Category Archives: organization

What Are You Going to Do With All Those Kid Papers?

It is the bane of every parent’s existence: ALL THOSE PIECES OF PAPER. What do you do with it all? Especially if you are trying to keep clutter to a minimum and have More of Less?

I’ve decided one must be ruthless to survive. A couple of years ago, I got serious. In our family, each child gets one color-coded file folder. This file lives in my yellow, spray-painted filing cabinet next to my desk on the main floor.

At the beginning of each school year, I write the name and school year on the top of the file folder. Throughout the year, I save only the most meaningful pieces of paper. If it doesn’t fit in the file folder? Sorry, it has to go 🙁 DSC_0077  What about all of that artwork? We hang art on the wall for awhile, sometimes take a picture, and then wave good-bye (correction: I wave good-bye. Under no circumstances do you ask permission to throw something away!)

At the end of every school year, the yearly file gets plucked from the yellow filing cabinet and goes downstairs to live in a plastic, portable filing cabinet. Each child has one. The plan is that when our children leave the house, they can take their personal plastic filing cabinet with them: unnamed-1What about important documents, medical records, and glasses RX you need to access every once in awhile? Who wants to go down to the basement and try to find it? What I’ve done, is use those same colored file folders (for instance, Cope is always yellow) and write the name and “Records” on the top. This file lives permanently in my yellow filing cabinet upstairs so I can access it easily.DSC_0083

DSC_0079This was one of those pieces of paper I wanted to keep: Nelson’s Adidas shoe design he drew in 8th grade. It went in Nelson’s blue “2014-15” file folder.

This system has simplified life SO much. I’m keeping a record, but it’s simple and automatic. I used to turn all these papers into homemade photo books, but after baby #2 was born, I quickly discovered that paper and photos would literally turn into a full-time job. I just couldn’t keep up. The feeling that I wasn’t remembering my child’s life in a clear and organized fashion hung over me like a storm cloud. This system? No stress.

Would it be nicer to have it all in nice, 3-ringed binders? Perhaps. But this is what I can do.

The kids also have a bin in the basement where I’ve saved a few items like baby blankets, a special toy, or Nelson’s cowboy boots he wore for three years. Some items are keepers; but remember: you must be ruthless to survive in a world that loves STUFF!

When the darlings leave home, they’ll take their one filing cabinet and one bin. That’s it! Cope will probably also steal my shoes, but that’s another battle…

Speaking of organizing files, I have a lot of them.

All of my personal files live in my yellow filing cabinet. Here’s a look at my writing section:DSC_0087

I recently discovered the beauty of the label maker (how can this bring me such giddy joy? I don’t know but it does!!!)IMG_8793You’ll notice the color-coded children’s section up front.

That’s how I do. How do you do?

And happy weekend!


Getting Organized: How to Get to Inbox Zero Every Day

Did you know we spend an average of 55 minutes a day looking for stuff we can’t find? On average, that’s about a year of our lifetime. What a waste.

Even though I get a lot of stuff done, I am seeking greater peace of mind. Meaning: getting my life organized. I’ve finally realized that the best way for me to do that is to ASK FOR HELP, to learn from a coach or a mentor.

I took the plunge and signed up for this FREE on-line course called “Mind Organization for Moms,” written by my organizational hero, April Perry. And no, you don’t have to be a mom to benefit from this course! The first lesson is getting your email to zero.

Who cares about email, you say? Well, who knew that having an “Inbox Zero” at the end of the day would take away so much stress – but it has. Boy howdy, it just makes me giddy.

This is how it happens: every email gets filed into an email folder.

This is based on using Gmail, which I highly recommend.

First, you’re going to make five folders by scrolling down to the very bottom on the left hand side of your Google email to where it says, “Create Label.” (you may need to click “more” and it will scroll further down.)

Screen Shot 2015-01-26 at 3.33.53 PM

After you click “Create new label,” this box pops up:Screen Shot 2015-01-26 at 3.34.56 PM

Create five emails folders in the left hand column of your inbox (they will not “nest” under anything). Label them as follows:

@Action, @Immediate Action, @Someday, @Incubation, @Waiting.

@Action is for emails that require you to do something, but it’s not urgent.

@Immediate Action is what you work with all day. Everything in this folders means you need to take care of it within 1-3 days. You check it at the end of every day.

@Incubation is for things you are thinking about but don’t want to get rid of, like a coupon.

@Someday are emails that have ideas you really want to get to…someday. An example is an amazing bread recipe or a photography class.

@Waiting is for emails that require a response from another person. An example is emailing a query to a magazine and you’re waiting for a response. You’ve also emailed yourself so you have a copy of the email.

The reason you put the @ in front is because Google organizes the labels alphabetically and you want those to be the first options you see on the left hand side of your email.

It will look like this on the left hand side of your email now:

Screen Shot 2015-01-26 at 3.38.43 PM

Now, all the emails you get won’t fit exactly into those folders which is why you can create all the folders you want after these five! By the time you’re done with this you’ll feel like one snazzy organizational guru!

Now, every time you get an email, you PUT that email into the folder. Caveat: if you can take care of the email within two minutes, just take care of it quickly. Everything else? File!

How to move an email into a folder? Click on the email you want to read or have read, and then click on that little envelope at the top of your inbox. It looks like this (to the right of the trash can:

Screen Shot 2015-01-27 at 5.35.33 PMOh, goody! Another manuscript rejection! I’m going to move that OUT of my inbox and into my “rejected manuscripts” folder. Or maybe I’ll just delete it 🙂

Here’s some examples of other folders I’ve created:

I get a lot of family emails so one of my folders is “Family.”

Screen Shot 2015-01-26 at 3.36.44 PM

I have a “School” label and put all of my children’s “Kid’s Activities” under that Parent “School” Label.

Screen Shot 2015-01-26 at 3.36.17 PM

Here is what the side of my email looks like with some of my folders (I make a lot!) I try to make general “big” labels and then add subcategories to those labels.

Screen Shot 2015-01-26 at 3.39.01 PM

The Password label sure is handy – I’ve saved a TON of time quickly looking up a password instead of guessing wrong ten times.

I like to make other labels to “nest” under big labels. For instance, “Schools” has sub-labels based on the schools we attend. School emails “nest” under “Better Teaching,” and “Employment” for contracts.

Screen Shot 2015-01-26 at 3.40.39 PM

Other labels include Church, Journal (which nests under “Family”), Great Quotes, and Receipts (very helpful.) I’m always tweaking.

Screen Shot 2015-01-25 at 9.10.41 PM

My “Writing” label has the most sub-labels as I try to keep helpful articles, contracts, manuscripts, and writing opportunities very organized. This fall I was in a huge panic as I could NOT find an important contract buried somewhere in the 3000 emails piled up. I had to write to the editor (embarrassing and unprofessional) for info. It shall never happen again!

Screen Shot 2015-01-25 at 9.11.18 PM

What I love most about this system is that it FORCES me to take action. I ended up unsubscribing to a lot of websites and newsletters  (like Rugs, USA – how did I get on that subscriber list???) because I had to deal with it instead of just ignoring it.

Filing everything somewhere forces me to make a decision about what I want to do with an email – will I really read it or will it just hang out in my inbox forever?

It makes me feel more in control of my whole life – which may sound a little dramatic – but it’s really how I feel.

Clearing your whole inbox takes time. When I started I had over 3000 emails! It’s taken many hours, but I’ve actually enjoyed the process. You can file in batches or make another label called @Sort and file in half hour batches. I bet you’ll end up deleting almost ALL of them.

Now, this system scared me at first because what if I put things in @Immediate Action and then didn’t look in that folder? Guess what? You have to look at the folder and look at it often! I try to do this every morning and every night. If I’m procrastinating doing something with the email, then it doesn’t belong in that folder.

I’m not a perfectionist and I’m not OCD, but I want to get better at managing my life so that I’m not so stressed out and overwhelmed. I believe it will help me be a better mother, writer, and give me more energy for the really important stuff.

I tell you, when I see this a couple times a day:

Screen Shot 2015-01-25 at 9.09.52 PM

I feel really, really good. It’s like a shot of adrenaline.

Questions? Let me know! And good luck!

As I go on this organizational journey (sorry for using that word), I’d like to take you along, filing each post under the tab that says “Habits” on the top of this website. (wait, am I getting organized?)

Next time: Using a digital calendar (love it!) and how to keep track of all those birthdays! Isn’t this fun?

P.S. Here’s the link again in case you’re interested in checking a free e-course Mind Organization course. It’s based on David Allen’s #1 best-selling book GETTING THINGS DONE. The Mind Organization course is a simplified, hand-holding course with eight lessons. I need hand-holding. Managing email is just the first step. Imagine what I’ll feel like after eight lessons…



Dear Slob, maybe you’re just a “Visual Organizer”

It was one of those days when every room looked like this:


I prefer to think that my fairly laissez-faire “whatever” personality works well with motherhood. I prefer “flexible” to “messy.” I imagine Type A personalities have to sing, “Let it Go” far more often than I do. Because I like clean, but my standards are…minimal. But even I have my limits.

Yeah, I know I’m supposed to enjoy all the cobwebs and crumbs, and I know, someday I’ll wish for hurricanes and tornadoes to sweep through my house daily, but I often dream of a minimalistic house where everyone has one toy. Where floors sparkle and each dresser drawer is perfectly organized.

We have Mommy crack downs often:

IMG_3295 IMG_3298

Boogers are scrubbed off walls (I mean, come on!). Drawers are cleaned out. This is where I find all of my hair clips: they are swaddling babies. Floor are vacuumed. Base boards are scrubbed. A certain daughter says, “what’s the point? No one looks at our baseboards!” And then I feel I must do my duty and repeat my mother: “Because we do not live like pigs.”

The problem? It’s so exhausting. I mean, were we born to do nothing but clean?

After such bursts of clean, life feels better. Until the movie starts all over again. The same mess every day.  After day, after day.

After one marathon session, I collapse into bed and say: I need to get organized (this is me being vulnerable)

And he says: Don’t take this the wrong way, but you’re kindof like “so and so” who has stuff here and here and there.

Me not being vulnerable anymore: I am NOT at ALL like that!

He says: I’m not criticizing…

I say: Like I’m some sort of SLOB? (oh, this game in on…!)

He then points to the bedside table where there are large stacks of books, lotion, pens, pencils, and a hairball. I would never admit that on a blog post.

He says: You have to see everything. You think that if you can’t see them, they’ll disappear

And I think, but do not say out loud: Oh my gosh, you’re totally right

He says: You’re a visual organizer

And then I say out loud: Oh my gosh, you’re totally right. Because I can be called a “visual organizer,” just not a “slob.”

Then we are both happy because he’s right (just this once) and I sing, “And At Last I See the Light” from Tangled.

He was so right and I’m still in awe of how right he was. I am a visual organizer.

For example:

Never once will you catch me reading a manual on anything. I tried it once and I didn’t get it. This could also mean I’m lazy. But that’s off-topic for today.

I love lists. I like to handwrite them.

Show me where to go and I’m with you. Tell me five directions on how to get to your house and I’ll end up in Kentucky.

I write notes on everything. I have hundreds of little tidbits on receipts, church programs, sticky notes, and napkins.

If I’m going to a birthday party, I put the present by the door so I can see it. Like for two days.

I keep shopping lists in plain sight

I like notebooks and big posters on the wall so I can see the big picture

Even though I know this is the way I learn, I have to believe that I can get a little bit closer to Nancy Neatfreak. I’m a big believer in job charts and mom not being the martyr. But I also want to work on myself and the way I organize life. It’s all about inner peace, dude!

I remember Nina once wrote she had to have a clear bedside table. And I was jealous b/c I wanted that too, but even when I clear it off, I always end up with the stack: the light reading book, the memoir, the running magazine, the running book, the notebook, the scriptures, the lotion. None of which I’m reading or using at the same time. The hairball is not a recurring theme.

It becomes the broken glass theory. My messy bedside table invites more mess. More broken windows.

Here’s what I did: I very slowly moved the very large stacks of books from my bedside table and very slowly put them five feet away, out of sight, and into my closet (which isn’t ideal either) but until we remodel (never) they’ll stay there and out of sight.

IMG_2264 IMG_2269

That act of moving the books out of sight was incredibly empowering!

There, he says, that wasn’t so hard was it?

Hush now, darling.

It was liberating. My personal feelings of peace skyrocketed.

IMG_2267 IMG_2272

Lotions went INSIDE the dresser drawer. I even tossed old ones. Woah.

I went through my fifty million magazines (like speeding reading x 10), and only kept the ones I HAD to read.

IMG_2273 IMG_2262

I marked the story in each magazine I wanted to read, then filed them, underneath my desk. I went to bed that night with a clean bedside table and desk. It was glorious.

Funny, how wonderful it feels to not be surrounded by stuff.


The next day I donated the fifty million magazines to the library. A win-win for all!

Now the maintenance bit? I’m working on it.

I can’t tell you any great tricks to keep the house clean, I just know that I’m much happier seeing clear surfaces. I know I need to be careful about what I bring into the house. I’m trying to be better about surface serving as dumping grounds.

I might be a “visual learner” but that doesn’t mean I have to be a slob, right?

It’s baby steps everyday. Very deliberate and conscious baby steps.

I still take notes everywhere I go, but I have adopted a brilliant system that’s working:

1. Ryan Holiday’s note card system taught to him by the brilliant Robert Greene. This is perfect for me. I haven’t mastered it yet, but I now always have notecards in my purse so that when I hear something I like, I write it on the notecard and file it when I get home.

What else?

2. This article, “Your Life is Not Tetris – Stop Trying to Fit More In It,” by Dan Blank has REALLY helped me. You’ve got to read this.

Are you like me? There is no shame. Repeat after me: “I am not a slob. I am a visual organizer.”

We could have a support group or something. And if you have advice? Spill, please.