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Go for the Jugular to Defeat Paper

Tuesday, April 9th, 2013

Recently at a client’s house, a 2 ½ hour project stretched to 4 hours. Why? There were several hidden bins of paper she had to deal with.

conservative estimate of time needed to de-clutter paper is 1 hour per foot of piled paper.
We all suffer from excess paperitis (that’s a technical term). So I’d like to skip the question, “How long should I keep…” and go straight for the jugular

How soon can I shred the durn thing?


Let’s go looking for paper to shred! Yeah!

A good shredding program will have both an ongoing, everyday component and periodic components – both monthly and yearly. I like the way Ohio Mobile Shredding breaks this down into six categories:


Shred everyday -

  • Credit card applications. (Better yet opt out to not receive offers!)
  • Any piece of unwanted paper that contains: account numbers, birth dates, drivers’ license numbers, passwords, signatures, social security numbers… anything you wouldn’t feel comfortable having a stranger read.

Note: In this information age, I think shredding anything with your address on it is overkill. If you own a house in Franklin County, Ohio, I can not only find your address on the Auditor’s website, but can tell you what your home’s square footage is and how much you paid for it.


Shred Monthly - Choose a date and schedule an appointment on your calendar.

  • Credit card and debit receipts after reconciling with credit card statement unless needed for tax purposes or warranties.

Shred Yearly - during or just after tax preparation, all statements not needed as tax support documents

  • Monthly bank, retirement and investment account statements after reconciled with year-end statement.
  • Pay stubs after reconciling with annual W-2 statement or 1099 equivalents.

Shred on a Seven-Year or Ten-Year Basis - File with that year’s tax docs and shred at same time

  • Year-end bank statements (if not necessary for tax purposes)
  • Titles, deeds, and surveys to cars and property you haven’t owned in seven years.
  • Tax support documents over 10 years old (not 1040 forms or W-2′s!)

Never Shred - store in a fire/water – proof box

  • Vital personal documents such as marriage, birth, divorce and death certificates
  • Legal documents such as wills, Powers of Attorney
  • Loan and mortgage paid-in-full documentation

Never Shred Until They Expire - remove and replace with current

  • Titles, deeds and surveys to cars and property you currently own (shred 7 years after you get rid of property)
  • Current personal credit history report
  • Benefits package from current employer


As I said, this is an overview of Ohio Mobile’s suggestions just to get your shredding juices flowing. Please print the entire pdf  When to Shred Documents for more detail.
Then go for the jugular, shred often, and don’t let paper defeat your plans for a simple and satisfying life.

That Birthday is…Tomorrow?

Friday, March 22nd, 2013

You know you bought a birthday card for your best friend a couple weeks ago, but where did you put it? Back to the Hallmark store, then straight to the Post Office so your greeting is on time. Whew!

The next day the first card turns up in a spot you would never have checked!

What’s the answer?


Build a card file.

Once you have a place for blank notes and greeting cards alike, you will always know where to look.
  • First, find a container you love that is at least 10″ w X 7″ h, with a depth between 10-15″.


I use a BigSo™ box from The Container Store. The height is only 6.5″, but the look is clean. Right now, the blue box only is on sale for $7.99.

  • Next, decide on dividers for your card categories. You can use envelopes, cut down file folders, or use index dividers.

My cards are in clear snap envelopes, 9.5″ X 7″, also from the Container Store, $1.99 ea.



  • Finally, label dividers with categories:

Anniversary/Wedding                Encouragement
Baby                                         Friend
Birthday                                    Holiday
Blank                                        Sympathy
Congrats                                   Thank You
Envelopes                                 Thinking of You


Now whenever you purchase a new card or find one floating around your house, just file it for future use.

Having a designated card file means you can find what you need when you need it. You are organized. Don’t you love it!?!                                

A Place for Every Little Thing

Tuesday, February 26th, 2013

When you think “organized” what comes to mind? Do you think of a Martha-Stewart-beautiful room from a magazine? Do you think of the perfect closet organizing system? I wouldn’t mind having either of these dream spaces in my home, but don’t want to set the bar so high I can’t achieve the goal.

Instead, I would rather go with this definition as my aim: “Being organized means being able to find what you need when you need it.” Take the 5 Minute Quiz to find out just how organized you are.

The Problem? As one client put it, “I can’t find anything because every cupboard and drawer is just a mish-mosh, with no rhyme or reason to what is where.”

The Solution The key to finding what you need is having a designated storage place for distinct categories of “stuff”. For example, always keep a first aid container in only one closet/cupboard. Then when you need a band-aid there is only one place to look!


Choose a specific category of “stuff” to sort, purge and contain each month. Remember to store each category in only one place as much as possible and close to where used. These are hints to get you started:

  • January - Have children? Donate old toys to make room for new. No children? Purge old linens and purchase new if needed while sales abound.
  • February - Pull together tax papers. Toss last year’s receipts once year-end statements arrive.
  • March - Clean out plastic ware in kitchen cupboards. Keep 10-12 tubs and lids. Donate rest to Goodwill for recycle.
  • April - Go through warm weather clothes. Toss, donate, repair. Purchase new to fill holes in wardrobe while best sales going on.
  • May - Air suitcases. Assemble trial containers of favorite toiletries for travel. Toss toiletries not used in last 12 months.
  • June - Evaluate beach gear. Downsize or bump up as needed. Pack a “pool” bag with towels, sunscreen, and goggles; keep ready to grab and go.
  • July - Gather all first aid supplies into one container. Dispose of old prescription according to FDA Guidelines. Make a list of anything else you need and complete your kit.
  • August - Get school supply lists early. Scavenge what is in your house before making list to buy. Check out sales flyers, then purchase all at once where “competitor prices honored”.
  • September - Purge kitchen of odd mugs, glasses, chipped plates, etc.
  • October - Look at cold weather clothing – coats, hats, gloves, scarves – toss ratty ones, buy needed items.
  • November - Cull pantry items and pull out serving dishes to get ready for holiday meals.
  • December – Purge and contain Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year décor.

Once you have chosen storage containers and designated places, always put the “stuff” back where it goes. Little by little, you will be able to find anything in 30 seconds or less!

Pile Smarter

Friday, February 15th, 2013

There is a reason many of us prefer piles over hidden storage. Personal characteristics for pilers include:

  • Visual orientation
  • Creative bent
  • Out of sight means out of mind

Even the office product manufacturers have recognized that many of their consumers want to have important papers front and center. These are a few products that are geared specifically to folks who want to see at a glance what they must keep on top of.


Pendaflex PileSmart® line

The idea behind these products is to allow piling, but keep papers contained by project/subject in an easy-to-view format.




Peter Walsh’s [In]Place™ System

This system offers flexibility and see-through containment.


Clear Document Wallet       

So, go ahead, pile to your heart’s content. Just be sure to contain like items so you can find what you need when you need it! Pile smarter so you don’t make life harder.

Piling: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

Tuesday, February 12th, 2013

Let’s face it, we all make piles. We get in a hurry and say we will take care of this or that “tomorrow”, as if secret admirers of Scarlet O’Hara’s delusional behavior.

The UGLY: You know you are in trouble when the piles start attacking you when you walk by. Books tumble onto your ankles. The breeze of your passing makes papers flutter and fall onto the walkway that you have so carefully maintained. You have to walk sideways or climb over your piles to get to the farthest corner of the room.





This is the ugly face of piling. The piles become mountains. You feel tired even looking at them, much less dealing with the delayed decisions
they represent. 
The GOOD: Believe it or not, there is a good side to piling. Often a pile starts as a specific category of things. Some examples are:
  • Bills to pay
  • Clothes to go to the dry cleaner
  • CD’s you love most right now
  • Birthday cards for this month
  • Supporting papers for taxes or home refinance
Creating piles for specific actions is a very good thing. The piles can be effective as a visual prod to action.



The BAD: The problem comes when the action attached to that pile is not completed (pay the bills, take clothes to dry cleaner, re-sleeve CD’s when new favorites emerge, etc.) and the pile is covered with the next layer of To Do’s. Over time, The BAD turns UGLY.
How can you and I use our tendency to pile constructively? Here are a few tips.


  1. Physically label the pile with a sticky note or 3×5 card on top with the category of thing and the action you want to take, and a deadline for getting it done.*
  2. *Give yourself a deadline of 1 week or less if possible. The longer you delay taking action, the less chance this task will be treated like a priority.
  3. Do not place anything on top that is unrelated to this category.
  4. For paper, vertical piles are best. Use colorful file folders labeled with action words: “PAY UP BEFORE THEY TURN THE LIGHTS OFF” or “TAKE THAT, STINKING IRS MONEYGRUBBERS!” in an inclined sorter. You will see at a glance what to work on next.
  5. If the pile is still there after the deadline,ask yourself if you really care. What’s the worst that will happen if you don’t get it done? Will you go to jail? Do you care enough to get the clothes dry cleaned, send the birthday cards, refinance? If not, chuck the pile. Donate usable items to someone who cares.
Note to SELF: Don’t try to do or be everything to everybody. Choose the best and let go of the rest.


Why Can’t I Finish Anything?

Friday, February 1st, 2013


MARTHA: I asked my husband, Jeff, to lend a hand with this month’s newsletter. Jeff is a certified project manager and sees the world thru a PM’s eyes. Here are his thoughts on what can happen when you or I attempt an organizing project:

JEFF: Let’s say you want to do some housework, specifically dusting. You gather the dust rag and your favorite cleaner and start.

As you are working around the room, you notice that the floor needs vacuumed so when you finish dusting, you get out the sweeper and go at it.

You are tooling around the room cleaning the floor, when you become upset. You can see some spots on the baseboard that are quite unsightly and need to be touched up with paint. So, you finish sweeping and the break out the paint, paint brushes…

You can now see what is going on; your work is never going to end. Discouragement is just around the corner.

This is an example of “scope creep”. Your initial project scope (i.e. dust the room) has grown to include vacuuming and now painting!

When you start a project, make sure you identify the scope of the project. Define what you want to accomplish. Be sure it is realistic and attainable for the time and money you want to expend on it. And don’t let it grow!!

Almost always, if the scope of a project increases, then the time, money, and energy required to finish grow also. Plus you and your team members are in jeopardy of becoming discouraged. Good luck this month and watch for that scope creep!

NOTE: Jeff was kind. In his example, we finished the chore – the project – we initially intended to complete. Unfortunately, that is often not the case, especially when the project is not one we enjoy!



Jeff Clouse has been managing projects for over 20 years at Federal, State and local government levels. He is a certified ProjectManagement Professional (PMP) who lives very happily in Columbus, Ohio, with his lovely wife, Martha


Suggested Resources to Clear Serious Clutter!!

Saturday, June 30th, 2012

These are books I heartily recommend that address not just clutter, but CLUTTER – the kind that overwhelms and paralyzes. Whether you are a parent who doesn’t want to burden your children or are the child of parents who are aging, these books can help you get a head start on clearing the “stuff”.


The Boomer Burden

Boomer Burden

Julie Hall is an estate liquidation specialist. Her book deals with navigating the pitfalls of sibling arguments, parental sensitivities, and greedy resellers when trying to clear the family home. While written specifically for children of the Sandwich Generation, sidebars and other notes make this a friendly reminder to parents that that love means not waiting for a crisis to address the serious issues.




SHED Your Stuff, Change Your Life: A Four-Step Guide to Getting Unstuck

shed your stuff

The subtitle of this book could read: When Organizing Isn’t Enough! Obviously, it is easier to organize less stuff. However, at some point the sheer volume of possessions makes organizing impossible. If you or your parents have lived in the same home for 20+ years, the collection has been growing for a while, utilizing every available nook and cranny. Julie Morgenstern’s book gives you a workable plan of attack to make a serious dent in the accumulation of stuff. The resulting freedom is worth all the sweat equity!



Don’t Toss My Memories in the Trash- A Step-by-step Guide to Helping Seniors Downsize, Organize and Move


From deciding when a move is necessary, to what to keep/dispose of, to checklists for the actual move, Vicki Dellaquilla provides a road map to guide you and your parent along the journey. Vicki has an empathy and understanding of the emotions surrounding our belongings from her expertise as a professional organizer and senior move manager.




NOTE for my fellow Sandwich Generation children:

It is extremely hard to tell another adult what to do, even when it is for their best good. Sometimes it will take the crisis as a wake up call. Do what you can now to be sure legal and financial documents are in place. Then slowly try to work at clearing one room at a time.
Your parents may listen to an objective third person say the same thing you have been trying to say for years. You can find a pro organizer in your area, or an auctioneer to help value items at