Think about the last time you attended a seminar, workshop, or tradeshow. Got swag? So where is it? What do you usually do with those binders, notes, notebooks, and product samples from a continuing education event or tradeshow?
Chances are you come from the event and “put the swag bag down” for later. But if you did not have a concrete, immediate plan for it, “later” never came, and eventually, you got tired of stepping over that bag or having to move it from one place to the other. You decided to place it where it would not interfere with your daily life (i.e., where you could not see it anymore).
Swag Turns Clutter
Once you can’t see that material anymore, it is out of your mind. It does not interfere in your daily life, that’s true. But that means that you forget about it. Hence, a new bag to clutter your space!
If all that stuff is out of your mind, it is probably unimportant to you, and you do not need it. But why did you gather that material or samples in the first place? Probably is our automatic human reaction to grab anything free.
Make It Benefit You
Think of ways that material can benefit your present life, help you in your career, relationships, or whatever it might be. Then decide on concrete, appropriate steps to allow for that to happen.
This process takes intention and planning. It will not happen if you relegate that bag or binder full of notes and product samples where you won’t think about it.
What To Do with It
Here are some examples of what that process of paying attention to that material might look like:
- You took notes on the various seminars during the activity — to cement the knowledge in your brain, transcribe the notes by hand. Then, scan those notes and file the document in an electronic file related to the topic. If you have Evernote or the like, that’s another very convenient way to keep your information handy and classified.
- You received printed material that you already know is valuable and want to keep — scan it and follow the steps described above. If you want to keep the paper copies, make a file for this material.
- You collected sample items — Are you interested in trying those items? Place them where you are most likely to use them and try them! Did you collect the items for someone else? Place the things where you won’t forget to take them the next time you will see that person.
- There were recommendations about books, apps, or programs to try? — If you made notes on these, these interested you in the first place. Revisit each one of those and if it still sounds like a good idea, decide what needs to happen for you to act on it.
- Got ideas to develop during the event? — Don’t let it go to waste! Instead, assign a time on your calendar to make those things happen or develop the steps needed to obtain that goal. Then calendar those steps. What gets in the calendar gets done.
- Business cards — Scan them or input the information with appropriate notes into your iPhone. Then establish steps and dates to reach out to those contacts and explore possibilities together and network.
You can certainly develop more ways in which all that material gathered at that seminar, workshop, or tradeshow can continue giving and benefiting you. The important thing is to take the appropriate action about those ideas! You probably paid money to attend these events, and most definitely, you invested your time. Don’t let that go to waste. Learn how to get the most of these mysterious swag bags we love to collect, for they hold a wealth of possibilities!
So you say: “my desk looks great,” but all papers are on the kitchen counter? Aren’t we proud? (LOL)
If this is you, please know you are not alone and that paper clutters homes the most because it is harder to corral, classify, and organize.
Paper is sneaky, and you can’t see the chaos it makes by looking at a page here and a page there. But when it accumulates enough for you to notice, then it is too late.
Whether it is brochures, magazines, newspapers, instruction manuals, receipts, unopened mail, coupons, gift cards, or schoolwork, these things hang around the house and clutter everyone’s lives.
When organizing clients’ homes, they are often surprised by an unpleasant by-product of the process: the unforeseen accumulation of paper and other items that seem not to have a definite place in the home.
We gather all paper, including magazines, brochures, children’s papers, and projects. These should be addressed later by the client. We can’t save our clients from doing this work.
Because looking at the paper collected, it is impossible to know what you need to keep; you’ll have to do the work you have been avoiding in the first place (except that now it is all accumulated and is a lot!)
Since this part of the process is a necessary evil and people fear paper so much, it is not even fair to leave you in the dark to do your homework So, here is a detailed guide to winning the paper clutter battle.
NOTE: Before we start: It is fair to say that you need to establish a cut-off date, after which you go forward with managing your incoming mail and papers using your new system (thus, staying on top of that).
1. Clean up your files
You will need space for the new stuff that requires filing. If you do not have a filing system, this is the time to create one. Your filing system should preferably be in your home office. The following best options would be a rolling cart under a desk by the kitchen or a filing cabinet that complements your décor in the living room.
But every household needs a filing system. Every piece of paper worth keeping should have a permanent home where you will know to look for it.
2. Gather every piece of paper
Gather every piece of paper throughout the house. Include magazines, coupons, receipts, notebooks, journals, books, and gift cards in this group.
This exercise might result in several bins of stuff as you’ve never seen before. It will be okay! We will take one box and one category at a time.
3. Divide and conquer
Start with one box and sort its contents into the categories you find in that bin or container. Then tackle the second bin of mixed contents and repeat the process.
As you move along, take your trash to the trash and clean the bins that you empty.
Pro Tip: Tackle each category separately. Do not start with a group while still working on another.
4. Sort bigger items
Start with the bigger stuff such as books and magazines. Decide what can be donated, sold, trashed, or recycled.
Then see where to allocate what you keep. For example, you might already have a logical space in your home for those items. In that case, merge the items you gathered with corresponding objects in their designated home space.
Note that if you run out of space to place all items together, you can purge items by evaluating the entirety of your collection. If this does not give you the needed area, consider an alternative space for these items. The important thing is to keep the same type of items together.
5. On with the paper!
Set up the following boxes to collect four types of paper:
- Shred (only for sensitive information)
- File (all documents you decide to keep in paper format)
- Digitize (paper to be digitized and let go of print)
Keep paper to digitize in a separate box and set aside as a project for the near future.
Every piece of paper needs a decision, and every piece you keep needs a permanent home in a file.
6. Create These Files
- “Important Documents” File
Important and official documents such as birth certificates, social security cards, passports, and the like, need their file, so you will always know where the most important things are.
You will want to make a “Medical” folder for each household member. Here is where you file medical records, EOB’s, insurance, etc. If you have too much paper in this category, you may need to have Medical-Records, Medical-EOB’s, Medical-Insurance, and so on.
Decide what you might need to keep for tax purposes for the current year and place all that material in a file called “Current year taxes.”
When filing past years’ taxes, get rid of anything other than the IRS’s need if they audit you.
Discard any envelopes, especially manila envelopes, and unfold papers to letter size.
If you need to keep papers or receipts together, paperclip or binder clip them on the right side. That way, when they are in their folders, you can easily see what’s what.
Keep seven years’ worth of taxes history and shred the oldest each year.
Consider digitizing everything. Digitized documents are acceptable to the IRS. But always check with an accounting professional regarding financial/tax decisions.
- “Owner’s Manuals & Warranties” File
It does not matter what these are; it needs a file to keep a user’s manual. Create a “Household Manuals” folder and place them all together. You can be more specific and divide the category (like tools, appliances, miscellaneous, etc.).
- “Hold & Throw” File (or tray)
The Hold & Throw is a parking spot for things you may want shortly, but that will be irrelevant in a few months.
This space could be a tray or a file within your system. Some examples in this category are receipts for clothes, neighborhood trash schedules, and paid bills. These items are not worth filing long-term, and you can safely throw them away every couple of months. This practice negates piles of advertisements, receipts, brochures, and things people put on their refrigerators. If the paper will be irrelevant in a few months, it goes in the “Hold & Throw” folder.
Among the papers you find, decide what is “to do.” Place that in your “to do” tray/file. Once done, let go of these papers. You might want to make a note on your schedule to ensure you tackle those “to-do” timely and consistently.
7. Sort other categories of paper
Get a coupon wallet to keep in your kitchen drawer. All store coupons and gift cards can live there until needed. They will be accessible whenever you go shopping. Review this wallet monthly to let go of expired offers and coupons.
Set pictures apart and place them with other images you might have. Photos deserve their category, and the procedures to handle picture organization are here.
Transfer business cards (including those refrigerator magnets with business information) to your computer or mobile phone with card scanning apps or software available for this purpose.
Discard receipts you can find online by accessing your bank account or your transaction history with the vendor.
If you need receipts to return or exchange something, those receipts should probably go into your “To Do” file or your “Hold & Throw” file.
Going Forward with Mail
Mail comes into the home daily for most people. Without a system to handle mail effectively, we would be back in square one very soon.
Handling mail daily does not mean handling every piece of mail completely. Instead, it means opening each mail piece and directing it to where the action will occur. This should take one or two minutes of your day when you come home.
To this end, you should have your recycle bin and your “To Do” and “To File” files or trays in your mail processing area. Have a recycling bin next to the mail processing area so that all junk mail goes immediately to recycling. Then, sort the rest according to the action needed on each piece (near future action or file).
Recycle — Place all junk mail in your recycle bin immediately
To-Do — Things that will require some action (like paying a bill or RSVPing to an activity)
To File — Papers or documents that you’ll want to keep for reference and that belong to any of the file categories in your filing system
OHIO Rule (Only Handle It Once)
If you’d like to be one step ahead, apply the “OHIO Rule.” It means that you immediately deal with any paper coming into your home instead of setting it down, unopened, to deal with later.
In this case, you commit to processing each mail piece completely when you first handle it. Handling your mail this way reduces paper clutter and eliminates the need to deal with paper later.
Remember that if you follow the steps to handle mail every so often, you need to schedule in your calendar as a weekly or biweekly activity — time to finish processing the mail you pre-classified. The “one-touch rule” eliminates this second part of the process.
Tackling your paper might seem daunting. Nobody said you must finish organizing all your accumulated paper in a day. Paper is the thing that takes the longest to manage! Take your time and work on a category at a time. The space and relief you will feel afterward are worth every moment you invest in the project.
You can tame the paper monster. But, as with everything in life, keeping it under control requires commitment and effort.
If you have difficulty organizing and deciding about your paper (no, there’s nothing wrong with you!), contact us! We will be thrilled to nosedive into your paper mess. Truly!
Social distancing and quarantine times, are they over? It’s hard to say. We’ve been too long on this. So, all that time we have been at home and with our loved ones? Make this time count!
Some of the practices we observed during 2020 and 2021 are still here, and some are here to stay.
For example, many companies have realized they are more productive when employees are at home. Therefore, more and more people are adopting this trend as the new normal.
In addition, some schools have kept remote learning as a permanent alternative for the students. As a result, we still share our home space (and for more extended periods) with other household members.
When we are closer together under one roof, clutter and lack of systems seem to hit us harder. Thriving under these conditions requires adjustments for most of us.
But change can be very positive, depending on how we take it. I, for one, have discovered a new joy in being around my husband and children. We have created a productive and harmonious work and play environment for the most part. And I don’t need to mention how ecstatic our dog is with this at-home arrangement.
But living, working, studying, and playing in closer proximity to each other for more extended periods may cause previously considered menial details about our space to appear more significant and bother us.
So here are some things that might help us enjoy our new way of co-existing to make the best of the situation.
Keep It Clutter-Free And Clean
- Strategically place boxes of tissue throughout the house.
- Have a trash can in every room and take out the trash daily.
- Have antibacterial soap or sanitizer on every sink.
- Wash towels and sheets more often.
- Handle your incoming mail daily, rapidly, and efficiently. The last thing you need is more paper clutter around your home.
- Take 15 minutes at the beginning of each day to put the house in order-clean the counters, vacuum floors/carpets, and open up shades or curtains to let in the sunlight.
- Gather dirty dishes and utensils inside the dishwasher throughout the day so counters remain clear. It requires putting away clean dishes every night before bedtime or first thing in the morning, so the day starts with an empty dishwasher.
- Get caught up with your laundry as soon as possible. Laundry is often the nemesis of many households. You don’t need the added clutter right now. Read my laundry process blog if you feel this is a weak point.
Embrace a Positive Attitude
- Make beds every day – this gives you a sense of accomplishment to start your day.
- Get dressed as if you were going to work or school – when you dress up, this shows in your demeanor on the phone and Zoom calls.
Enjoy Family Time
- Go on walks outside with the family – if we are together at home, we can take advantage of that.
- Watch a movie or play board games as a family – welcome back game and movie nights.
- Get to know each other better!
- Develop a system to ensure everyone takes their supplements and medications consistently.
- Grocery shopping needs strategic planning to have what we need while avoiding waste. Although we eat more meals at home, buying more than we need leads to food waste. Have a well-planned system.
- Go to bed and wake up at the usual time every day and keep meal schedules – these two practices allow the body to maintain a routine and feel better.
- Assign spaces for each household member to work or study. These spaces can vary by day, but it is easy to control clutter and to have an increased focus if everyone has a space on their own to operate each day.
- Avoid distractions by making sure your pets are cared for before starting your business or school day. Ensure your pets have adequate food and water, have gone outside (if applicable), and have safe and comfy areas to rest.
- Try listening to Binaural Beats using headphones while you work or study to boost productivity. Binaural Beats in the Beta pattern may help promote concentration and alertness. Listening to Beta waves helps to increase focus, productivity, critical thinking, decision making, situational awareness, and memory. Beta waves also help increase your energy, sharpen your hearing, and improve overall well-being.
- To take productivity to the next level, combine the binaural beats experience with the diffusion of essential oils that enhance your mood and increase brain activity. Young Living Essential Oils are the purest oils you can find. Some oils that improve brain function and affect mood are Vitality, Joy, Awaken, Motivation, Frankincense, Peppermint, Sandalwood, and Lavender.
I believe this time will show us that we can move forward in more productive and efficient ways than we ever thought. As a result, we will arrive at a better place as a society.