Tag Archives: sorting

You Can Do It: Conquer Paper Clutter

Today’s guest blogger is Daniel, an IT consultant extraordinaire and all-around geek, who blogs about business, life, and coffee (not necessarily in that order) over at his blog, BrameStorm. I have to admit: I think he’s pretty amazing. Granted, I’m a little biased, since he’s my husband. Daniel’s been a trooper during the process of getting our home organized and I’m very blessed (thank you, God!) that he a) doesn’t think I’m crazy, and b) actually wants to contribute to and maintain the organizational efforts that I’ve put in place. He’s paid particular interest in efforts to organize files and technology … In fact, when I mentioned I was asking blogging friends to contribute to a guest post series, he suggested that he could write a post describing how he’s ended his “paper pandemic.” Considering that so many entrants in my book giveaway last month said that their chief organizational challenge was paper, I accepted his offer gladly, and am excited to share his results with you!

{Image: Kate Ter Haar}

As a generally technical sort of fellow, I have a deep-seated hatred of paper.  It stacks, piles, gets ripped apart by the dog, and may yet still contain valuable information to be perused.  No matter how far technology advances, I just can’t totally get rid of the stuff.  Therefore, I decided that it was high time that I designed a filing system that worked.

In general terms, I have three filing locations:

  • A single “Inbox”
  • A filing cabinet
  • The trash can / shredder

When I come home, my first instinct is not to sort through my paper.  I want to dump it somewhere until I can deal with it.  That place is the inbox.  It doesn’t have to be fancy.  I use a simple wire basket.  The idea is that when I intentionally sit down to file mail once every couple of days, I can process the pieces one at a time and decide precisely where it goes.  A lot of this has to do with whether or not it’s actionable or not.  If I can do something with it, it becomes a project in the filing cabinet or gets done on the spot.  If I can’t do something with it, it gets filed as reference or sent to the mighty trash gods.

I’m not going to reiterate a lot of this process because David Allen does a remarkable job of explaining this thought process in his book, Getting Things Done:  The Art of Stress Free Productivity.  Instead, I’m going to focus on reference filing, as that tends to be the sticking point for most individuals.

Warning:  Coming from the digital world, I’m used to acronyms.  I’m comfortable with them.  I love them and they love me.  It was inevitable that I made them part of my filing system.  While this may not totally work for you, it might give you a starting point.

Moving on…

I needed a way to establish some control over the types of information that came into my world.  Sure, alphabetizing files are a given, but what about the titles themselves?  I needed something reproducible that gave me a degree of granularity while maintaining scalability.  That’s a tall order…  I came up with something like this.

PER.INS.ATO

In human language, that’s Personal Auto Insurance.  After about fifty attempts, a useable pattern started to emerge.  Here are just a few of the tags that I used.

PER.TAX.2010 / Personal Tax Return from 2010

BIZ.LGL.LIC / Business Legal Licenses

BIZ.INS.ERR / Business Errors and Omissions Insurance

I could then file them alphabetically by section and subsection.  It was easy, extensible, and short.  There was still a challenge, though.   I needed details on what was in the file.  I already had a sharpie in hand at the time, so I did what any lazy programmer would do.  I started scrawling out lines that detailed the documents inside of the files in order of appearance.

Problem Solved!

Below, you can see a few examples of my filing system.  I hope this helps you in your own quest to kill the Evil Paper Monster of Doom ™

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Filed under Balance, Drawers, Office, Organizing, Paper, Sorting, Storage

Coming Soon: Dresser Drawer Divider Hack

So, I went on a laundry rampage over the past few days. I have one load of delicates/handwashables/possible dry-cleanables left but I got it done. This battle has been won (although we all know the war is never over. Eek. I can understand the aristocratic appeal of having a laundress on staff. Any volunteers? I pay in free dinner and crafts.)

While I was at it, I found an item or two I thought I was missing (funny how things disappear into the depths of a dresser drawer) but have yet to find the one pair of pants I wanted to wear.  The hunt is on. Perhaps one of the  few boxes yet to be unpacked in the garage contain the elusive pants in question? Hmmm.

In the meantime, I managed to fit more items into my dresser by utilizing a couple of tricks I uncovered via Pinterest and Google. And the peasants rejoiced! (Fist pump. Yeah.)

First, because Daniel and I share a single dresser and space is at a premium,  I removed all the items from our dresser drawers that we didn’t use on a routine basis. This included out-of-season items like shorts, as well as little-worn belts or articles of clothing. This freed up a significant amount of space. I simply purchased an under-the-bed plastic tub from Target to store those items in for easy access without taking up space.

Then, I filed our folded t-shirts vertically, like cards in a card catalog or recipes in a recipe box (inspired by this drawer organization example via sydoniah as found at Apartment Therapy) instead of stacking them. Brilliant. We can now see them all at a glance and access them more quickly and neatly.

Finally, I stored like items with like in the range most needed. Undergarments and socks went in the upper drawers, as always, while our t-shirts went in the second tier and our workout clothing (shirts, pants, etc.) went in the bottom drawers. Everything else was hung up in our closet. A separate trip to Target procured the additional black plastic hangers we needed to complete the task.

I searched in many stores for drawer dividers to keep our his-and-hers t-shirt “files” neat, as well as other items. Nearly every option I found was $15 or more. Like this one, at Bed, Bath, and Beyond:

Not satisfied (and wanting something even more adjustable/customizable), I recalled having stumbled across a solution for a kitchen drawer divider when browsing the Internet that I thought I could modify for our bedroom dresser drawers, so on a hunch I went to Lowe’s and purchased a $9 large sheet of corrugated white sign plastic, such as is used to make Yard Sale signs. I had to hunt through my browser history to find the link, but when I did I pinned it for future reference. Sometime this week I’ll take a ruler and an X-Acto knife and cut the sheet down to size. I have to figure out how I’ll attach the segments to each other (I’m thinking of hacking the original idea so it is more like this cardboard drawer divider, with notches that interconnect), but I am fully confident that when I’m done I’ll have nice, neat drawers with drawer dividers.

As a final touch, I am either going to use some  wrapping paper, as pinned here, or fabric, as pinned here, to create my own geometric-design drawer liner, as the current liner is pretty dated (I believe from the 70s, to be precise.)

I’m pretty excited to see how it will all turn out. Stay tuned!

p.s. As part of my “organize how it makes sense to you” campaign to simplify my life instead of add unnecessary extra work, I recalled a laid-back approach to the sock drawer that I saw in a book once. Sadly, I can’t remember the book title or author’s name. However, it really liberated me to not feel guilty about hating to pair socks. Daniel does it for me usually because he is wonderful and he loves me and he knows how I despise taking time to pair socks, but with this new solution, he doesn’t have to sacrifice for me. Our sock drawer … is just that. A drawer full of socks. Period. They are all in a single drawer and we take as we can. After all, so many of our socks are just multiples of the exact same style and color. (White.) This may end up being ditched if it adds stress instead of efficiency (in which case, I’ll  let you know), but for now I’m kinda loving it, to quote McDonald’s. And to quote William Wallace: FREEEEEDOOOOOOMMMM!

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Filed under Drawers, Laundry, Organizing, Sorting, Storage

5 Steps to Get Organized in 2012: Don’t Get Distracted by the Details

Day four already?! Where does time fly?

By now you know that you should Be Intentional With the Process, Make Specific Goals, and Sort the Major Areas You Use FIRST. Today, we’re going to look at not getting distracted by the details. Which is hard. Really hard. I might be a big-picture thinker, but as a vintage-lovin’, artsy-fartsy, all-around creative kinda gal, the details are what bring things to life! So when I am organizing my house, I tend to latch onto my pretty mason jars and wonder what I can do with them, or I painstakingly arrange those socks in the drawer until they … are … just … right. Ahem. Like they’re gonna stay that way! But hey, they need to be perfect, right?

Wrong. Oh my goodness. Wrong.

If I waited for my entire home to be perfect before I felt like I had done what I had set out to do, down to eradicating the last dust bunny from under our entertainment system, I’d be waiting for the a loooonnng time to ever enjoy the sense of accomplishment that sorting those major areas first brings, meeting my specific goals to clean the house, and carefully approaching each task with intention and purpose.

So, while this post might piggy-back a little on yesterday’s post, it bears repeating …

Step 4: Don’t Get Distracted by Details

Yesterday I mentioned how my mom always chided me for focusing on a small task when my whole room was a disaster area and some quick picking up of laundry would make it look so much better. My alphabetizing my cassette tapes may have been a facetious comment (although as a former library worker, alphabetizing had been known to happen), but the moral of the story is still the same.

If your home is cluttered and unorganized, don’t fall into the temptation to focus on only the details. I’ve been so guilty of this. I can arrange my coffee table magazines to the absolute perfect angles (obsessive compulsive much?) while at the same time ignoring the pile of boxes people have given me for shipping from my Creative Salvage Etsy shop that need to be stored in the attic.

My theory why it is so easy for me to get lost in the details is because details are manageable. They are small. They can be accomplished in a short amount of time, so they can feel more rewarding. They also give one the sense of being in control, whereas if a home is overrun by “stuff” it is visually distracting and overwhelming to some.

Here are some helpful tips I’ve learned in my organizational journey:

  • Be systematic. If you tend to get stuck focusing on one detail here and there, combat that by sticking to a plan such as cleaning and organizing from the front door to the hall and then the hall to the kitchen and the kitchen to the back door.
  • Keep moving. Sort as you move from the front door to the back door, but also keep the momentum going by not sorting in a detailed way.
  • Use the box method. Bring five boxes: Keep, Sell, Give Away, Throw Away, Decide Later. If the item is a no-brainer that you love and use, put it in the Keep box. If you don’t use it or want it and it is in good shape and valuable, put it in the Sell box. If it is in good shape but not particularly valuable, put it in the Give Away box. If it isn’t in good shape, you don’t want it, and probably nobody else would either, put it in the Throw Away box. If it is in good shape, but you’re not sure if you can part with it, don’t prolong the decision making and hinder your progress, put it in the Decide Later box. Go through your area quickly and thoroughly, but don’t spend too much time thinking about the items or you begin to focus on those little details again and your work will be hindered.

And then … reward yourself. Enjoy some details. I didn’t say ignore them. I said don’t get lost in them. When your living room or hall or bedroom has been organized on the macro level, go ahead and drill down to the micro level. Buy a fabulous sock drawer organizer if that’s your thing (although consider the perfectly imperfect solution of having a sock drawer where you can just toss your socks–as in, you might actually stick with the process–instead of rolling and displaying them like sock sushi.)

Whether you choose to reward yourself with a nice dinner out, a manicure, a movie, or even just enjoying focusing on the details for once like I just mentioned, the point is that you are providing positive reinforcement for sticking to the job at hand. You’ve just begun to reprogram the way your brain thinks about organizing. That’s an accomplishment! Soon you will begin to associate the big projects with a similar sense of pride, control, and accomplishment that the smaller details bring. Congratulations!

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Filed under Organizing, Sorting, Uncategorized

5 Steps to Get Organized in 2012: Sort the Major Areas You Use FIRST

I’m about to “keep it real” as I write this pre-post note. I have to admit I struggled writing this post because I felt hypocritical the entire time. In fact, I have been tweaking and re-writing it several times throughout the day, trying to get my thoughts right. Here’s the thing: though I’ve been working hard to get organized, I’m far from perfect. I don’t have all the answers. I don’t have a magic formula. I didn’t always follow the advice I’m about to give you. So part of me feels like a fool even daring to post it and say, “hey! Here’s something to help!” But I’m ignoring that little voice and I’m hoping that by posting this anyway it will be exactly what someone needs to hear, because regardless of how I feel right now, all of this is coming straight from personal experience and the heart. So here goes … 

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Has this ever happened to you or someone you know–you feel overwhelmed by the scope of your organizational needs and don’t know where to start? Here’s a hint: don’t start with your jewelry box or your baseball card collection. Those things being tidy, while nice, won’t help your daily existence too much. Today’s organizational step continues the themes from days 1 and 2 of this series, in that I’ve learned that being intentional with the process includes making specific goals for the areas I use the most. You want to get the most bang for your buck, so to speak.

Step 3: Sort the Major Areas You Use FIRST

It’s a good thing to have an organized bathroom drawer. (I know I liked mine when I had it at our old house and I first organized it; I liked it even better when it had a snazzy organizer in it.) However, if the major areas in your home are a disaster area, you’ll still feel like you’re not under control. Because you aren’t. The thing is … you can be. I promise.

You just have to be willing to go the slow route and tackle them systematically so you can feel more relaxed in your environment.

Carefully consider how you use your home on a daily basis. Where do you eat, work, relax, and congregate as a family? What cupboards do you access each day? Is there a piece of furniture on which you tend to set things down? What’s your favorite chair? Where do you fold your laundry? But mostly, which rooms do you use the most? There are no right or wrong answers to these questions. They just help you create an inventory to focus your organizational efforts in the most effective way.

Don’t be afraid to create an organizational structure that is non-traditional. Forget the name of the room. Focus on how you use it, not what it was called by your real estate agent or general contractor. The goal here is to simply determine how you actually use your home’s areas. Once you know this, you’ll have a much easier time sorting, cleaning, and organizing them. Simply remove the items that don’t belong with the function of an area and move them to one where they make sense, instead.

It’s a snowball effect in reverse. Instead of starting small and getting bigger, you start big and go smaller. (My mother used to tell me this all the time when I was younger and I didn’t listen to her. I thought it was waaayyyyy better to, say, alphabetize my cassette tape collection by artist than to pick all the clothes up off the floor and do the laundry first.)

Here’s why this is a good method: it makes you feel good. It inspires you. It provides a nice, tidy atmosphere for you to then take out those drawers and sort them, one by one, without being overwhelmed. It is much easier to focus on the harder small sorting when the easier big sorting is already done.

If you are ahead of the curve and you’ve already got the big spaces fairly under control (nobody has a perfectly kept home , except maybe June Cleaver) then progress right to tackling the cupboard or sideboard or linen closet you use on a daily basis.

Bottom line? I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again. Sort the areas you use the most FIRST. Progress gradually to the areas you use only once in awhile (like that jewelry box, or the closet in the bedroom you never use, or the toolbox in your garage.) Voila! You’re on  your way to being an organizing dynamo!

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Filed under Organizing, Uncategorized

How to Sort Your Stuff

So, you know you want to get organized. You’ve opened the door to the room. (You know which room I’m talking about … yeah, THAT room.) You’ve stepped inside. You’ve sat down by a pile of things you keep meaning to go through, and you’ve either frozen in place or stomped out in frustration.

You don’t know how to decide what to do with it all.

Well, here’s a little help. It’s the mock-up of a decision tree/flow chart Daniel and I are in the process of developing, based on our own experiences. Consider it your map to the mental process you need to go through in order to successfully sort through your clutter.

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The Household Budget

{Image: Billy Frank Alexander}

Sometimes, it’s not all about dollars and cents; sometimes, it’s about feet and inches.

Living an organized lifestyle is a lot like living on a budget, except with space as the currency. Instead of allotting a certain amount of money to a budgetary expense, you allocate a certain area on a shelf or in a closet or under a bed. (Apparently, organization requires a lot of prepositions.)

Take inventory of your household space budget. Be meticulous. Just like your finances, organizational success depends on being honest with yourself. You have to live within your means. In this case, quite literally.

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Filed under Ponderings, Storage

Sorting Out Below the Kitchen Cabinet

I’m finally attacking the mess that is my kitchen cabinets and the crazy amount of cleaning products I have amassed. (Note to self: don’t buy anymore until you’ve either thrown out the current stash or used it all up.)

See those cabinet doors above? Behind them is … dun dun dah

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Filed under Kitchen