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!
Raise your hand if you’ve ever used a first aid kit, makeup kit, or sewing kit. 🙋If so, you’re already familiar with the concept of what I like to call “kit (or “task) organizing"...storing all the items you need to perform a specific task or complete a certain activity together. We tend to do this naturally with certain items, such as cooking and laundry, but there may be other opportunities you've overlooked.
Why organize this way?
Think about the steps required to complete a task...any task. Step number 1 is always to assemble all the tools and materials you need. At least it should be. Otherwise, you end up having to interrupt the task to go find what you need, and who has time for that? Well, kit organizing takes care of the first step for you. Assuming you remembered to put your tools and materials away the last time you performed the task, you only need to get out your kit again and voila! Everything you need is right there!
An even bigger benefit to organizing this way is that it’s actually much easier to put your tools and materials away when you're done. Rather than putting the scissors back where the scissors go, and the tape back where the tape goes, and the ribbon and gift wrap back where they belong, you simply put everything back in your gift wrapping kit and store that away for next time. Let’s face it...searching for the scissors and tape because they didn’t get put back in the right place the last time you used them is often the most challenging and time-consuming part of wrapping a gift. Kit organizing just simplifies the getting-out and putting-back (and consequently, the finding-of) everything you need to complete your task.
What’s the best way to store kits?
Contrary to the mental image you may have in your head, a “kit” doesn’t necessarily always involve a cute little carrying case. Many may, but what makes it a "kit" is not what kind of receptacle it's stored in, but rather that all of the items in it center around a specific activity. Some kits may include large items that take up an entire closet, while others are better stored in a small, transportable pouch. How you contain it depends on what type of task/activity it’s used for and where that activity is performed. Tasks that are always performed in the same location and have room to store the kit there don’t require a carrying case. For example, if you always put your makeup on at a makeup table with drawers, you can just use a drawer to hold the components of your makeup kit.
Conversely, if you like to do your nails at the kitchen table but don’t have room in the kitchen to store your nail kit, putting those items in a small bag you can retrieve from the bathroom makes a lot of sense. Anytime you have to carry stuff around, having everything already stored in a transportable receptacle makes it more likely you won't leave something behind by accident. Open caddies, small backpacks or totebags, lidded or open bins, baskets and zippered pouches are all great options for containing your kits. Pick the one that best suits how you use that particular kit.
Kits aren't just for home use!
Kit organizing can be particularly useful for items you use outside the home. Grab-and-go activity bags for trips to the pool, sporting events (or practice), or picnics take the stress out of preparing for fun outings. Being already packed and ready whenever the mood strikes will make you more likely to go enjoy yourself! And you'll be less likely to forget something if you've invested some forethought in what belongs in your kit and store everything together between outings. Just make sure you remember to remove anything you've accumulated during your trip that doesn't belong in the kit before you put it away.
What should go in a kit?
Chances are, you are already organizing this way for some tasks/activities. If you store all your camping equipment together, that’s a camping kit. But there may be items you can add to your existing kit to make life even simpler. For example, does your camping kit include all the "staples" you routinely take camping with you, such as paper towels, aluminum foil, and utensils...or do you still have to retrieve those from the kitchen each and every time you pack for a camping trip? It may not always be feasible to store everything you need in your kit, due to space or financial considerations. The idea is to make your kit as complete as you reasonably can in order to simplify assembling and putting away your tools and materials before and after use. (Tip: for camping or other away-from-home activities, consider including with your kit a list of additional items you know you'll always need to take with you but for one reason or another cannot store with the rest of your kit. This will help ensure you don't forget something.) How often you use your kit will also determine what goes in it. If you go camping multiple times each summer, it may be worth investing in a second set of cooking utensils to keep in your kit; if you only go every couple of years, perhaps not. Think about the types of tasks/activities you perform most frequently and make a list of all the items you use. Begin building your kit from there.
Would having any of these kits assembled and ready to go make your life simpler?
If you have kids at home - especially young ones - no doubt you are well-acquainted with the pain of walking through a minefield of Legos. If you haven't had the pleasure, just imagine walking across a floor covered in broken glass. Or maybe you've encountered the slip-n-slide effect of stepping on a stray paper or magazine left on the stairs...or discovered a new life form growing in the sweaty clothes strewn across your teenager's bedroom floor. Ah yes, kids seem to have a special knack for sowing chaos, destruction and grossness, but they are equally capable of creating order and finding solutions with the right guidance, encouragement and opportunity. Which is a good thing, because you won't have the time or energy to keep up with their messes without a bulldozer...and not many of us have room for storing one of those. You'll need some help!
Maintaining an orderly home requires solid teamwork from the entire family, and raising a generation of organized, clutter-free adults begins at home with consistent coaching from you. Even if you struggle with organization yourself - in fact, especially if you do - there are still things you can all do together as a cohesive unit to transform your home into the calm and relaxed sanctuary you all deserve to live in.
Start early by training your young children to sort objects, put their toys away and make thoughtful decisions about their belongings. Establishing routines for everyone in the household (including you!) and stating clear expectations will help all of you stay on track. Instead of barking out orders and making chore-time feel like a punishment, underscore the unifying effect collaboration will have on your family unit. Offering age-appropriate incentives and finding creative ways to make the process fun for everyone will teach them that with a little planning and teamwork, orderly living and a home they can proudly share with others can be easy peasy!
No matter how old your kids are or what state your home is currently in, it is never too early or too late to start adopting some of these strategies:
Keep it Positive
Lay the Foundation
Go on Autopilot Whenever Possible
Evolve and Adapt
Make it Fun!
Parenting is at its most challenging when we are faced with the prospect of teaching our young ones something we, ourselves, are still trying to learn. But in my experience, some of the most special experiences I've shared with my children are the ones where I was learning alongside them. You don't have to be an expert at cleaning and organizing to begin teaching your children the importance of learning those skills. You just have to be willing to make the effort to model how to learn them.
With a little effort and collaboration, even maintaining an orderly home can be easy peasy.
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!
It’s never a good sign when it starts raining in your garage…especially when your kitchen is above the garage and you’ve just stepped in a wet patch near the dishwasher!
So yes, we need a new dishwasher and no, there is no room for one in our budget right now. At first I was so busy being grateful that it wasn’t an issue with the kitchen plumbing that I forgot to groan about having to hand wash all my dishes for the foreseeable future. It didn’t take long for me to remember just how much I hate it. I mostly hate not having any room on my tiny counter to put all the clean dishes and how quickly I run out of dry dish towels since I don’t have a drainer and have to drain them on a towel. (I’m actually anti-dish drainer because I think they invite you to leave the job unfinished and take up valuable space even when not in use.) But once I figured out that I could use the empty dishwasher as my drying rack, my perspective began to change. I began to see the silver lining to this cloud and realized that what at first seemed like a curse may indeed become a blessing.
For one thing, washing and drying dishes is something everyone in my family can do…even the more “spatially challenged” among them. My kids have finally completed the Dishwashing Badge in our Life Skills Badge Program. My husband is more sensitive about helping with dinner clean up, and I don’t have to worry about whether the bowl I really want to use is going to take up too much space in the dishwasher later. Maybe now we won’t have to take out a second mortgage just to pay the water bills that also fund my daughter’s showers. (She’s the only 11-year-old I know with permanently wrinkled hands.) And once the kitchen cleanup is done, it’s done…no more dishes to put away later since I ascribe to the dry-them-and-put-them-away-now philosophy.
Best of all, I’m no longer worrying about what will happen if my dishwasher breaks…I already know. My children will enjoy an excuse to play in some sudsy water before school. My husband and I will giggle and flirt as we snap dish towels at each other. I’ll imagine my mother, now gone to her rest, washing that very same serving spoon back in our kitchen on Timber Trail Rd. The clean scent of the dish washing liquid will remind me of my grandmother’s kitchen.
Sometimes we need something to break to realize how truly unimportant it is. And often in our never-ending quest to simplify our lives, we end up complicating them instead. The modern conveniences designed to free up our time wind up stealing our opportunities to forge that time into something memorable. Think about your funniest family anecdotes. Chances are they felt like catastrophes at the time. (Someday I’ll share my “Mom in a Manhole” story…a real family classic.) Next time “disaster” strikes, look for the hidden blessing instead of feeling cursed.
I suppose we will replace the dishwasher eventually, but I’m not in any hurry. It might be kind of fun to share KP duty with my sister after a family holiday meal just like the old days. But only if she dries.
If you are anything like me, you have a gazillion little household tasks that are too-often neglected. Things that would take about five minutes or less to complete, but just aren't high enough on the priority list to be remembered until your disgust or frustration with the results of having neglected them for so long forces you to take action. Often, you are in the throes of some other project when this occurs, so the trick is to make note of them as you think of them and use the little pockets of available time you have (the ones you don't consciously acknowledge and probably deny that you have) throughout your week to accomplish them. Keep the list where you can easily add to it the next time you notice something that needs doing.
Before you say it, yes you do too have pockets of available time, especially if you have a spouse or kids who are never ready when it's time to go somewhere.
Here are a few items on my list to help get you thinking:
Aliquid magnum ex parva! (Click here for translation)
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.
My name is Valerie and I'm a neat freak. Or so I was told by my six-year-old last week. It is pretty hard to deny.
You've met people like me before. I'm the one who sends emails around the office reminding people to clean their coffee cups and then signs them with some passive-aggressive moniker like "the Dish Fairy" (a nickname that quickly morphed into "the Kitchen Witch" in one office I worked in). I'm that co-worker everyone jokingly accuses of doing no work because there are no papers left on her desk at the end of the day. The owner of a company I used to work for once asked if he could borrow my office for a meeting because it was so much neater than his. When I offered to help him clean up his, he just got a frightened look on his face and walked (ran) away.
At home I'm even worse, although contrary to popular belief, my spices are not alphabetized, nor is my closet color-coded. But I guess the mere fact that I often get asked if they are is an indication that my propensity towards order is a little excessive.
Believe it or not, I was once a typical kid who shoved stuff under the bed and got nagged at for leaving dirty dishes in the sink. My mother always loved to tell the story of the night she came home after dark and could see me through my ground-level bedroom window, head under the bed and rump up in the air, digging through the huge pile of stuff under my bed like a dog searching for a bone. I'm not quite sure when the mutation started, but I have often longed for that sloppy teen to come back and teach me how to happily co-exist with mess and clutter.
I have tried...truly I have. I once forced myself to leave several baskets of clean laundry in the hallway for a whole week while I took the kids on excursions to the zoo and picnics in the park, all in an effort to forget about housework in favor of spending more time with the ones I love. My best friend suggested snubbing the clean laundry as a good first test as she coached me in letting go of chores in favor of fun. She's one of those fun and easygoing moms who likes to pile her family's clean laundry at the foot of her bed. By the end of the week, after sleeping on top of it and tossing it out of the way when required, each piece has magically disappeared as the owner has claimed it and worn it again. Why waste time putting it away, she mused? It will be gone eventually and you'll always have more anyway. I have to admit that she does have a point, but by the end of my week of laundry rebellion I found myself tossing it all back into the dryer in a vain attempt to quickly eliminate the wrinkles that had infested the entire basket from everyone rummaging to find what they needed. Bottom line: As we learned at the zoo, a leopard can't change it's spots.
Now don't get me wrong...I can and do make one helluva mess in the midst of some of my more creative moments or in the hub-bub of my busy life as a mother of two and loving wife of a man who couldn't find the dirty clothes hamper if it was covered in $100 bills. It's just that I can't stand to live in it for very long. To me, clutter is the visual equivalent of too much background noise and prevents me from being able to concentrate on anything else. Order calms me. Order makes me happy. Order is the vodka in the Bloody Mary of my life.
Now I know what you are thinking. Valerie, you say...life is too short to spend all of it tidying up and doing chores. You need to stop and smell the roses and enjoy the people around you more. I agree! And believing it was possible to indulge my inner neat freak and be a fun and easygoing mom like my best friend, I began a quest for an orderly existence that still leaves time for the ones I love.
Through this blog I hope to share some of the precious gems I have picked up along the way on how to simplify life so that yours might be a little richer too. After all, life is meant to be enjoyed and an orderly home should be a means to that end, not the beginning and the end of your existence. An organized, relaxed lifestyle is not an oxymoron, and it can be easy peasy with just a bit of planning and the right attitude.
Check back often and you just might find some easy peasy solutions to your everyday challenges.
Valerie Sheridan is a professional organizer, wife, mother of two, and Founder/Owner of EasyPeasy Living.