My Desk Looks Great! All papers are on the kitchen counter. (and aren’t you proud?) 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 always 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 evaluating the entirety of your collection. If this does not give you the space you need, 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 many, though, 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 schedule, 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 that 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.
Note that 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 up and running 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 need to 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 some commitment and effort.
If you have a hard time 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!
Finding The Silver Lining of a Catastrophe
When a catastrophe strikes, like a devastating hurricane, we are often forced to look at our lives and possessions differently. For example, we might need to let things go when items are ruined by the catastrophe. Also, the situation may require moving on with less, due to reduced space in temporary living arrangements.
If this happens, we might start seeing what we own in a different light – might even discover that we can let go of our attachment to things as we start a new life with less. Owning less means less to take care of, less to store, and a deeper appreciation for what we now own.
Within days after a significant hurricane, community volunteers rushed in and helped declutter homes in preparation for the much-needed repairs. However, there were many random, untouched items left in these homes. Those items were not necessarily what these families wanted or needed to keep. But the rushed volunteer-led effort was spontaneous and disorganized. Everything went into boxes. Homeowners had no idea what they had or lost, and they didn’t have immediate, organized access to the saved items.
A Different Point of View
As families prepared to re-enter their repaired homes later that year, they surveyed what was left of their possessions and, instead of holding on to those few things as representatives of what they lost, these families expressed the need for further decluttering. Why was that? Because what was left in the houses made no sense to them anymore. Their perspective had changed. The stuff that remained now clutter to them.
After experiencing the life-changing revelation that often occurs after a catastrophe, many have embraced living with less and now enjoy a different relationship with their stuff. They realize living with less in their homes means less to take care of. As a result, there are freer to live a life of connection with friends and family. Embracing the essentials in their homes helps them find serenity.
These people have opened up to change and have looked forward to a future with no clutter, a deeper appreciation for their possessions, and energetic space for all better things to come. They found the silver lining of a catastrophe.
What This Is About
It has taken me an excessive amount of time to write this piece. I had allowed the cloud of dust to settle. In the meantime, I have been learning about the subject, filling in the information gaps where I deemed appropriate. So here is what I’ve got on Professional Organizer Vs. Mari Kondo.
The way I see it, Mari Kondo helps you get rid of the clutter and teaches you how to fold your shirts and underwear in a very particular way. Still, her method is not about professional organization. Some KonMari certified consultants are Professional Organizers. But following the KonMari process alone is not enough to call someone a Professional Organizer.
The Need That Each Serves
Please do not take me wrong. I’m not at war with Mari Kondo. On the contrary. I think she brings a lot of attention and value to our industry. But having said that, she serves a specific portion of the market. What she does is not equivalent to what a Professional Organizer does.
If you need to declutter your space, you can choose between the KonMari method or a Professional Organizer. However, if you want to find the root cause of your disorganization and need systems to maintain the order to go forward, you need a Professional Organizer. Unfortunately, Mari Kondo can’t help you there.
Let me present a couple of criteria to compare how the KonMari method differs from the Professional Organizer’s approach.
Scope and Focus
Organizers typically follow a method that involves evaluating, classifying, purging, allocating, containerizing, and labeling spaces. As part of this process, they emphasize improving the productivity of the client and the efficiency of the space. To achieve that, Organizers implement systems and processes.
On the other hand, the KonMari method focuses on decluttering the home using the classification of items. Her process does not address the organizing details. Indeed, Mari Kondo does not focus on systems or processes to enhance the efficiency of the space or maintain the order achieved.
Mari Kondo does not address the root cause of disorganization in a home or a person’s life. Therefore, it is logical to presume that her process does not work for people whose clutter problem is “not about the stuff.” Should these individuals follow the KonMari method, the chances are that shortly after, they will be cack on square one.
Organizers train in a wide variety of areas to best help their clients. Therefore, it is essential to look for that Organizer best suited to each person’s needs. A good Professional Organizer seeks to find out the root cause of the problem, transfers skills, and designs systems to make their client’s life easier.
Aesthetic Value and Design
The KonMari method emphasizes reusing what the client has available to organize and containerize the client’s items after decluttering. The process expressly avoids the purchase of containers and systems. Not buying additional equipment or supplies could be an advantage when considering project costs. However, things have changed recently with the new merge between Mari Kondo and The Container Store.
Nevertheless, as humans, we are more inclined to maintain the organization of areas that look neat and that are pleasing to the eye. An organized place should be decluttered and functional but also aesthetically pleasing. An organizing design does not need expensive organizing products to look fantastic. However, it requires careful consideration of style and form. And random repurposed containers might not achieve great-looking results.
Room by Room Vs. Categories
One of the fundamental KonMari principles is organizing the whole house using a process based on categories, placing together all items from the same type to evaluate them at once. Some see this method as more definite, fast, and conclusive than organizing room by room.
But Professional Organizers agree with the organizing by categories! One hundred percent! We all want to place similar items together before the client decides what to keep. The difference lies in what happens next with each category once the client has decided what to keep.
Organizers Go Further
Organizers take it a step further, clarifying the purpose of each room to assign items to their logical place. But yes, we completely agree-this should be a whole-house approach.
And the whole-house approach is inevitable anyway. People love to spread their things all over the home, regardless of item type or home space purpose. So, we need to search the whole house to bring together all items in the various categories.
Once And For All?
As they say, the KonMari process is a “once and for all solution.” But organizing is a life skill. There are habits to be learned and exercised throughout our lives to keep an organized space.
The order does not magically happen “once and for all.” People change, fail, recover, let go, and come back. We are more complex than “once and for all.” Without addressing disorganization’s root causes and the human condition, how can anyone sustain the “once and for all” claim?
When clients work with a Professional Organizer who shows them how much easier life can be by using the “logical place for things” and the “one home per category of items” approach, they usually adopt new habits.
We are not opposed to the KonMari method – it works in specific situations and for a particular type of client. However, people should understand the fundamental differences between the KonMari way and what Professional Organizers do.
It is time that people in need of professional organization services stop thinking they don’t need a Professional Organizer because they read the KonMari book. Those who truly need a Professional Organizer will see no progress with the KonMari method. On the other hand, people who do not grapple with disorganization or any underlying clutter situation will be happy, experiencing joy with what they keep and gratefully saying goodbye to their discards.
I discuss the concept of mindfulness quite often. Mindfulness is about being in the moment, each moment, noticing our actions, reactions, and feelings toward others and the environment. Mindfulness puts seemingly ordinary, routine, everyday life events under a magnifying glass for close inspection – the things few people notice. Under this mind-frame, we can’t help but see how “when” matters. The timeliness of things matters.
You have probably heard that clutter is, at its core, a bunch of postponed decisions. So let’s put the concept of timeliness under that magnifying glass to illustrate its importance and consequences.
Clutter, Mess, and Chaos Creep In
If a drop of tomato sauce falls on the floor while you cook, one of two things will likely happen: you take four seconds to wipe the area clean at that moment, or you keep cooking undisturbed because you can always clean it later (Oh, later).
You continue with your culinary endeavor. Then either you or someone else inadvertently steps on the spot one or several times. As a result, the inoffensive tomato drop that could have taken four seconds to clean is now significantly spread on the kitchen floor.
Also, mixed with shoe dirt, it has transformed that four-second job into a floor moping task that adds five minutes to your schedule. But that is just the time. Consider the effort of prepping the mop, mopping the floor, and then cleaning that mop afterward.
The Toxic Build-Up
It is your choice to postpone taking any action – of course! But understand that the timeliness of actions does matter, and when we delay decisions, consequences usually follow.
Often, those consequences come in the form of additional time and effort required to achieve the same goal. That extra effort needed to accomplish the goal grows with each passing minute, while the likelihood of taking any action decreases. However, the situation (now compounded) will still be there for you to resolve later. Ignoring the situation won’t make it go away.
The tomato drop example might seem insignificant. But unnecessarily postponed tasks and decisions bring more impactful consequences.
Life constantly provides us with opportunities to neglect or delay actions and decisions of all kinds. And the consequences related to ignoring them might not bother us, especially if we don’t immediately notice. But sooner or later, we’ll find out that the consequences accumulated due to neglected or postponed decisions and actions are such that we no longer feel capable of bringing back balance or control to the situation, home, life (whatever it is).
Neglected Actions Create Chain Reactions
Let’s suppose that because dad is an early riser, he gets assigned the chore of emptying the dishwasher and feeding the dog in the morning. There is an understanding that these activities should happen before the rest of the family gets up.
But dad starts wasting precious morning time doing anything but those two chores under his responsibility. As the rest of the family members get up and want breakfast, the equipment they need is still inside the dishwasher. Therefore, everyone tries to get what they need directly from the machine. Dad tries to complete his unfinished tasks at that (very inopportune) time.
Everyone trips over the dishwasher’s open door and steps over a wet kitchen floor. It turns out the stuff coming out of the washer is still wet because the dishwasher is a piece of junk, and no one has bothered to replace it or call for repair service. So, the floor is now a mess that will require mopping with cleaner instead of a piece of towel paper to dry some water.
Do not forget the dog that has not eaten. The poor thing is in the middle of it all and pretty hungry. Dad knows he should have fed the dog and starts mixing the stuff into her bowl. He takes up considerable counter space to complete the task while others deal with their breakfast in the reduced counter space left.
But everyone has responsibilities and places to go – delaying breakfast is not an option.
Each person usually rinses their things and puts them inside the dishwasher. It takes about one minute to do so.
On this day, however, since the dishwasher is still partially loaded with clean items, dirty stuff cannot yet go in the machine. So, the first person to finish breakfast puts dirty utensils in the sink without rinsing (because rinsing is an action associated with placing things inside the dishwasher, and this is not the case this time).
The action taken by the first person is the cue for all others to do the same, even when the dishwasher becomes available in the next three minutes. (You know, “so and so did not do it, why do I have to do it?” syndrome).
Dishes are piling up in the sink and on the counter, with food remains, making them crusty (yeah!).
The day goes by, with the pile of dirty stuff over the kitchen counter and in the sink. It will take more time and effort to rinse those dishes and to place them inside the dishwasher now.
Also, the process will require someone (as in mom) to have the extra time and willingness to do so. Unfortunately, that one-minute job has turned into a ten-minute ordeal (with resentment!).
And who will happily volunteer to take on the task at the end of the day when everyone is tired? Let’s not forget that the kitchen needs some cleaning up before dinner cooking starts. Hello, kitchen clutter!
Often, we do not take action or make decisions because we forget- not necessarily because we purposely run away from it. But that is yet another consequence of delaying or postponing.
Take that alarm on your iPhone that reminds you of your noon pills, for example. Can you count the times it has gone off, and you have ignored it, thinking you will take care of it in five minutes? Then, hours later, you realize you did not take your pills.
A Nourishing Home
When you live in a household, you are part of a system. Everyone’s actions and inactions directly impact the unit function. If you are relied upon to complete specific tasks, please understand that such chores are tethered to a time frame and not subject to when you “feel like it.” “Feeling like it” might never come, and it is not a reliable time frame.
When all household members understand and accept the home systems and perform their duties on time, no chore becomes too big to accomplish. As a result, such a home efficiently keeps the chaos at bay, improves family relationships, and enhances the positive energy flow. It is a nourishing, supportive, and efficient place.
Does this ring a bell? Observe these patterns in your life for about a week – on the big things and the seemingly insignificant ones. You will probably see the cause/effect of delayed decisions and observe their ripple effect in your life. You will make amazing discoveries!