by Susan Caplan McCarthy
Many people want to start the decluttering process somewhat ironically. While decluttering eliminates unnecessary items from the house, some individuals take their first step at the mall or home improvement store to purchase organizing tools – bins, shelves, cubby units, a plastic tower of drawers.
Why? Because advertisements show us happy people storing items in bins that they set on shelving units and then walk away, brushing imaginary dust from their hands. Organizing done!
When someone asks me what they need to start the decluttering process, I shock them with this list – trash bags and cardboard boxes. “But, but ….” Nope. That’s it.
Don’t Start Decluttering by Buying Organizing Stuff
For one, I’m betting that you’ve bought bins, drawers, and other organizing items in the past. And at this very moment, many of them may be full of things you no longer use. As you declutter, you’ll empty some of these items and you’ll be able to repurpose them in another room with other items.
You may even find yourself donating storage supplies that you’ve emptied and no longer need.
When you declutter, you’ll have less stuff to worry about organizing. Why spend money organizing something that doesn’t belong in your home?
You may feel that you’d use something if it was better organized. And, that may be the case. However, I’d still suggest that you sort through all the components, weed out the duplicates and the items that you know you won’t use and then – use the items.
Don’t buy an organizing gadget just yet. Use something you already own. If we’re talking art and craft supplies, chances are that you already have some sort of unit to organize the components of your hobby.
If it isn’t doing its job, declutter and rearrange what you have. Then, use your supplies. If you truly need a different organizing item, then note your specific issues with using your supplies. Can’t see what color markers or paints or paper you have? You’ll need this specific information to buy the right organizing tool.
Out of Sight, Out of Mind
While some people prefer to store everything in a cabinet or drawer so to leave clear spaces, others realize that if something gets tucked away then they’ll forget about it entirely.
If you have piles of stuff around your house, you may give a nervous laugh and consider yourself a member of the second camp. However, piles and stacks may be home to items that need to be put away. You may know where these items belong … or you may need to figure out where you want to keep them.
That situation is completely different from keeping items visible so that you remember to use them or to complete a project. And, really, you don’t need to keep everything out in the open, likely just items associated with current projects.
(Would you really forget to brush your teeth if your toothbrush was in the medicine cabinet and not on the counter? Would you forget to wear a shirt if there wasn’t a stack sitting atop your dresser?)
Consider What You Want from Organizing Items
Organizing items can make a space look much neater – I’m a big fan of matching clothes hangers. If you like to tuck items out of view, a cabinet or opaque bin will suit your needs. If you’re afraid that out of sight will mean out of mind, clear bins and drawers will contain items while still allowing you to view the contents.
But, most important, any organizing items should make it easier for you to find and retrieve the item you want to use. This also means that the item should make it easy to put away your belongings in the correct place with little to no hassle.
Ease of use – not the storage item’s appearance – is the most important factor. If the latches on a bin are a teeny tiny hassle to unlatch and then clasp shut, you’ll be less likely to return items to that bin. You may bristle at that suggestion and think, “Well, that’s just being lazy.”
However, the day that you’re running around with seventeen things on your mind and you’re trying to tidy your home and put things away before your in-laws arrive for dinner will be the day that you set to the side the item that belongs in the latched bin third down from the top of the stack.
Use Storage Items to Solve Problems
Storage items should solve a specific problem. Maybe your 40-ish bottles of craft paints, sitting six-deep on a shelf, fall over every time you go to grab one color. You use the paints all the time and so it would then make sense to consider investing in a rack or case that would allow you to grab what you want without disturbing the other items.
The tricky part here is identifying a problem that doesn’t really exist. I owned dozens of scarves that I’d bought to accent dance costumes. When I stopped performing, I wanted to wear the scarves as part of my everyday outfits. I rolled the scarves into little packets and set them in a dresser drawer. I didn’t wear them. So, I bought an item that would hang in my closet – to keep the scarves in mind when I was getting dressed.
The thing is – I’m not the type of person who wears scarves every day. I marvel at all the fun ways they can be twisted and wrapped and how they can accent an outfit. However, I fidget when wearing a scarf and I can never keep them from twisting around my neck. I wasted time and money trying to organize items that I didn’t use or, when I was honest with myself, want.
But I figured if they were organized then I’d use them. Nope. My efforts would have only mattered if I’d been wearing them and wanted to figure out the best way to decide which once I could wear that day.
Organize for You, Not Your Stuff
When organizing, consider how you want to use an item. This will help you decide if the item needs organizing or decluttering. Then, focus on finding an organizing item that will help you find, use, and then return the items you are keeping neat.
Find organizing all the small components of your hobby a challenge? Consider my eBook on decluttering and organizing art and craft supplies – some of the trickiest items to keep tidy and accessible.
by Susan Caplan McCarthy
Wherever I worked, I was always the person who organized the shelves, cabinets, closets, and so on. While my coworkers would marvel over the neatened spaces, things didn’t stay organized for long. Although, to me, it was obvious to return items where they were found, I realized few people seemed to think this way. So, I tried labels. Then bigger labels to indicate where something belonged.
A frustration was that things seemed to be put away mindlessly. A handful of empty manila folders would be dumped on top of a stack of blank notebooks … instead of the existing stack of manila folders. Why couldn’t people just put similar items together?
I now realize that grouping items isn’t obvious to everyone. I even noticed while teaching art classes that some kids would color coordinate the marker or craft thread supply and then gape as one of their classmates would shove a blue marker into a cup filled with yellow markers.
However, grouping similar items together really does make organizing easier. You do need to point out to other members of your home or place of work how items are organized. Repeatedly.
Why Give Items a Home?
The rule to getting and staying organized is to give every item in your home a designated location. You know, “a place for everything and everything in its place,” a technique that you probably use to some degree even if you are (or know) someone who has stuff strewn everywhere but can tell you exactly where an item is.
Someone “helpfully” organizing such a situation will send the owner of the items into a conniption fit because they no longer know where their items are since you’ve moved them in a way that makes more sense to you but not to them.
My mother could direct me exactly to where an item was in the house (with detailed directions that took her so long to convey that sometimes I’d lose track of what she was sending me after). And she lived in a hoarding situation.
While I’m not condoning the “stuff strewn everywhere method of organizing,” knowing where to find something saves you time and stress.
But, the idea of finding a place for everything in your home probably sounds intimidating. So, instead, think of groups of items as opposed to individual items.
Compare the Items You Own
When you decluttered, you may have gathered similar items so you could see what you owned and then compare the items (do you need 47 pairs of black yoga pants?).
You grouped items – mugs with mugs, tee shirts with tee shirts, pens with pens, cookbooks with cookbooks.
Not only is this a helpful way to declutter your belongings, but it’s useful for organizing as well. When you store the items, store them together.
To Subgroup or Not to Subgroup Items
How specific your groupings get really depends on how you use the items and how you’ll want to find/retrieve the items. For example, if you have certain tee shirts that you wear only to the gym chances are that you want to keep these shirts together – and someplace away from the tee shirts you’d wear while shopping or getting together with friends.
If you’re a crafter, you probably sort your paint, yarn, beads, markers, or cardstock by color. Whether that means warm/cool colors or pinks/reds/blues/yellows/etc. depends on how you use the items and the quantities you keep in your stash.
When organizing kids’ toys, you might separate cars from trains if your kids usually play with the groups of items at different times. Or, cars/trains/planes/boats might get stored together in a single bin if that’s the way your kids play with the items.
Should you sort your tee shirts by color? If that’s how you go looking for something to wear, then, yes, that would be useful; on the other hand, if you aren’t fussy, then organizing by color will be a waste of time. Which leads to -
Think about Using Items as Opposed to Storing Them
Instead of focusing on storing items where you think they should go, think about how you use the items. Although logic might suggest keeping baking pans together because they belong to a subcategory of pots and pans, mine live in three different locations in my kitchen.
Cookie sheets live in the drawer beneath my oven because I use them all the time (more for roasting vegetables than baking cookies nowadays); cake and loaf pans are used less frequently and sit on the top shelf of a cabinet; while the various muffin tins are propped in a divided rack in the large corner cabinet that has a ridiculously narrow door.
When I recently was put on a prescription drug that I’ll have to take for the rest of my life, I struggled to find a location where I could leave it and remember to take the pill. It got to the point where I kept it on the table where I ate, but I still forgot to take it, even though I was looking at the pill bottle!
I finally decided to keep it with the coffee, which I touch every morning. As a tactile/kinesthetic person who drinks coffee every morning, the fact that I had to move the bottles to reach the coffee prompted me to take the pills.
How Grouping Items Helps
Grouping items means that you don’t have to muddle through finding your black dress pants because you’ll know that you’ve grouped them with pants (or, perhaps, dress items).
Although you are finding a home for every item in your house, you are really finding a home for groups of items so you can find them when you need them. Grouping items can save you time and stress both when trying to decide how to store items as well as finding them when you need them.
If you find these articles helpful, please share them with a friend!
by Susan Caplan McCarthy
If you’ve recently been in a preschool, kindergarten, or elementary school classroom, you probably noticed lots of well-labeled, uncovered bins. (And if you haven’t, Google images of classrooms and you’ll see what I mean.) However, it’s neither the labels nor the bins that are keeping things organized. Those are tools for giving items a place.
You’ve probably heard the saying, “a place for everything and everything in its place,” as the key to organizing your home (workplace, car, purse, really any space). The difficult part is figuring out where you want to store everything in your house. The answer is – where you’d go looking for an item when you need it. And please note that this isn’t intended to be as flippant as it sounds.
This is annoyingly simplistic, but this is what organizing is – storing items where you want to find them, finding and using them, and then returning them to their space. If you can’t find your checkbook or the tape measure, then they weren’t returned to their place.
And, if you aren’t sure where that place should be, then deciding that is the first thing you should do (well, second; the first thing you need to do is find the missing item).
The reason three-year-old children can clean up a classroom after playtime is that there are bins (spaces) designated for the different toys – one for cars, one for play food, another for puppets, one for blocks, and so on. Everything has its place.
(Do three-year-old children put everything away perfectly? No. But it doesn’t really matter that the play food eggplant got put away with the cars.)
Where to Store Items
I’ve read articles where the writer mocks this organizing technique by talking about cleaning out their junk drawer and rolling their eyes at the idea of having to find a place for a single cough drop, a couple of elastic bands, and a handful of pens.
This technique isn’t about storing a single pen but about knowing where to find a pen when you need it.
Think of each shelf, drawer, and bin in your home as a container for a specific group of items. Yes, you may have three shelves in that kitchen cabinet – look at them as three unique-yet-interrelated spaces. For example, if this is your cabinet for bowls and plates, place plates on the bottom shelf, bowls on the second shelf and serving pieces on the top shelf.
Where you keep items depends on the space you have available, how often you use something, and what works for you.
Store Items Based on the Space You Have
Growing up, I always heard my mother complain that if we had a bigger house then things would be more organized. I now realize that, no, that wouldn’t have happened. If my parents had more space, they would have filled that extra space – it just would have taken more time.
You can fill a drawer or shelf or cabinet to maximum capacity so there’s no wiggle room, but that isn’t organized. I’d consider such a space overwhelming and stress-inducing.
If you don’t have the space you wish you had, consider what you can declutter. Next, contemplate moving a group of items to a different area in your home where you may have more space. Finally, look to vertical storage – a pegboard that will allow you to hang items on a wall or a shoe rack that will move shoes from a large area of your floor to a smaller footprint (couldn’t resist the pun).
Store Items Based on How Often You Use Something
Keep items close to where you are going to use them. Something used daily get priority over something you use once month. And, if you use something once a year (or one month of the year), it can get stored someplace less convenient for retrieval.
Store Items Based on What Works for You
I have an odd-shaped cabinet in a corner of my kitchen that has a ridiculously narrow door considering the large size of the space – I stack muffin tins here because they fit in front of the door.
My cookie sheets and cooling racks are tucked into the drawer beneath the oven, and the couple of cake pans that I have are tucked on a high shelf above where the 8”x8” and 9”x13” baking pans sit. Organizing books will suggesting keeping like things together and so my baking supplies should probably be in the same cabinet, but that doesn’t work for the space I have or how I use the items.
In a different space, I’d likely store these items another way. And, if I stopped using my various sized muffin tins on a regular basis (mini, two standard, jumbo, and popover), these things might get arranged differently – or selectively decluttered.
If you give an item or group of items a home and it doesn’t work out (not putting the items away will be a clue), that’s an opportunity to decide where the better place may be. Yes, it might be annoying to realize that you need to switch some items around. It’s more annoying to lose track of items that you need now or end up spending money on something you already own (but can’t find).
Remember, You Still Need to Start by Decluttering
Trying to organize an area that you haven’t yet decluttered makes organizing frustrating.
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by Susan Caplan McCarthy
It can be easy to think of decluttering and organizing as tasks for our to-do list, but ultimately our desire to get organized is much bigger than a list of chores. Being an organized person isn’t about thinking, “Ah, Saturday morning, time to try to organize the garage. Again.” Instead, being organized is about the little day-to-day things that don’t seem like they’d matter. Until they aren’t done.
This month’s A Year of Decluttering articles are focused on organizing tips from the classroom. Although I was never a classroom teacher, for years I went into preschools, daycares, kindergartens, and elementary school classrooms to do presentations about nature.
While I’d love to see classrooms with less visual clutter (do kids really need so many signs directing them how to write an essay or what questions to ask while reading when they are supposed to be focused on math?), teachers do instill systems in their classrooms to keep things organized.
(Unfortunately, these habits and routines probably don’t carry into the home unless you copy some of the cues that the teachers use. Which you could.)
Organizing Tips from the Classroom You Can Use at Home
Yes, if you have kids, these techniques work. However, even if you are single and retired, these tips will still help you stay organized.
Have a place to hang up your coat and to store your purse, tote bag, backpack, etc. Big family? Consider cubbies like schools have.
When you enter the house, immediately hang up your coat. Then remove any papers or objects from your purse, briefcase, tote bag, shopping bags, etc. and bring them to where they belong in the house.
Have a box, bin, basket, or even a small table (or whatever works for you) to store items that you need to take with you the next day when you leave your house. When you realize that you need to take an item with you (library books, dry cleaning, gym bag), set it in this space. Right away. Teachers set up mailboxes for their students and the kids learn to look in this space when packing up at the end of the day.
Keep similar items together. This tip works whether we’re talking about office supplies, hobby supplies, linens, cookware, etc.
Bins are your friend. They help keep similar items together so you can find what you want when you want it.
Keep your energy high by alternating periods of focus with periods of activity. Teachers keep things moving – reading followed by writing followed by math. Also, teacher have the kids move around the room – maybe they sit on the floor to read, sit in groups at tables to work on their writing and then move to their individual desks to work on their math.
The schedule for the day is posted on the board so kids can look and see what to expect next. As an adult, do you feel that you have to power through a task, tethered to the location, until you’re done as opposed to giving yourself a break?
Practices like the Pomodoro Technique and 52/17 (discussed in future articles this month) encourage you to schedule regular breaks so you stay mentally and physically energized.
I’ll be expanding on some of the tips listed above in this month’s articles. The way I see it, if one adult can wrangle 20+ kids and all their stuff into some semblance of order, then I want to pay attention to the techniques that they use.
Are you a teacher? What techniques do you use in the classroom that could also be used by both kids and adults at home? What does your kids’ or grandkids’ teachers do to help keep the kids organized in the classroom that you’ve thought would be great to try at home? Include your tips in the comments below.
by Susan Caplan McCarthy
Clutter hots spots are small spaces where a variety of items can accumulate, usually because it’s convenient to leave items in this prominent location – your bedside table, the area by the front door, the kitchen counter, a chair in the bedroom, the bathroom vanity, the dining room table.
Clearing a hot spot is much easier than keeping it organized. So, before you declutter the space, you’ll want to figure out a few thing –
Why Does Stuff Get Left in this Spot?
Sort through the items in this space, where did they come from and why do you think they were left here?
Is the space convenient? After carrying the mail into the house, it’s dropped on the table by the door.
Does an item have no proper storage space? Your purse gets dropped on the chair by the front door because you’ve never though about where you could keep it.
Do you think the items will get used if kept here? Every winter I set a tube of hand cream on my nightstand so I can apply the cream when I go to bed. Do I? No. Although this seems like the perfect location to keep hand cream, my actions (or lack thereof) tell me it isn’t.
Keep in mind that you aren’t concerned with decluttering individual items so much as wondering why groups of items gravitate to this location. What behaviors (yours and your family’s) have created this hot spot?
This step is all about problem-solving and is much more difficult than tossing some items in a trash bag. However, figuring out why stuff gets left in this space will help you become organized for the long-term as opposed to until tomorrow.
Identify the Purpose for the Space
What do you want from this space? How do you want it to get used?
Imagine there was nothing in this space – what would be its ideal use? What needs to be here so people can see how to use this space? If you want people to leave their shoes by the door, a rack or shoe cubby unit can make this action clearer than the random pile of shoes scattered in the foyer.
If you want to avoid piling paper and clothing on the chair in your bedroom, ask yourself – why do you have that chair there? Honestly, did you think it would be a convenient space to temporarily leave paper and clothing? Or did you think you’d sit in your room and read in the evening?
Maybe, like that chair in your bedroom, or the table by the front door, you thought the space would serve a different purpose than it did. Do you want to hold onto that original purpose? And, if so, what do you need to tweak so the clutter doesn’t come back?
Recreate the Space
The variety of items that you found in this hot spot can make it challenging to decide what belongs there. You can determine your purpose for this space in a couple of ways:
Remove All of It – Remove everything from the space by setting it in a box (or a few) and setting the box on the opposite side of the room from where the stuff had accumulated. You can remove items from the box when you go to use them. Only then, you can keep the item in the space. After a week or so you’ll have a clearer idea of what gets used in that space.
By clearing the location (don’t even put a basket there to “catch” items), you’ll remove some of the cues that encouraged items to be left in this spot. Remove the pile of mail from the kitchen counter and this may prompt the question, “where should this go?” when someone walks in with today’s mail.
Subtract as You Go – Decide what you want to keep in the space, eliminate and move what you don’t, and pay attention to what gets used here so you can continue to add or subtract items until the space works the way you want it to.
If you realize something doesn’t belong in your hot spot, then place it in a more appropriate home. Only keep things in this space that meet the purpose you have for the location.
Make the Space Less Convenient
Can you remove (or move) the chair or table where stuff gets piled?
Can you put a houseplant beside the bathroom sink to discourage the accumulation of grooming supplies on the counter?
If you’re making the hot spot less convenient, you’ll also have to decide where you want these items to end up and make that space more convenient.
Remember, hot spots aren’t large. They are small spaces where a variety of items congregate because this is the space where you thought you’d use the item or where you “temporarily” left the item. In most cases, the items here belong someplace else in your home.
Remember, simply decluttering the space without identifying why items get left there or how you thought you would use the space, will leave you with a temporarily cleared space. Doing problem-solving in this small space helps you in the process of becoming organized in other, larger spaces in your home.
Know someone struggling to become organized? Please share this article with them.
by Susan Caplan McCarthy
May - Get Ready for Summer
As a teacher who did a lot of outreach, I got in the habit of creating ‘grab and go’ bins that contained everything I needed to teach a class to avoid scrambling to gather supplies each time I was ready to go out and teach a topic.
In some cases, this meant I needed duplicate supplies, but I found it much less stressful to know I was ready to go. Keeping things that you use at the same time on the same shelf or in a single bin helps keep you organized. I’ll give you a couple of examples of ways you can simplify your summer by creating your own grab and go bins.
Beach Tote to Go
If you go to the beach frequently throughout the summer, it makes sense to have a tote (a bag or bine) filled with essentials so that you’re ready to go. Although I’m a fan of limiting duplicate items around the house, if you go to the beach at least once a week during the summer, it may be a hassle to gather numerous items. If you are a single adult (or you and your spouse pack yourselves) you’ll have less stuff to pack than if you have kids. Consider what would make your life easier.
Grab and Go Summer Entertaining
If you host frequent cookouts during the summer, you can also make your home entertain-ready. Have bins or baskets filled with the supplies you use all the time.
Create Your Own Grab and Go Bins
A grab and go bin (tote, box) is useful for anything you do on a regular basis, including crafts and hobbies that have a portable quality. Regular could mean weekly for one person and quarterly for someone else. Go with what makes sense for you.
A grab-and-go bin can simplify any activity you do on a regular basis. Once you set up the bin, you’ll save time in the future. Also, keeping an assortment of items in a bin will look neater and less cluttered. However, avoid creating (or holding onto) bins for items you don’t use.
by Susan Caplan McCarthy
May - Get Ready for Summer
Decluttering and organizing outdoor spaces such as patios, decks, and porches can be challenging if you don’t use these spaces year-round. These spaces for warm weather entertaining can easily become storage spaces during the off-season.
The challenge shows up with the warm weather when you have to decide what to do with the items you’ve been storing.
Maybe you’ve been decluttering your family room or bedroom and encountered some items that you couldn’t decide what to do with. Since you have the space on your porch, you decide to use the area for a temporary hold.
This isn’t a problem if you set a deadline for making a decision and then decide. However, it is all too easy to work around the items until someday in the future you realize that you haven’t been able to sit on your porch for a couple of years.
Declutter Your Outdoor Entertaining Spaces
Storing summer seasonal items on the porch you will use in the summer isn’t a problem because the items aren’t being stored when you want to use the space for relaxing and entertaining. However, storing winter items on the porch you’ll use during the summer does create limits on the space.
Keep in mind how you envision enjoying the space. You don’t have to avoid using it for storage but be more mindful of whether you want storage as your primary function for the space. Get some fresh air while tidying these outdoor spaces.
by Susan Caplan McCarthy
May - Get Ready for Summer
Although a garage is intended to be the place to store your car, too often it becomes a catch-all for things that you don’t want in your house but haven’t decided to get rid of. A garage also becomes a home to tools and gardening supplies, as well as recreational and sports equipment and toys.
It’s all too easy to pile more stuff on top of other stuff until 1) you can’t remember what you have stored in those inaccessible boxes or 2) you know what’s in the garage, but you can’t find it (or don’t want to go looking for it) and so it becomes easier to buy new items to “replace” what you already own.
8 Things to Decide Before You Organize Your Garage
Set up zones for storing things in your garage – that corner for tools, another for yard and garden supplies, a space for toys and another for sports and recreation equipment. Once you have a clear idea what you want from this space, it will be easier to see where to store things.
Only after decluttering do you want to consider if the items can best be stored in bins on shelves, hanging from a pegboard, or kept in a cabinet. Focus on making the items easy to retrieve when you want to use them and you’ll make good organizing choices.
Have you ever thought that you'd like to ask a professional organizer about your specific decluttering and organizing questions? In June, I'll be introducing a virtual organizing program where we work together through video chatting to focus on your goals and vision for your home and life while you learn how to declutter in a way that fits your needs. And, after your session, you'll get 30-days of email support and coaching to help you work through your project. Watch your email for more details.
by Susan Caplan McCarthy
April - Paper Decluttering
Years ago, in college, a couple of the professors would leave at the library reference desk, weekly packets of photocopied articles from professional journals. Instead of trying to read the articles in the library, I followed the actions of my classmates and photocopied these articles. The task could take an hour to do and by the end of the semester I had probably spent more money of these stacks of photocopies than I would have on a textbook.
And, as someone who crochets, the Internet is a magical place filled with free patterns for the downloading. And printing. At one point, to organize all the crochet patterns I was certain I would one day craft, I went out and bought five two-inch three-ring binders along with boxes of page protectors, and spent several evenings setting patterns into the page protectors and sorting everything by type of project.
I was so organized. And, yet, I missed an important detail. I wasn’t going to make all these projects. In fact, I often went to the Internet to look for an item to make without even considering my oh-so-neat binders filled with hundreds of projects.
Did I learn my lesson? Nope. When I started taking professional development classes through the National Association of Productivity and Organizing Professionals, I’d print out the handouts and put them in a labeled file folder.
I was wondering where to store these files while running off the handouts from a course on eliminating paper clutter. Really. I went back and downloaded the handouts and saved them on my computer and recycled the papers.
The Desktop Printer and Your Clutter
I remember years ago when, if you wanted a copy of information in a book or magazine, you either had to take notes or you could photocopy the pages you wanted. Nowadays, desktop printers are inexpensive, and so it’s easy to print off a recipe, craft pattern, or how-to article that you want to refer to later.
Chances are, though, that you print off more information than you have time to do anything with. When I talk about paper clutter, I most often refer to paper coming into your house, but you probably generate a good number of documents right at your desk.
Storing magazines in those holders made for this task can make you feel organized. All those back issues for inspiration and information. And if you enjoy randomly flipping through the pages of these magazines (and do so on a regular basis), then they are earning their space in your home.
However, if you’re like me, you realize that it’s nearly impossible to find a specific recipe or craft pattern or set of directions or information in a stack of magazines.
You can take the time to tear out the pages you are most interested in (make certain to get that last column that can get printed to the back of the magazine!), clip the pages together, and set everything in files.
However, before you do this, consider your goal – how will you use the information you are organizing? If you are collecting images of kitchens because you’ll be renovating in the next year, you have a purpose and a deadline. If you are collecting craft patterns, consider when you’ll make these projects.
Watch out for, “that’s such a cute idea,” if you don’t have a person and event to craft an item for. Maybe you’ll want to do it in the future; but chances are that you’ll find another project by then.
How to Declutter and Organize Reference Materials
Maintain What’s Useful
Like other types of documents, you want to keep what you’ll refer to in the future and you want it organized so you can find it when you want it. Although it can be a difficult decision to release information that you thought you’d use or use again, you’ll free up space in your home and release the emotional weight of things requesting that you act on them.
by Susan Caplan McCarthy
April - Paper Decluttering
When people mention the things cluttering their home, it’s the piles of paper that are a major point of stress and overwhelm. Mail, bills, flyers, receipts, cards, magazines and newspapers, school papers (kids’ and adults’), craft projects, recipes, pages from your printer, materials from work, paper from events, memorabilia, documents needed for reference, and so much more; no wonder paper piles up so quickly.
Why Are You Overwhelmed by Paper Clutter?
Chances are that the reason for your paper clutter is different than that of your neighbor, coworker, or friend. Having a too-organized system creates its own sort of clutter and can be just as challenging as having no organizing system.
Take a moment to define your issues and challenges with the paper that comes into your house. Do you have no space or no scheduled time to deal with the papers that have entered your home during the week? Are you intimidated by the idea of setting up a filing system? Do you find it easier to make new folders than to find and clear out the existing folders?
Walk around your home and note (or, take a photo) of the places where paper (bills, invitations, catalogs, magazines, etc.) pile up.
Scenario One: You had a filing system that you maintained for years with minimal effort. You knew how you handled things like holiday cards, store receipts, and magazines. But you lost control of your papers when you experienced a life transition – health issues (yours or a family member’s), a new child, a death, divorce or separation, a new job, retirement, a move, or any other life event that became your focus.
Scenario Two: You’ve never really learned how to handle all the paper that comes into your home and life. Every so often you’ll read a book or a magazine article that gives you enough information to declutter and create order, but it never lasts for more than a few (weeks or) months.
Scenario Three: You’ve never taken the time to create a way to deal with all the paper in your home, life, or small business. You’ve got a system that works for some of the paper you deal with, but you’ve been ignoring a lot of it and it’s affecting your stress levels.
Scenario Four: You saved every scrap of paper because you thought someone would want it at some point in the future. You now realize that isn't the case, but you have no clue where to start.
Write down three specific issues you have with the paper in your home. Resolving them is your goal.
Benefits of Organizing Your Papers
Decluttering, organizing, and maintaining the papers in your home isn’t just about eliminating visual clutter; it’s about eliminating stress. How often do you put a piece of paper on the nearest available surface because you don’t really know what to do with it?
Creating a filing system isn’t about keeping everything or about being a neat-freak. A filing system should allow you to find the things you want to find when you want to find them. Trying to be too organized can be as challenging as not organizing at all.
What’s your ‘why’ for decluttering and organizing the paper in your home? This vision can keep you motivated when you start contemplating throwing boxes of old store receipts into the attic.
Dealing with Sentimental Items and Memorabilia
Sentimental paper items can include holiday cards, old invitations, postcards, letters, files from a former job, school papers (yours or your children’s) – really any paper that doesn’t have a current function but that you’ve held onto.
If you know these items have no sentimental value for you, you can toss them when you encounter them. Otherwise, set these papers aside for the end of the organizing process. When you see what you are keeping, you can better decide how to store these items.
What You’ll Need to Get Your Paper Clutter under Control
Don’t go out and purchase file cabinets or any other storage items before you declutter unnecessary papers. Chances are that you’ll be able to reuse the file folders you have.
A paper shredder is useful. If you have years of old bills, statements, and documents that you don’t need, then you’ll probably want to hire a shredding service.
Tackling Your Paper Clutter with A Year of Decluttering
How long will this process take? Is it possible to declutter all your papers during this month? A major challenge with paper is that there is more than you think – that stack of papers a mere inch thick could contain 150 sheets of paper! And a banker’s box (those 10” x 12” x 24” popup cardboard file boxes) can hold more than 3000 sheets of paper - that's 3000 decisions to make!
This isn’t meant to discourage you. The information on paper is meant to be practical, which will help speed your decision making. We’ll work through the paper decluttering process in this month’s articles.
Any specific areas of concern that you’d like covered in this month’s articles? Leave your questions and comments below.
Susan Caplan McCarthy
I'm a professional organizer-coach with 26 years' experience as a teacher. I believe that an organized home isn't your destination but a step on the path toward the life you want to create. I teach decluttering and organizing skills through articles; books; and speaking engagements; as well as virtual coaching sessions.