Organizing Ideas

Home organization 101: Organizers' challenge

Home organization 101: Organizers' challenge

Home organization 101: Organizers' challenge Author: Style At Home

Organizing Ideas

Home organization 101: Organizers' challenge

What are your biggest organizing challenges? That's what I asked everyone I know. Guess what? We're facing similar issues: too much paper and too much of something else, be it clothes, shoes, magazines.

I asked members of the Professional Organizers in Canada to weigh in on two hypothetical cases. The solutions offered by Jane Veldhoven of Get Organized! Professional Services in Halifax, and Janis Nylund of Orderly Concepts & Solutions in Surrey, B.C., are straightforward and easy to implement.

Andrea and Jim work full time. Each night, Andrea picks up Jack, 10, and Rachel, 8, walks in the door, puts the mail on the kitchen counter and starts dinner. Later, once the kids are in bed, Jim takes the bills and leaves the rest unopened for Andrea, who is busy catching up on office work. Since there's nothing urgent, Andrea then puts everything in a bag labelled "To Be Opened" to be dealt with on the weekend. But between sports, shopping and housecleaning, only some of the mail gets processed. The rest is either tossed, put into a "To Be Filed" plastic bag or left in the "To Be Opened" bag.

Some mornings, as everyone rushes for school or work, the children pull out forms that need immediate attention. Andrea has tried hanging a folder labelled "School Forms" on the kitchen wall, but the kids don't remember to put papers there, and she doesn't always remember to remind them. Some of the unopened mail causes real problems, but mostly the situation results in feelings of guilt and inadequacy for Andrea as mail and magazines multiply. "Andrea and Jim are the typical family of today: two jobs, two children, too much to do," says Jane. "Andrea and Jim can't do it all," says Janis. "They can, however, set up systems and delegate tasks."

The system
• Set up a central desk/office area in the kitchen or adjoining family room> with six baskets (or slots, wall pockets, a desktop system or shelves) and label "In," "Out," "Read," "Act," "Pay" and "File." Also include an attractive paper-recycling container. (If you don't bring mail into the kitchen or desk area right away, create a "landing zone" near the door, which could be something simple like a basket for mail. Place a basket in the living room for magazines.)

• Organize a household file system in the kitchen if you have space; otherwise, use a separate room.

• Hang a decorative whiteboard or blackboard/bulletin board in the kitchen for messages, coupons, invitations, the family calendar and grocery lists. Coupons can also go in a separate drawer if you collect a lot of them.

How it works
• Upon coming home, Andrea puts mail into the "In" slot. While she starts dinner, the children check for any school notices and forms, which go into the "Act" basket.

• Jim opens everything, tossing all envelopes and junk mail. "If you put mail back in the envelope, you're making extra work," says Jane. Jim sorts what's left into "Pay," "Read," "Act" or "File" categories, so Andrea can immediately see what needs to be done. Jim takes care of the "Pay" basket, marks bills paid and puts them into the "File" basket.

• Andrea takes 15 to 30 minutes each evening, preferably while the children do homework or before she starts her office work, to deal with mail. "Her biggest mistake is putting everything into bags to deal with later," says Jane. "It becomes out of sight, out of mind, and after only one week it can become really overwhelming."

• Daily, Andrea takes care of "Act" items first, then "Read" and "File" ones. Any completed item (school papers, correspondence) going out of the house is put into the "Out" basket, which is emptied in the morning.

• "Keep only papers you need," says Janis. Keep household bills for one year if you choose, but one month is all that's really necessary. Anything for tax or legal purposes should be kept at least for seven years. Self-employed people may need to keep some bills (such as utility and phone) for seven years for tax purposes. "Also, keep car maintenance bills and other car papers for as long as you own the vehicle," says Janis.

• Cancel subscriptions you don't read.


Image courtesy of Pottery Barn.


Sarah has so many beauty products that they're stored in three places: the medicine cabinet, a cabinet near the bathroom, and thelinen closet. Because they're scattered, she's never sure what she has, so she buys more and ends up with duplicates. "Whatever the reason for Sarah's overindulgence -- poor self-image, unhappy in her job or personal life, or because she just plain loves beauty products -- when the accumulation of stuff starts causing stress, there's a problem," says Jane. "Is Sarah using only the beauty products in the bathroom and in her cosmetics bag? If so, we need to look at the reasons why she's hoarding so many products that she simply doesn't use," says Janis.

Letting go
• For a week, monitor which products are currently used; gather leftovers together. "That might eliminate some of the following steps," says Janis. "Seeing the entire collection of leftover, unused items might help Sarah realize it's time to let go."

• If products are being used from all three areas, gather everything (including items from cosmetic bags) and sort into categories, such as cleansers and toners, day creams, eye-makeup remover, powders, colour cosmetics, hair products and so on.

• Toss all expired items (contrary to popular belief, an opened item containing SPF is still good as long as it hasn't passed its expiry date). Give away any unopened duplicates of items as gifts or to a women's shelter.

The new system
• Designate one easily accessible area in the bathroom for products that are currently being used. A maximum of one other area should be set aside for new, unused items.

• Set new guidelines. For every product that comes in, an old one must go out.

• With the money Sarah saves by curbing her spending, she can allow herself to have a monthly massage or facial. "That's a reward that doesn't create clutter," says Jane.

According to Canada Post, the average Canadian household receives around 70 pounds of addressed mail each year. Bills represent almost one-quarter of that, yet almost one-third of canadians have no specific place to store them. Canada post's epost service helps you cut paper at the source: Instead of regular mail, epost delivers electronic versions of household bills and can coordinate electronic payment and storage of bills and other documents for up to seven years. for more information, visit


Image courtesy of Pottery Barn.



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Organizing Ideas

Home organization 101: Organizers' challenge