Uncomplicating kids’ papers

So everyone is probably a bit stir crazy at this point of #stayathome (is it day 14 or 414?) so I want to offer support and keep you busy. This week’s #uncomplicate will definitely take you longer than 5 minutes but I think that’s the point now. You’ve probably cleaned your junk drawer 8 times already and need something else to focus on.🤣

This week’s uncomplicate is courtesy of A LOT of messages I’ve received requesting help. The typical tidal wave of kids’ papers that parents have to process is usually overwhelming. 

Since kids are home and not bringing home papers, NOW is the perfect time to set up a system to manage these more efficiently in the future. Because you will have kids going back to school. Eventually. And the papers will start coming back.

Uncomplicate your kids papers

I’m talking about the daily papers that typically come home every day, covering your kitchen table, mudroom, desk, and living room. Some need to be read and trashed. Some are homework, worksheets, or school work for you to see progress. And some require your attention and response.
  1. Get an inbox for each child. This could be something that sits on a counter or is attached to the wall. 
  2. Put the inbox close to where these papers come in to your home. It might be on your kitchen desk or wall near the back door. Every home will have its own landing spot. 
  3. Put your child’s papers in their own bin. Label it with his or her name. Later, each child can put his own papers in there. As they get older, there will be fewer papers to process but it’s great for them to know where their stuff is.
  4. Now that the papers have a home, you’ve got to set aside time to go through them.
  5. Anything that requires your attention or signature needs daily action. Add any important event dates or appointments to your calendar immediately. 
  6. Once a week, at least, go through any remaining homework, school work, and art. Put a To Do on your calendar as a reminder. Be judicious in what you keep. You can’t save everything!
  7. Assignments that they’ve written about themselves or something that interests them is good to keep. Art that shows their personality is also worth keeping. Also, save some samples of their handwriting from each year. It’s fun to see it mature as they do.

This week: I want you to create a landing spot for your kids’ papers.

  • Get a pretty basket or bin to be the landing spot for your kids’  incoming papers. Think rectangle, open top, no taller than 3″ high. I like these to be flat and open on top so you can add to it easily
  • Here are links to some solution ideas you can order. 
  • FOR DIGITAL information, create a folder in your inbox called *Child’s Name* School Notifications. You can have a separate folder for each child and school.
  • Move relevant emails to the folder once you read them so you can find them later. Delete when you no longer need,
  • Add future events and appointments to your calendar immediately. Add them to your paper and digital calendars if you use both.
  • Make a weekly date with yourself to go through your kids’ inbox(es) and process it fully. Call it a “School Papers date” on your calendar with a weekly repeat.
  • Don’t be afraid to throw papers away.

Uncomplicate your desk

Welcome to my least liked day of the year:  Daylight Savings Day. Losing an hour of sleep just makes me crazy. I know it’s minor but a fun fact about me is that I loathe losing time…..and sleep!

Here’s a heads up for this week:  Tuesday is National Organize Your Home Office Day so I’m going to help you get ready for the festivities early.

I always get questions about organizing home offices because it’s a relatively new concept. It’s not like we grew up watching our parents work out of their home offices. 

Correctly setting up and organizing a home office is hard because home is supposed to be relaxing, easy going, and calm. We don’t want to think about strategies, deadlines, rules, and expense reports in the same place we binge on Netflix, raise families, and share meals with loved ones.

The reality is more of us work from home  today, at least some of the time, and ALL of us need some kind of office to pay bills, go through the mail, and file important papers. 

Where do you get started on uncomplicating your office? At the top: the top of your desk

Understand that any horizontal space can become a clutter magnet. Your desk quite easily becomes the home of “I don’t know what to do with it so I’ll deal with it later but I don’t want to forget about it.” Sound familiar? 

Today is the day to make those decisions and finally #uncomplicateyourdesk

  1. Pick the easy stuff first and throw away any obvious trash on your desk: dirty tissues, papers you no longer need, receipts that you don’t need, etc.
  2. Remove everything that doesn’t belong in the room / area. These would be your coffee cups, extra sweater, kids’ lacrosse gear, Amazon shipment that isn’t office supplies, etc. 
  3. Next, group the remaining contents by category which will be unique for everyone. Some examples are:
    * work related
    * bills to pay
    * papers to file
    * pictures to put away
    * sentimental cards to save

    Notice that the last 3-4 categories are “things that need to be put away and thus not stored on the desk top”
    Ultimately, you are going to have to designate a home for these items. It might be a pretty box or basket for sentimental cards and photos; a file folder for home or car related papers & bills.
    ***I’m putting together a workbook on uncomplicating & organizing your papers at home. Stay tuned!***
     
  4. The only things that should be on your desk at this point are things that you need there because you are actively working on it and things that you really want there because it makes you happy, like flowers or pictures. 
  5. If you’re not actively working on something, off to its home it goes!


 This week: I want you to organize your desk top. Follow the steps above to get the top cleared off. Going forward, follow these guidelines to keep it that way!

  • Adopt a clear desk policy for your desk at home. This means that you put everything away on your desk before you shut down for the end of the day. 
  • Get a pretty basket or bin to (temporarily) store your papers to be filed. Think rectangle, open top, no taller than 3″ high.
  • Take advantage of any vertical space and keep the papers that you are actively working on within easy reach with a desktop file sorter like this one, or this one in gold or rose gold, or this fancy acrylic one.
  • Set aside 5 minutes each day this week to work on some aspect of your desk: filing papers, putting away things that don’t belong there
  • To help you out, I’ve attached a copy of my Organized Office Essentials Checklist to help with your office organization.

Depending on the state of your desk, there will be a lot to do but once you get a system in place, it will be a cinch and you’ll breathe much easier. 😁

Photo by Canva

Mail Management Made Easier

mail management tips

One of the biggest challenges I hear from clients and on social media is how to manage mail. Even though most of what’s in our mailbox is junk, it comes everyday and deposits more and more on our already lengthy to-do list.

While we all thought paper was going away 20 years ago, it is here to stay and has a much stronger effect on our well being that we realize. If we don’t deal with it in a timely manner, we can face late charges, fines, fees, in addition to a mountain of papers cluttering our home.

To manage your mail most effectively you need to set up a system for storing and processing it quickly and easily Here are my tips to make it easier on you so you can go do something fun!

  1. First and foremost: do not bring junk mail in your home! Go through it if you can before you bring it in the door and throw away any junk. Drop it in the recycle bin so you don’t have to process it again.
  2. Get a pretty basket or bin that you can use to put the mail when it comes in your home. It should be large enough to hold magazines and large envelopes so get something that’s at least 10” x 14” but no taller than 4”. The larger it is the more stuff will get dumped in there.
  3. Open mail as soon as you can. It’s good to separate the bills and important financial statements from the personal and toss any unnecessary paperwork like extra envelopes or fillers. 
  4. Designate a location and time for paying bills. The location should be close to where you will actually pay the bill so that might be your desk where your computer and/or checkbook and stamps are. Once you pay the bill, file the statement in the appropriate folder (see #6).
  5. Process personal mail as soon as you can. Put social occasions and appointments on your calendar. I like to keep the invitation and personal letters for a while on a bulletin board but it’s not necessary. 
  6. Set up a filing system for the bills and mail that you want and need to keep.* Life is much easier when you can just drop the statements or letter in a labeled, open top hanging file. The more actions you have to complete to put papers away (such as pulling out boxes, opening lids, lifting papers out, etc) the less likely it is to be completed. 

Overall, it’s best to minimize the amount of unwanted mail you receive so that there is less to process. To take yourself off of credit card and insurance offer lists, go to optoutprescreen.com and register your address to opt out of receiving credit or insurance offers. For catalogs, call the company’s Customer Service department directly and ask to be taken off their list.

While people aren’t sending as many personal letters these days (hey, let’s bring that back!) we certainly do have more papers coming in to our mailbox than our parents did. Take a few minutes to set up a system and you’ll spend less time dealing with it later when you’d rather be doing something fun or productive!

Happy organizing!

*If you’re not on the list already, go to Neatsmart.com to get your copy of my Paperwork to Keep resource which tells you how long to keep important papers like bank statements or financial documents.

 

How to Organize Receipts

Do you feel like everywhere you turn, you’ve got paper receipts staring at you? You see them in your pocket, purse, wallet, car seat, bedside table, kitchen counter, etc. It’s like they are breeding and following you. It can be so overwhelming trying to figure out which ones to keep, which ones to toss, or should I be shredding them?

 

To free you from the feeling of being overwhelmed and anxious about paper receipts, I’ve put together a guide for what to do with the different types. You can relax knowing you’re keeping the good ones and discarding the ones you no longer need.

 

This guide is for personal spending only. If you are deducting expenses for business purposes you will need to keep and track those more specifically.

Receipt Type What to do
Grocery store, gas station, fast food, service receipts Track and toss.
Restaurant It is a good idea to verify restaurant receipts with your credit card statement to make sure tips are added correctly. The receipts can be tossed as soon as they are posted online or in your statement.

 

Clothing If you didn’t try the clothing on and there’s a chance it doesn’t fit or you might return it, keep the receipt in the bag. Try on the item and make a decision about keeping or returning pronto. If you are keeping toss the receipt. Items to be returned should be put in the bag with the receipt and taken to your car. Do not delay with this dangerous practice. It’s too easy to let time pass and not be able to return the item.

 

Gifts Request a gift receipt from the store and include it with the gift. You can toss your receipt.

 

Appliances (small) Test out the appliance such as a coffee maker, humidifier, hair dryer, to see if you’re satisfied with how it works. Keep the box and receipt for 30 days. If it’s a keeper, toss box and receipt. If you’re returning it, you have everything together to process the return.

 

Appliances (large) For appliances like dishwashers and washing machines, you’ll want to track when & where you purchased it and how much you paid. The ink will fade from the paper that most registers use so it’s a good idea to make a paper copy of the receipt and keep it with the warranty information. Should something happen, the manufacturer will ask you when and where you purchased it. If there is a replacement cost, you’ll know how much you paid.

 

Furniture & decor High dollar items that are an investment in your home should be tracked in case there is a warranty associated.

 

Medical care Keep receipts while confirming that insurance has covered the appropriate portion. If you’re treating a chronic or serious accident or illness, it is good to keep those receipts and paperwork together. Annual checkup receipts can be tossed once verified and paid.

 

Jewelry, Antiques, Cars Keep these receipts forever in your file drawer or container. You will need them for proving value in case of loss or sale.

 

Home Repairs & Renovations While not required, it is a good practice to keep these receipts because they usually include descriptions of the work performed. If you have repeat problems or want the same company back in your home, you have a detailed list of the services performed and when. You may also need to have this information for warranty issues.

 

Click the link here to get a copy of What to do with receipts to print out for your home use.

Happy organizing!

Organizing Papers Post Tax Season

Aren’t you glad April 15th is OVER? There is no less dreaded time than tax season for most of us yet surely there are ways we can make it easier and less painful? Can’t we cut down on the stress of tracking receipts and other financial paperwork?

You betcha! It just takes a little prep now to have a happier tax season next year.

First, once you’ve filed your current year’s taxes, get a large envelope (9″ x 12″) and put all tax relevant documents in it. This means any receipt that was evidence of a deduction, your copy of your 1099s or W-2s, investment statement receipts (1099-DIV), ad valorem copies, etc. Any itemization (receipt, document, etc.) mentioned in your tax return needs to go in this envelope along with your signed copy.

Next, on the outside of this envelope, label it in marker, “Taxes ____” and whatever the year. This envelope should go to storage that is out of the way and not taking up valuable real estate because you shouldn’t need to access it anytime soon.

I recommend having a file box or drawer that is just for taxes so that you keep them all together.

You need to keep copies of your taxes for 7 years. The IRS can audit your returns up to 7 years ago so hang on to these. They would like to see receipts in case of an audit so make sure you keep copies of them, hence the envelope. For complicated taxes with lots of documentation, get a few envelopes. Another option is to get small accordion files to store them in. It’s better to keep this paperwork in a closed container so it doesn’t get lost or mixed up with other papers.

Now you can clean out any receipts from last year that you thought might be used for taxes. If you didn’t need them for taxes, you probably don’t need them now.

The exceptions to this could be but aren’t limited to:

  • receipts for ongoing or complex medical treatment
  • receipts for expensive furniture or home repairs
  • receipts for purchase of car, boat, motorcycle or other vehicle
  • receipts for purchase of appliances such as dishwasher, HVAC, or washing machine. Write the purchase date and location on the inside of warranty information for these large purchases because the paper receipts will fade.

Lastly, create a home for future incoming tax related receipts. I use a file folder at the front of my cabinet labeled “Tax Receipts” so that it’s easy to drop papers in there as necessary. Make it easy for yourself and get something that doesn’t require a lot of effort to access such as an open box or container or file as opposed to a lidded box on a high shelf.

The goal is to have a home for this documentation so that you can retrieve it if necessary. Knowing what you have and where it goes is 50% of being organized. The other 50% is actually putting things where they belong.

Happy organizing!

p.s. Here’s the fine print: I am not a CPA nor an attorney or tax adviser in any capacity. I am an organizer who likes saving time and energy by not having to look for things. Please consult a CPA or other financial adviser for specific questions you have about what to keep or toss.

Do you want the best office ever?

best office

I’ve set up and organized a few offices lately so I feel like I’ve been thinking a lot about the various supplies necessary to get best filing system set up in your home office. The goal that I’ve been helping people achieve is having an office where it is easy to find papers, supplies like staplers and scissors, and having a pleasant and calm space to work. Continue reading

Cord Control

Cords, cables, and wifi oh my!
Cords, cables, and wifi oh my!

Do you have a drawer or cabinet full of cords that frightens you? Do the cords seem to be multiplying in the dark? Take control over your cords and get them organized so they don’t take over your house!

We all have more electronics in our home than we ever imagined: cell phones, printers, GPS, computers, tablets, digital cameras, etc. Multiply that by the  number of people you have living in your home and you’ve got a mess of cords to control. Here are some tips to manage them more efficiently and effectively and also how to dispose of them responsibly.

Cords need to be identified and easily accessible.
Cords need to be identified and easily accessible.

Here are some things to gather first to take on this project:

  1. Sharpie pen
  2. Rubber bands/ twist ties
  3. Zippy bags
  4. Washi tape, if you’re fancy like that. You can also use regular Masking tape. If you’re an organizer in training, you can use your label maker.

First go through the mass of cords and untangle them.  Now look at each one and determine what it belongs to. You may have to walk around the house and try to match up the cord to the electronic device. Typically cords aren’t cheap so you want to make sure you don’t toss something you really need. On the other hand, if it has been in a cabinet and you haven’t needed it you probably won’t need it. 🙂 If you can’t identify what it goes to or you know what it is and you no longer have it, put it in a bag for donation. I’ll talk more about that later.

So now you have a pile of cords that you do in fact need but you need a way to corral and label them. Take each cord and neatly fold it and use a rubber band or twist tie to bind it. Now you need to label what it belongs to or what it does. Cut a piece of tape 3-4 inches long and fold it around the end of the cord near the plug so that the ends meet up and you’ve got a tag on the end. Now take out your Sharpie and label the cord. Easy peasy.

washi label

Washi tape is fun but can be a little difficult to write on. I also love the idea of color coding items with their cords but that would require a lot of tape!

Another option is to put the cord in a size appropriate zippy bag and just label the bag. This is helpful for cords you may not use very often.

So now you have your cords labeled and probably a lot more room in your drawer to put them back. You’ve done all of the hard work so now you’ve just got to keep it up going forward. It’s a lot easier to maintain than to start off so pat yourself on the back.

What do you do with all of the cords that you don’t need, that are in the donate bag? You can recycle those typically in a city/ county recycling centers. You just have to look up your county and “recycling” online and you’ll be able to see if and where they will accept those items. Also, places like Best Buy and some Goodwill stores will recycle electronics as well. Go to EARTH 911 and you can look up by zip code the item you wish to recycle and they’ll tell you where.

How about you? How do you organize your cords?

Happy organizing!

What I learned from surviving a fire: sanity, paper, & your desk

The dryer that caught fire
The dryer that caught fire

What is the first instruction anyone gets when there is a crisis at hand? Stay calm. How do I stay calm when my home has been turned upside down? When I can’t find anything and everything I wear or touch is dirty with soot? Staying calm is the answer, though, because panic helps no situation. I promise.

As a reminder, this was not a completely devastating fire. I’m sure there are readers that have been through natural and unnatural disasters much worse than this and I certainly don’t want to undermine their experiences. However, I’ve learned some interesting lessons during this event and recovery that can help anyone. Today. Now. You can benefit from my experience and I hope it helps just 1 person.

Things are just things and really don’t matter. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again:  Nobody was hurt. People are irreplaceable; things are not. Case closed. We were extremely fortunate and didn’t lose anything super important or sentimental like wedding pictures or family heirlooms. On that note, your things take on a totally different meaning when they are covered in soot. I’ll admit that my desk was not the picture of perfect order and organization. I had stacks of business cards, receipts, notebooks, magazines, and other papers stacked on it just like a lot of you do. It was all super important to me which is why it was out in the first place. (Any of this sounding familiar?) I was going to work on them/ file/ read/ etc. them but there they were stacked up and messy. Now they were covered in soot. I don’t know if you’ve ever had experience with soot but it is not easy to clean. It’s not a dry dust you can just wipe away. It is oily and dirty so that when you wipe it, it leaves streaks. Not fun but dealing with that was a good thing. If it weren’t the case, I’d be writing about replacing papers because they would have all been burned up. It’s all about your perspective…

Those super important papers don’t seem so important anymore when you have to wear gloves to read them. Soot is a great equalizer. Magazines and notebooks can be replaced and receipts can be duplicated. If they had been soooo important I would have already read or processed them.  I am guilty of time management issues just like you. I, too, get distracted doing “research” on Pinterest instead of recording business receipts. I get it. But time is fleeting and if you don’t take care of something in a timely manner, it will be much harder the longer you wait.

  • Set up a time each week to go through papers like mail, receipts, and bills and stick to it. If you stay consistent the pile doesn’t get larger and it takes less time to process.
  • Adopt a clear desk policy where you don’t leave papers strewn across your desk when you are finished for the day. This is a for-real compliance policy  (it’s ISO 17799/27001 compliant for you compliance nerds like I used to be) that many heavily regulated corporations adopt and enforce to ensure that employees are not leaving private information out for others’ perusing. It’s good for civilians as well to make sure you are actually completing tasks and putting things away in a timely manner. When you are done for the day, clear the papers off your desk. It makes starting the next day there so much more pleasant, too.
  • Apply the same policy to your computer so that you are saving files and sites in a timely manner. Leaving excessive windows open is akin to leaving open magazines or newspapers on your desk. Either bookmark the site or save the file so you can find it later.
  • Get rid of the layers of papers. If they’re on the bottom layer, you probably haven’t missed them and could probably be tossed. If they are important, they need to go into a To Be Filed or To Be Paid or to be tossed pile.
  • Set up a filing system and use it. Make it your own so it makes sense to you. Adopting someone else’s won’t do any good if you can’t follow it.

Set up a home filing system. While we are talking about papers and filing them in a timely fashion, I can no reiterate how important home filing systems are. Do you know where your birth certificate, passport, children’s birth certificates, adoption papers, wills, marriage certificate, etc are? If so, good for you and pat yourself on the back. A lot people have an idea of where these papers are but aren’t 100%. These are the types of papers that are a massive pain to replace. It can be done but with discomfort. These are the types of files to put in a Fire Box. We were fortunate and these documents were no where near the fire but I’m going to get one just for these documents. I’ve also heard from other organizers to store electronic copies of these in the cloud somewhere.

A filing system is essential for tracking all kinds of important family paperwork: medical records, paid bills, important letters, contracts, receipts, manuals, user guides, employment documents, bank notices, in addition to the documents I mentioned above. You need a system to file these things that makes sense to you so that it’s easy to manage.

This situation reminded me that your home filing system should also include a section for large home purchases like computers, TVs and other expensive electronics, washer and dryer, rugs, furniture, artwork, and for pretty much anything you paid a lot of money. You want to be able to find documentation on what you had, how much you paid for it, and where and when you bought it.  Our washer and dryer came with our house and we had to do some research to find out how old they were. Write down on your appliance manuals what the price was, where you purchased, and when. This will help immensely with insurance if this ever happens to you or if you sell your home.  It’s also a good idea to have a file where you keep all of your manuals and user guides.  If you need further assistance or have questions about what should be in your home filing system, send me a message carrie@neatsmart.com.

So this is the first lesson that I learned from surviving a fire:  if your papers are really important, deal with them promptly. The less you touch them, the less you are building an emotional attachment to them. If they are important, you’ll handle them quickly. Develop, or have someone help you develop,  a good management system that’s easy and sensible for you. Stay tuned for more …

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Happy organizing!