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April 15, 2024

An Organized Life: Part 1 of 4

By Mary Klaebel

How often have you tried to get organized? Then you took a close look at your surroundings and almost burst into tears. Or your chest tightened and you suddenly needed a nap. Welcome to my life. Or the way it used to be. Now, I have a system.

I can hear you groaning already. Don't be alarmed. It's simple, methodical and easily tweaked to fit your life. Or your spouse's, if he or she is interested. C'mon, how would you feel if I told you that in less than 12 hours of effort (over as many days as it takes), you could go from buried to beautiful at your house. Okay, maybe not beautiful, but you will always know where to find a pen and paper when a killer idea strikes. Fair enough?

Let's get started. The first, and worst, mess we tackle is paper. If you, like me, are a writer, you have a love/hate relationship with paper. You love it. Lots of it. But you hate the mess it leaves all over your house. Even in the bathroom and kitchen of all places. In fact, at my house, the bathroom is called the reading room. So, if we are going to start anywhere, we need to start by getting our paper under control, so we can love it more than we hate it.

What follows are a few simple steps to get control of every scrap of paper now taking up residence in your filing cabinets, on your tables and stuffed under the bed. I promise you don't have to go invest in a ton of expensive and, in most cases, useless organizing gadgets at the local office supply store. All you need is three boxes, a trash bag and about four hours. No step takes longer than an hour, for the average home paper accumulation.

Step 1: After gathering the materials listed above, put them in a location where you can create and leave a pile of paper (this allows you to do this in chunks, rather than all at once, if need be). Now, walk through your entire house gathering up every single piece of loose paper and every file you find. Bring these all to the location where your boxes are and pile them on the floor (or couch, or table, you get the picture). This should take from five to fifteen minutes.

Step 2: Label the boxes "Active," "Reference" and "Archive". This should take only a moment. Jot a short list of those papers you must keep, but don't need to have handy. Tax records and completed manuscripts you aren't doing anything with but hate to throw away are good examples of archive papers. I am urging you not to keep every piece of paper, but I don't expect you to be viciously austere, either.

Take a couple of deep, cleansing breaths. You are about to dive into the paper sea you have created.

Step 3: Set a timer (use your oven or microwave timer if you must, or set your alarm clock to go off) for twenty minutes. Thirty at most. Quickly, without too much analysis, sort your papers into the three boxes. If you aren't sure whether to keep something, archive it. In fact, it's better to archive a paper you aren't sure about than to throw it away. However, temper this advice with a bit of common sense and don't keep that receipt for pet food from 1994 unless you have some convincing reason to keep it.

Step 4:Take the now full trash bag out to the dumpster or the trash can now. What's that, five minutes? But this is paper you never have to dust around or restack again.

Step 5: Create files for your active papers. These are papers you use at least once a month. Bills to pay, current writing projects, etc. Sort through the "Active/Reference" box and put the active papers in their respective files. File these folders in the top drawer of your filing cabinet, or wherever you keep frequently used files in your work area. Ideally, you have only six or so active file folders. Many more than that and you are making the process more complicated than it needs to be. Once you finish acting on any one piece of paper and know you won't touch it for months to come, you move it into your reference files.

Step 6: Create files for your reference papers. These are papers you might need to refer to for an ongoing project, but that are not going to be used daily, or even once a month. Here is also a good place to keep instruction manuals for items you haven't yet mastered. Possible categories are "ideas," "paid bills" (for the calendar year - older ones go in archive), "insurance policies" (if active), etc. You get the picture. As with your active files, keep the categories broad. Getting too specific breeds a filing disaster in the making. Heck, even throw in a "miscellaneous" file. Sort through the remaining contents of the "Active/Reference" box and file them accordingly. Put all these files in the bottom drawer of your filing cabinet.

Step 7: We are down to the final container of papers. Here, you have two choices. You can simply label the box "Archive," seal it, put today's date on it and store it in a closet, or you can bundle like papers together with rubber bands, place them all in an airtight storage box and put them in a closet. Simply put, your archive files are papers you need to keep but seldom need to refer to. Bank statements over a year old, last year's and older income tax records, kids' old report cards you want to keep, etc., go in archive. I recommend you archive every year and put each year, from today on, in its own small box with the date of archiving on the outside (or the year of the materials it holds). You can designate a shelf in closet for these archives. Once a box is seven to ten years old, you can sort through it and throw away old bank statements and the like.

Step 8: We're almost done. All you need to do now is set up a box or large folder in the front of your reference drawer (or box, or whatever) labeled "Archive". When something is no longer needed in Active or Reference, it can be placed in this file. At the end of the year, archiving is simply a matter of bundling the like papers and storing it away. About a fifteen minute task.

Step 9: Finally, the last step. Create a place for all incoming paper to land. I use a cardboard box once used for housing expanding files (a throwaway from our law office). All papers come here first, unless they are obviously trash, then they land in the trash can on their way to the "Inbox." Set a time each day to sort through your inbox. It should take five to ten minutes a day to open envelopes, determine if they contents are worth keeping, and if so, whether they belong in the active files or the reference files and file them accordingly.

That's the system. All told, the process will take between three and four hours, depending on how quickly you are determined to complete it. However, once it's done, you will have a simplified paper management system that doesn't cost much in time or energy to maintain. Finally, you will be the master of your paper kingdom.

By Mary Klaebel (Writergypsie), author of Affirm Yourself as a Writer, available now on Lulu.com, Amazon.com and BN.com.

Article © Mary Klaebel. All rights reserved.
Published on 2005-06-06
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