This year is going to be different, right? This is the year you're going to get organized.
Even if you've said it before and then found yourself buried under papers and clothes come mid-January, don't despair. This year really is going to be different.
The key is to focus on three important areas. Do a little at a time in each area, and before you can say "Happy new year," you'll have an organized and less stressful home.
- To prevent newspapers from piling up, consider getting your news online or by subscribing only to the Sunday edition. If you prefer flipping through the paper seven days a week, store each issue on top of your recycling pile so it's ready to go out if you don't get to it by recycling day.
- Magazines can quickly become a towering mess. If that's the case in your house, suspend all but three subscriptions until you catch up, or cancel some altogether. Better yet, call the subscription office and change the mailing address to a local nursing home, physician's office or salon.
- When a new catalog arrives, toss out the old one. Cancel ones you don't use or enjoy. If you keep catalogs for ideas, store those in a separate location or tear out the page.
- Use a three-ring binder to organize your clippings by category (health, recipes, decorating ideas) in clear plastic sheet protectors. Label the spine of the binder and store it within reach to add more as you go.
- Books are great, but you can only read so many. Stop buying new books until you've read the ones you have. Keep a running list of books to buy or borrow, and schedule time to read for pleasure.
- Remove your name from junk-mail lists quickly and easily at DMA Consumer Assistance, and end the stream of credit card solicitations at OptOutPrescreen.com.
- Stop making a "to shred" pile. Instead, shred as you go by keeping a sturdy shredder (such as a Fellowes PS70-2CD; approximately $75) in a handy location.
- Children's artwork is best stored in a large unused pizza box. Write your child's name and grade on the outside and tuck away the glitter and noodle treasures for safekeeping. Don't forget to share generously with friends and family or use artwork as gift wrap or backgrounds in scrapbooks and photo albums.
- Clearly label a box or basket for all tax information. Then, as important pieces arrive, you'll know where to put them so you can find them at tax-return time.
- Start a new checkbook register on January 1, even if your old one isn't full, so you have the entire year's expenses — and tax deductions — together. You might also want to fill in the year on the first 50 checks to get used to the idea of writing the new year.
- Devote one basket, drawer or box to storing bill-paying supplies. Better yet, set up online bill payments and store the paid-bill stubs by month in a 12-slot accordion file.
- Collect receipts in an envelope in your purse. At month's end, check them against your bank statement and then toss them into your bill-stub accordion file. Whether you balance your checkbook monthly or simply scan your bank statements, you might be surprised at the mistakes and overcharges you can discover when you're more organized.
Keep Up the Good Work
- Your pantry, large or small, functions better when you can see what you have. Remove everything, clean the shelves and restock items by category: canned goods, baking supplies, paper products. Label shelves and try using baskets and tiered stacking shelves to create more space. Don't forget to use the back of the door for storage space. Pile economy packs and extras elsewhere if necessary.
- Create a master grocery-shopping list and check off what you need each trip. Better yet, try shopping online to save time and minimize impulse buys. Not sure if you like online shopping? Try it for just the large nonperishable items.
- Store recipes in an accordion file or three-ring binder in plastic sheet protectors by category such as appetizer, salad and entree. Use online recipe sites and store your favorites in online recipe boxes.
- Flag pages in cooking magazines with a sticky note so you can quickly find what you're seeking. Even better, tear out the page and store it in that three-ring binder mentioned above.
- Clear your refrigerator and freezer of unidentified food objects. Store marinades in one plastic container to contain spills, and store all sandwich supplies in another so you can simply pull out one bin instead of handfuls of fixings.
Now that you've gotten things where you want them, how do you keep them that way? Here are five of my very best techniques for doing just that.
- Catch backslides early. Things will get messy. The key is to catch yourself before you're overwhelmed.
- Use the two-minute rule. If you can do a task in two minutes or less, do it right away. Examples: hanging up your jacket instead of slinging it over a chair, sorting incoming mail rather than dropping it on the counter, putting dirty dishes in the dishwasher instead of leaving them in the sink.
- Spend time wisely. Work in 18-minute blocks once a week to keep things tidy.
- Establish "junk jail." Collect toys, shoes and books left around the house by the children. Charge kids an extra chore to bail out their items.
- Create a lost-and-found drawer or basket. Stash cords, clips, toy parts and other things you find, so everyone knows where to look for that lost key or hair band.
Now you have a fail-safe plan for conquering clutter and maintaining the organization in three basic areas. Remember, you'll burn out if you go full speed. Instead, work in small, manageable blocks of time and be sure to get support and ideas from others on the Real Organizing for Real People message boards.