Piles of papers make me anxious. You will not find stacks of paper anywhere in my home. I dispose of any random slips of paper found in my pockets, purse or car as eagerly as tossing out used tissues. When I see unfiled papers, I see unmade decisions, incomplete tasks, and uncertainty, all of which provoke in me a sense of dread and anxiety. So keeping up with my daily influx of paper is my #1 organizing priority. Believe it or not, taming your own paper dragon can be as easy as changing a few bad habits and adopting one new one.
Nine bad habits that can lead to paper pileup:
1) Clipping coupons - Let's be honest...there are a very few people out there who do couponing well. The rest of us are just kidding ourselves. Unless you are a serious couponer who has a proven system that works, accept the fact that the time and effort you are wasting on clipping, saving, and organizing coupons that rarely get used before they expire might be better spent actually processing your mail instead. Toss all coupons but the ones you know you will 100% use. No, you don't need to look through them to see what you're missing. Your time is worth more than the few cents you might save.
2) Saving articles, ideas, recipes, or brochures for "future reference" - These days, very little of what we find in newspapers and magazines is not also available for free online. Chances are that it will take more time/effort for you to find a clipping you saved when you are ready to refer to it than it will to just Google it and find it online instead. Information on events can usually be found on an organization's website. Pinterest is great for finding and bookmarking decorating, entertaining, fashion, gift, and cooking ideas. You can bookmark links to relevant articles which are also often archived online by publication. If you really need to, you can maintain a list in your phone of places you hope to someday visit, helpful websites, names of recipe or other topic sources, etc. to help you find something later. There's no need to keep a stash of old clippings.
3) Using paper piles as a tickler for action items - Instead of creating an action pile, create an action file. Put the papers away and enter a reminder in your phone or calendar or on your to-do list to make sure nothing falls through the cracks. Get in the habit of consulting these tools daily, or ask Alexa or Siri to remind you. Using the papers themselves as your tickler is ineffective because over time, as the paper clutter increases, they are likely to get lost or overlooked. By filing them, you will know exactly where to find what you need when you are ready to complete the task. The key is developing a system you trust for keeping your action tasks front and center in your mind, rather than on your desk or table.
4) Keeping papers out of fear/uncertainty - Do you really need to keep those old statements...receipts...canceled checks? Many people save old records unnecessarily because they think they may need them later. While it is true that there are definitely some important documents you should archive, many of us save papers unnecessarily "just to be on the safe side". it's worth taking the time to educate yourself on what you should keep and what can be tossed so that you can free up some space in your filing cabinet and make the filing chore less cumbersome. You'll find a downloadable guide here to get you started. Download the FREE Easy Peasy Paper Tamer Guide for suggestions on what documents to keep and for how long. You can also check with your accountant or financial advisor if you're uncertain if you really need it. Just don't keep papers by default simply because you don't know whether or not you can safely get rid of them.
5) Saving information for others - Stop saving clipped articles for someone you think might find them interesting! Chances are, you will forget to give it to them, and they may prefer a text telling them where to find it online anyway. While it's nice that you are thinking of them, most people don't want more paper to deal with!
6) Saving papers to scan later - If you really want to scan it, scan it right away or schedule an appointment in your calendar for scanning everything and keep it. Almost everyone I know with a "to scan" pile never gets around to scanning it and ends up eventually just tossing the whole pile.
7) Hoarding old magazines/newspapers - Keep only the current issue. If you haven't read it by the time the new issue arrives, toss it. If you find you aren't reading most of them, you should cancel your subscription. I'll bet you've never heard of anyone dying or suffering a significant consequence simply because they missed reading an issue of their favorite magazine...BUT, stacks of magazines and newspapers can present a dangerous fire hazard!
8) Reading/opening junk mail - Ignore the obvious junk mail! It's only purpose is to get you to buy something. If you truly need something, you'll remember without the solicitation and will seek out information on available options at the time you're ready to actually make a purchase. Tossing your junk mail will help you resist the temptation to acquire unwanted items that will only clutter up your home. If you feel a cursory glance is necessary, do it on the way in from the mailbox and then trash the sales pitch right away. It should never even touch any surface in your home!
9) Believing you have to shred everything - It may come as a surprise to many that your address is public information. Shredding everything will not keep it out of the hands of nefarious forces, unfortunately. You only need to shred items with sensitive information such as complete account numbers, your social security number, your tax ID, etc. Receipts that only contain the last four digits of your credit card number do not need to be shredded. Reviewing your credit report each year from each of the major reporting companies is helpful in protecting yourself against identity theft. If you have a large amount of old papers that really do require shredding, consider paying to have it shredded, or look out for free community shredding events in your local area to get it out of your way. Invest in a home shredder and keep it handy to shred as you go so that it doesn't continue to pile up.
One new habit to adopt:
Go through all incoming papers and mail each and every day before you go to bed and decide what to do with each piece. If you keep up with this, it should not take you more than 5-10 minutes per day to keep your surfaces clear of paper clutter once you get rid of your backlog. Set up a simple paper triage system to help you keep your papers neat, organized and put away out of sight (yes, that's right...see #3 above for why this is a good thing!) until you can complete any next steps like paying the bills or making a follow-up phone call. There are specific instructions in the FREE Paper Tamer Guide on how to set up and use a simple daily paper triage system to help you convert your paper piles into labeled files that are easier to manage.
With a little discipline and a large recycle bin, even preventing paper pileup can be easy peasy!
A couple of years ago, I posted about the advantages of creating a "command center" in your home to keep everyone in the family informed and on the same page in a low-tech manner. I showed you an example of the elements we included in ours here at Chez Sheridan and provided a few tips on developing your own. If you missed it, you can still read it here. While ours has served us well, I was ready for a change...something simple yet a bit fun and whimsical that everyone in the family could get into. I decided to go with a chalkboard and wanted to share with you just how easy this is!
As I mentioned in my original post, an effective command center should be located in a central spot where all family members will see it. I have this weird little wall between my kitchen and the main living space in my home that makes the perfect spot, but it's also one of the first things you see when you walk in the front door. As you can see from the photo, I'm not very artistic, but part of the fun of the chalkboard is that you get to play around with it and it's a fun way to get your kids (and spouse?) involved too. I'm pretty sure I can trick my teenagers into keeping themselves informed if it involves doodling with chalk!
To make your own chalk wall, all you need is chalkboard paint, painter's tape, some chalk, and an eraser. It really doesn't get any fancier than that. I bought a can of chalkboard paint for about $8.50 from WalMart and still have about one-third of it leftover after two coats on my little wall. Simply tape up the trim with the painter's tape and roll it on. It dries to the touch in less than two hours and is ready for a second coat in four hours. Allow it to dry for three days before writing on it. Then "season" it by rubbing the side of a piece of chalk all over the board. Erase it and you are open for business!
As I said, I can barely draw a stick figure, but there are lots of great resources on the Internet for inspiration on fonts and designs you can use to spruce up yours. This was my first stab at it, but I look forward to getting better with practice and adding some color next time. At least my kids won't be bugging me about what's for dinner tonight and will know what's on the calendar in the coming days.
Get creative and encourage other family members to contribute, too. After all, the whole idea is to foster more communication between you. The more they are looking at the board, the better the chances they'll absorb the information on it, right? Enlist their help in keeping it updated by assigning "chalkboard duty" to a specific person each day or week. Add reminders, an inspirational quote, or some seasonal doodles. My photo only shows the top half of my wall, but I deliberately left the bottom portion blank for my kids and their friends to write on. The more involved they are, the more organized and on top of things they will become.
With a little chalk and some creativity, even keeping the whole family informed can be easy peasy!
Running an efficient household requires some organization and lots of communication, especially in today's hectic world. In some ways, this has become easier with the advent of shared calendars, electronic reminders, to-do and shopping lists, and menu planning apps. But there's something to be said for leveling the playing field with an old-fashioned, low-tech solution that everyone in your household can access the same way. One has only to glance at Pinterest to see that household "command centers" are more popular than ever for keeping families connected and informed.
No two command centers are the same. Aside from being an effective means of communication and organization, yours should also reflect the personality of your family and blend in with the rest of your home, something that takes a little planning.
Here are a few tips for setting up an effective command center in your home:
To get you started with a few ideas, here's what I've incorporated in my family's "Command Central". We were very tight on space, so I had to be selective in what I included:
Dinner Menu: I've included a spot for posting the weekly menu. To save space, I display only today's dinner (to warn the kids) and tomorrow's (to remind me what I need to thaw out or prep). The cards area easy to swap out and can be saved to give me meal ideas for future weeks.
My husband and I share a Google calendar, but I post just the key events and reminders for the coming week for the kids' benefit. I purposely chose to make this a "white board" (just a glass picture frame that can be written on with a dry erase marker) rather than a traditional-style calendar to give me more room to write in. I find that merely transferring the weekly highlights from my online calendar to the board helps me better focus on the week ahead.
Mail holder: I collect the mail and sort it immediately into a file system I have that works great, but occasionally my husband gets mail he needs to deal with himself. Rather than leave it lying around on a table for him to ignore, I put it in the top slot of the mail sorter. After several weeks in here, I feel I can safely throw it away, and it least it isn't getting in my way in the meantime. ;-)
I use the other slots for important/emergency phone numbers so that we don't have to look them up and for my kids who are at the age where I am just beginning to leave them home alone for short periods of time.
The full-year calendar (with paydates circled) attached to the front comes in handy for quick reference without consuming lots of extra space.
I love candles and enjoy them all year round. They add a warm, cozy glow to our dinner table during the cool months and a bug-free "stay-just-a-bit-longer" ambiance to summer nights on the back deck. They are romantic and comforting, mysterious and hypnotic all at the same time.
But the neat freak in me gets uncomfortable when they start to warp and droop. I never know whether to pick off the excess wax or wait to see how long it can burn without caving in on itself. It both fascinates and frustrates me simultaneously. I much prefer a brand-new neat candle with a flat top and thus used to throw my candles away prematurely...until I found a way to keep my candles looking new until they are all used up. Best of all, it takes just a few minutes and doesn't make a huge mess.
Next, cover the surface of a non-stick pan with a sheet of aluminum foil. This makes clean-up a snap and doesn't ruin your pan. Place the candle upside down on the foil and turn the burner on to medium heat. Press down on the bottom of the candle with your hand for about 30 seconds to two minutes or until the rough cut edges are smoothed out. If you cut your candle unevenly, simply press down a little harder on one side to even it out.
That's it! Turn your candle over and let it cool. Turn the burner off and allow the wax in the pan to cool until it is solid enough to easily remove the foil from the pan and throw away.
Our Lenten candle is now back in business. Easy Peasy!
Valerie Sheridan is a professional organizer, wife, mother of two, and Founder/Owner of EasyPeasy Living.