Artwork (from kids or grandkids)
If you are a parent of a preschooler, you know all about the outrageous volume of artwork that comes home from school—all of it meant to be saved forever! I suggest putting a cap on the amount of artwork. For example, for this school year, find one bin in which to store your young Picasso’s work. All incoming work goes into the bin. When the bin is full, it’s time to do a quick review. Pick out one or two of your favorite pieces and keep those. Then, ask your child to pick out their favorite two pieces, and—gulp—toss the rest. Believe me, more and better artwork will come right back in the door tomorrow afternoon!
Rather than looking for ways to store and organize your existing baskets, which take up space, why not use these multipurpose weaves of art to store other items? Ba-boom—two or three space dilemmas handled in one fell swoop. Use baskets for remote controls, gloves, mail, magazines, toilet paper rolls, hand towels, bread baskets, CD storage, makeup, belts, scarves—ay, caramba! Point is, if you’ve got the baskets hanging around anyway, put them to work until you really need them again.
If you’re the type of person who drapes your clothing over chairs or tosses items on the floor, it is not likely you’ll have the interest or motivation to neatly hang your clothes on hangers each and every night (same goes for kids, too). Avoid purchasing newfangled, space-saving hangers that will scream at you from the back of the closet for not being used again today. Instead, install eight to ten hooks in your closet and hang clothing on them. While this is not the perfect answer, your clothes have a better chance of staying off the floor. The point is to create an easy system that you or your kids can maintain.
If your intention is to organize the desk, you must focus on that task only (not file drawers, supply shelves, or return e-mails). Organize the desk.
Earrings, Bracelets, and Other Jewelry
It’s time to clean, folks. When it comes to paper and filing, are you a piler and a stacker or a filer? In my seminars, nearly 98 percent of hands go up when I ask the question, “How many of you seem to just stack your paper rather than file it?” Such an overwhelming response suggests that we need to create a system for the people rather than force the people into a system. Therefore, it is my recommendation to take a bookshelf and use it as a “pile system” rather than creating a file system in a drawer.
Birthdays, Mother’s Day, Hanukkah, Christmas, going-away parties, and graduations are all cause for gift giving. But gift giving does not, however, mean gift keeping. Remember, you don’t need to keep something just because it’s a gift. After a big event (especially for little kids), it’s important to go through the gifts you’ve received and decide what to do with them. Will you keep them, regift, return, or perhaps donate them? If you’re given a new book and you know you won’t read it, do not store it with your other books. Put the book by the doorway going out of the house with the gift receipt taped to it to be exchanged. Regifting it is an option as well. You want to stop the incoming clutter before it even starts—don’t mix it with your existing stuff or that item will never see its way out the door.
So, you want to know how long to keep important documents? Here is a general guideline (but always check with your doctor, accountant, or attorney for special circumstances):
Bank statements and credit card records: Keep only if there is a possible tax issue—and then you only need to keep for six years. Keep CD info until they’ve matured. If your bank statement doesn’t contain anything you need for your taxes, you can shred immediately.
Car or homeowner’s insurance: Hold on to these for approximately four years after the policy expires or until you get a new one in the mail.
Estate materials: Keep wills and trusts indefinitely. In fact, keep an extra copy and put the original in a safe-deposit box.
Health records: Keep records of kids’ immunizations and your kids’ and your own hospital records indefinitely, especially if you have had an abnormality or special medical experience, such as cancer, bypass surgery, and so on.
Investment and retirement account statements: Many of these are cumulative, so your year-to-date activity is usually noted on each statement. Thus, there is no reason to keep old statements. I suggest keeping annual summaries, even though you can access them electronically.
Official government documents such as birth or death certificates, passports, divorce or custody agreements, and Social Security cards: Keep, keep, keep. Better yet, in a safe-deposit box or home safe.
Paid bills: Keep them one year at best. Use the information to reconcile your taxes each year and shred. Keep important bill payments in your “tax backup folder.”
Pension plan information: Keep this info indefinitely whether it’s from a current or former employer.
Property records: Documents such as mortgage applications, deeds, and loan agreements should be kept for as long as you own the property. Always save proof of loan payoffs indefinitely.
School transcripts, diplomas, and report cards: Keep transcripts if you have an inkling that you’ll seek further education. Keep diplomas indefinitely. Report cards are considered memorabilia and there’s usually no practical reason to keep them.
Warranties, guarantees, and manuals: Keep these booklets for as long as you own the item. Keep them all together in one place and make it a regular practice every couple of years to review the file and toss what’s no longer relevant.
Maintain one spot for all keys in the house and put them in the same place every time. It may be helpful to label all the keys for your household such as “garage,” “pool gate,” “van.” Also, if you consider color coding your keys, it can make them much easier to find when you’re rushing about.
Luggage and Other Bags
I’m not sure why, but my clients love their bags and suitcases. It seems there is a bag for every purpose these days, and many of us feel the need to own all those crafty carry cases. Owning and using these travel monsters can be a bit scary. The question here is, do you use each and every one of them? My guidelines are a bit strict on this one, simply because luggage and bags in general are space guzzlers.
Nail Files, Combs, and Toothbrushes
Your bathroom can be an organizational dream or a downright disaster. If you prefer an easy-access situation and you need a bit more organizing space, you might consider the following: Purchase a plastic three-drawer storage container that will fit under your bathroom sink. Pick the categories that are most important to you and divide your toiletries into three categories: Hair, Teeth, and Nails. Label the drawers. In the Hair drawer, store your combs, brushes, clips, and hair bands. In the Teeth drawer, store your floss, toothpaste, toothbrushes, and dental guards. In the Nails drawer, store your files, clippers, polish removers, and polishes. You can make a drawer for medications or one for cosmetics. When you need something from the drawer, it pulls out easily and goes right back.
For bigger items like deodorant, soaps, and hair sprays, use the medicine cabinet or purchase a spinning lazy Susan meant for the kitchen and place it under the bathroom sink. You won’t have to get down on your hands and knees to see what you’ve got—just spin the wheel and you’ve found your fortune!
This is one category where folks repeatedly overspend. The allure of organizational product promises and the new release of a pack of Day-Glo color gel pens is all it might take to break us down. The real tip here? Avoid buying the stuff to begin with. If you do have supplies to organize, I like a rolling plastic cart with lots of drawers that can be stored neatly under a desk or used as a table for my mouse and pad. Try six drawers and designate each drawer with its like-minded sisters and brothers—and remember to take a regular inventory. When you are able to glance into each drawer, you’ll know what you need.
Drawer No. 1 Pens, pencils, markers
Drawer No. 2 Sticky notes, note pads, labels
Drawer No. 3 Checkbooks, stamps, petty cash
Drawer No. 4 Small electronics (calculators, flash drives, printer cartridges)
Drawer No. 5 Tape, glue sticks, scissor, three-hole punch
Drawer No. 6 Note cards, envelopes
How often do you experience complete frustration when you can’t find the darn remote control? The solution: keep a “home” for the remotes and make sure all family members know where to return them every time. Something as simple as labeling each remote (for the TV, DVD player, or stereo) and then storing them together in one decorative basket does the trick.
You are not required to have all food labels in the pantry facing forward (unless you want it that way). When it comes to organizing your spices, ask yourself if you’re really a kitchen aficionado. Do you cook a lot and use spices, or do you tend to purchase a lot of premade foods? If you or your sweetie aren’t doing much cooking, then lose the fancy spice rack on the counter. Eliminate that clutter and save the space for something that really matters.
If you do like to use spices, make sure they are in arm’s reach of the cook. Many of us use a cupboard near the stove, but you can also use a drawer as well. Many companies make spice dividers for drawers, and this method keeps spices away from the heat of the stove, prevents bottles from being knocked over, and it’s much easier to read the labels (even if they are facing out, Julia).
Encourage all your family members to clean up after themselves (even toddlers) by creating a “home” for their toys and items. Using pictures on the outside of a bin can help your child understand where to put dolls versus cars. For those of you who have school-age children, it will be helpful to teach them to put away toys, then gather their school items the night before (such as their backpacks with all their essential items already zipped up). Then put the backpack in the same location each and every time to eliminate last-minute scrambling.
Underwear and Socks
When it comes to socks, a big complaint is “stretched out elastic.” To preserve the sock, avoid rolling up one sock and then fitting it over the top of the other one—socks don’t like that! Unless you have a serious “thing” for socks, no kidding, pick a drawer and toss them all in (perhaps divided by color). Eliminate the time-consuming matching process at the front end, and if you put a cap on the number of socks in the drawer, matching them up when dressing will be a cinch, too.
Undies? This one’s just for the gals. If you want to keep your bras in excellent shape, clip them onto skirt hangers and hang them in the closet. Avoid folding one cup inside the other; brassieres are expensive, and you don’t want them to lose their elasticity before their time!