My client from about a year ago recently moved. She just sent me this picture of where she put her files in her new house! I just love it. It's always fun to see the ideas that emerge as a result of saying "no" to the traditional filing cabinet. We've all seen office closets before, but this is different because it's not in the office and it's not strictly for supplies. This is where she keeps her working files. A few tips from Carol: - I left enough space between the shelves so that you can easily see the file folder labels from a standing position. It wouldn't work if you had to crouch or use chair for the files you use often. - The top shelves with the boys report cards do need a stool for access, but I figured that once or twice a year that would be ok. I saw a little folding stool at the Container Store that I might get. - The only other thing I may add is some closet lights under each shelf. - Supplies are in wine create
To make a long story short:
Organize before a move. As stressful as moves can be, imagine the stress that will hit when you're unpacking bags and boxes of loose paper and detritus. Imagine seeing what I see all too often as an organizer: bags and boxes of detritus that are unearthed a decade or more after the move!
Have you ever regretted not organizing before a move? If you have a move coming up in the near future, what organizing projects will take top priority? Do you still have remnants of moves past that you're now motivated to organize, even if the move was years ago? Please share thoughts in the comments!
Have you ever lost a contact because you couldn't remember their name or where you put their card? Think you should be more digital than you are, and frustrated with how many business cards you still have in hard copy? What categories will you create when dividing up your business cards? What genre of business cards will be your fullest?Please share in the comments!
Please help me in welcoming two new additions to the Inspired Office Filing Hall of Shame! You can imagine my excitement when my client and I unearthed these two gems from a filing system that hadn't been purged in at least 5 years. Consider these to be examples of how not to label a folder! Why exactly? They're just glorified piles, telling us nothing specific about the contents. The good news is that anything in these folders self-expires after even just a short amount of time. We had a good chuckle and tossed their mysterious contents in a matter of minutes. Don't know where to start purging your own files? Hunt and peck through your office for any vaguely titled folders and envelopes. Trust me, you can blindly toss the contents. If they once were "important" or required "action," their ship has sailed and you're surely onto bigger and better things. Need more examples of unhelpful labels? Check out the original Filing Hall of Shame here! Do you have folders worthy of the Inspired Office Hall of Shame? Please share! Email me pics and you too could be a member of the esteemed club of folks who are swiftly moving towards a filing system worthy of the Inspired Office Hall of FAME! This is all in good fun. My clients all know that their folders are lovingly showcased here and have graciously offered to serve as examples!
Video length: 1:54
To make a long story short: No more jiggling wires with a friend to match gadget to cord in strip! Wrap a short piece of Gaffers' tape around the base of the cord near plug and label with its respective gadget.
A friend and I recently coined the motto, "If you want your life to change, your days have to change." If that's so, then if you want your days to change, the hours in your day have to change. Developing new habits sounds exciting when you are swept up in imagining how excited you'll be tomorrow to jump out of bed and tackle that to do list wide awake with joy. Suddenly though, it isn't so sparkly and alluring when you walk over to your computer early morning, faced with email fires to put out, only to find yourself stumbling through Facebook and articles hours into your day, with the to do list only growing.
Recently I worked closely with a client to design her morning. This looks simple, but was the result of hours of learning her habits, the intricacies of her busy schedule, and the nature of what is required of her throughout the day. I suggest she write it down both to anchor her new intentions and to serve as a daily visual reminder of how to feel accomplished with ease. She loved this idea, and found the perfect acrylic magnetic frame to showcase her new routine!
The more beautiful a system, the more you will respect and USE it. Think through your habits and projects to design a morning routine that is no more than five steps. Write it down. Make it pretty. Watch it transform your days…..and life.
Notice that her #4 is "Schedule Pomodoros." What's a Pomodoro you ask and why is is so important to do this daily? Click here for a breakdown of this powerfully simple time management tool.
Purchase gorgeous modern acrylic frames here.
How will a morning routine change your day and life? What are some things you need to to first thing in the morning to pave the way for a productive day? What would you add that you don't see here? Please share your thoughts in the comments below!
I was asked this very question last week by someone who is considering working with me. I gave him the same answer I’ve given everyone: “It depends on many things. There are of course the answers you can find at irs.gov, but you’ll ultimately have to make your own rules and stick to them.”A quick Google search on this question currently results in 33,000 hits. The answers to this question are as varied as the people asking it. This link at irs.gov starts to answer the most basic questions about tax documents, but even still, the answers are a bit nebulous. I’ve found though that many people are quick to make exceptions to any rule, keeping much more than any reliable source would suggest.
Business owners need to keep certain documents and receipts for much longer than W2’d employees. Homeowners generally like to keep certain maintenance records and utility bills longer than renters. This changes too if your business is run out of your home or if you rent space in your home. People who simply sleep better at night knowing that they can locate their taxable income from 1979 need a different set of rules (if they want to get some sleep!) It gets complicated, and exceptions usually are in order.
As an organizer, I pick my battles. I also have to help people create their own rules that they can live with. Though the IRS typically has three years to audit a return, a more common and conservative approach is to keep returns for at least seven years. Last week I worked with a client who felt better about keeping tax returns forever and supporting tax documents for seven years. I thought that was fair enough, considering her personal rule allowed us to fill a trash bag of shredding.
By all means, consult your accountant for specific answers. If you are still uneasy about tossing some documents that, technically, you don’t need, then make a set of personal rules around how long to keep certain documents. For example, if you know for certain that your bank keeps PDFs of your statements, but you just can’t bear to part with them, then keep them organized, attainable, and please trash everything else that comes up against your expiration dates.
Do you have any rules that are your own, as opposed to something you read? How long do you keep certain documents? Do you have additional resources online you turn to for deciding how long to keep records? In the past, have you kept records far longer than necessary because you were putting off making a decision on how long to keep them? Please share in the comments below!
Yes, organizing begets productivity, but the two are not synonymous. More time in one's day is an obvious benefit of getting organized, but just as organizing takes thought and maintenance, so does time management. As long as papers and objects are entering your life, organizing remains a process. As long as distractions and life outside of your goals enter your mind, time needs ongoing managing.
Personally, time management has been a challenge for me ever since school homework assignments grew beyond half-page worksheets. It might not surprise you to hear that I use organizing as a distraction! I've been known to leave my chair, mid email, to start cleaning the refrigerator or scan my receipts. No matter how focused I get on a work project, that focus is not guaranteed to be there the next minute. I've tried a few tools in the past that have helped, but my tendency is to still start wandering the house after about fifteen minutes of work.
Things changed though back in January when I re-discovered something that has proven to work magic on my productivity. To keep this from you any longer would be a sin of omission. I was working with a client in Alabama who wanted help managing her time at work. On the spot, I remembered a time management technique that was shared with me years ago by one of the most productive people I know: The Pomodoro Technique. I explained it to my client and promised that I would commit to using it right alongside her.
It's this simple: Work for 25 minutes at a time, allowing five minute breaks in between spurts. There is nothing you have to study, read, or buy. Watch a video about it here. It's important that you take your breaks even if you are on a roll, as Pomodoro is based on studies that show our focus deteriorates rapidly after about 25 minutes. To skip a break renders your subsequent Pomodoros weaker and weaker.
This technique has kept me honest. Almost immediately I found that I'm much better at estimating how long a task will take. For example, I had been putting off some light bookkeeping for months. When I set the timer, I found that this dreaded task only took about fifteen minutes. On the flip side, I'm learning that some important tasks of mine require more than I had thought. Now I can properly schedule them into my week. (Writing this post took exactly two Pomodoros).
A surprising benefit has been that there is less gray area in my day and work life in general. When the timer is running, I'm working. When it's off, I'm off.
Though it's a free tool with no gimmicks or gadgets, I chose to buy a timer app for $1.99. In your app store, just search for "Pomodoro Timer" to see dozens of results. I keep the ticking sound on as added anchoring of my attention. The "tick, tick…" works like crazy glue, sticking me to the chair until the chime sends me off to pet the cat, check Facebook, grab a snack, or organize a drawer.
Intrigued? Here's how to start: 1. Learn more and watch the video at www.pomodorotechnique.com 2. Download a Pomodoro Timer app - not required, but strongly recommended 3. Before your first set of productivity bursts, write down exactly the tasks you hope to accomplish in your 25 minute blocks of time.
Do you already have experience with the Pomodoro Technique? If not, do you have a feeling this could change your life too? How many Pomodoros would you like to work into your day? What recurring tasks do you have that should be done only during defined blocks of time? Please share in the comments below!
It's here! The Washingtonian has encapsulated my organizing philosophies so beautifully. Read my most important organizing advice in the latest issue. Being featured is thrilling in and of itself, but I'm also so pleased with how Michelle Thomas, the writer, organized the organizers thoughts! We spoke for close to an hour. I wasn't sure what to expect to see on paper, but she masterfully decluttered our conversation, resulting in these five nuggets of wisdom:
Organizing is a process, not a single step. This theory does not exclude we organizers. Quickly after I reveal to someone my chosen profession, I'm usually asked, "How organized are your files?" Because of purges like the one I did over the weekend, I can confidently say, "Very. I walk the walk." To walk the walk and live as an example to my clients, I have to put in the work. Just like you, my expired coupons, old statements, faded article tear-outs, and useless warranties don't march themselves into the recycling bin. This weekend I went to file something and cringed a bit at my small, but growing stack of un-filed papers sitting on top of my file cart. An otherwise lazy Sunday afternoon abruptly turned into an impromptu organizing session with myself.
Time spent: 1 hr 45 minutes. Folders eliminated: 6.
This is a process that I typically do about twice per year. It is not scheduled, rather, I act swiftly when the burning urge hits. Perhaps you can't relate if your love affair with sorting paper hasn't brought you to make a career of it, so I strongly recommend you DO schedule in a purge at least twice per year. Put it on your calendar and set a reminder.
It wasn't an entertaining afternoon, nor an overwhelmingly satisfying one. In the end, my stack of trash pictured here was only a couple inches high. I share this peek into my closet to admit that it takes significant time and focus for me to stay organized. My clients feel better when I tell them that I have paper too and it gets messy too. Remember this the next time you look at your files and think it's time to tear through them. We, the ones who agree that life is better with less, are all in this together.
Do you feel bit more motivated now to dig into your files? How satisfying (or unsatisfying) is it when you get around to doing the work? Please share your thoughts in the comments below!
This video is a follow up to my previous post An Odd Office Organizing Product & Proof That it Works. I've used it many times since, and shot this short video in Alabama last week to give you a tour of my client's pockets, what they are labeled, and exactly how they are helping to zap miscellaneous stashes and undone to-do lists. I was coming down with a cold, so forgive my quiet little voice! Every word was a struggle, but I powered through in the name of organizing!
Purchase your pocket folder here.
What categories would you put in a pocket folder? Would you keep yours in one place or carry it with you between work and home? Is this a solution you could see yourself using? Please share in the comments below!
Video length: 7:19
To make a long story short:
1. Write down your vision.
2. Do the mega-purge.
3. Create a 2014 series of files.
4. Group like with like.
5. Designate one place for 2014 receipts.
Which of these steps are you most motivated to do? Which step feels the easiest, which the most effective, and which the most daunting? Please share thoughts in the comments below!
It's been twelve years since I posted my first ad in Washington, DC's City Paper, advertising a full home organizing makeover for $80. This year I reunited with the lucky man who took me up on that steal of a deal! Hundreds of clients later, I'm still learning. Each client and each session continues to reveal a new layer about what makes us tick, why organizing matters, and how to better use my words and energy to deliver a healthier space.
Here are 7 of the many things I learned about organizing in 2013:
1. Sometimes organizing serves as a welcome distraction from the scary things over which we have no control. This year I had clients hire me in the face of severe depression, divorce, and looming brain surgery. They chose to focus on the minutiae of organizing because it balanced the weight of something unpleasant at best, frightening at worst. In turn, together we realized that it's not minutiae at all. To create calm in one area of life has a steady and far-reaching ripple effect. Their personal environment was something they did have control over. Organizing gave them back their power.
2. Evernote changed my life. Personally, Evernote is the best tool I've discovered for going paperless, organizing the brain, and reassuring yourself that you'll never lose a piece of information ever again. After having the app sit idle on my iPhone and computer for two years, I patiently learned how to use it. I now add to and refer to Evernote countless times per day. It has allowed me to toss almost every paper that comes into my life, capture my thoughts, bookmark sites, and manage the mental scraps of the day.
3. Organizing isn't something you ever get done. This is not bad news. It's not like getting a college degree. You don't obtain it and claim it as finished. It is a lifelong process. As long as things come into your life, organizing must be something you are always doing, not did one afternoon.
4. A to-do list is a sign of life. This "a ha" moment came to me while discussing the weight of to-dos with a long-term favorite client of mine. We were lamenting how crossing things off often begets more things to cross off. We simultaneously realized that we'll never get it all done. It actually felt liberating. Everything on our lists is a choice. Everything. Really, what do we have to do? See them as choices and either let them be a burden, or a sign that we are alive and moving forward. God forbid we actually get it all done…!
5. Posting a visual reminder of one's chores, to-dos, and accomplishments works. I had a client mark Xs in boxes to track the bags of paper that went out the door, posted my own daily household chores list on my fridge, and had another client post her organizing projects in colored markers on her office door. Each are different ways to both motivate us and keep us honest.
6. The best tool I can ever give a client is one of seeing them as the person they want to be. When I see their vision for their life as bigger and brighter than the packed boxes of paper that line their walls, the flood waters recede and the sea parts. The best part is I don't even have to use words to express it. This is when they begin to have ideas they never had before, and find a motivation that wasn't there when all they could see was chaos.
If you:Drop something, pick it up.Open something, close it.Take something out, put it away.Bring something in, get rid of something.
What did you learn about organizing in 2013? Big or small, ground-breaking or mundane, all insights & comments are welcome below!
“When I let go of what I am, I become what I might be” -Lao Tzu We are deep into my favorite season: Fall. I don’t know about you, but I’ve had the itch lately to get rid of stuff. Well, I always have that itch; just look at what I do for a living... Just when I think there’s nothing else that can go, I’ll stare down my closet or kitchen and find one more thing that I can live without.
This actually always happens for me this time of year and that might be explained by traditional Chinese medicine. Fall is the season when nature’s life force begins to return to the earth. Nature sheds. We become more introspective and less reliant on the things around us. Fall is a time for letting go of old attachments. Yes, this includes the junk in your office! There’s nothing like a crisp fall breeze blowing through the windows to get me reaching for that donations box. Fall is one of the easiest times of year to make decisions about what should stay and what should go. Your innate filtering system is very fine right now. Nature is supporting you. Test this for yourself and put it to use it before it passes.
Do you also find the urge to purge this time of year? What part of your home or office is next in line for a good sort? Please share in comments below!
Length: 1:43 To make a long story short: My junk mail never makes it past my foyer, thanks to an extra large wicker recycling basket at my front door. A large & inviting recycling bin close to the source is your first line of defense in combating paper clutter. The more attractive it is, the more likely you are to use it!
Sometimes out of the blue, a client's organizing dilemma prompts me to resurrect a solution I haven't turned to in years. A couple of months ago, while working with a long-term client of mine, we did just that. Over the last few sessions we had focused on her array of one-offs: the active papers on the desk that seemingly had no peers and absolutely had no home. Having tried wall pockets with only mild success, we needed something fresh that didn't involve file folders, or god forbid, file drawers. An idea came to me in an instant: "that plastic folder thing that's actually lots of folders that are wire bound." In spite of my poor description, she understood my scramble of words, and even had one in stock!
Low and behold, it does have a name and can be purchased here. Here's how we used it:
We did a simple sort job to group like with like. The following 7 categories were placed into individual pockets:
- 5 Minute To-Dos
- Statements to File
- Health Claims to File
- Packing Slip Returns
- To Do for Kids
- To Give to Kids
I recently followed up to ask if it was still working. Here's what she had to say:
"Yes, the multi-pocket folder notebook is excellent and works really, really well. OK, true confessions first: I still do have to muster the willingness to actually place each day's paper in the proper place and sometimes I get horribly lazy. But even then, when I am finally disgusted and ready to deal with the small pile accumulating, the notebook is a masterful solution. Rather than having to make a new file, or get up, open the right file drawer and look for the right file, it takes me 2 seconds to slip the item in the right pocket. The health insurance claims pocket has been especially great since those little slips from PT or the pharmacy would often get lost on my desk. And when I'm ready to file a claim, everything is in one place. The only thing that would be better is if you stopped by once a week and organized everything!" - Vicki in Virginia
What one-off documents are cluttering up your desktop? What actionable papers are getting buried? How would you use a folder like Vicki's? Was this post helpful? Please let me know in the comments below!
You don't know me until you've been in my home. It truly is an extension of me. Any stranger would walk into my home and assume I value beauty, order, art, plants, nature, and travel. They would also glean that I love texture, strong shapes & silhouettes, statement pieces, and mid-century design. One day a few weeks ago, I was relaxing on the couch and felt inspired to make a list of all of my favorite objects in my home. It was fun, easy, and made me even more grateful for the things in my life. It truly is a well-curated collection.
The list was actually 45 items long. What I love most: my terrariums, my Indonesian teak platform bed, and my live edge walnut side table found on Craigslist. What I really began to notice though were the few objects that were not on the list. One piece that didn't make the cut was a huge decorative vase that I've had for years. Shortly after I got it, it dropped and cracked. I patched it up nicely with glue and exposed the unscathed side, but the love affair with this vase was dead. I had just stopped noticing it. It wasn't hideous, but was adding nothing to my home. It now sits in my car, on its way to the thrift store.
I didn't make this list as part of an exercise to get rid of more things, but rather, a way to deepen my appreciation for the things I already loved. That, it certainly did. Ridding myself of one more thing that was less than amazing was just an surprise side benefit. Making my list only took about 10 minutes, but was a very enjoyable 10 minutes. Do the same. You may be surprised at what doesn't make the cut!
What are some of your favorite things in your home and office? From where you're sitting now, can you spot one thing that you may have had for some time, but just isn't adding anything anymore? Was this post helpful? Please share in the comments!
To make a long story short: These clear plastic file boxes are a supply that I rave about in talks and always try to have on-hand in my trunk when working with clients. They work wonders for anyone who is "out of sight out of mind," providing a nice alternative or addition to the filing cabinet. They work well on desktops or bookshelves, allowing you to quickly access active files. Think of your filing cabinets as document storage. Think of these as document access. Papers will likely flow through these, rather than live here permanently. Purchase yours at the Container Store by clicking here.
Found this helpful? Please let me know by leaving a comment! Let me know how you display and access your most active files. What documents of yours need to be kept visible?
Office Organizing Expert Kacy Paide loves to do what most people hate: organize offices & paper. She works with folks who are desperate for a more functional, more beautiful, more inspiring office. Kacy has been a Professional Organizer since 2001 and has worked with over 500 clients. Call her crazy, but she loves a good mess. Based in Silver Spring, MD Kacy is nationally available for consulting & speaking. Reach her at (202) 262-1207 and email@example.com. Watch video lessons on office organizing here. Receive your free list of 100 Ways to Organize Your Office at www.theinspiredoffice.com.
Once upon a time in crawl space sat a treasure box. Well, a treasure box disguised as a Tupperware bin. Up until last weekend, it housed more than thirty batik fabric pieces I collected during my trips to Bali, Indonesia - last trip being in 2002. I consider them to be some of the most beautiful things I own, attached to so many beautiful memories. I bought them with intentions of cutting them up into so many projects, but there they sat, eternally folded, lonely, and probably missing Bali too. Recently, I asked myself, “How special is an object if it never sees the light of day?”
A few years back I turned my most beloved antique one into two pillowcases that I now sleep on every night. This is the one that I would have liked to preserve as if it were the Constitution in the Archives. It was the softest piece of cotton I’ve ever touched and begged so many questions about who wore it. It’s so much happier under my head though, and I’m so much happier being reminded of my trips every time I go to bed. The rest remained boxed tight in the dark.
Many of you know I’ve been on my own personal decluttering bender lately. First it was the Domino Magazine collection, then it was my only bookcase, and this recent attack was on this fabric collection. No one is safe here at Planet Kacy. You should see what I just did to my cook books…. So there the remaining thirty some batiks sat.
Even though I have enough storage space, my inner organizer is always nagging me to keep it as empty as possible. Being your own professional organizer comes with a lot of chatter upstairs. She constantly nags, “If it’s stored, why do you need it? If you never see it, why is it there? Yes you have beautiful things tucked away, but aren’t your favorite things already out?” So a few weekends ago I gave in and brought out that box.
Like most organizing projects, parts were harder than I thought and parts were easier than I thought:
The hard parts:
- The beginning.
- All of the “But this one is so beautiful!” moments.
- Remembering details about purchasing each and every one.
- Deciding which first few pieces would go.
The easy parts:
- Deciding which ones would go (these on the right) after getting my sea legs with letting go of the first few.
- Pretty containerizing at the very end for the pieces I kept. I repurposed a stray jumbo apothecary jar.
- Coming up with some rules. Let it go if it’s:
- Machine made (as opposed to hand-dyed).
- Pre-fabricated for a piece of furniture I don’t own (ie: a square tablecloth)
- Was a gift and I’m only keeping it because it’s a gift. I cherished that gift long enough, right? Nobody said we have to keep gifts forever.
So in the end, I was left with a mostly empty box, a beautiful one-of-a-kind display, and ten batiks to sell. I can enjoy these pieces instead of bemoan the space they take up.
What are you “hoarding” that is too special to use? Is it note cards you picked up overseas? Is it a pen that was gifted to you? Is it a collection from your travels that you thought too beautiful to display in your office? Do you have a collection in mind that you can dismantle, condense, and finally start enjoying? Please share in the comments!
I got rid of my only bookshelf. There, I said it. I didn't get rid of all my books, but I did get rid of my one and only bookshelf. I'm going to tell you why and I'm going to tell you how. I'm also going to share with you what I kept and why. The Why: When I told my friend about this she said, "Why? Books are wonderful!" My new bookshelf-independent lifestyle isn't a commentary on books per se, but rather a reflection on living only with things that are indeed wonderful. My answer to her: "Well, the books I donated weren't that wonderful." I get it - I know countless folks who would rather go without indoor plumbing than go without books. I'm not saying that's wrong, I'm just not one of those people. Ever since buying a Kindle last year, I actually read more than ever. I'm a slow reader, so reading a book twice has little appeal. During this process, I learned something about myself: books to me have always been resources or decoration. When a resource though hasn't been referred to in years and the decoration just blends into the background with time, what good is it? I've also come to realize that I value empty space above most objects.
The How: Last Sunday I came home from a weekend on the Chesapeake Bay with friends and family. I was un-showered and hungry, but all I could do was make a beeline to the bookcase. Once I make up my mind to get rid of something it has to happen immediately - even before food and personal hygiene! I was literally obsessed with the idea. Friends, this was NOT easy. Here's the breakdown:
1. I started my own organizing project like I do all others - with the low-hanging fruit. I took from the shelf the books that I knew I didn't want to keep. These were the easy decisions, and there weren't as many of those as I expected.
2. Realizing that in order to make this happen, every book must come down, I took every book down. A semblance of piles formed. A box appeared. Delusional aspirations of only keeping what would fit in one box surfaced. I blame that more on the hunger than the quest for minimalism.
3. Better, smarter piles began to take shape. The four piles you see below are the books I kept: - Books to keep on shelf in living room. These include some sentimental gifts (yes, I do keep some of those!), 3 organizing books, an Estonian travel guide I'll actually use, coffee table books that I actually look at & my favorite book ever, "Illusions" by Richard Bach. - Bali and Indonesia books to store with boxed Bali memorabilia. (I studied abroad there in 2000 - um, yeah, great decision!) Don't shed any tears; I have plenty of teak furniture and Indonesian art that are much bolder reminders of my time spent there. - Feng Shui books to store with Feng Shui notebooks. In my early twenties I took 5 feng shui courses. I used to do feng shui consultations. Since I don't do this now, the books don't need to be front and center in my life.
4. I bagged up the books to donate. These included great books that I read that I'll never read again, freebies from networking events, Feng Shui books that were too basic (I kept the rare & advanced ones), and even an autographed book that wasn't worth keeping just because it was autographed.
5. Here's how I displayed the keepers!
With an empty corner where there once was a tall sexy designer bookcase, I do feel much lighter. I have no regrets. Looking at my books now, I know that each one is special and truly chosen by the person I am today. The smaller collection feels rich, curated, and meaningful. Decide for yourself what collection of yours no longer has the value it once did. For me it was books. For you it might be clothing, decorations, art, or furniture. Whatever it is, do whatever it takes to feel lighter, because it's a wonderful feeling that money can't buy.
Do you have a collection that's weighing you down? Have you ever let go of a collection? How do you feel about books? Do you think I'm nuts for doing this?! Do you think you're ready to look at your things with a new set of eyes now? I want to hear your thoughts. Please share!