Unexpected circumstances happen all the time and breed stress and anxiety in all of us. Sometimes just the realization that something will eventually arise to derail our best-laid plans makes us feel anxious. While you can’t plan for every contingency (you’ll drive yourself crazy if you try), there are many things you can do now to mitigate the stress and chaos that rear up when it does happen:
C’mon, you already knew I was going to say this, didn’t you? But it is true that organization makes you more nimble in a crisis. When your home is in order, you can locate necessities in a hurry, other people are better able to assist you, and repair people have easier access to areas requiring attention. Having a firm handle on your time and to-do list facilitates rearranging your schedule at the last minute and delegating responsibilities to others. Maintaining current contact info and keeping important documents at your fingertips also speed up everything when time is of the essence. Finally, planning meals in advance (including an emergency back-up dinner plan for those surprisingly hectic days) ensures you maintain your healthy eating plan and avoid the fast-food drive-thru, even on the busiest night.
Maintain an emergency fund
Home and car owners know that Murphy’s Law is real. Whatever can go wrong will go wrong at some point, guaranteed! Those unexpected repairs can cost beaucoup bucks in addition to the sheer inconvenience they bring. Setting aside money from each paycheck and keeping it in an easy-access account saves you from having to borrow (often at high interest rates) or worsening the damage by delaying a much-needed repair until you can afford it.
Assemble an emergency kit
Actually, make several. Gather you are likely to need in an emergency and store them in a convenient spot. Here are just some examples:
Back up electronic records
Technology is great...until it isn’t. Our heavy reliance on electronic storage of information comes at a disadvantage when we can’t access our usual tools due to a power outage or internet disruption. Keeping a written list of your passwords, account/policy numbers, prescription drug and other key medical info, and even your driver’s license and social security numbers in a safe and secure place can be a lifesaver in such circumstances. I once had a client whose husband lost all of his identification (passport, driver’s license, social security number and birth certificate). Replacing each lost document required having at least one of the others. It was a nightmare! Fortunately, his wife thought that maybe she remembered his driver’s license number...and she did! It saved the day!
Quick communication can make all the difference in an emergency. Keep your phone adequately charged (unlike my kids who run it all the way down before recharging). Make sure you have updated contact information handy at all times for the following:
Choose an “Emergency Buddy”
Identify someone reliable and trustworthy who lives locally but not with you and ask them to be your Emergency Buddy. Give them a copy of your home and car key/s, tell them where they will find your various kits, and grant them permission to pick up your children at school/daycare, if necessary. Add them to your list of emergency contacts and make sure they know how to reach other key members of your circle and vice versa. This way, they can assist if you are incapacitated or need help retrieving key items from your home during an emergency.
Devise escape and meetup plans
Especially if you have young children, it is crucial to practice what to do in case of a fire, tornado or other emergency. Devise escape routes and designate a meeting spot in case you get separated. Help your children memorize your phone number and address and teach them when and with whom to share this information (and when not to). Make sure they know where to go for help if you get separated from them while away from home and when/how to call 911. Ensure that everyone in your household knows where to find the spare key and/or how to contact your Emergency Buddy.
With a little organization and advance planning, even reducing the stress and anxiety that accompanies life’s curveballs will be easy peasy.
You know those people who always seem to just have it all together? The ones who are usually calmly waiting, scrolling through Facebook, when you burst through the door feeling frazzled and out of breath because you're late meeting them...again!? The folks who have the PTA calendar memorized and always seem to have contact information right at their fingertips to meet every conceivable need, from trusty mechanic or top notch medical specialist to medieval jousting expert? They remember to return your book, even though you forgot you loaned it to them in the first place. They know when and where outdoor movie night is happening and exactly when to score free cones because it's National Ice Cream Day. They always acknowledge your birthday and never forget to send in non-perishables for the school's canned food drive (while you, on the other hand, can be found desperately hunting through your pantry at the last minute for cream of mushroom soup or something else you'll probably never eat).
Yeah, we all know at least one of these people, but starting today, you can become one with much less effort than you think.
New Habit #4: Take and Use Notes. Keep track of everything as it enters your brain...reminders, to-dos, shopping needs, contact info, events, appointments, due dates... in a central, reliable system and--here’s the key--review it daily.
Why? The biggest benefit is the confidence and peace of mind you'll find from having a reliable way to tame your brain clutter. Yes...that's a thing...and too much of it leads to stress, whether you're consciously aware of it or it's just bubbling up right beneath the surface. That old expression "too many cooks in the kitchen spoil the broth" means that having no established leader to give clear direction will lead to chaos and, ultimately, failure. Well, that's what happens when you have competing priorities, demands on your time and random thoughts running wildly through your head without a central unified and reliable system in place for managing it all.
Now, the key word here is "reliable". Lots of people have calendars, address books, fancy apps on their phones, colored-coded giant whiteboards on the refrigerator....you name it, yet still suffer from brain clutter because they aren't in the habit of actually maintaining and using these tools properly. All the fancy pots and top-of-the-line kitchen tools in the world won't make you a master chef unless you know how to use them and do. With proper daily maintenance and a solid habit of reviewing what you’ve noted, you'll avoid overbooking (and overstretching) yourself, missing important appointments or deadlines, or forgetting to do tasks, and you'll be able to plan ahead with confidence. You'll also rest easier knowing you can communicate with your network whenever and wherever needed.
How? This is actually a three-part habit.
First, choose a format that you think will work best for you, be it electronic, paper, cave drawing, whatever, or even a combination of the above elements. This will involve some trial/error and re-evaluation as you go. Expect that...it's okay, and if you have to change formats along the way, it just means you are learning more about yourself and what works for you (or doesn't). There is no right or wrong way...just a right-for-you or wrong-for-you way. Whatever format you choose, it must meet these three criteria:
Next, add anything and everything you need to remember into your system as soon as you become aware of it.
Finally, make a daily appointment with yourself to review the data in your system so that you can bring it to life through an action plan. This is crucial. Without this, your system will not work and you will no longer trust it...reliability is key, remember? Simply sitting down each and every day to review what is coming up so that you can prioritize, plan ahead and share info with others as needed will save you time and stress otherwise spent worrying about what you're forgetting. Having a centralized system for tracking everything not only enables you to address your immediate concerns but also keeps the back-burner items on your radar so they don’t sneak up on you.
Already got this one down? Fabulous! Have you tamed your paper piles? Having a system in place for keeping track of appointments, reminders and contacts is a prerequisite to eliminating paper clutter. If you've already mastered Habit #4, go ahead and begin a daily triage of your incoming papers into these categories: action, file, pay, and read. Create calendar reminders/contacts for action and pay items, file reference papers and contacts regularly, and keep reading material handy and to a minimum (seriously, if you haven't read the fashion article you bookmarked in that 2010 magazine by now, it's probably safe to go ahead and toss it).
Tip of the Week
Speaking of taking notes, one way to improve your odds of adopting any new habit is to take note of what has (and hasn't) worked in the past. Was there a particular person who encouraged you (or sabotaged your efforts)? Is there a specific strategy that kept you motivated? Repeat the behaviors that have led to success and try to identify and eliminate the ones that led you astray.
It’s still not too late to join the official Good Habits Challenge! From this point on, only those who have actually joined the challenge will receive weekly emails introducing the remaining six habits of organized people. Plus, those who join get some free tools to help in adopting any new habit (not just these ten) and are eligible for free accountability check-ins and a chance to win a prize at the end. Joining is FREE, so what have you got to lose?
Email firstname.lastname@example.org if you have questions about the challenge, need more suggestions or encouragement, or just want to share your success story!
You’ve got this!
If you've resolved to get more organized in 2021, I've got great news...it's easier than you think! Orderly living is achieved by simply adopting a few good habits and sticking with them over time. Today we’re kicking off the Good Habits Challenge here at EasyPeasy Living. I’ll be introducing the first four key habits of organized people in this blog during the month of January, but it’s not too late to join the official challenge and discover all ten. Plus, those who join get some free helpful tools to promote success in establishing and sticking with any new habit.
New Habit #1: Unpack Upon Arrival. In other words, put away your keys, phone, purse/backpack/wallet, and coat in the same spot the very minute you come in the door.
Why? It saves you time and frustration the next time you depart your home, and it establishes a sense of confidence and control because you'll know just where to find what you need. No more searching for your essentials when you're rushing to get out the door, and no more worrying about misplacing your primary means of communication, funding and escape!
How? Establish a "landing pad" somewhere near the front door, aka your arrival/departure gate. If your home is in chaos, this is the ideal starting place for creating homes for each of your belongings.
Keep a spring-loaded clothespin attached to the neck of your coat hanger to quickly clip your jacket closed and prevent it from falling off without having to mess around with that pesky zipper. No coat closet? No problem. Hooks are actually the simplest and easiest ways to hang things up quickly with minimal effort while allowing you to capitalize on your vertical space. Don't overlook the prime real estate on the backs of doors and cabinets, or put a coat stand in the corner for lots of hanging space with a small footprint. Designate a spot for your phone and wallet too. A shoe basket or boot tray near the door is also helpful. And don’t forget a home for your masks. (We keep a basket of clean, reusable masks on the entry table that I refer to as the “masket”.) The main point is to always put things away in the same spot and as soon as you enter the house...before you do anything else. You’ll be glad you did the next time you need a quick and clean getaway!
If you’ve already mastered Habit #1, well done! Can you always find these commonly-misplaced items? If not, focus this week on establishing a home for each one and making it a habit to put them away there immediately after using them...every time!
General tips for adopting new habits
The hardest part about establishing any new habit is remembering to do it and staying consistent long enough for it to become second-nature. Here are a few tips to help you with that:
Share your success stories, tips and struggles at valerie@easypeasyliving, and stay tuned next Monday to learn the details on Habit #2.
You’ve got this!
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One of the most common questions I get is “What organizing tools should I buy to get started?” My answer is simple: “Nothing!”
You don't have to spend a lot of money getting organized. While it may be tempting to purchase cute canisters for your pantry or boutique baskets for your closet, it is wiser to spend your decorating dollars on the spaces your guests will actually see than on organizing the stuff that's kept hidden behind closed doors. And contrary to popular belief, all those cute bins and cool gadgets from The Container Store don’t come with a lifetime supply of magic fairy dust that will automatically transform your home into an orderly oasis. Not to mention that going on a pre-organizing shopping spree, while a fun way to procrastinate on actually tackling your project, can end up becoming overwhelming and wind up adding to your problem of having too much stuff. The good news is that you are likely already surrounded by the best, most versatile tools on the market...you just don’t realize it! And all these items are easily adaptable if/when your needs change, unlike that task-specific gadget you paid too much for at your favorite home goods store.
December is Top Tips Month here at EasyPeasy Living, and this week I'm sharing 16 of my favorite things...ordinary, everyday objects most people already have lying around the house that, with a little creativity, you can transform into extraordinary tools for staying organized or just making life a little easy peasier. Be sure to follow @EasyPeasyLiving on Facebook and Instagram, where I’ll be sharing my top five most favorite favorites in the coming week. I may not have a magic wand, but these little gems are the next best thing.
First a word of caution: resist the temptation to hoard any of these. Most will be in pretty constant supply, so you can afford to wait until you have a specific need to begin collecting.
OK, here we go!
I recently saw a picture of a wedding gown made from 10,000 plastic bread bag clips. That may be a bit extreme, but there are lots of practical uses for these little plastic doohickies:
I love lighting candles to cozy up my home on long winter nights! From October through March, I enjoy snuggling up in front of their warm glow each evening. My favorites are the jar candles because they are less messy, keep their shape, and - best of all - the glass jars can be cleaned out and re-purposed to store all manner of things once the candle inside has burned itself out. Jar candles come in so many shapes and sizes, so the storage opportunities are endless. You can even fill them with something wonderful and gift them! Some of my favorite things to store in them:
Contact Lens Cases
Do you get a new case every time you buy solution? Don’t throw the old one out! These miniature lidded containers yield super-sized space savings and convenience, especially when travelling. Tuck them into your purse, backpack, fanny pack, suitcase or camping gear. Here are just a few of the many things you can store in them:
“Disposable” Food Storage Containers (such as Take-Along or Ziploc containers):
Closet and cabinet organizing is all about function and how to fit, find and access what you need as efficiently as possible. That's why I love these inexpensive containers for storing everything from pretzels to pencils. They come in varying sizes and are transparent, airtight, versatile, stackable and easily labeled. Best of all, you can pick up as many as you need for next to nothing and easily find them at most stores that sell housewares or groceries. Or just go "shopping" in your recycle bin.
Keeping small items organized can be a challenge. I love it when a gift or purchase comes packaged in a box with dividers, but you can also purchase plastic divided boxes at most craft stores or home goods stores that are stackable and easily transportable. Here are just a few ideas of things to store in them:
Life changes fast. Sometimes you need a low-tech communication device that travels well and can change right along with it. The dry erase marker isn't just for white boards, my friends!
Both the open-ended, soft kind or the hard, hinged eyeglass cases make great storage receptacles for so many objects inside your drawers, purse, backpack or suitcase. Here are just a few things you can store inside them:
One of the best ways to save space is to equip yourself with multi-taskers. Why buy and store a gazillion different toxic and expensive cleaners, stain removers, disinfectants, and whiteners when all you need is one bottle of this multi-purpose miracle? (Well okay, you should probably buy more than one bottle of it for all these uses.) Hydrogen peroxide has anti-bacterial, anti-viral, anti-mold, anti-fungal and anti-mildew properties and is non-toxic and environmentally-friendly. And while it may be worth its weight in gold, it has a price tag you'll love almost as much as its versatility. Use it to:
Let's face it...we are all lazy about something. Embrace your laziness and make it work for you! These little turntables come in a variety of sizes. A few places they can help you spin into action instead of spinning your wheels include:
There's a reason our mothers and grandmothers kept a supply of these around! They’re economical, environmentally-friendly, reusable, versatile and inexpensive! Sold in most grocery or home goods stores by the dozen for about a buck per jar, they are a worthwhile investment. Or just befriend someone who likes to give homemade jam as gifts! Here are just some of the many ways you can use them around the house:
I always keep a stash of these on hand because they are so versatile. In addition to the obvious, use them for:
They say a picture paints a thousand words, but a picture frame can say a lot about how organized and creative you are! Try one of these ideas for putting yours to work for you:
Every well-stocked toolbox contains sandpaper, but you'll want to reserve a spot for it in other areas of your home when you see all its uses! Use it in your:
Shoe Pocket Organizers
With this little organizing trick in your pocket, you'll create storage space you never knew you had. Those transparent plastic or mesh shoe holders you hang on the back of your closet door are nothing less than a pocketful of miracles when it comes to maximizing on your vertical storage space! Here are just a few ideas for what to store in them:
So simple and low-tech, it's easy to overlook the power in their pinch! Next time you are near a dollar store, pick up a pack of those spring-loaded wooden clothespins. They will perform all kinds of little jobs around the house to make your life a little easy peasier. A few examples:
Maximize your vertical space with tension rods! No hardware or tools required to install these wherever you need to create storage.
And all these ideas are just the tip of the iceberg! Go on Pinterest or Google or just use your own imagination to find additional uses for each of these things. If you find a new one or have a favorite thing of your own, share it with me before December 27 for a chance to win a copy of James Clear’s bestselling book, Atomic Habits. (To learn more about entering the 2020 Top Tips Contest, visit www.easypeasyliving.com/news.)
With a few of my favorite things, getting organized without any fancy organizing tools will be easy peasy!
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Several years ago, a neighbor friend of mine who knew that my husband and I wanted to get in shape offered us--FREE--a treadmill that had been sitting idle for some time in her basement. We were ecstatic! That treadmill was just what we needed to transform ourselves from couch potatoes to svelte beach bodies by the time bathing suit season rolled around (well okay...give or take 50 pounds). Best of all, the price fit right into our meager (read: nonexistent) budget. We’d have to be crazy to say no to that...right?
While impulse purchases are a real thing, most of us actually do weigh the cost vs. benefit before we acquire something new. Thus, something free + something we want = YES! So why are our closets and garages so crammed full of stuff we never use? Clearly, we are miscalculating something. Perhaps we're leaving something out of the equation. I propose the correct formula should be:
Financial cost + Space cost + Convenience cost + Opportunity cost = True Cost
Most of us don’t see past the money and never even think about the last three components of this equation, probably because they are difficult to quantify. But omitting them from the equation altogether is how we wind up feeling disorganized, frustrated and suffocated by all our stuff. Let’s take a closer look:
This is usually the primary and often the only cost we consider when deciding whether or not to acquire something new. If you want proof, look no further than the ridiculously long checkout lines at your local Dollar Tree. How many times have you bought something just because it was “such a great deal”? And note that I keep using the word "acquire". That's because considering the cost of something applies even to--especially to--items for which we paid no money at all. Interestingly, the more money we pay for something, the less willing we are to part with it once we realize it was a poor purchase. And the longer we keep it in some vain attempt to “get our money’s worth” out of it, the more it ends up costing us...in space, in convenience, and in opportunity. As my husband and I would eventually discover, that $0 treadmill was most certainly not free, after all.
Ah space…the final frontier! Most people completely underestimate the value of empty space. We see it as something to be consumed instead of recognizing the important role it plays in keeping us organized and sane. Every single item you own--from vegetable peeler to king-sized bed--costs you valuable space. Like money (and cake), you cannot keep (have) it and spend (eat) it too. Overspending your space--or cramming as many objects into your empty spaces as you can--leads to clutter, visual noise, stress, and sometimes even guilt. The more spacious your environment, the easier it is to maintain and control. Purging items you no longer need/use makes it infinitely easier to see, access and keep organized the things you do. That “free” treadmill ended up costing us significant space in our small basement.
Life gets really inconvenient when you lack space. If you’ve ever watched one of those hoarder shows, you’ll be struck by how much more effort it takes them just to accomplish everyday tasks like cooking a meal or taking a shower. When your access to the items you need is restricted, it takes more time, energy and effort just to get them out and use them...much less to put them away again when you're done. Pretty soon, you stop bothering to put things away at all. This leads to clutter, chaos, frustration and a sense of defeat as you either lose items or they continually get in your way.
Also, the more stuff you accumulate, the less visible everything becomes. If you can’t see what you have, you’ll either buy it again or you won’t use it at all. So why are you keeping it? And owning too many belongings makes you less nimble...the sheer inconvenience of moving all that excess stuff out of the way in order to make home improvements or repairs can lead to procrastination, sometimes causing or worsening damage and costing even more money in the long run. Before you know it, you’ve increased the financial cost of ownership well beyond your initial investment.
Remember our treadmill? Well, we had to sacrifice some of the space we had been using for sorting and folding laundry just to make room for it. This made doing the laundry an even bigger chore than usual. Laundry baskets often ended up stacked up on the treadmill because there was no place else to put them. Talk about a motivation killer! If you think I’m going to do laundry first just so that I can exercise, think again! In my book, Exercise + Laundry = Forget it! The convenience cost of that treadmill in doing laundry was huge, not to mention that actually being able to use the treadmill itself was so inconvenient, it ended up just sitting there collecting dust for months. So why keep it? Good question!
What are you missing out on because you’ve acquired too much stuff? If you had just said NO to some of those “great deals” would you have had the money to go on a weekend getaway with your sweetie? If you could've just made do with fewer kitchen gadgets, might you have more space to share your love of cooking with your grandchildren? If you cleared all the “some day maybe” stuff you paid good money for out of the guest room closet, would you be more likely to entertain overnight guests?
It was summer when we said yes to that treadmill, so we forgot that the only spot we had available to put it in is where we normally put our Christmas tree...right across from the fireplace, next to the big recliner where my husband reads ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas to the kids every Christmas Eve before bed. There was no room for our tree in the basement that year. No enjoying the beautiful lights by the warm glow of the fire. That treadmill ended up costing us a valued family tradition that Christmas, and it was truly a bummer.
The good news is that you can mitigate the costs of the things you own if you just ask yourself a few simple questions before you acquire anything new:
We’ve all made mistakes in saying yes when we should have said no, but that doesn't mean you have to keep paying the price for your error. That treadmill? We gave it back to our neighbor and joined the gym instead. You see, we concluded that the financial cost of a gym membership was worth what we would save in space, convenience and opportunity. Don’t let what you paid (or didn’t pay) for something interfere with righting what's wrong.
With a little honest contemplation about the true costs of ownership, even saying no to a blowout sale can be easy peasy!
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Everyone has excess stuff. (I know I do!) And the first step in effectively organizing any space is to eliminate as much of the excess as possible. Unfortunately, just like doing the laundry, cleaning, eating right and exercising, this need to purge your excess is ongoing. You have to keep doing it if you want to stay in good, orderly shape.
One of the biggest deterrents to ridding ourselves of the fat in our home is all the guilt that wraps itself around each unwanted, broken, useless, ill-fitting piece of surplus in our closets. Some people have storage units stuffed to the brim with that guilt. It comes in the form of gifts received but never used, deceased loved ones' belongings that we don't know what to do with, clothes long out of fashion that used to fit, broken furniture or toys we always meant to repair but never did...all good intentions and fond old memories that are now saturated in guilt. If this sounds like you, it's time to bring that guilt into the light, recognize it for what it is and purge it once and for all.
Here are a few things to keep in mind as you confront your guilt:
Memories cannot be donated. We often keep items because they trigger a fond memory for us. But unless you encounter that object, the memory isn't getting trig gered. My readers know that I'm big on re-purposing, not only because it saves money and reduces waste, but because it often enables you to place a memory trig ger in the midst of everyday life. There it can do its job much better than if stuffed into a bin in the garage. But if you can't find a use for it, consider documenting the memory in some other way. Take a photo of the item or write about it in your journal before donating it to a good home.
True gifts are emotions, not tangible items. No one ever intended to give you a burden as a gift. The physical object they gave you only represents the true gift of their love, appreciation, friendship...and those are things you cannot get rid of simply by donating them. Often, the giver will not even remember the specific object that represented their real gift, much less realize that you parted with it.
A purchase is not a lifelong commitment. Yes, you may have spent "good money" on it. True, you may have loved it once upon a time. If you are not using it and no longer need it, then getting rid of it now does not change those facts. Hopefully it served its purpose at the time you acquired it, but even if it didn't, depriving yourself of the space it occupies now will not make it so or increase its value.
If you're gonna fix it, fix it NOW! Stop procrastinating. If it is important or valuable enough to warrant keeping, make it useful again. Otherwise it is just broken stuff getting in your way. If you haven't fixed it by now and aren't willing or able to do it today, you probably never will. Give yourself a firm deadline for getting it done and pitch it if you don't meet it.
Sharing is honorable. Perhaps there's an item that reminds you of someone special. If you don't need it or can't use it or display it, why not honor that person by sharing it with someone who can? Preserve the memory with a picture or journal entry and pass it along...perhaps to someone else with a connection to that same special person.
New memories await creation. Don't allow your desire to hold onto old memories squeeze out the opportunity to create new ones. You need space to live and grow and collect tomorrow's keepsakes. Give away that guilt to make room for something better.
I'm not suggesting that you can't keep anything just for its pure sentimental value. But you owe it to yourself and to the simplicity you need in your life to keep it manageable and meaningful. Decide in advance how much space you are willing to devote to that category and once it is full, it's time to purge something or stop collecting.
With a little courage and pragmatism, even purging your guilt can be easy peasy.
What do weight problems, financial troubles, and clutter management struggles all have in common? They each stem from an imbalance between intake and outflow.
Sure, banishing clutter from your home requires getting rid of your excess stuff, but just as with weight and financial challenges, it doesn’t end there. Real long-term success also depends on how carefully you monitor and regulate what’s coming in, as well as what’s going out.
If you’ve ever experienced a toilet overflow, you know that the crucial first step is to immediately turn off the water supply before you even reach for the plunger. Failing to prevent more water from accumulating while you work on unclogging the backup can lead to an even bigger mess that takes longer to clean up. But what happens if you don’t even know where the shutoff valve is?
Thanks to reality TV shows that highlight the issue of hoarding, most of us already know that compulsive shopping can lead to big problems with clutter. But what about impulsive shopping? While it may not lead you into bankruptcy or land you on an episode of Hoarders: Buried Alive, making purchases without thinking them through beforehand could be unraveling all of your grand plans to wrest control of your home away from your jumble of belongings. These decisions are the leaks that need to be plugged in order to better regulate the flow of items into your home. But where do these poor choices originate? Well, let’s see. Do any of these sound familiar?
Now don’t get me wrong. There’s nothing wrong with keeping some extra toilet paper on hand (as I think we all learned earlier this year), but knowing when to stop buying it is vital. It’s okay to take advantage of a great deal...on something you were planning to buy anyway. But there’s a big difference between seizing an opportunity to save money on something you need and simply accumulating more stuff you don’t need because it was on sale. And that difference is forethought.
Before you make a purchase, ask yourself:
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Paper clutter seems to be an almost universal problem. Even in this digital world, most of us still have too many papers cluttering up the surfaces in our homes and offices, with more sneaking in every single day. It’s hard to keep up! Setting up a reference filing system requires us to first answer three important questions:
The answers to the first two questions can be found in "How Long Should I Keep It" document that is part of the Paper Tamer Bundle you can download for free on this site. The third requires a bit more thought and effort. All reference filing systems require some amount of maintenance, but here are tips to ensure that yours stands the test of time with minimal upkeep. (Note: The Paper Tamer Bundle includes detailed step-by-step instructions on setting up/tweaking your reference filing system.)
With a little bit of thought and effort, coupled with these simple guidelines, setting up a reference filing system that stands the test of time will be easy peasy.
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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!
Imagine standing in the bottom of a deep pit, looking up and wondering how you will ever get out! Actually, most of us don’t have to imagine that...we experience it every time we look at our long To-Do lists and bulging calendars (assuming you even have those...not having them is more like realizing you’re at the bottom of a deep well but being unable to even see the sky). It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that the only way out of a deep, dark pit of any kind is to climb out. You need a ladder, a rope, a staircase, or a lot of well-placed toe- and hand-holds. Then it’s just a matter of climbing one carefully-planned step at a time. Well, today I’m gonna teach you how to build yourself a staircase leading out of that pit of endless tasks, chores, projects and appointments that make up “adulting”.
As with building any sturdy, reliable staircase, the first step is always to set aside planning and building time. Constructing it in a slap-dash-as-you-go fashion will leave you with nothing but a rickety pile of lumber that could give way at any time, sending you back down to the bottom of the pit with potential injuries. So, if you don’t already have a calendar, get one. It can be an app you use on your phone/tablet or a good old-fashioned paper day planner...whatever works for you. Add to it a weekly appointment with yourself, preferably at a consistent time and in a quiet location with limited interruptions so that you can focus. Do not blow off this appointment...EVER! I know, I know...you’re busy...things come up...the kids never give you any peace and quiet. Just remember: you are stuck in a pit! Nothing can be accomplished--for anyone--until you manage to pull yourself out of it. So finding a way out should be your #1 priority!
During your first appointment, create a blueprint for your staircase by considering your hierarchy of life priorities. What’s at the top? Health and fitness? Time with family? Your career? Knowing exactly which side of the pit you want to emerge on will determine how you build your staircase, so it’s worth recording your hierarchy and referring back to it whenever you’re not sure how to prioritize. For more guidance on how to determine this, go back and read the Achieving Simplicity post from August 3, 2020.
Next, you'll need to gather all your building materials. This involves brainstorming about everything you think you might need to do this week. Include errands, chores, phone calls/emails, research, work and home improvement projects, appointments, volunteer work, meals, and all other commitments and responsibilities. This step will become easier in time as you gain a sense of which materials (to-do items) you really don’t need for your staircase and build up a stockpile of the ones you use each and every week. Keep a running task list that you continually add to as you think of new things.
Once you have a comprehensive list, identify the components you really don’t need and get them out of your way. In other words, delegate as many tasks as you reasonably can and eliminate or defer the optional things that don't align with your top priorities. (Here’s where that blueprint really comes in handy!) Where might you be able to relax your standards or expectations to make this climb a bit easier? What optional tasks can wait? By the way, relaxation time is not optional. While you may need to tweak how much of it you get from one week to the next, trying to make do without it is like building a staircase without any hardware. Eventually it will collapse under the pressure.
Now you just need to order your steps. Fill out your calendar and daily tasks lists while answering these questions:
Once you’ve completed your staircase, you’re ready to start climbing. But first, don’t forget a daily safety check. Each morning, consult your plan, just as you would double-check the reliability of each step before placing all your weight on it. If you discover a weak or missing tread up ahead, don’t panic...just replace it. It’s a whole lot easier to tweak your staircase as you go through your week, than it is to try to climb out of that pit without one.
Download our FREE Week-Ahead Planner to help you get started.
The best news is that the more staircases you build, the better and quicker your construction becomes. With a well-drawn blueprint and the right tools, building a staircase to any solution can be easy peasy.
Valerie Sheridan is a professional organizer, wife, mother of two, and Founder/Owner of EasyPeasy Living.