Paperwork, specifically incoming mail, is a top complaint of my organizing clients. Why do we get so much junk mail?! It takes time and effort to process, and we end up tossing most of it.
In my blog about strategies to reduce paperwork, I detail some steps you can take to get rid of incoming junk, but today I want to help you get rid of the junkiest of junk mail.
Supermarket Circulars: the junk mail bane of my existence!
I hate getting those newsprint flyers. They go straight from my mail slot into my recycling bin. What a colossal waste!
Little things make a big difference. A vase of flowers turns your kitchen table into a dining table. A couple of new throw pillows takes your old sofa from peaked to perky. Little organizing projects can have the same impact on your space, daily routine, and your feeling of calm control over your home life.
You may look around your home and see so many spaces that need organizing, especially big areas such as your living room or basement. You see the forest—so overwhelming! In order to make progress, you’ll need to shift your focus and zoom in on one individual tree at a time.
Last week, a friend of mine and her son were flying out of town for a 3-week trip that required them to pack for two different seasons. The bad news is that their plane was delayed by 12 hours. All the passengers had to deplane and wait it out in the airport, leaving their luggage behind and taking only their carry-on items with them. The good news is that my friend and her son had packed everything they needed for this big trip in their carry-on bags, so they sailed off the plane with all of their belongings in tow!
My family and I always travel only with carry-on bags. I love the secure feeling of knowing that my possessions are under my control at all times. It’s freeing to travel light and not be burdened with so many items to keep track of during the trip and re-pack when heading home.
Are you ready for summer fun? Get organized, and you will be prepared to take off on an adventure whenever the opportunity strikes!
Do you ever feel that you want to take advantage of the excellent summer weather, but there’s simply too much in your way to make it happen? Maybe your house is disorganized, and you feel like you wouldn’t be able to catch up on the housework when you get back?
Perhaps you can’t find the things you need, so you waste time searching—Where did we store the picnic blanket?—or buying things over and over again—I can’t find the sunblock, so we’ll just stop by the store and buy more.
By the end of the summer, when kids are headed back to school, and the warm weather is waning, will you look back wistfully and wish you’d had more fun? This year, say yes to adventure with the confidence that you are organized enough to make it happen.
Grab the Essentials
My friend Rachel is a beachgoer extraordinaire and is also a very organized person. I asked her for her best tips and learned that having the right bag packed with the essentials is the key to easy beach (or pool, or lake) excursions.
The best bag is a roomy tote equipped with outer pockets, so you don’t have to dig around in the main compartment to find what you need. Store larger items such as towels in the main compartment and fill the pockets with easy-to-grab items such as sunblock (reapply frequently!), flip-flops, and sunglasses. Bonus points if the bag has a zip-top to keep contents free of sand or dirt.
Here are some fabulous bags you might enjoy! The mesh versions are particularly good for the beach because the sand will fall right through instead of collecting at the bottom.
Zip-Top Utility Tote by Thirty-One
Shop mesh bags at Target
Dejaroo Mesh Bag from Amazon
NOTE: I don’t get a kickback from any of these products. They are bags my family personally enjoys!
Store the essentials in the bag at all times, so it becomes a ready-stocked kit you can grab on your way out the door. Rachel’s essentials include:
● Bug spray
● Aloe or soothing lotion
● Ear drying drops to prevent swimmer’s ear. (Buy premade drops or mix-up
Rachel’s recipe of equal parts rubbing alcohol & white vinegar into a dropper
One clever trick Rachel has for banishing sticky sand (and keeping it out of your car) is to stash a bottle of baby powder in your beach bag. When you get to the car, sprinkle the powder on sandy feet and legs, then rub with a towel and the sand will come right off
Aside from your main tote bag, I recommend that each family member have a smaller tote or string backpack filled with their personal essentials: bathing suit, flip-flops, coverup, sunglasses, goggles, and a beach read. This way, you don’t have to try to cram everyone’s things into one family bag.
Store all of these bags near the door, in your mudroom, or even in the garage, so they are easy to find when you’re on your way to the car. If you park in the garage and your car doesn’t get too hot, you could even store them in the trunk.
.Tackling the Big Stuff
Now that we have the smaller items organized, create some space for the larger summer adventure gear. Move the snow blower and shovels to the back of your garage or shed, or create an easy-access space in your mudroom, porch, or even basement.
Gather all your outdoor gear (beach chairs, umbrella, cooler, boogie boards, outdoor toys, wheeled cart, etc.) and arrange it in the space. Whenever possible, try not to stack more than two things or to put things in front of others because your goal is to make everything easy to remove and put back. Make use of vertical space by securing utility hooks to the wall for storing folding chairs, boogie boards, or mesh bags of toys.
Sometimes it’s not the gear that’s getting in the way of our being able to say “yes” to a spontaneous adventure, but it’s the lack of organization in our home. You want to say yes, but then how will you make dinner without resorting to a junky fast food meal. You want to say yes, but you already have a mountain of laundry to tackle and the thought of adding dirty, wet towels to the pile makes you want to cry.
If keeping up with laundry is a problem for you, read my “Get Your Laundry Organized” blog to find a strategy that will work for you. For summer adventuring, it’s most important to make sure that your washer is empty before you leave so when you get home you can shake everything out in the driveway, then dump it straight into the washer and run it..
I like to put swimsuits in mesh delicates bags, so they don’t accidentally go into the dryer and ruin the elastic. Now your beach clothes will be washed and ready for tomorrow’s excursion!
For meal prep tips, check out my blog, “Use Your Freezer to Speed Up Your Day.” My top summertime meal tip is to stop sweating at a hot stove or oven and instead, use the slow cooker or Instant Pot for healthy meals that are mostly hands-off. Search “slow cooker/instant pot summer recipes” for dinner ideas featuring lighter, fresher flavors than your winter comfort food staples.
What if your fridge is nearly empty and you have no time to go grocery shopping? Skip the store and fill your cart while you’re at the beach by using an online delivery service such as Peapod or Whole Foods. How easy is that?!
My final organizing tip for summer adventures is to keep an “emergency excursions” kit consisting of a picnic blanket, sunblock, and bug spray in your car. When you see a picturesque meadow, hiking trail, or pond, you’ll be ready to pull over and make some memories.
With the ever-changing, constantly-updating world of personal electronics, one situation my clients frequently face is cable confusion: drawers and bins full of cables and only a vague idea which devices they match and which cables are still needed. To further complicate matters, often the devices are stored elsewhere and cables are stashed in various places around the house (and cars).
Do you have a nest of unknown charging cables hiding somewhere in your house? Let’s round them up and create a better system!
Why do we get into cable confusion in the first place? Technology changes rapidly, forcing us to upgrade to the latest, greatest, fastest charging cable because our new phone/tablet/laptop is now incompatible with the old one -- the one that was the latest, greatest, fastest just last year! It takes time and effort to upgrade these technologies so it’s easy to skip taking the time out to dispose of the old cables and organize things properly.
Cables and chargers also get messy when multiple members of your household are all sharing and accessing them on a regular basis, taking them out and, if they put them back at all, putting them back in the wrong place or in an untidy way.
To create an organized solution, you’ll want to set up a system that makes it easy for you to identify and access the cables and chargers you currently need.
Last weekend, I cleaned out my own electronics drawer. I did it using 3 Organizing Principles that you can apply to just about any organizing project.
I store electronics accessories in a small drawer at my desk and it tends to get messy because other family members access the cables and chargers -- many hands are in and out of it frequently. As with other spaces that multiple people need to access, labels will be a big part of the solution to keeping this drawer organized so every family member will know what’s what and where things go.
Organizing Principle #1: When organizing a small space, take everything out so you can see what you have and sort all of it at once.
I dumped the whole drawer out onto the desk, then set about grouping the items into categories: cables, chargers, cleaning cloths (Wow, do these accumulate!), earbuds, miscellaneous.
After grouping the items, it was easy to see the things that I could throw out or donate and the things that didn’t belong in an electronics drawer. Have a trash bin and a donation bag (I recycle grocery bags for this purpose) close at hand so you can immediately get rid of your discards. One thing that stuck out to me was a credit-card shaped piece of plastic that removes bubbles from screen covers. Why had I kept this? It’s a great example of the kind of thing that we hold onto for no good reason! If I get a new screen cover, it’ll either come with a new plastic bubble remover or I can just use an actual credit card, so this useless piece of plastic went into the trash.
Also headed to the trash bin were worn or frayed cables and the little stickers with which my kids used to decorate their devices’ home buttons. I decided the tape measure, since it’s not electronics-related, should be re-homed to a desk drawer where it could live near the ruler and the larger screen-cleaning cloth went to my car where it can be used to wipe off the GPS screen.
Of the cables I sorted, one was old and had a connector that didn’t fit any of our current devices. Because it’s not in current use, it shouldn’t live in this frequently-accessed drawer. Instead I’ll store it in a bin with old devices to deal with in a separate organizing project. [Check out my upcoming social media posts for ideas about how to handle old devices.]
After eliminating the excess, I went through the remaining cables and wound them into neat bundles. A trick I like is to use hair elastics to keep the bundles together because they don't tend to dry out like rubber bands and they're a little bit smaller so you don't have to wind them around as many times.
It may be tempting to want to use the hair elastics to color code the cables, but resist this temptation unless you live alone and are in complete control of your cables. Color coding is fussy and without a written key to explain the color system, it exists only in your head and no one but you will be able to maintain it. Plus, what happens if you run out of a certain color elastic? You’ll have to run to the store to buy a whole package just to maintain your system.
Instead of color coding to maintain order, look to...
Organizing Principle #2: Labels make for easy identification and retrieval.
Professional Organizers love labels not just because they look tidy, but because they serve a real purpose: When things are labeled, it’s easy to identify them at a glance.
I used my label maker to label the end of each cable (the end that plugs into the device) according to what type it is: Apple, Android, laptop, etc. If there’s an odd cable that goes with a specific device, make sure to label it in a way that makes it easy for others to know which device it goes with. For example, I still use an old iPod Nano and it’s now the only device we own that uses that old cable, so I labeled it “Kate's iPod.” That way, if someone comes across that cable in the drawer, instead of thinking it’s old and they can throw it out, they’ll immediately know that it goes to my iPod. So don’t throw it out!
I personalized the labels for our laptop chargers too. My husband and I have laptops that use the same charger, so I just labeled those “MacBook,” but my daughter’s laptop uses a different charger so I labeled that with her name.
If you don’t have a label maker, fear not! Use a piece of masking tape to create a little flag around the end of the cable and write on the tape with a permanent marker.
After the cables were all organized, I bundled the headphones with more hair elastics. No need to label them because I’m the only one who keeps headphones here and they are universal, fitting any device.
Now it was time to put the drawer back together. I dusted the drawer and washed the drawer organizers and put them back, configuring them with the smaller compartments in the front so little things are easier to reach.
Organizing Principle #3: Designate a home for each item, so things end up back where they belong and outside items don’t drift in.
This is an electronics drawer, so if it’s not in that category, it doesn’t belong here. Labeling each compartment will help cables, chargers, and other items find their way back into place after use while keeping stray items from taking up lodging in this drawer where they don’t belong.
This was a small project that took all of 15 minutes from start to finish, but the impact it makes on my daily life is big. No more digging around the drawer in frustration, trying to figure out which is the correct cable and charger, and struggling to untangle it once I do find it. No more family members accusing others of stealing their chargers, because now everyone can find one when needed and, just as importantly, put it back when finished using it!
Let’s review the 3 Organizing Principles that came into play here:
You can apply these organizing principles to all kinds of small spaces: the “junk” drawer, a dry-goods pantry, a tool box, etc.
Do you have a disorganized small space that you use on a daily basis that is bugging you? What space is it and how do you think you’d tackle it? If it’s a bigger small space, such as a pantry, try breaking it down shelf by shelf or category by category (baking, spices, snacks).
P.S. Special recognition to anyone who can identify the exception to rule #3 in my drawer!
If you’ve ever had the chance to attend a professional conference, you know what a rewarding and renewing experience it can be to learn new things and network with people in your profession from all around the world.
At this year’s conference of the National Association of Productivity and Organizing Professionals, I met organizers from as far away as China and Australia!
In addition to being a geographically diverse group, the organizing professionals I met are varied in the types of organizing they do and the ways they run their businesses. Some organizers have lots of employees while others are solo-entrepreneurs. Specialities include home organizing, business organizing, photo organizing, digital organizing, time management, and more.
Now that Kate Bosch Professional Organizing is in its fourth year in business, I decided to focus on conference sessions that would enable me to run my business smoothly while it grows so I can maintain the level of excellence that my clients expect.
The connecting theme of these conference sessions was “process.” The emphasis was on defining and refining your processes so that what you do becomes more automated and things don’t fall through the cracks.
Thinking about processes can help you be more organized in your home, too. A session called “The Boring Stuff” emphasized using checklists to manage processes. If you know how much I love Wunderlist, you know this resonated with me because I run my life with to do lists. A checklist is just a repeatable to do list.
Use a checklist for processes that involve a series of tasks, such as daily routines. You might create a checklist for your children of things they need to do when they get home from school (hang up backpack, put away lunch box, eat snack, get out homework, etc.) or a checklist for yourself to streamline your morning routine.
If there’s something you do frequently that involves a list of items to remember, use a checklist. For example, create a packing checklist to ensure you’re never caught without essentials such as charging cables, contact lenses, or (gasp!) underwear. You think you’d never forget something so basic, but it’s the mundane stuff that we sometimes overlook. A checklist solves the problem.
The session on using Customer Relations Management (CRM) software taught me that, before you create the checklist, you need to evaluate your processes to make sure they are good and streamlined. If you have a messy process, then continuing to do it will just frustrate you.
Let’s use the example of the child’s after school routine. You want your child to hang the backpack on a hook, but maybe the hook is too high. Or perhaps the child usually comes in through the back door but the backpack cubby is near the front door, so it’s not convenient. These impediments cause a messy process, and a messy house! So solve the problems first (e.g. move the hook lower), then implement the process and checklist with your child. Customize your household processes so they are convenient and efficient for you.
The conference session called “Run Your Business Like a Badass” was all about creating an Operations Manual. You might be asking yourself, “How could a corporate operations manual lecture possibly relate to home organizing?” Simple! If you are managing a household with lots of people, an operations manual might be just what you need to get everyone on the same page and keep the house running smoothly.
Consider creating operations manuals to use as communication tools to share processes and information with family members or others. Here are some ideas for household operations manuals you could create:
Streamlining your processes at home can help you stay organized, keeping your home tidy and running smoothly.
First, evaluate your process by taking a look at what you’re doing to see if steps can be eliminated or if there are stumbling blocks that are getting in your way. Once you know your process is a good one, use a checklist or write up an operations manual to make it easy for you to maintain the process. Periodically reevaluate and update the process and adjust it as your needs change.
Do you need help creating and evaluating a process? Schedule a Video Chat Strategy Session with me! We can discuss what’s not working in your home and your routine, then we’ll construct a plan to get you back in control. Afterward, you’ll receive a written report of your strategy -- an operations manual!
What process in your home or life could you streamline?
Mementos are among the most difficult things for us to organize. That’s not because it’s hard to figure out how to make a photo album, put things in a memory box, or save a precious heirloom. No, mementos trip us up because of their emotional significance in our lives. We agonize over decisions about which ones to keep, how to honor the items, the best ways to preserve them, and even whether or not to use them.
We worry that if we get rid of anything our children touch (much less make!), we’re heartless parents. We worry that if we don’t hold onto everything that belonged to our parents, we’re ungrateful children. We worry that if we use grandma’s china, we’ll break it. We worry that if we don’t sort through and organize every single photo, we might lose a moment that was captured on film.
This all-or-nothing, fear-based perspective puts so much pressure on us that we end up storing these emotionally-charged things away, never enjoying them for fear of doing the wrong thing with them.
Let’s set aside the worry and instead come up with creative ideas to get our precious mementos out of storage boxes and into regular circulation in our lives! After all, the point of saving these items is to enjoy them with gratitude and appreciation for what they mean to us.
Children’s Art and Schoolwork:
Instead of throwing your children’s art into a crowded bin that will be opened like a time capsule when the kids are adults, find ways to use and enjoy their creations now. Remember, you’re saving this stuff because it makes you as a parent happy to see your child’s creations, not because your child will remember and want them as an adult (They won’t!).
We take photographs because we want to remember the moment, so don’t hide them away in boxes or the cloud! Comprehensive photo organizing is great if you can devote the time to that project, but if you can’t, don’t let that stop you from digging in and bringing some of the photos into the light for you to enjoy now.
China, Crystal, and Fancy Things:
It doesn’t honor your grandmother to keep her china hidden away in boxes. Why not figure out some ways to use it? The worst that can happen is that you chip or break a piece, but that’s better than never seeing it at all.
We all need a place for the miscellaneous stuff that we collect: love notes, the playbill from your first Broadway musical, a flattened penny from a vacation spot, an honorable mention ribbon, etc.
These are just a few ideas that can help you enjoy your mementos in a simpler, less stressful way. The idea is to bring these beloved items out into the open without agonizing over them or committing to a time-consuming project.
What are your ideas? How do you display and enjoy your mementos? What’s your most unusual, conversation-starter keepsake?
Have you been diligently slogging through your paperwork this month? Have you gathered together the tax info, submitted and received forms, shredded outdated information, and created a filing system that you can maintain going forward?
If so, good job! If not, check out my last blog for a helpful framework on the ART of filing.
Most likely, one of the reasons you struggle with paperwork is because you are just inundated with too much of it. Despite the fact that we live in the digital age, physical paper still abounds. Here are the three best strategies to reduce it.
Strategy #1: Autopay
Autopay has been the best tool for me personally in reducing the amount of time I spend processing bills and paperwork. I used to sit down once a week to process all incoming bills. What a headache that was! Now I never have to do that.
How does autopay work? Just sign up with the payee (utility company, cell phone, even credit card) to have your bill automatically deducted on your due date each month from the account you select, either a bank account or a credit card.
Reap the benefits:
Avoid the drawbacks:
Note: When setting credit cards up for autopay, start by having only the minimum due paid automatically. That way, you won’t worry about forgetting to make a payment and incurring late fees, but you also won’t have to worry about your bank account being overdrawn by a giant payment. As you get more used to automatic payments and saving up funds to cover them, you can switch to having the full balance automatically deducted.
Strategy #2: Paperless
Are you worried about going paperless? Don’t be! You’ll still get bills and statements, but they’ll be sent via email instead of snail mail.
Unless they affect your taxes, you probably don’t need to save copies of the bills because you can access them online. Check with the payee to see how long you’ll have online access to the records.
If you want to save the bills for yourself, file them digitally. Set up an email folder called “Bills” (creative, right?) and save the emails there, or download copies of the statements (or save the emails as pdf files) and store them in a folder marked “Bills 2019,” creating one folder per year. Resist the temptation to print them out!
Strategy #3: Opt Out
I love opting out of receiving mail! Why? Because it puts me in control of what information comes into my home.
As a bonus, it’s an immediate way to reduce so much waste: wasted paper, wasted ink, wasted stamps, wasted money, wasted effort (both in getting it to me and in getting rid of it.
So how do you opt out of getting all this mail? These are my favorite tools:
The mail won’t be reduced overnight, but if you stick with using these services, you’ll see a dramatic reduction of incoming mail over the course of a couple of months. I used to get stacks of mail, but now only have a few pieces of mail each day and occasionally I get no mail at all. When the catalogs and solicitations start creeping into my mailbox again, I use PaperKarma again to banish them.
I’d love to hear from you!
What is your best strategy to reduce the time you spend with paperwork?
Do you enjoy getting catalogs or do you find they create dissatisfaction and “wanting?”
With the old year over and tax preparation looming, February is the perfect month to tackle the piles, both physical and digital, of records that have accumulated over the past year (or years!).
I’ll admit it, I do not love dealing with paperwork. As with other necessary tasks I don’t enjoy, such as laundry, my approach is to handle paperwork quickly and get it over with.
I find that the biggest hurdle people face with paperwork is knowing how to create a framework for separating, storing, and acting upon all the different types of papers that enter our lives.
To solve this problem, use my simple acronym to help you create an easy, 3-part file system:
ART = Archive, Reference, To Do
A is for Archive
Goal: Safely store these documents so you can get to them when you need them but in a place where they won’t clutter up your daily space.
What goes into your archive? Records you need to keep but you rarely need to access, such as
Store these securely, but not necessarily close at hand. I store these types of things in a safe (for the documents) and in an expanding file case (for tax returns). You could also use a hanging file box or a banker’s box tucked away somewhere in your home. If you already have a file cabinet, use the least-accessible bottom drawer as your Archive drawer.
R is for Reference
Goal: Organize reference information so filing it is quick and retrieval is easy.
Reference papers come into your home regularly but are not frequently used, although you might have to refer to them at tax time or when you need to look up information. Some examples of reference files are:
Whenever possible, go paperless with these types of files. If you need to store records for tax purposes, just download the statements and keep them on a server with a backup copy elsewhere.
Many reference files are also “replacement” files. For example, when the new insurance policy arrives, shred the old one and replace it with the new. This way, you’ll keep your files up to date instead of wasting space by storing outdated information.
Store reference files somewhere that’s relatively easy to access, so as to make filing easier and more likely to happen. I use an expanding file case that sits on a shelf under my desk within easy reach. If you have a file cabinet, the top or middle drawer would be a good place.
Some reference files might be needed for your income taxes. If so, having them neatly organized here will give you easy access when it’s time to prepare your taxes. Once the taxes are done, store the supporting reference files with the returns in your Archive area.
T is for To Do
To Do papers are the items that seem to give people the most trouble. They can’t be put away because we need to act on them but then they pile up and sometimes even get lost!
Goal: Organize your To Do’s in an easy-to-reach place so you actually DO them!
To Do’s are things such as:
As with Reference, go paperless with as many To Do’s as possible. For bills, take it off your To Do list by setting up auto-pay. When the e-bill arrives, just note the payment date and check that you have the funds in your account.
How to store To Do’s? A desktop file (best without a lid) keeps them in view without being unsightly. Other options are stadium files and wall pocket or cascading files. Unlike a single (usually overflowing) inbox, these storage solutions allow you to categorize your To Do’s by type (e.g. bills, forms, reading, travel), due date (e.g. dates of the month 1-7, 8-14, 15-21, 22-31), or time it takes to complete the task (e.g. 5 minutes, 15 minutes, ½ hour, 1+ hour).
Now you’re ready to turn your papers into a work of ART!
How’s your paperwork shaping up this tax season? Are you all electronic, all paper, or somewhere in between? I’d love to hear your comments and answer your questions.
Did you know that January is GO Month? The National Association of Organizing and Productivity Professionals created GO Month as a way to kick-start the year by focusing on getting organized and being productive.
Instead of focusing on the depressing fact that most New Year’s resolutions fail by February, let’s keep ourselves motivated by using the word GO:
GO = Goals + Outline
What’s the difference between a resolution and a goal? A resolution defines an action you’ve decided to take, but a goal is the reason WHY you’re taking that action. An action can produce multiple goals. Here’s an example:
Resolution: I will open the mail every day.
Goal #1: Eliminate the giant pile of unopened mail that accumulates on the kitchen table.
Goal #2: Pay bills on time.
Goal #3: Save money by not paying late fees.
Keeping your goal in mind motivates you to continue doing the thing you’ve resolved. Even if you slip a little bit, remember your goal and keep inching toward it.
Having a goal is great, but without a plan of action you won't get very far.
The outline is the map that leads you to your goal.
Step 1. Define and write down your goal, either on a piece of paper (sticky note, notebook, calendar, etc.) or somewhere in your digital world (a list app, document, notes app, etc.). Don’t forget to write the “why” of your goal (e.g. Open mail daily and don’t let it pile up on the kitchen table so my family has a place to eat dinner.) to keep your eye on the prize.
Step 2. Brainstorm and list all the actions you could take to achieve your goal.
Step 3: Put the actions in order.
Now that you have your GOAL and your OUTLINE, you can GO!
What do you want to achieve this year? I’d love to hear your goals!