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Get Organized

Your file cabinet is full and your desk is overflowing with account statements from banks, brokers, and mutual funds. “I really have to be more organized,” you tell yourself.

The perfect time to start de-cluttering your life and save both time and money is a new year, which is just ahead. So here are some planning points to get, and keep, your house in order.

Contain paper
Deal with mail every day by tossing the junk mail and filing whatever needs to be kept. Place the bills in a separate box or basket with everything you need to pay them: pen, checkbook, envelopes, and stamps.

Consider filing the paid bills by month rather than category. Keep annual contracts in a separate file.

Always start a file name with a noun and not an adjective, suggests Stephanie Winston, author of Stephanie Winston’s Best Organizing Tips. Headings to avoid: “Clippings” and “Miscellaneous.”

Instead of using scraps of paper or sticky notes, jot down lock combinations, spouse’s shirt size, and friends’ birthdays in a small address book using the alphabet as a filing system.

Kitchen counters, desk tops, and tables throughout the house are magnets for clutter; therefore, keep your kitchen and dining room tables set to deter those who would drop schoolwork, backpacks, or ball gloves there.

Home management expert Kathy Peel suggests using a bulletin board to keep papers organized in the kitchen. Put phone numbers and messages in one section, shopping lists in another, school schedules in the third, and take-out menus in the fourth corner.

Free up counter space by putting produce, such as potatoes and onions, in wire baskets hung from the ceiling.

Family cleaning
Set a time each week for the entire family to clean together, suggests ServiceMaster, the home-services company.

This project teaches good habits to the kids, who’ve seen their in-home chores drop 30 percent in the past 20 years, according to Sandra Hofferth of the University of Maryland.

The 27 Fling Boogie
This action, promoted by Marla Cilley, cleaning guru and author with more than 170,000 subscribers to her free e-mail service, requires you to find 27 items to throw away and 27 more to give away from throughout the house.

Office stuff
Clean out all old files and keep only current or continuing files nearby. Get rid of scraps of paper, business cards from people you don’t remember, and the stuff that clutters your workspace.

If you do lots of mailing, set aside an area with envelopes, packing materials, shipping labels, and scissors. Get FedEx or UPS software for preparing package shipping on the Web and start using it.

Computer storage
There’s a lot of personal data that can be transferred from paper to your computer. This makes it easy to keep the information current and to provide updated copies for the appropriate people, while helping clear up the paper clutter. Don’t forget to back up the information.

Consider also doing a household inventory with a video camera and store the videotape, should you need to provide documentation for an insurance claim.

Need an Organizer Pro?
If the task of de-cluttering and organizing feels overwhelming, consider getting a professional to guide you through the process.

Consider the book Losing 200 Lbs. This Weekend by cleaning guru Don Ashlett. He offers various plans of attack, including creating a diagram of your house and identifying various “junk harbors” to attack.

Then there’s Marla Cilley, the “Fly Lady,” who wrote Sink Reflections and offers a free e-mail service.
Kiplinger’s “Your Family Records Organizer” CD covers all the basics and is available at

Or hire a professional organizer at $40 to $200 an hour to do all or part of the job. Contact the National Association of Professional Organizers on the Web at, click on “Referral Request,” and type in your ZIP code to find an organizer in your area.

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