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Where do you open your mail? Does this sound like an odd question? If you are dealing with persistent paper clutter, this is a really good place to start making improvements.
Let's back up and think about how anything you do works most efficiently when you have everything you need for the job right there at hand. When you bake, you don't walk into the bedroom for mixing bowls and out to the garage for flour. That would be silly. You keep everything in the kitchen, where it is right at hand.
But by the same token, when you open mail, you shouldn't have to walk around to find your letter opener, recycling bin or trash can. It all should be right there when you do this task! Even better, open your mail next to your files and bill payment station - all important records can go right in the drawers and bills can get set up for payment immediately.
So - where are you going to open your mail now that you know better?
Getting things done - you do it all the time. Why is it, then, that there's always that one task that just doesn't get done? The reason is probably a lot of procrastination or a lack of focus.
I think procrastination is usually a symptom of a deep seated emotion that we just don't want to face. Fear, extreme dislike, frustration, dread - these all breed procrastination of a job we just don't think we'll enjoy. You see it so frequently in tax season, but if you stop to think why you haven't done another task in your life, you might find a strong feeling is behind it.
Whether or not you've been procrastinating, when you get down to tackling a particular task, focus is important for getting it done and doing it well. Here are my tips for improving your focus:
* Choose to ignore incoming communications and other distractions during the time you are working. If you pre-plan this approach, you won't lose speed when the email alert dings!
* Keep a notepad handy to jot thoughts that pop up and tempt you to lose focus.
* Set a time period for working on the task, whether you finish or not. You'll keep going right to the end, and many longer.
* Sometimes you need to create your own motivation to focus. For example, I've been known to invite guests over as much to make me clean house as to enjoy their company!
Here's to your success with some introspection and deliberate scheduling!
Gift cards are wonderful for so many reasons - easy to give, easy to use, easy fund raisers for schools.
But have you found they also present some challenges? They are easy to lose, hard to locate when you need them, and terrible for landfills. You are losing money when you lose or don't use a gift card! I have some solutions to manage your gift cards better.
1. Keep all gift cards together. When you buy or receive one, put it in a designated envelope, wallet or case. You'll always know where to look when you want to use one. I like to separate my food related cards from the non-food, so I can find my Peets card quickly! Also, take the cards off of the backing or out of the envelope they may have come with.
2. Carry them with you. It is so frustrating to go shopping and realize you should be using that gift card you received, but it is sitting at home somewhere! Avoid this problem by carrying a selection of cards with you. If you have a separate wallet or small holder for those cards that you always check FIRST, before reaching for your credit card or check book, you won't miss out. Or modify this solution by keeping your gift card wallet in your car's glove box.
3. Plan ahead. If carrying the gift cards with you sounds daunting, keep all your gift cards together at home and check through them before going out the door for a shopping trip. Hopefully you noticed the words "keep...together" again - an important step to manage your cards!
4. Recycle. This is tricky! These cards do not break down in landfills and retailers will just throw them in the trash if you hand them over. As far as I have found, there is one company on the web that says it can recycle these plastic, everlasting cards: Earthworkssystems.com. But one store promotes that it will recycle its gift cards: Whole Foods. In fact, they will recycle anyone's gift cards.
Crammed to the gills!
I'd been itching to do something with this awful, deep, sloped space under the stairs. This hall closet is our only downstairs closet other than in the office. Above the wooden rod for coats, there is a fire sprinkler head and alarm box next to it on the wall, limiting any movement up or back of the clothes rod.
Behind the thick wall of coats lived a mix of things that we believed had no other home: a roll of extra carpet, extra leaves for the dining table, vacuums, an inflatable guest bed, all our extra photo frames (many with photos in them), candles and candle holders, a large collection of messenger and briefcase-type bags, extra rolls of craft paper, karate gear, rain gear, old and broken toys, tripods, stored wall hangings, and wrapping supplies.
Just getting behind those coats was an adventure, reminiscent of CS Lewis' famed story about the wardrobe. Would this large cupboard under the stairs lead to another fantasy world too? Could it be tamed?
The solution lay in putting mind over matter. The first step was to pull everything out. Once completely empty, it became fun to imagine the possibilities! The kids wanted their own mini playroom. But what about a wine cave or a pantry? Reason set in, and after considering all the delicious possibilities, we realized there was more than met the eye here. We could use the 5 feet of space behind one of the walls to store some long-term items. This would involved cutting out the drywall between 2 studs. We set to it and found a clean, dry storage spot perfect for some archival boxes that were taking up space in the garage. Result: More storage in our crowded but organized garage.
Next we measured for shelves along the back and side walls of the closet. We cut costs by using a high quality 5/8" piece of plywood to cut our shelves from, instead of buying pre-made shelves. We used basic utility shelf brackets to allow full access to the entire shelf length and wood rail supports one end of each shelf. Rails and brackets were screwed into studs.
Custom shelves, what luxury! Suddenly, there was a place for the extra dining table leaves, the gift wrap, the box of photo frames, the tripods, etc etc! The rarely used roasting pan and chafing dish had a new, more appropriate home, and even the inflatable guest bed had the right place.
There were lots of things that found new homes (I love to Freecycle!). When the rest was placed back inside, it still seemed roomy. In less than a day, it was a transformed place and a big sigh of relief for my organizing itch.
When you have a small business, manage projects, have appointments or anything else that takes you out the door, a To Go bag can take you far.
To Go bags can be a tote, wheeled cart, briefcase or any other portable container that carries your essentials, the tools you need to do your basic work.
For a direct sales retailer, those tools might include product samples, base sales kit, marketing portfolio, netbook, and power cord.
For meetings, your tools might be much simpler: writing instruments, notepaper tablet, calendar and reference materials.
The key is to know what your essentials are, to keep them together, and to keep them ready to go. One method might be to keep your essentials in a basket under your desk. They're ready to pick up and use or throw in your bag as you prep to go.
Wheeled carts are usually around $20 to purchase, but you can find them as low as $12 sometimes - check Big Lots. Most collapsible carts fold down to 3" thick and have retractable handles. Some have solid lids, adding another layer of "totability!" Look for solid construction and good wheels.
For many of us, a cluttered car is a way of life. Whether it is carting around children and all their gear or serving as your restaurant on the go, the car bears the brunt of life's messes.
I've been trying several ways to keep my mini-van organized. Keep in mind I have two kids aged 7 and 11, drive a carpool and am constantly picking up give-away materials for their school! So the clutter comes whether I want it to or not. The trick is, I know how to keep it at bay!
One thing that works for me is to keep a medium-large container in the back to hold things I will need as I drive around on errands. I'll put bags of things to return to stores in it, folded re-usable sacks, items I need to give to a friend, or books going back to the library. It is all contained. If I ever need to move the rear seats around, I can just pull the whole container out and put it back in - and the contents remain neat and orderly. My container of choice is a woven basket-bag that I bought from a local vendor. It has long stiff handles, a box-like bottom and looks lovely. Many stores sell a nylon trunk organizer system that would work too. My mother uses a plastic crate for her trunk organizer.
Do you ever have loose papers, coupons or receipts floating around the car? I sure do. My favorite organizing tip for the car is to keep a clear plastic envelope, letter sized, to slip next to your seat. I use it to store all those loose papers. For this to truly work, you need to periodically empty the items that go into the house or sort through expired coupons etc. If you actively use the folder, this won't ever be a problem. I put papers to take to a meeting, coupons for a store I know I'll be dropping by at some point, even gift cards for my favorite drive through restaurant.
I also keep certain items in the car always. This would be certain sports gear that my child uses at least 3 times a week. She never uses it outside of class, it doesn't need maintenance, and we always drive the same vehicle to and from class. So that gear stays in the trunk. The uniform that needs washing always comes inside!
A very important rule helps me too: I insist that my passengers take their own belongings out of the car! If they brought too much for one trip, they must return for the rest.
Keep a small bag for garbage. Empty the bag at least weekly. It can be tucked into a door pocket, under the front seat, but always out of the way of feet! I recommend a bag no larger than a bread bag. You can also keep a small whisk broom in a door pocket (or your container in the back!) to quickly sweep out crumbs or sand from seats and floor mats. A little flick of the broom does wonders.
Just like staying organized in your home, you can keep clutter down by taking one minute before you get out at home. Look around, gather the little things that snuck in, take anything extra out of your car. You'll love the way your car works for you on the inside!
When I walk into an organizing store, I find the offerings so tempting! Who wouldn't want the latest bamboo photo storage box or the fabric covered shoe organizer? Those floral file boxes? Lovely! Stackable plastic boxes with snap lock lids? You bet.
But the practical side of me says to stay within my means. Not financial means, but spatial means. Really, how much space do I have for new containers? In my house, not much. I'll base my container selection and purchases on some key factors:
1. What spaces NEED new containers? What size and shapes work best there?
2. What current containers need to be replaced?
3. If I replace a container, can I use the old one somewhere else?
4. Can I just get rid of the stuff in an old container?
If you are upgrading or upsizing or just replacing a container, make a plan for that old one. If you can't use it, can you "afford" to store it? Sometimes the answer is no, there just isn't a good space. In that case, pass it on to a friend if you can.
I recommend a practical approach to purchasing containers, the same attitude you used to decide you needed some!