Organizing for a Disaster

September is disaster preparedness month. While no one likes to think a disaster might occur in their area, it is important to be prepared. Here in New England we get blizzards, hurricanes, and flooding. This week I heard a volunteer from the local Red Cross speak about this topic and how families can be prepared.

Here are some simple steps every family should take:

  • Fires are the most common disaster in the home. Do you have a fire extinguisher and can you easily get it? Make sure it is it still has pressure, hasn’t been recalled, and is easily accessible.

  • Important documents: Do you have important papers in a safe place that you could easily grab if you needed to leave your home? I have helped many clients set up an “important papers” file or even better, fireproof box, to store vital documents such as titles, wills, and passports. If you are using a fireproof box you may also want to include some family mementos or irreplaceable jewelry.

  • Speaking of mementos, consider digitizing your photos so you have duplicates of your most important photos backed up to the cloud or offsite. Want o digitize them at home? Read my review of this gadget. I can also help you sort, organize and digitize your photos; I also have a great local resource for photo digitizing—no need to mail off precious photos!

  • Do you have a safe deposit box? Here’s my blog post on how to organize your vital documents.

  • Smoke/C02 detectors: Change your smoke detectors every 10 years. Be sure to change the batteries at least once a year. Do it when you change your clocks in the fall and spring, and they will always be up to date.

  • Don’t forget to make an emergency plan for your pets. Get ideas from the Red Cross.

For more ideas on how to prepare your home and family in case of a disaster, read more ideas from my blog here and here.

From To Do to Done

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I'll admit it: I love lists. I enjoy checking off when things get done. Generally I keep an electronic list, but I use notepaper or sticky notes for my daily/weekly reminders. While at The Container Store recently, I was pleased to see this new To Do notepad from Poppin. The design and color make me happy...and maybe will help me want to do what's on the list!  (If we like a product, we tend to use it more.)

Tips on Making an Effective List

Getting your To Dos Done

Colorful Filing

I often advise clients to use color when organizing if it makes them happy. While there have been colorful file folders for a while, I was so excited to see the bright and beautiful filing cabinets now available. Check out what I found at The Container Store. These happy colors could almost make anyone want to file!

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Backpack Storage

Problem: Your child's backpack ends up all over the house...in the kitchen, in the living room, near the shoes, but never in the same spot. 

Solution: Give the backpack a "home," a set storage place where it goes every day once it is unpacked. Yes, every day. This is a routine even young elementary school students can master. Even if you don't have a dedicated mudroom, you can find a place for the backpack. 

Backpack storage ideas:

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  • Give it a "drop spot" by using a basket placed on the floor. My 8th grader has been using this basket for her backpack since Kindergarten. Even when we were in the midst of a long home renovation project and the basket was relocated to a new spot, it was a visual cue for where to put her backpack.
  • Use a hook, at the correct height for your child to reach. 
  • Stash it in a cubby. Many homes have built-in cubbies, but make sure your child can reach it.

Easy Paper Organizing: Deal With and Done Boxes

This clever idea comes from a friend who recently moved. She set up this new paper management system near where she opens mail and pays her bills.

Here's how the simple system works: she opens her mail, weeds out all the junk, and then puts the paper in the appropriate box. "Deal With" means just that = paper that needs to be acted upon (bill to pay, form to fill out) and "Done" = file. When Done is overstuffed, she knows it's time to file the papers she wants to save. 

This is a great system for people who need visual reminders, and helps combat the creation of piles. The boxes can also be quickly tucked away if needed. 

Recipe Organization: There's an App for That!

We all love to cook in my house, so we have a good-size collection of cookbooks and a few favorite cooking magazines. I also have lots of paper recipes I've saved from websites and torn out of of magazines. My recommended method for keeping paper recipes is a binder system.

If you have folders or boxes of recipes and want to get rid of the paper, consider digital options:

  • Pinterest: While I wouldn't trade all my paper recipes for electronic versions, I have come around to using Pinterest. I've got all kinds of recipes pinned and categorized. I love how easy it is to use, and so visual. 
  • Paprkia Recipe Manager: This app works on all your platforms, and includes cool tools like built-in timers and the ability to cross off ingredients as you use them.
  • All Recipes Dinner Spinner: I often find recipes for a specific ingredient on the All Recipes website , so it makes sense that they offer an app. The app includes shopping lists and you can sort by favorite recipes or type of food. 
  • Your phone's scanner: You can also use your phone to take photos or scan paper recipes you want to save.

Organizing Receipts, Warranties & User Guides

Recently we had a week where it seemed like everything was breaking: my car, the garage door, and our back door lock. While looking for the receipt for the door I realized that my house information was in too many different spots. I had the papers saved in some files and binders, but couldn’t quickly find what I had needed. Time for a new system.

First, I gathered all the information I could find into a pile.

Then I started to sort,making piles for the warranty/user guide information, for receipts, and for other bills related to home maintenance.

My pile turned into the following files:

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1. Owner Manuals file: this includes warranties and all the information that comes with a new device or appliance. 

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For large purchases, like a TV or washing machine, I recommend stapling the purchase receipt right to the user guide/warranty information. If something happens to break under warranty you’ll have all the information you need in one spot.

2. Home Maintenance and Improvements file: This is where the receipt for the door went, along with all the other work we’ve had done on the house such as window replacements, carpet installation, and painting. This file will help me recall who did the work and when, and also helps us to keep track of improvements we’ve made to our property.

3. Outside Improvements file: This is for any major outside projects, such as our fence installation and patio.

4. Important Receipts to Keep: This is a bit generic, but any purchase receipt that I want to archive goes here. This includes receipts for lighting, furniture, electronics, and a few sentimental receipts.

Each category is a hanging file in my file cabinet, right next to each other. If I’m looking for product information or an important receipt, it should be in this section of the file cabinet.

If you want to set up a similar system but don’t know how to get started, contact me today at 617-905-7762

Getting Organized When There is a Death in the Family

Recently I’ve helped several clients and families who have lost loved ones. I’ve organized financial files, taken away car loads of donations and helped address envelopes for sympathy acknowledgement cards.

Losing a family member can be a very challenging time, and so much has to be done so quickly. We know that losing a loved one means you will need help with meals, arrangements, notifying relatives and friends, and general household help. But it also means that you need to manage an awful lot of documents and important papers. This has caused me to reflect on how being organized can help ease the stress during this time.

Ahead of time:

  • Organize your tax files and keep them in one place, easy to find. (I had one client who passed away, and her family was very grateful that we had financial papers in order.)
  • Keep your investment and IRA statements organized and easy to find. If they are all online be sure someone else can access them.
  • Be sure someone you trust has access to a copy of your will, your safe or safety deposit box (which should be organized) if you have one, and your passwords for key accounts.

After the loss of a loved one:

  • Keep all the important paperwork for funeral arrangements in one file.
  • Also keep one folder with the death certificate and keep a list of who has been notified, such as the bank, investment advisor, life insurance agent and social security.
  • Get a system in place for acknowledging the sympathy cards. Create a pre-printed “thank you” card, perhaps with a photo of the loved one, for your acknowledgements.
  • Get help from family, an organized friend or your professional organizer to keep the papers in order.

Several checklist are available online, such as these, to help with the important logistics and financial next steps:

The Saved Piece of Paper that Changed my Career

Recently I was going through my own files to shed excess papers and projects that no longer fit my goals. I came across an article and wondered why I had kept it, until I noticed a note I’d written at the top: “This is the article that inspired me to become a professional organizer.”

The article was from a 1998 American Way, the American Airlines inflight magazine. Back then I managed volunteer teaching programs in Africa and Latin America. I spent a lot of time traveling on American Airlines back and forth from Boston to Miami, and sometimes on to Costa Rica and Ecuador.

This article was the first time I heard the term, "profesional organizer" and learned that it was a growing field. Although I loved my job something in this article spoke to me at the time, so I pulled it out an threw it in my “career” file.

I found that file and article years later, when I was a Product Manager for a large education company and was ready to move on. The article mentioned NAPO, the National Association of Professional Organizers. I joined NAPO, took courses, and realized helping others get organized (and love their homes again) was my passion.

Sometimes it pays to keep a piece of paper—if you know why it’s important. If you have a document that’s important or a piece of memorabilia, jot down the significance. 

Quick Ways to Organize Memories

Have you started a baby book for your child, but never finished it? Or wanted to write a daily diary or journal, but only kept it up for a month?

Last week I gave an organizing talk to a Parents of Multiples group: all the moms in the room had twins, and many had additional kids. We started discussing how to preserve memories and several moms talked about how they had piles of notes and photos for baby books that were never done (and probably never would be done).

This lead to several moms sharing how they keep track of memories. Here are some great ideas:

 

  • My husband and I keep a shared Google doc of “Funny things” our daughter says. We both have added to the document over the years, and love to go back and read it. (We started this when our daughter was little, before the era of apps!)
  • Another mom said that instead of creating a baby book, she notes milestones and fun things on her wall calendar. She keeps the calendars and can quickly scan through to see the memories.
  • As an alternative to a traditional journal, try a one-sentence journal. It’s much less daunting to write one sentence a day than a whole entry.

What creative high or low tech ideas do you have to preserve memories?

Organizing Maps & Travel Brochures

Do you still keep paper maps and travel brochures? I have to admit that I do. I keep a few for sentimental reasons (Paris restaurants, Geneva map) but also keep selected maps and brochures from places that I plan to visit again.

During one of our many snow storms last month I was looking for something in the attic and found a box half-full of travel maps and brochures. I decided this would be a good blizzard organizing project. (I could also dream of warm summer vacations ahead…)

Here’s what I did:

  • First I dumped all the brochures our on my dining room table. A few were sorted by place so I kept those together.
  • I reviewed all the maps and brochures and recycled a good amount.
  • Then I sorted what I wanted to keep by location.
  • I was hoping to put the maps/brochures into a blue accordion file I had (see corner of photo) but there were too many for the file.
  • Next I the thought of keeping everything together by rubber bands, but some piles were too large.
  • Finally I decided to use one of my favorite organizing tools: gallon size plastic bags. Easy, and the bags had a spot for a label.
  • All the bags were “filed” into a plastic bin back into the attic, waiting until the next trip is planned.

What’s great about this system is that for our next trip to VT, I just have to pull out the bag labeled VT and enjoy looking at all our favorite places.

AFTER: Organized into bags and ready to go!

Reduce Unwanted Mail and Phone Calls: Get off the Lists

I noticed that this past December I got a ton of catalogs, many more than I had ever ordered from. I also seemed to be getting a lot of unsolicited phone calls to my home phone. 

Time to get off the lists, and sign up (again) for the national “do not call” and “do not mail” registries. These lists are only good for 5 years so if you find yourself getting a lot of unwanted mail or calls, it’s probably time to re-register your information.

Here are my favorite resources:

And here's one to try for unwanted email subscriptions:

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7 Tips & Tricks to Organize your Gift Wrap Supplies

1. Want to get your gift wrap supplies in order?  The first step is to gather all the wrapping paper, bags, cards and other supplies you have in one place.  Once you have it all together, reduce it to at least half. Yes, half! In most cases you aren't going to need all those gift bags you've saved. And if you love gift bags, you probably don't need all those rolls of paper. 

2. Store the supplies you are keeping in one place. Here are some different ideas:

  • I use the Rubbermaid Wrap-n-Craft that fits into my closet
  • Stand up rolls in a wine crate or wire wastepaper basket
  • Store wrapping paper rolls in a hanging garment bag; I haven't tried this but it's a creative idea to get supplies off the floor
  • Try pantry shelving designed for the back of a door

3. Recycle the gift wrapping supplies you aren't using, pass them on to a friend, or even donate the wrapping paper. Goodwill may take it, as will some thrift stores or charities that wrap gifts to give at the holidays. (Here is one Boston charity that can use wrapping supplies.)

4. Simplify the whole gift wrapping process with a "signature" gift wrap: use just one kind of paper or gift bag for all gifts. You can personalize with fun cards or ribbon.

5. Reuse. Turn old maps into gift wrap. A client recently told me she saves maps of certain places, like London, Paris or Harvard Square, to use as wrapping paper. It's especially fun for graduation gifts. You probably don't navigate with your paper maps too often, so consider reusing some as gift wrap.

6. Get into the zone. If you are wrapping a lot of gifts at one time, set up a wrapping zone in your office or dining room.

7. Party; throw a gift-wrapping party that is. Each December a friend invites a group over to eat, drink and wrap. Everyone shares wrapping supplies. It's a fun way to get that chore done.

This article first appeared in the November / December 2014 edition of my newsletter, The Neat Sheet.

Organize Your Safe Deposit Box

Safe deposit box: do you have one? If you do, do you know what’s in it?

When I had to get a copy of my daughter’s birth certificate recently, I found that I didn’t know what important documents we had at home, and what we kept in the safe deposit box.

This is one of those less-fun organizing projects (even for me), but one that is critical for every family.

  • First, make sure you have one place at home for the important documents you may need quick access to, such as passports, birth certificates, and your original wills. Gather these documents and get them in one place that you will remember. One client calls this folder her “proof of identity” folder; it’s a name she can remember and she knows exactly what’s in there.
  • Next, take an inventory of your safe deposit box. (If you don’t have one, get one at your bank!) Yes, this means making the time to get to the bank and get to your box. While reviewing the contents you can write down notes on paper or your smartphone, take a picture of what’s inside, or even type up a list. I made notes on paper and then typed up a document at home.
  • Let others in your family know about your safe deposit box inventory and have it filed in a place they can find it.
  • What should you store in your safe deposit box? Things that are valuable and you need to hold on to, but that you don’t need immediate access to. Here’s a good summary of what to keep in there, and what not to keep.

Now you can relax and you’ll be ready when you need to find your vital documents.

How Do I Get Rid of: Shredding

This month I’ve been helping many clients get their financial files set up for the year, and get organized for tax time. Part of the process is getting rid of important or sensitive documents that you no longer need. The best way to do this is to shred the papers.

It seems easy to get rid of shredding, but so many times I see piles of papers left “to be shredded” on top of shredders. As it turns out, the shredders often don’t work, and the papers pile up.Staples Space-Saver 10-Sheet Cross-Cut Shredder

Got shredding? Here are some ways to get rid of it:

1. Get a new shredder that works. To keep up with once-in-a-while shredding needs, basic shredders work fine. This model is available in several fun colors and fits right on a small shelf with easy access.

2. If you have boxes and boxes of old documents to shred, outsource the shredding.

  • A great local resource is Doc Shredding Corp. They will come to pick up your boxes of shredding, and also destroy computer hard drives.
  • Check to see if your town offers any shredding days. My town holds a spring and fall Community Recycle Day and always offers free shredding services.
  • Bring your boxes of shredding to Office Depot or Staples for in-store shredding.

Don’t let piles of shredding build up in your home or office. Get a new shredder and get rid of the paper, or have someone else do the shredding for you.

De-Clutter and Gift Idea: Kids Artwork

Looking for a last minute gift idea that also helps you de-clutter? Grab the latest pile of artwork from your kids and turn it into gifts! 

Here are a few ideas:

  • Turn art into placemats: print color copies and have them laminated at an office supply store. I got this idea from a place setting doodle my daughter colored in (and labeled all the foods on the plate). I made a placemat for us and one for each of the grandparents’ houses too.
  • Create personalized wrapping paper through Zazzle; you upload photos but could also do this with photos of your kids’ creations. (Wish I had found out about this earlier!)
  • Turn the creations into a photobook on Shutterfly or another similar service
  • Have your child select a few pieces and toss them into an envelope. Add a bow and you’ve got a gift every grandparent would love.

Got Keys?

Always loosing your keys?  I often work with clients to set up a landing pad – a place where they ALWAYS put their keys, phone, and other important items.

But keys can get misplaced. If losing your keys drives you crazy, here are some creative ways to remember your keys:

Or get rid of the house keys all together: One of my clients installed a keypad number lock on all her doors, instead of a traditional key lock, because she always was losing her keys!  The other members of her family had the same issue and they happily agreed to get a keypad lock. I think this is a clever solution to an annoying problem.

Favorite Container #8: Desktop File

This month, August, I’m back to thinking about papers as the start of school approaches. I’ve been filling out school-related forms, signing my daughter up for after-school activities, and receiving lots of information from her new teams and groups.

My all-time favorite container for organizing papers and projects is a desktop file box. Here are the details:

What:  A box that is designed to hold hanging folders and files, and can sit on your desk or kitchen counter.

When to use it: Use this kind of box for your key files – files that you need to see all the time, and for current projects. My desktop file box always has these folders in it:

  • Camp Ideas (for my daughter)
  • Activities (for my daughter – things she may want to try)
  • To Buy
  • Family Meeting (any papers that my husband and I need to discuss)
  • Current Projects – Home (colors for a bedroom, estimates from the painter) Current Projects – Work

How to use it: Create hanging file folders for the key papers you tend to hold on to – not for every one, but what are the general categories of papers that end up on your counter or desk? Once you have the categories set, you can use individual manila file folders to separate papers inside the hanging folder if needed. Note: The categories may change over time as you see what kinds of papers you have, so don’t be afraid to change the folders.  No system is perfect at the beginning – you need to live with it and use it for a while to see what works.

Why to use it: A desktop file box helps move your papers from piles to vertical files, making them much easier to see! When you can see your papers, you can actually take them out and use them…and have a place to put them away.

Where to purchase: Basic desktop file boxes can be found at Staples and Office Max. Look on Amazon.com and The Container Store for file boxes in fun designs and natural materials.

See how a client set up her own Desktop File box in this blog post. For an idea on how to organize your financial papers, check out this recent Favorite Container post.

Favorite Container #6: Accordion File for Financial Papers

My favorite container for this month is the good old accordion file. It’s my go-to system for organizing our bills and financial information for the year.

At the start of each year I get a large size (20+ pockets) accordion file from the office supply store. I label each section for the key financial paperwork that we keep during the year - credit card statements, mortgage statements, investment statements, receipts for the Dependent Care Reimbursement Account, taxes, etc.

When the paper comes in it has a place to go! It’s so easy to open the file to the right section and drop in the paper. No file cabinet needed!

The accordion file is kept in a lidded basket under a desk in my front hall, right where I open mail and need to file papers. This is key to your paper management system – keep your files close by. No one even knows all our papers are stored inside!

By keeping the file by the year, it is super easy to find what we need at tax time…and to know what papers can be shredded. After 7 years, the papers come out and get destroyed, and we can re-use the accordion file again.

I’ve helped many clients get control of their papers with this simple system. If you need help, contact me today and we’ll find a system that works for you.