Thursday, March 28, 2013

Figuring Out Where to Start

There's a common phenomenon that takes place in our homes. We stop seeing our surroundings. Much like I lived with an unpainted door for more than a year without actually noticing the unpainted door, people live with all kinds of unfinished projects. They simply become part of the surroundings and disappear. So, too, does the pile in the corner, the clutter on the desk, the collection of coats hanging from every possible hook, "stuff" that you don't see on a daily basis. It magically disappears. Unfortunately, it's only invisible to us, the owners of the stuff, and it's often the first thing that visitors will see. When I work with clients they often seem surprised when I want to tackle the piles in the corners (Where did that come from?!) ... and almost everyone has piles in the corners. If you don't, chances are good you're not looking for advice here. 

It can feel overwhelming to know where to start organizing and improving your space. You know you need to start small, but how do you figure out where to start? The good news is that it doesn't take a professional to figure out what needs to be tackled first. Take a picture of your space right now. Take a quick look at that picture, preferably on the computer screen, where it's bigger. What's the first thing that grabs your attention? That should be the first thing you tackle. If your eye is drawn to something in the room, others will be drawn to the same thing. Then take a good long look at that picture. Does the room look balanced? Does it look like there is too much of something? Or not enough? Try to look at your space objectively and think about what would make you like it more. Then take action. It's that easy. Maybe it will lead to asking for help from a professional organizer, handyman, or decorator, but not necessarily. Many projects are much simpler than that.

Taking a picture of an area gives you a better perspective on what needs to be addressed. It allows you to "see" your room more clearly. Just like a candid photo can sometimes shock you into action (I can't possibly look like that! That's it...back to the gym!), your room's candid photo may also inspire you to take on mini-improvement projects. It often goes beyond organizing and into decorating, but it's really all about improving your space. Just take it one step at a time.

The best part? Taking your own "after" picture and giving yourself a pat on the back. Success!

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Taming the Paper Piles

Sorting through the mountain of paper that builds in our lives can be intimidating.  When there is no filter on what goes into the pile, it easily gets out of hand. Important papers get mixed in with junk, and the pile grows. When you know there is one important paper in a pile, even if you can't quite tell what's in the rest of the pile, the entire pile is labeled "important" in your mind. That makes sense, until all the piles are important and you can't see the surface of your desk. How do you tell if you should keep a piece of paper? This is where many of us get stuck. Let's work on applying a filter so that the piles stay in control.

Whether you are working your way through your office or starting on the mail pile on the counter, ask yourself the following questions:

Do I need to keep it? Other than tax documentation, the answer to this question is often, "No." Once receipts have been checked against your account, there is no need to keep them. In today's digital age, there is very little paper you need to keep. This question alone will place a good portion of the pile in either trash, recycling or shredding.
  • Do I need to take action on it? Bills to be paid fall into this category. Do you need to sign it? Return it? Give it to someone else? Put it in an "action" pile.  If not, shred it if it contains personal information. Recycle everything else.
  • Do I need it for taxes? If it's paperwork you'll need for taxes, file it with other tax papers and make tax preparation time a breeze.

Do I want to keep it?  This is tricky. You put the paper in the pile in the first place because you thought you wanted to keep it, right? What's interesting is that what you thought you wanted to keep a month ago, or a year or more ago, sometimes doesn't make sense today. There are some follow up questions that go with this.
  • Is it still relevant? Instructions for items you no longer own, sign up sheets for last year's summer camp, and expired coupons are perfect examples. Straight to recycling.
  • Can I find this easily elsewhere? Keeping papers for reference does makes sense in some cases. If it's the only copy you have of something or it's not easily found elsewhere, keep it, either in your files or in your Command Center. If you can easily look up directions, recipes, or instructions online, you don't need to keep the printout. Straight to recycling.
  • Is it a memento?  Papers that you're keeping for sentimental reasons are perfectly fine, but not in your files. They are better kept with your mementos, and you have a place for mementos, right? Straight to storage.
If you answer these questions and you still want to keep the paper, that's fine. It's time to file. If you're not much of a filer, your file categories should be as general as possible. Get related papers into a file folder. The "relation" can be whatever makes sense to you. Maybe it's everything having to do with your health, or school, or each of your children. It doesn't have to be terribly specific at first. It gets the pile off the desk and into the drawer. From an access point of view, yes, you may need to spend a little more time searching, but you'll be starting from the right spot and you only need to go through one folder. If you find that you are accessing the same types of papers often, pull them out and give them their own category. If the folder is getting out of control, then work on subcategories. It's a gradual process of developing files. I recommend you don't jump right into specific subcategories if you've never had a filing system. Trust me on this one. You will end up with many, many folders that each have one or two pieces of paper in them.

Finally, if you're going through a major file clean-out, consider a shredding service. For a fee (roughly $10/box), companies will come and pick up your shredding and provide you with a certificate of destruction. If you have a shredder, and you've been holding on to shredding because the task is too overwhelming, this service could be perfect for you. Be already have a pile somewhere of things waiting to be shredded "when you have time", don't you? When you consider how long it takes to shred multiple boxes of paper, the value of this service is obvious. Not only do you save time, the boxes are immediately removed and your space is clear. No more paper piles? Priceless.