Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Papers that need ACTION

In our journey to win The Paper Chase so far,
we have talked about how to minimize the number of  papers that come in (aka The Mail Game)
and how we really should be doing all we can to keep as many papers as we can OUT!

We've also talked about how if a paper does make it into the house, we should always try to give the needed information to our Secretary and then immediately throw that paper away.

But there are some papers that really do need to find a place in our homes--usually NOT permanently but for some given length of time. These papers have three futures, in my home at least--and they are either

In this post, I am going to be talking about the first on the list, papers that need "ACTION." (The "to file" and "to hold" topics both need some serious time and explanation so they will be addressed in the next few posts.)

When a paper comes in (as in you played the mail game and it made it into the house) and it wasn't something that could just be recorded on the BIG calendar and then thrown away, it usually requires some sort of ACTION. 

Some examples might be: a bill that needs to be paid, a wedding invitation that a card or gift needs to be sent for, a letter that needs answered, a notice that needs to be called about, or maybe a bank statement that needs to be reconciled. Speaking of bank statements though, we are enjoying life in the 21st century now and one of the great things about that is there are many pieces of mail that we used to get on paper via "snail mail" that are now easily accessible on line ... like bank or credit card statements, utility bills, phone bills, etc. As with just about anything, I strongly encourage you to do whatever it takes to keep unnecessary items from coming IN to your home...and that especially includes paper. So if you haven't already, contact your bank, lending institutions, and utility or phone companies (or ANY other place that sends you paper on a regular basis) and ask about receiving your statements, notices and bills on line. (Then, for heavens sake, when you do get them online, DON'T print them out!)

In your quest for management of your papers that do need to come in, something like this little "contraption" is a must.  Some call it a file tray. I call it a "Paperwork Processing System."
I keep mine in the closet in our den/office.
But in order to really show you what it is and how to use it, I'm going to pull it out and put in on the desk for a minute.
 A "Paperwork Processing System" can be set up in all sorts of ways. It does not need to be in a file tray format. It could look something like this:

or this

or this
or this....just to name a few

 The possibilities are endless really....just go to any office supply store and look around. 
The key though is it needs to be something that your papers can easily be placed into.
So, nothing with drawers or lids like these:

Why? you ask
Because anything like that could easily stop you from putting the paper where it goes and instead invites you to place the paper(s) ON TOP of the file holder instead, of course with the wonderful intent of putting it away "at some future time." (Which we all know how that turns out.)

So whatever it is, it needs to be something that is open and easily accessible and helps you put that paper away quickly.

When a paper comes in (it passed the MAIL GAME test) and the info it contains can't just be given to the SECRETARY (and then thrown away), then it comes here to your ACTION file. When I put something into my "Action" folder or slot, it means it needs to be specifically acted upon in some way.  We'll talk even more about examples in a later post  but just know that it's a general category....things that need ACTION.

And that ACTION will occur on Paperwork Processing Day....a key ingredient in your paper chase success story.

Paperwork Processing Day is always Wednesday for me. But it can be any day of the week for you. And don't let the "Day" in the title scare you really is about 15 minutes at most if you are the least bit consistent with it. On your Paperwork Processing Day, you simply take a few minutes and ACT on anything in your ACTION folder. You pay the bill, send off the card, make the phone call to ask the question or solve the problem, etc. Once the action is completed, if the item needs to be kept long term, it goes into the "To File" folder or space.
Important side note:  When you look at my files, you might notice that they aren't labeled. Which one is "Action" and which one is "To File?" And what are the other two for? Good job! Those are good questions. I am really big on labeling everything (just read here if you don't believe me) and yet you caught me today with something not labeled. Let me explain...up until about 2 months ago I had a black file tray that was labeled but eventually died (it was 16 years old after all and got cracked a few too many times) and that file tray was labeled. In all of those years, my husband and I (who are really the only two who use this Paperwork Processing System with any regularity at all--OK, let's face it, EVER) have been trained through the years by the previous file tray that was labeled to know which was which and now just know beyond any doubt that the 2nd from the bottom is "Action" and the next one up or 2nd from the top is "To File."  Always the top file is "Supplies"--so you can see blank paper, blank file folders, blank envelopes and blank cards. And always the bottom is "To Hold" which, like I said earlier, will be the topic of our next discussion.  Hope that helps.

One last word about Paperwork Processing Day...
when you take the time every week to address your paperwork, you are much more likely to stay on top of things and not be caught late or without. I really believe in this step. It's a must and, like I said earlier, only takes a few minutes out of your day. Choose a specific day and keep it consistent each week. And after just a few weeks, your paperwork will be trained and you will be too!

Next Post:  The papers to HOLD
In future posts, we of course will delve into filing and filing systems--such important topics on our quest to conquer papers! So stay tuned!

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

The Secretary

One of the biggest struggles with managing the papers in our homes and one of the reasons people are so hesitant to get rid of papers is because of answer #2 to the question:
"Why don't we throw them out?"
2-Because I am worried about being caught without some piece of information we might need if we did get rid of a certain paper so we don't throw any of it out.

In other words, people are afraid to get rid of anything for fear they might actually need the information on it. And that's a valid concern.

In reality, what everyone needs is a personal secretary, right?
Wouldn't that be great?
Someone who we could walk into the house to and just throw all of our papers at and then they can tell us when and where we need to be doing on any given day.
Sound dreamy? 
Well, what if I told you, you can have a secretary and it can be at your service 24 hours a day/7 days a week, wouldn't talk back to you or ask for days off and would only cost you about $7 per year?

Meet your secretary...

(otherwise known as a BIG CALENDAR.)

Let me give you three simple rules about the big calendar and how to make it work best for you:

First, it needs to be BIG. As in, it needs to have BIG spaces to write in. Why? So it can hold a lot of information--really ALL of the information you can possibly give it.  If you make sure your calendar is BIG enough, you can put in information you might not even think you need at the moment but would be in the "nice to have" category.

Second, it needs to hang in a prominent place in your home--preferably right out in the open, so it can be seen and used multiple times a day. Technically the one you see above is a desk top calendar but I would never recommend using it for that. Leaving it out on the desk top or kitchen counter will really contribute to a the messy/cluttered look you DO NOT want. Do whatever it takes to hang it up.

Third, you need to write on it IN PENCIL and in TIME ORDER. "Why? and What? you might ask.  It's vitally important that your big calendar be as accurate every day as possible. And let's face it. Our lives and schedules are constantly changing. What might have been a "for sure" a week or two ago is suddenly not happening. And what was once starting at 1:00 at this place could easily be switched to 4:00 at this other place. ALWAYS write in pencil and train your family to do the same thing. And when adding anything to the calendar it works so much better to have the things that are happening first thing in the morning written at the top of the date box and then down through to noon, late afternoon, evening and late evening. This makes it so when you check your calendar, you can easily see what needs to happen/what commitments have been made in what order.

My last piece of advice when using your secretary is: USE IT. Just like all of us, it is so much happier when it is feeling useful, helpful and needed. We will talk a little more about this in the future but just trust can get a lot farther in your quest to win the Paper Chase when you allow your secretary to do it's job.  That means that you bring papers into your home and immediately see if your secretary can "take care of it" and then you can quickly toss that paper. Imagine how much less paper you could have in your home if lots of papers were thrown at the secretary who recorded them and then threw them away! Lots and lots!  When I get a paper coming in--something like a birthday party invitation or newsletter with specific dates of important events, I make it a priority to stop and record the specific information (including date and time of course but also phone numbers, addresses and any other information--that's why you have a BIG calendar) and then immediately throw that paper away.  It's one of the ways your secretary helps you--it keeps every bit of information in once place and allows you the freedom to let go of the paper that is constantly coming in.

Next post:  Papers that need ACTION

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

The Mail Game

Papers are the issue and we're attacking the problem starting today! Who's with me?

In my last post I said that one of the biggest reasons papers take over our homes and spaces is because we come up with excuses of why we can't get rid of them. Today we're starting with excuse #1 of

"Why I can't get rid of papers"

1-Because there are so many papers coming in that I don't feel like I can get rid of them fast enough. In fact, I'm pretty overwhelmed and sometimes even paralyzed by it.

To begin to see the problem of how we get too many papers in our lives, all one really has to do is go to the mailbox and pick up that one big pile of papers. Sheesh! Isn't it a bit crazy?!
One way I have found to deal with this extremely large pile of papers that keeps wanting to come into my house is something I call The MAIL GAME.

The Mail Game is a game I play every time I go to the mailbox.

Our mailbox is in a neighborhood lock box like this,
so I only stop and pick up the mail about once every 4-5 days. Why? Because I only want to have to play the MAIL GAME once or twice a week instead of every day. ;)

This is how you play the MAIL GAME:
Before I ever even take this pile of mail into my house (that is so important! Once it enters, it's harder to get rid of!), I sit in my car and do this: (or, if I or someone in my family walks up to the mailbox, the same game happens right on the kitchen counter IMMEDIATELY )--

If you can't tell from the pictures, what I do is
1) open up every piece of mail
2) remove every piece of paper including envelopes and small ad-ins or fliers
3) make a pile of the things that have to be saved or dealt with (usually, on any typical, that is less than 1/4 of the pile)
and then
4) make a pile of every piece of packaging, paper, envelope, postcard, ad, and catalog that is not necessary, wanted or needed and put them in the garbage pile

And when I pull into the driveway and get out of the car to walk in, I stop at the beloved big green garbage can and release.....

(There are some people out there who are more paranoid than I am and refuse to just throw things away with their names and addresses on them. I'm not going to argue with you on that one--to me it is a personal choice. I have never worried about it and have never had any issues. I do open all mail and don't just throw away whole envelopes with our name and address blaring right there for everyone to see. But if someone is going to go through your gross garbage to dig for your name and address?  Well, they can find ours in the phone books so.....

But if you do, all I ask is that you don't let that stop you from your main task--which is getting rid of the papers that come in as QUICKLY as you can.) So the rule is, if you don't just toss those papers, they go into another bag or box that is equivalent to the garbage where they eventually go to a shredder or something equivalent.)

The key to THE MAIL GAME is that it is done immediately, preferably before you EVER GO INTO THE HOUSE and all things belonging to the garbage get there on your way in to the house. This is war after all. You are fighting to protect your spaces from things that just don't deserve to be there! And unnecessary papers is definitely one of them.

The Mail Game is just the kind of challenge I takes such little time but reaps huge rewards!  You will notice a difference as you play it for the next few weeks.  Try it and let me know how it works!

Next Post:  The Secretary

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Papers, Papers, Papers

If I had to pick just one thing that I have found gives people more grief than anything else in their quest to become organized and keep their homes clutter-free, it would have to be


They're EVERYWHERE!!!!!
We're drowning a bit, right?
The truth of the matter is, the AMOUNT of papers that is coming in to most of our lives is staggeringly large. There really isn't a day that goes by that a
or list
doesn't come in...and usually they arrive in multiples.

And that's not even mentioning up larger items like kids' school work, magazines and newspapers.
Yet how many papers get THROWN OUT???! (Exactly. No wonder we're drowning. There's that darn Law of Ecology again.)

In reality, we actually can't do much about the amount of papers that come in--they are just going to come.

But we can do something about how many go out, right? But usually we don't.
Why don't we throw them out? 
There are a few different answers to this question but here are just three that I've come up with:

1-Because there are so many papers coming in I don't feel like I can get rid of them fast enough. In fact, I'm totally overwhelmed and sometimes even paralyzed by it.

2-Because I am worried about being caught without some piece of information that I might need if I did get rid of a certain paper so I tend to not throw any of it out.

3-Because there are some papers I really do need to keep but for just a limited amount of time so I can reference them again. Where should I keep those instead of all over my counters and tables and floors?

As we delve in and really talk the "nitty-gritty" about how to handle papers, you are going to find it is actually a lot easier than you might think. The key to getting the best of your papers is to HAVE A SYSTEM....a "paperwork processing system" that gives you specific ways to deal with, handle, and then either keep or discard the papers in your life.


1)  A secretary (no really...stay tuned and I'll show you how you can have one of your own!)
2)  An "Action/To File" file
3)  A "Hold It" file (for each member of the family)
4)  A File Cabinet
5)  A large always being emptied garbage can
6)  A "paperwork hour" once a week!

There you go......6 little things that will END your paperwork problems and help keep you sane and your spaces clear.

I'm excited to teach you a little about what I know about handling our household papers and I'm anxious to hear from you as well. There are lots of ways of doing things and, by all means, mine is not the only way. So feel free to share and let's share some of your ideas as well!

Papers are important but keeping papers under control is even more important!~  It feels good to have them out of your prime spaces and in a place where you can find information when you need it.

Next post:  The Mail Game

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Rule #10 Have a specific place to keep things that need to go

Here we are at the last of the Top 10 Dejunking Rules.....thanks for joining me on this journey so far! It's been amazing!

But don't worry. I still have a LOT more to say! (haha...were you honestly worried about that?)

In the upcoming months we are going to delve into the how to's of dealing with all sorts of things like papers (that's a HUGE one), storage units, yard sales, organizing kitchens and laundry rooms, kids keepsakes, books, photos and scrapbooks, knick knacks and collections, and holidays....just to name a few.

I'd also like to hear what YOU would like to "talk" about so feel free to send me your suggestions via comments or email.

But before we get ahead of ourselves...

here we go with

Rule #10 Have a specific place to keep things that need to go

One of the mistakes people make in dejunking and organizing their spaces is they believe it is a huge one-time "life event."

The bottom line is STUFF IS ALWAYS COMING IN so it needs to constantly be going out.  We talked a little bit about this in my blog about when something new comes in, something old goes out. The truth of the matter is, we are too affluent and stuff is way too easy to acquire. If things are coming in, other stuff just HAS to leave. Otherwise drowning occurs :) And none of us wants that.

This makes sense to most people and they generally agree that things need to be leaving. But one problem they usually have is they don't have a place in their home to specifically hold things that need to leave. Instead, they start making piles. And guess what? Piles are really just ugly clutter mountains that make our homes look disheveled and us grumpy. To put it mildly, piles should really be avoided at all costs.

Instead, a "get rid of'" container is a much better way to go.

Let me show you what I mean:

One of the things I have found we are constantly needing to get rid of at our house is articles of clothing (jeans, shirts, socks, and shoes) Why you ask? Because with active, growing children things never stay in great shape or fitting their bodies for very long. So I have discovered that having a specific bin in my laundry room for things to go out (labeled "Goodwill" here) is an absolute necessity.  Why you ask? Because in our house the laundry room is upstairs and I found that if my only "get rid of" pile was out in the garage, there were piles laying around upstairs (in the bedrooms and the laundry room) for the time it was convenient to get it to the box in the garage. Capiche?

Having this bin upstairs near the bedrooms really makes a difference in my ability to "corral" that
pile of clothes, socks, headbands, little knick knacks and even books and bags that I come across that need to be gotten rid of.

And when it gets full (like you can see here), then I take the time to pull it out and take the whole bin downstairs to the garage.

Meanwhile, this is the garage area where I keep those larger boxes that hold things that need to go. There are a lot of ways to deal with this. I'd love to hear what you do.  Here is what I do.

The bin with the green lid used to hold my charity items and when it was full I would transfer the items over to bags or boxes and take them to the local Goodwill. Then a couple of things changed. First, I was getting tired of having to transfer everything over to other containers when it got full and thought "why not just have "disposable" boxes to hold it in the first place?" And second, I started realizing that I was donating enough stuff that if I could store it for several months I could make some good money at a yard sale.  So between those two ideas, that's when I started picking up apple boxes from my local grocery store's produce department and filling those boxes instead.  For me, when a box is totally full, my husband puts it up in the rafters of our garage and it stays there until June when my neighbors and I host a multi-family yard sale and get rid of it all. (Putting on a yard sale is not for everyone but I love it and will be telling you all about how to do it successfully in a future blog post.)  If putting on a yard sale is really not for you, this system still totally works because when the box is full you can simply put it in your car and drop it off at any number of charitable organizations who gladly accept such things (yet another future blog post idea!)
So now what I use the large Rubbermaid bin with the lid for is to store "keepsakes" for my children. Remember my laundry room bins?
The one labeled "storage" is meant for two things. Clothes that come through that are not the correct size for my children currently and thus need to be stored away for when they grow a bit OR it holds clothing items (mostly) that my children really want to keep as a memento of their childhood or something wonderful in their life. An example might be a tee shirt from 5th grade graduation or a scarf from youth camp or a sweatshirt from a sports team. We don't keep a lot of those things but occasionally something is special and needs to be kept as a special keepsake.
And so that is what I keep in the big "green lid" bin. And then once a year, when that box gets full, we pull down each child's keepsake box (kept up in the rafters of the garage) and put things in it. Of course, just like we talked about here, bins force you to make decisions about what to keep and not. And it is the exact same thing here. When we pull down the keepsake bins and start evaluating what is already in there and what we have ready to put in, tough decisions sometimes have to be made. Remember our mantra "We wish we could keep everything but we can't?" Yes, that is used in full force here. And it works. (Keepsakes are another topic I am going to really delve in to at some point on this blog so stay tuned!)  So that is what the "green lid" box is for. And the two apple boxes are for selling at a yard sale or hauling off to the charity of your choice.  Hope that makes sense?

The bottom line is this:  things are constantly coming into our homes and they need to be constantly leaving. When you have a specific place (or two) to keep items that need to be said good-bye to, it keeps your prime spaces clear and your house less cluttered. Remember the goal is to have a place for every keeper and put every keeper in it's place, and that includes things that won't be a keeper for much longer. Have a place for them and you'll be much happier with the way your home looks and feels.

Until next time...happy shoveling!

Next blog post: Managing the Paper Chase Part 1