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 This way, you’ll keep your files up to date instead of wasting space by storing outdated information.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!
The frenetic pace of the holiday season can put us into a flurry of shopping confusion. Read on for a simple solution to gain control of your gift buying!
Have you ever been out shopping for gifts, braving the holiday crowds, when you spied the perfect plaid scarf for Aunt Betty, made your way to the checkout counter with your prize in hand, only to stop yourself and wonder in puzzlement, “Uh-oh. Wait. Did I give her a plaid scarf last year? Or was that Aunt Dot?” Since you can’t remember and don’t want to risk giving the same gift twice, you get out of the checkout line and go back to the gift drawing board. Ugh!
Solution: Keep an ongoing gift list.
As I clicked open my own gift list spreadsheet last week to jot down some Christmas ideas, I looked at the tabs along the bottom and realized that I have been keeping a gift spreadsheet since 2005!
[My teenage daughter’s reaction to this news was to sigh, “Of course you have a gift spreadsheet,” accompanied a roll of the eyes.]
But really, it’s an easy thing to do and a great tool for holiday and birthday planning and budgeting, especially if you buy gifts for lots of different people: immediate family, extended family, friends, neighbors, coworkers, teachers, service providers, etc.
If you’re like me, making a spreadsheet helps you organize your thoughts and ideas into tidy rows and columns. However, if the mere mention of the word “spreadsheet” sends you into panic, fear not! You can keep an ongoing gift list with whatever tool you prefer.
Whether you use a spreadsheet, a notes app, or good old-fashioned paper, a gift list will keep you organized and ready for holidays, birthdays, and any-occasion
For a non-spreadsheet digital solution, use a word program (Google docs will allow you to access your notes online from anywhere.) or a list app (I still love Wunderlist but there are other great ones out there.). If you are a paper person, use a page in your planner or designate a little notebook as your Gift Book.
My spreadsheet is pretty simple, consisting of just three columns: name, gift, and amount. You can set up your spreadsheet or notebook the same way.
So this year, streamline your gift-giving by following Santa’s example: make your list and check it twice!
Spreadsheets don't have to be complex and intimidating, but can be a simple way to organize lists of information, such as my Gift List.
Do you know this woman?
Laboring to keep this ball of possessions aloft...nearly crushed by the weight of her stuff...dragging even more behind her. Could this be you?!
Last weekend, while in Manchester, NH, for my daughter's robotics tournament, I took some time in the middle of the day to visit the Currier Museum of Art.
When I walked through the glass doors into their special exhibit by artist Ethan Murrow, I gasped and stoped in my tracks. In front of me, larger than life, was this incredible, mural sized Sharpie drawing.
"That's how my clients feel before they call me,"
I said to my husband.
They feel overwhelmed, overloaded with stuff (physical things, paperwork, digital stuff, or even memories), and they just don't know where to begin unraveling it. When we feel that way, it can seem as if we're hauling the full weight our possessions on our shoulders, and even then we can't fit it all and have to drag the rest behind us!
Does the poor woman get any help? The child looks less like he's trying to prop up the ball of stuff and more like he's just trying to avoid having it fall on him. The full burden is on her!
And yet, there's beauty in this work of art. I admire the exquisite detail in the variety of items, the flowing quality of the Sharpie-drawn lines, and the woman's strong, even elegant, pose.
We can find beauty in confronting our possessions. Do we need to labor under such a heavy burden? No! We can enlist the help of our family (That child is definitely old enough to help!), our friends, and professional organizers (This is what we love to do!). Take a look at that ball of things and discover the legacy of your life that it contains.
We can begin, piece by piece, to untangle the blob of accumulated possessions.
Do you love books?
I do too! Let's tackle the dilemma of how to love books and pass along a love of reading to those around you while avoiding becoming buried by book avalanches in your home.
While many of us love to read, books can become a clutter problem. It sounds lovely to live with a house full of books, but realistically many of us do not have enough shelves, much less a dedicated library, to house a full collection of all that we’ve read.
Inspired by a recent client whose need to pare down her book collection due to space constraints conflicts with her love of reading and desire to instill that love in her children, here’s my:
Top 10 Ways to Show Your Love of Reading Without Burying Your Home in Books
10. Keep a list of books you’ve read (I do an annual list.) so you don’t have to use your shelves as your booklist.
9. Set strict criteria for what books you keep, e.g. classics, all-time favorites, work-related or reference books that won’t become outdated, favorite series, books that you will reread (Be honest!).
8. Commit to passing along 90% of the books you buy after you read them. Books want to be read, so give them wings to fly to other readers!
7. Swap books among friends or coworkers.
6. Always have a book with you so you can digest a page or two during down time.
5. Use a Little Free Library in your neighborhood.
4. Start your own Little Free Library at your house.
3. Read on an e-reader (Kindle, Nook, your phone, etc.).
2. Get familiar with your local library, including downloadable e-books and audiobooks.
1. Be seen frequently with your nose in a book!
What are your unique organizing challenges? Let's talk about them!
Give me a call or send an email and we'll start finding solutions.
Copyright © 2018 Kate Bosch Professional Organizing, All rights reserved.
Eggs are one of the great products that come to us already nestled into perfectly organized, sturdy-yet-gentle, recyclable, reusable containers.*
So why do refrigerator companies and stores that sell organizing supplies try to convince us that we need to buy rigid plastic (non-recyclable) "egg organizer" containers into which we must transfer our already-contained eggs?
So, you get home from the grocery store and then have to transfer each little egg into a hard plastic container (careful not to break it!) just to put them into your fridge? What if you still had a few eggs left so the new dozen doesn't completely fit? Do you have to buy a second plastic egg bin?
If you do happen to crack an egg, now you have to take all the eggs out and wash the container instead of just leaving it and tossing it into the recycling bin when you're done with the other eggs.
And what about the sell-by date from the original carton? When you transfer the eggs into the fancy bin, you have no idea which eggs are the freshest and when they'll go bad. So maybe you have to take out a pencil and individually mark each egg with its freshness date.
What a waste of time!
One rule of thumb I have for organizing anything is: make it easy to maintain. Organizing should be simple and should follow your natural habits so it'll be easier for you to keep up with it.
Ok, so are we all in agreement that we don't need to transfer eggs from their cardboard supermarket containers into fancy plastic ones?
Now what do you do with that fancy egg bin you bought or that came with your refrigerator? Here are a few ideas:
Even if you didn't succumb to the shopping pressure and buy a fancy egg bin, you can repurpose a plain plastic or cardboard egg carton for any of these uses.
When my children were little, I had them paint a different color in each well of a cardboard egg carton. We took the carton with us when we went for walks and hunted for little treasures along the way to match the colors they had painted. Every young child seems to go through a phase of interrupting walks by stopping to examine every single blade of grass or pebble, so this collecting activity made the walk more purposeful and enjoyable for grown-ups and children alike.
The moral of this story? Release yourself from the make-work of over-organizing things that area already perfectly well organized!
*To be fair, eggs can come in a variety of containers, not all of which are great: cardboard, styrofoam, or light plastic containers. Styrofoam is the worst as it's not recyclable and it cushions the eggs but isn't rigid enough to withstand being stacked, so you'll often find broken or cracked eggs. Light plastic is OK, but these usually have double lids (one domed to nestle the eggs, one flat to form the top) which are a pain to open. Plain old cardboard containers are my favorite for ease of recycling and ease of use.
It's nearly back-to-school time, so be sure to check out some of my previous posts about that (like this one, this one, and this one).
In the meantime, don't forget to enjoy the last gasp of summer with fun tips like this one!
Here’s a quick and organized way to serve lunch to your kids.
When my kids were little (and occasionally even now that they’re bigger), they loved the surprise of a muffin-tin lunch. The novelty of having several different foods in separate little compartments got them to try new things and to eat a more balanced meal.
After all, who doesn't like cute, tiny food and meals that give you a taste of everything? We grownups just call it tapas!
You can put all kinds of things in the tins, but it works best for two kids (or as a snack for 3-4, dividing the holes by row) with each child getting 6 muffin holes-worth of food.
Pictured here is a lunch of salami, tortilla chips and salsa, Kalamata olives, cheddar cheese, and watermelon spears. Other cute ideas are mini-salads, trail mix, crackers and cheese, nuts, beans, dried fruit, baby pickles, sandwich bites, whatever will fit. Even small servings of soup, pudding, or mac & cheese will work.
Let your creative juices flow and see how excited your kids will be to eat lunch!
Here's a fun idea to help you part with some of your excess stuff:
a good old-fashioned swap.
The general idea is that you get together with a bunch of friends and/or neighbors and everyone brings things they don't want anymore but that are in good, usable condition. Then you all go "shopping" for each other's stuff!.
You can host your own -- make it a party! -- or sign up for the August 18th event at East Providence's wonderful Fuller Creative Learning Center.
If you decide to host a swap party, you can do it indoors or out, setting up tables or picnic blankets to display the wares.
It can be a pure swap ("I'll give you this coat for two of your books.") or you can assign items a value or rating. Give each item a star rating and trade based on how many stars items "cost." For example, you could trade three one-star items for one 3-star piece.
Your goal should be to end up going home with less than you brought, so choose to swap for smaller items or swap multiple items for one of something else.
At the end of the swap, offer to load up your car and drive ALL the leftovers to a donation center. Bring items to the closest one (Search for "donation center near me.") or your favorite charity.
Whatever you do, don't let that stuff back into your house! If you already decided you were ready to part with it, trust your instincts and stick with your decision.
Many of you may know Gretchen Rubin who gave a “bonus keynote” address at the conference. She has some interesting ideas about personality types, but my favorite takeaway from her talk was about how we can declutter our clothes.
If you have trouble deciding whether or not to keep an article of clothing, see if it passes the “Ex-Factor” test. Imagine you are wearing that faded, tattered sweatshirt and you run into your ex. Would you be happy to be wearing that?
Gretchen’s other insight about paring down clothes is that she noticed that people actually feel they have more to wear after getting rid of excess clothes. It sounds counterintuitive, but I experience this with my clients all the time. Once you weed out the excess, you feel more satisfied with what you have and experience a feeling of increased abundance.
From now through June 30th, you can save 25% off of Smead products in their first-ever summer sale!
Smead has excellent, high-quality products with innovative designs.
Some of my favorites are:
Head to Smead's site, www.myorganized.life and see all the great products they have for making paper organizing fun!
Don't forget to use coupon code HOT25 to at checkout to save 25%!
For full disclosure, I don't get any kickback from Smead to advertise this sale. I just really like their products and resources and wanted to pass the sale info on to you.