, and we have to control it so it doesn’t control us. As each piece of paper comes in, I do one of three things: trash it, display it, or put it in the inbox. I don’t spend a lot of time deciding on what to do with each item. If it's obvious junk mail, I trash it. If it's something that refrigerator-worthy, it goes there right away. If there’s even a small possibility I want to keep it, I put it in the inbox. I can always trash it later. My inbox is a vertical file organizer that hangs on the end of my kitchen island. It has three slots - one for each kid and one for everything else.
I take my inbox to my desk and empty out a section at a time. I go through each kid’s section, pick out what I want to save, and put the rest in a trash pile. If it makes the cut, the paper goes in the appropriate kid’s shallow plastic container for the school year that is kept in the chest of drawers near my desk. I don't spend a lot of mental energy deciding what I want to get rid of. If I might want to keep it, I do. I know I’ll go through the whole container at the end of the school year and purge it further, so there’s no need to worry too much about paring down the memorabilia at this point.
The third slot in my organizer is the most labor intensive. I empty the bin and separate into a do today pile, a file pile, a defer pile (anything that doesn’t need to be done this week, and I’m not in the mood to tackle), and a trash pile (separating out what needs shredded vs. recycled/trashed.)
Step 1: Do Today This includes tasks like paying bills, reviewing the family budget, clipping coupons, placing orders, filling out forms, writing and addressing birthday cards, etc. After the task is done, then I either add it to the file pile, the trash pile, or put it into my new staging pile. The staging pile is for things like letters to be mailed or completed permission slips to go back to school.
Step 2: File I used to have hanging file folders stuffed full, and my drawers were brimming with paper, most of which I didn’t need or ever look at. I took some suggestions from Lisa Woodruff of Organize 365 and made binders instead. In a later post, I’ll go through my binder system in detail and talk about how I purged and archived all that paper that used to be in my desk drawers. I have 5 different colored binders in my desk’s filing drawer where I file all paperwork I need to keep . If I don’t need it, I shred or recycle it. My binders are separated into these categories: Finances, Health, Property, Personal, Fun. I also have ONE hanging file folder where I put any document that may be needed for my income taxes so it’s easy to find at the end of the year.
If there are any keepsake items or photos in the file pile that aren't for the kids' memorabilia boxes, I put those in plastic bins that I keep on a shelf in my closet. I have a very rudimentary organizational system for that. Non-photos go in one box and photos are separated by major life events like before marriage, between marriage and kid 1, between kid 1 and kid 2, and after kid 2. I'm guessing our next big photo separating event will be when the kids go to high school or maybe college.
Step 3: The Later Box I have a cute little box on my desk that is my “later box.” First, I look through what’s in the box already and pull out anything that needs completed this week (or that I am just in the mood to do.) Then I put the rest of the items back along and add items from my defer pile. I then repeat steps 1 and 2 for the items I took from the "later box."
Step 4: Staging I created a staging pile in step 1, so at this point in the process I put everything in this pile in its temporary home. That could be my purse, my husband’s work bag, one of the kids’ backpacks, a magnetic clip, the bulletin board, or in the mailbox. I have twomagnetic clips, one for each kid, that are color coded (everything for my oldest is blue and youngest is red.) The clips are for things specific to one kid that are done but can’t yet be delivered to their final destination (example: soccer picture form or fundraiser money that’s not due yet.) Anything in a similar state that is not kid-specific goes on the bulletin board as well as papers that are for reference like sports schedules.
Step 5: Trash I shred, recycle, or trash the piles on my floor!
Step 6: Repeat next week! I hang my inbox back up in the kitchen to start gathering more paper.
This system has been life changing! I’m not as annoyed with paper covering every surface of my house, and I don’t forget to do things or spend as much energy trying to remember to do them. Since everything is in one location and I regularly go through the inbox, even if life happens and I miss a week, it’s not the end of the world. The next week’s review might take a little longer, but there is rarely anything that can’t wait a few more days! What is your system for processing the paper in your house? Share with us in the comments!
I've always wished I were more creative. I have this intellectual understanding of creativity, and if there were a formula for it - I’d be all over it! I took piano lessons from the ages of 6 to 17. I got pretty good - played at church, accompanied the school choir, won a couple of awards, played for a few weddings, and even taught lessons. I never felt like a true musician, though. I understand the mechanics and the mathematics of music, I appreciate the beauty, and enjoy playing. But what I can’t do is play by ear or improvise -- and man, do I wish I could! I like to create, but it’s a task for me, not something that just comes naturally.
If this rings true for you, too, don’t despair! Regardless of your level of creativity or craftiness, it’s still fun to create something yourself, even if it isn’t a concerto or a Pinterest-worthy craft. It’s also rewarding to create something that adds value to your life by providing beauty or, even better, order! I like to think of a problem I have keeping things in order and then brainstorm ways to solve that problem. If solutions include something that someone else has already made, and it’s affordable, honestly, I’d just buy it. There have been a few problems I’ve encountered, though, that I couldn’t find a solution for anywhere. So I thought through what the ideal scenario would be and then planned out how I could put items together to solve that problem.
Here are two crafty solutions I’ve used to get my life and home in order:
Problem: My family used way too many cups every day! No one knew where they’d left their cup, and if they happened to find it, they weren’t so sure it was really theirs. This resulted in getting out new ones over and over until there were cups all over the place. This caused clutter, lots of dishes, and just plain annoyed me.
Solution: A place for each family member to park their cup for the entire day that was marked with their name so they always knew where their drink was.
Process: I’d seen projects for this sort of thing online years earlier, but when I searched for something to buy, I didn’t have any luck. I started by putting sticky notes with each family member’s name on the counter and placing the glasses behind them. It sort of helped, but the notes got all wet with the sweat off the glasses, and they weren’t all that cute either.
I considered trying to craft some sort of rectangular tray contraption out of wood, but thought better of it. I searched for a plastic tray of the right size, but just couldn’t find what I wanted. So instead, I happened to see a 4 pack of rope coasters one day when I was at the store. I used a fabric marker to write a name on each coaster. Then I used sticky tac to adhere each coaster to the end of the kitchen island counter. We still have the occasional rogue glass, but it’s such an improvement! I think it works because it’s simple and straightforward. My husband doesn’t mind it because it doesn’t take up a lot of room and isn’t too decorative or “foofy,” and my kids can handle it because there’s a clear expectation of where to put their cup.
Be Present Box
Problem: I was struggling with the boundary definition of order. My job requires me to be available 24/7, so I have an iPhone that I check my email on constantly. It was becoming an addiction. I have a one hour commute each way, so I’d clear my inbox of unread messages before leaving work and when I walked in the door at home, before I’d even say hi and hug my family (or sometimes even in the garage before walking in the door) I’d check email again to make sure nothing monumental had occurred in the previous 60 minutes. Then, throughout the evening, I’d check email - deleting and flagging them to do it in a productive manner, of course. When I heard my son tell me it was my turn in UNO because I was mesmerized by a screen instead of paying attention to him - well, let’s say, I did NOT feel like a stellar mom. I realized it didn’t matter how many hands of UNO I played or how many minutes I spent outside while my kids jumped on the trampoline, it mattered that I was actually present for these experiences.
Solution: I typed a note in my Reminders app on my iPhone: IDEA - Make something to put my phone in that says, “be present.” It sat in the list of reminders for weeks, but finally on a trip to the store, I picked up the needed supplies to make this idea a reality.
Process: I purchased a paper mache oval box that my iPhone 6 would fit in and a package of lowercase small wooden letters. I had some scrapbook paper and paint at home and made my own version of modge podge.
I explained to my then-5 year old that he was going to help me make a box to put my phone in after work so I would spend more with him and his brother. He chose the scrapbook paper and helped me trace and cut it for the outside of the box and the top and edges of the lid. He helped me mix the ½ cup Elmer’s glue and ¼ cup water that we used to adhere the paper to the box. Then we painted over the paper with more of the glue concoction. He chose the color and helped paint the letters of the words “be present.” It was special to me to do this craft with my son knowing that it was intended to make a difference that he could see.
Now this box sits on my counter (next to my coasters) and after work, or at any time I’m home with the kids when they are counting on me being present, I put my phone in the box and put the lid on. On the first night I tried this, my mom called and had to leave a voicemail because I didn’t hear it. I got nervous that I might miss something that was really important, so I decided to get a bluetooth speaker to pair with it so I could hear texts or calls. (When I got my FitBit Charge 2, I set notifications so I felt a vibration on my wrist instead.) I’ve already turned off all notifications for email and social media so those will not make any noise to distract me. Just having the phone out of reach so I don’t unconsciously pick it up to check my email or scroll through Facebook has made a major difference in my evenings with my children.
Recently, I heard my oldest son explaining what the box was to say to his friend who was visiting, “This is the box my mom puts her phone in when she gets home so she pays more attention to us.” It’s sad I had to make a box to accomplish this, but the end result is what matters to me.
Do you have any other crafty ideas that keep your life or house in order? Share them with us in the comments!
The final way to define order is to request something be made or supplied to you - - or in short, ask for help. As women, wives, moms, professionals, caregivers, volunteers, or women who are crazy enough to try wearing multiple hats at once, we tend to take pride in the “I can do it all” gene we think we have. I know I often try to do it all, fail, and then complain about it. When I realized that making the unattainable my goal was unhealthy and just plain depressing, I stopped equating asking for help with weakness. I now put in “orders” for help all the time!
I used to use coupons, shop around, and price match, but now there’s Amazon Prime. I’m still thrifty, but now when I think of something I need that can’t be purchased on our weekly trip to local discount stores, I look it up on my Amazon app and buy it right then. How amazing is it that the item will be on my doorstep before I would make it to ‘town’ to go shopping?!
Then there are GRANDMAS - -not only can I ask them for help, but I’ve also learned to accept help when it’s offered to me by my mom and mother-in-laws (yep, that’s plural – I’m lucky enough to have two. And that is seriously not sarcasm!) Help has come in the form of house cleaning, cooking, laundry, and child care. One Christmas I got new socks from one mother-in-law and kitchen glasses from the other because they had noticed while helping with my laundry and dishes that I had holes in my socks and chips in my glasses. Before kids, I would have been offended, but I was actually touched. All three Grandmas have watched sick kids, helped with school pickup, taken them to doctor appointments, driven to sports practices, and chaperoned school field trips. These are all things I would rather have done myself, but in reality, I couldn’t, and Grandma saved the day! (Grandpas have done their share, too!)
You may not be as fortunate as I am to have parents and in-laws who are willing, able, or geographically close enough to help in this way, but we all have a variety of people in our lives that, if asked, will help in some way. A co-worker, someone from church, a child’s friend’s parent, scout leader, neighbor, etc. will likely say yes when you ask for help for one specific request.
The last example of how asking for help leads to a life in order is the cleaning lady. I learned from my mom that a little dirt never hurt and that tidy trumps a deep clean every day of the week! I like order, but don’t think of it as a synonym with clean. Dusting, vacuuming and tub scrubbing have never been on my priority list, but I like the end result! I used to clean on the weekends to avoid the guilt of having a dirty house, but then be mad about using up my precious free time.
My husband surprised me (and scored big brownie points) one Christmas when he got me a cleaning service! My house got dusted, floors vacuumed and mopped, toilets and tubs scrubbed, and sheets changed every other week! I still handled the clutter, but I like that part. The first weekend after the cleaning lady came, I sat on the couch and read a book - - READ A BOOK – on a SATURDAY MORNING – what?? It was amazing! Paying someone to clean your house does more than get it clean, it motivates you keep it picked up, takes away your guilt for not cleaning, reduces your stress, and gives you back precious time! The money for this service may not be in everyone’s budget, but there are many items I would give up to pay for a cleaning lady! Another option is to treat yourself as the cleaning lady and set aside a realistic amount of time to do the job and prepare for that time the same way you would if someone else was doing the cleaning for you. Get your family involved in the pre-work by picking up clothes, toys, and clutter. When it's time to do the cleaning, send everyone out of the house so you can clean without distraction. Treat it like you were at someone else's house (where cleaning is always more fun!) Then pay yourself either with a treat or by putting a little money aside in a special account that can grow over time.
We’ve come to the end of the series on the definitions of order - doing things in chronological order, arranging items within boundaries, telling your stuff and time what to do in an authoritative way, and requesting items to be provided to you. I’m not gonna lie, it’s hard to remember and practice all of these principles all of the time, but I want to help you find practical ways to infuse order into your everyday life. Thanks for sticking with me so far. I’d love to hear your thoughts, so please comment on a post, contact me through the site, or email me at email@example.com. There’s so much more to come - I can hardly wait to write more! Next time I'll be talking about using creativity to create order.
We've talked about doing things in chronological order and arranging items within boundaries, so what else is there to a life in order? One more aspect I want to discuss is being authoritative - order your time, your stuff, and your self to do what you want them to do!
When my kids talk back, my first response is, "Who's in charge?" And I repeat it until they sheepishly say, "You are." Another often repeated phrase in my house is, "You're in charge of you" -- which may seem contradictory to my required answer of the "who's in charge" question. But I think it's important to recognize in my kids (and in myself) that we all choose our own behavior. The other day, after I said for the fourth time, "Who's in charge?" And one or the other of my boys said "You are." I started to wonder if I believed that about my own life.
Sometimes I "talk back" to my circumstances, frustrated and upset and even mad. Who's in charge of me? As a Christian, I believe God is in control and have faith that He will care for me. If you're not of the Christian faith - don't stop reading - this principle applies no matter your beliefs. Within the framework of my worldview, I believe that I have free will and the responsibility to be in charge of my life, my decisions, my reactions, my thoughts, and my relationships.
"You're in charge of you.
So when I get whiny about my circumstances, I should say to myself, "Who's in charge here? I am, I'm in charge of me." As an adult and a parent and an employee, boss, volunteer, daughter, aunt and on and on, sometimes, what we are in charge of overwhelms us. What I am continuing to learn, and still trying to take responsibility for, is that I truly am in charge. As much as I feel stuck, I am the one who can order my time, my priorities, and my stuff to do what I tell them to do. I am the authority in my own life. I can say, “Self,
I know you've identified with some of these - - or is it just me? The point is that we can, and should, tell our stuff, our time and ourselves what to do in an authoritative way. This isn't easy, and it's a process that is complex because we don't live in a vacuum - especially if there are others in your life that rely on you. But just acknowledging that you're in charge of you is the first step to really getting your life in order.
A woman with many roles in life who knows the necessity of keeping things in order!