(Even for the chronically disorganized)
One of the biggest domestic challenges for me is keeping on top of the reams of paper that want to enter my house each and every day. The mail, the magazines and newspapers, the remarkable amount of paper that comes home from school and activities with each child. (I continue to be astonished by the amount of paperwork generated by one first grader.)
And the truth is that I am handicapped in organizing all this paper because I really love paper and knowledge and information and want to READ IT ALL! At least, I plan to read it all, someday, when I have more time.
I discovered a little more about my problem when I recently took a personality test at church, called Strength Finders, in which you discover your “five strengths.” Turned out my number one “strength” was input. Those of us who have input as a strength are rabid collectors of information. We like to have all kinds of information flying at us all the time, from books or magazines or radio, and when possible we like to hold on to the information like squirrels storing nuts because, well, someday it might prove useful.
Whether I like it or not, this is true of me, and I realized it probably explained why if I’m not extra vigilant, the books and the magazines and the newspapers will gleefully stack up and take over my counters.
The thing is, I don’t want paper all over my counters. Stacks of reading material make me feel stressed and as though I’m behind in my to-do list. I long for a nice, clean, paper-free counter.
So I’ve had to make an extra effort to find some paper organization techniques that work for even someone as informationally voracious as me. Here are five techniques that have really helped.
1. Don’t let paper follow you home.
One of my good friends has a rule about leftovers: no matter how much food she has left over from a restaurant meal, she doesn’t let it “follow her home.” I don’t happen to agree about the leftover food (I would hate to miss out on that pizza the next day!), but I think it’s a fantastic rule for paperwork. Whether it’s a church bulletin or a flier or an address list, with very rare exception, I do not leave with it. I add the relevant date or information to my phone’s calendar; I make a note about it in my notes or reminders section on my phone, or I take a picture of it with the camera on my phone. Then I give the paper to the next person or recycle it before I leave the premises.
It’s actually a lot more practical and convenient to have this information on my phone anyway. That way I always know where it is and how to access it. When I take that paper home, it always represents more work, an extra step I have to take sometime in the future–I have to file it, store it, recycle it, or do something else with it. When I put the information into my phone instead, I’m usually already done.
2. Scan your paper treasures.
The scanner function on my printer has become a huge help. Instead of piling those little paper tidbits on my desk, where they will be sure to stay for weeks if not years, I scan them and save them as a PDF on my computer. This goes a long way toward keeping my desk clear.
The truth is that whether I hold on to them as paper or as a digital file, I’ll probably never look at them again, but scanning those precious song lyrics or notes or interesting article makes me feel better. And if I do want to find that information, I have a lot better chance of finding it as titled file on my computer than digging through a disorganized pile on my desk.
3. Have a special place for the paper you really want to keep.
I have searched high and low for something that to help me with the seemingly endless amounts of homework and artwork that my children bring me home from school. I know lots of people advocate taking pictures, but what would I then do with five million JPGs of scribbles and drawings of dinosaurs? And I just don’t really have the time or inclination to make special scrapbooks of their art each year. (Case in point: My first son’s scrapbook is paused at about 4 months of age. He’s 7 now.)
I have grown less sentimental every passing year about the amount of their art I want to keep, but there are still some pieces that are special. So some things go directly on the fridge or get hung up on the hanging art “clothesline” in their room. The rest go into an upright filing folder, like the kind you put magazines in. I have one for each son. Then, when that gets full, I sort through it again and keep the ones I still really want around in these long flat art boxes I got from Pottery Barn Kids. That way I get to enjoy the art without it stacking up on my counters.
The other thing an organizer friend recommended is to have a decorative storage box for every member of the family, including my husband and me for those miscellaneous keepsakes–special tickets, graduation notices or programs, etc. That has worked really well for me, although I have to keep going through the boxes to make sure they don’t get too full.
4. Throw them away, even if you haven’t read them.
I love magazines and newspapers. My husband and I might just be the only people in our neighborhood under the age of 50 who still subscribe to the paper. We have pared down our magazine subscriptions to the ones we truly enjoy, but we still get 4 or 5 magazines a week. If I don’t stay on top of these, they will literally take over. I’m talking I will be drowning in a sea of New Yorkers, Smithsonians, and Entertainment Weeklys. So I have to be brutal about this, especially the daily paper. If I haven’t read it by the end of the day, into the recycle bin it goes. If the magazines start to stack up, I only let myself glance at my favorite sections–the Bullseye and Books section of EW, the short story in The New Yorker–and then those have to go too. I keep reminding myself that as a subscriber to these magazines, I can always go back online and look up anything I missed or might want to read again. (I know I probably never will, but it makes me feel better.)
5. Use Pinterest to keep track of recipes, items from catalogs, and random ideas.
I have come a little bit late to the Pinterest party, but I just love the convenience of this site. It’s the perfect place for those ideas I want to remember but just have no idea where to file or store in my office, like innovative ways to use baking soda or a recipe for homemade lemon sugar body scrub. When I found a photo of a hairstyle I liked, instead of sticking it on my desk to get lost, I scanned it and pinned it to my Pinterest page so I could show it to my hairstylist the next time I got a haircut.
I find it especially useful as a place to keep recipes. Instead of cutting out recipes from magazines and newspapers I try to find them online and pin them to my Pinterest page. I then access the page when I’m cooking and cook directly from my phone or tablet. I can even check it at the grocery store to make sure I’m getting the right ingredients.
These are some of the things that have helped me to keep ahead of the paper avalanche. I would love to hear what works for you!