I’m Drowning in Mail!
So here is a problem we all have, right? Every day we casually pick up a stack of paper and bring it into our homes. We stash it, stick it, pile it up, and cringe every time we walk by it. What is the best way to handle the mail??
First of all, we need to stop thinking of it as “mail”. It is really a broad array of communication. Some of it is for our pleasure, some of it requires we follow-up, some of it requires us to pay money. It is actually a VERY DIVERSE collection of material. In this way, it is exactly the same as electronic mail, and the way we tackle both of them should be the same. The key is to separate “sorting” from “acting”. Here is an approach to try:
1. Bring the mail into your home only when you have the time to immediately sort it. Don’t pick it up when driving in from work or the carpool at the exact time when you need to start dinner or help with homework or whatever. Wait until you have 5 minutes, even if this means the mail sits in the mailbox awhile. It can even sit there overnight if you have more time in the morning.
2. Designate a spot NEAR THE DOOR where you bring the mail in to stop and sort it. DO NOT bring it into the kitchen and plunk it down in the middle of your island. Set up a “sorting station” on a shelf, a cabinet, a table…whatever you can. It doesn’t need to be big, but big enough to make a few piles.
3. “Triage” the mail into categories:
- Trash (or recycle for mixed paper)
- Shred (anything with personal information)
- To read (magazines, articles, letters)
- To pay (bills)
- To act on (coupons to clip, scheduling, return communication)
4. Next, go ahead and get rid of the “quick hits”… the trash and shred. If you have space, keep both a trash bin (or bin for recycled paper) and a shredder at your sort station….but even if you don’t have space, take the time NOW to get rid of these items. It only takes a minute or two when you do it every day.
5. Move the actionable items into files which are labeled for the task at hand. There are MANY WAYS to keep papers which you need to act upon, including a stacking bin with files for each, a hanging file container in a drawer or on the wall, a tickler file which has one folder for each day of the month…this is pretty much a personal decision on what works for you.
That is pretty much all that is needed for the daily sort. The key, of course, is to find a system for following up on the sorted items (a bill-paying system, a time for reading, a time for responding to action items)…but this is a topic for another day.
In terms of email, the same principles apply. You need to “triage” the email at least once a day. Don’t get caught in the trap of responding to each email right away. First delete the spam, trash what you don’t need, group together emails to read later, to respond to, or to file electronically. If you feel that once a day is insufficient for sorting the email, you may need to do this procedure 2 or 3 times a day. Also, be diligent in unsubscribing. You can move advertising emails into a folder called “unsubscribe” and set aside a designated weekly slot to complete this task.
The key is to separate “sorting” from “acting”. YOU CAN DO THIS!
For more information, or for help in establishing a mail processing center, go to the “contact us” button above.
What Everyone Should Have
Well, the New Year is upon us, and in the organizing community, that means “GO Month”, which is short for “Get Organized” month. It is a concept that appeals as we come off of the clutter and chaos of the holidays. Sales of storage bins soar in January as we seek to fulfill our resolution to “get organized this year”.
If you are feeling the itch, now is a great time to put together the paperwork that everyone should have on hand and ready to go in case of an emergency. I suggest you collect the following and keep them either in a fire-safe box at home, or in a safety deposit box. If you choose a safety deposit box, make sure someone you trust is registered to access it. Some original legal documents can also be held by your attorney.
If you have elderly parents, helping them to assemble these items is well worth the time. The midst of a crisis is NOT the time you want to start trying to find important paperwork.
So here is my list of “everyone should have” for 2012:
End of Life Documents
Last Will and Testament. Having the original is important because people can challenge the validity of a copy in court. It is a good idea to keep one original will in the hands of your attorney. For older persons, it is a good idea to have a durable power of attorney drawn up for their chosen executor. This will enable those left behind to make financial decisions more easily.
Irrevocable trust. Trusts offer a greater degree of control for survivors than a will, are more private, and more difficult to challenge in court. If you only have a will, consider looking into establishing a trust .
Funeral Arrangements. Any documents showing payments that have been made towards funeral expenses, as well as any preferences you have for this process.
Key Contacts List. A sheet naming all of your important contact people, including attorneys, accountants, and financial advisors, along with contact information for each.
Proof of Ownership
Ownership Documents. All documents showing your ownership of assets, including your home, land, cars, boats, stocks, and bonds.
Accounts Summary. A list of all bank accounts, including brokerage/escrow/mortgage accounts, with contact information for each account. It is helpful to also keep a record of online login information in case a family member needs to access these accounts on your behalf.
Copies of tax returns for the previous 3 years. Copies from years dating further back should also be maintained, but have at least 3 years in “easily accessible” format.
Debt/Credit Summary. List of outstanding debts or credits, along with contact information for each. This should be maintained in written form for funds loaned/borrowed from family members, as well as from institutions.
Life Insurance Policies. Copies of life insurance policies along with the name of the carrier, policy number and agent. Remember to include information on policies offered through an employer, as well as those privately obtained.
Investments. A list of pensions, annuities, IRAs/ 401Ks, with account and contact information for each.
Advanced Directives. Both a durable power of attorney and a living will outlining the care you would like to receive are important. Designating a health care proxy is especially important as we get older.
Birth & Baptism certificates.
Marriage license. This is often necessary to prove marital status before a spouse can be awarded any funds by the probate court.
Divorce decree. Along with the formal decree, an original record should be kept which documents all details about child custody/alimony/property settlements.
I know, paperwork is not anyone’s favorite subject, but having our affairs in order can provide untold comfort not only to ourselves, but to those we love.
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Wondering what to buy for that “Clutter Challenged” friend or relative? Here’s my annual list of Top 10 Organizing Gifts:
10. Over the door gift- wrap organizer – Everyone has “stuff” for gift wrapping, and most people have no good place to keep it. I like the ones that hang on the back of a door and hold a couple of rolls of paper, bows and ribbon all in one place…check out this one at The Container Store:
9. Gift card organizer – we all get gift cards but often don’t have them handy when we need them. I like the Card Cubby, which has a variety of attractive cases which fit stylishly in a purse.
8. Slimline Hangers – these hangers are a must for tight closet spaces. They really do take up less space, and the flocked surface is terrific for blouses and slippery items. These can be found at stores such as Bed, Bath and Beyond.
7. Desk trays – No more junk drawers! Every drawer should have organizers inside to hold specific items. There are countless kinds of organizers out there, from clear to wooden to bamboo…just make sure you get one that is shallow enough to fit your recipient’s drawer!
6. Clear shoe boxes – These are a must have for every home. Clear means easy to see the contents, and the shape of shoe boxes makes for easy stacking.
5. Attractive files – We all need a file or two that will spend at least some time sitting out in view. Most office stores have a variety of folders that are much more attractive than the old manila standby. Look for some that suit your loved one.
4. Label maker- This is another “gotta have” for anyoen who wants to be organized. I like the Ptouch by Brother. They come in a variety of sizes and they are all good.
3. Shredder – Every home shold have a shredder, and every person should be shredding anything with Social Security numbers, IDs or passwords at a minimum. You get what you pay for with shredders, so don’t get a cheap one. This is a great gift for someone who needs to clear out a lot of backlogged paperwork.
2. Donations List – Many people resist getting rid of things because they hate to see them “go to waste” (meaning, into a trash can). If you have a loved one who needs to reduce their clutter, give them a laminated sheet with some charities in their area who would be glad to come and get their items. Vietnam Veterans, Godowill and Red Cross are all possibilities, depending on where you live.
1. A gift certificate for the assistance of a Professional Organizer - Sometimes it takes the expertise and “support” of a Professional Organizer to get the job done. There are Professional Organizers all across the country, most of whom provide gift certificates for sale. Check out http://www.napo.net/ to find an organizer in your area.
Do you dread the holidays?
Remember when you were a kid, and the holidays meant less work, a “break”, magic and excitement? Does it seem like a long time ago? Often the joy of the holiday season gets buried under an enormous list of tasks which get added onto our already busy schedules. And that is too bad….because holidays are meant to be celebrated!
The key to enjoying a busy season is planning. Just as we clear away our “regular” decorations to bring out our holiday glitter, we need to do the same with our time. Part of the stress can be eliminated by doing as much as possible in advance…which means by mid-November.
Here are the things you can do early:
- Update your Christmas card list & print out labels or envelopes.
- Order your cards.
- Write a letter to insert (if you wish)
- If you give professional cards, update the list of clients to whom you plan to send greetings and make sure cards are ordered early.
- Purchase as many gifts as you can in advance.
- Assemble needed wrapping supplies, and wrap/label gifts as you buy them. Keep a written list so you remember what you’ve bought for whom.
- Make a list of charities you give gifts to (these often surprise us and have us running around for a Toys for Tots gift or mittens for the School Mitten Tree), and have those ready to go.
- Get cash and set it aside for delivery people, mailmen, etc.
- If you give gifts from your kitchen, start assembling pricier supplies (e.g. chocolate, nuts) as they come on sale.
- Buy a couple of hostess gifts and keep them on hand. Every home benefits by having a “gifts to give” bin or shelf in a closet.
- If you live in a cold climate, consider putting holiday lights outside in October. You don’t have to turn them on until December!
- Buy seasonal supplies which you replace each year (e.g. candles for an advent wreath, extra lightbulbs for window candles)
- At the end of the season this year, put decorations away in boxes that are grouped by the room they go in, rather than the type of decor (e.g. everything to do with the tree, everything that I put in the living room), and label boxes so you will remember next year.
Finally, remember to sit down and remove some of the “regular” items from your calendar. Put off activities that could happen just as well in February, and block out some times for intentionally enjoying the season.