52 Weeks of Organizing – Week 10 – Flat surfaces and Files!

This is our last week in the home office area, and it is time to tidy up, clean off, and take back those flat surfaces.  Hopefully you have established a system for dealing with paperwork as it comes in, but if not, this is the week to really establish that.  It is also time to set up your annual files if you have not already done so.  And, finally, to go through any drawers, cabinets, or closets that are still waiting to be organized in your home office area.

Welcome to the 52 Weeks of Organizing Challenge!  This is Week 10 in the series!  Please note that these weeks are not built on one another and you can start at any time!  It’s never too early or too late to begin organizing!

For annual files, mine are labeled something like this … business taxes, personal taxes, medical expenses, and school work.  I find that most of my clients hold on to gobs of papers and statements in fear of needing them later.  Generally, unless you are making a major purchase, like a house, or refinancing your home, you really only need to verify the current statement, verify that payments were received and there are no charges that need to be disputed.  Once you have done that, you can discard that statement.  Most companies can produce your monthly statements for you if you need them in the future.  If you are thinking of refinancing or making a home purchase, ask your realtor or mortgage broker how many months of statements they will request.

In my more permanent files, I will keep warranty information – making sure that I note model numbers, serial numbers, attach receipts, and note the date the warranty expires on the booklet.  I generally sort through this file once a year, or when I have something to add to the file, and get rid of things that I no longer have, or when the warranty expires.  If it is a large purchase, you may want to keep it with your homeowners insurance file in case of a fire or other event where you would have to make a claim.

A note about school files … I tend to keep one small file for each child each school year.  I generally limit myself to 5 things for each school term, and these will generally include awards or art work.  The only exception is if your child is highly gifted in one area and will need reference to awards for college applications.  Please note though that even though your preschooler is great at creating vast amounts of macaroni art, they may not appreciate you keeping every single thing they create.  So, pick some that are special, keep those, and discard the ones that are excessive.

Flat surfaces … perhaps a necessary evil.  We all need a flat work space, a desk, a table … somewhere to sit and spread out the papers and sorting … however, they tend to be collectors of all of the things.  If you don’t have a problem with this, wonderful, good job, and keep it up!  However, if you find that you are having to clean off your flat surfaces each time you need to use them then here are a few tips … at least ones that work for me.  Find trends in what collects there … if it is always the same type of things, then these things need a home, special place, and more attention.  For instance, if it is a stack of mail, then give mail it’s own bin.  It will allow you to corral it in one place without a mail avalanche, and schedule a time to deal with the bin more often.  If you tend to have the whole family involved, each family member has an array of stuff that needs to go other places … then give them each a bin/basket/bucket … what ever works … and practice changing habits, so you are already sorting by person, and each person is responsible for emptying their bin each week, or more often if needed.

Expectations of your home office … Perhaps these are the most important thing of all.  If your home office is only used occasionally to work from home, or to sit in weekly to pay bills, then you may have high expectations for this area to remain tidy most of the time.  However, if you work in your home office daily, you may need to change your expectations for it to be a spotless place every single day.  Use the door, and close it if you are working on a big project.  This has been perhaps the best thing for me to realize … that sometimes I have a long project that takes multiple days .. and sometimes I have an incredible amount of work going on.  In these times, I will leave things out, and simply close the door.  This was much harder to come to grips with, when my office was located in our living room.  If there is no door … if your work space is located in a common area … then it is time to look for solutions that you can close, put a lid on, and remove from your sight during non-working hours.  You may need to look for a cabinet that has doors, and a roll out work space that you can open and close each day.   Sometimes it is essential to your stress level to leave work when it is time to leave work.  After working from home for 14 years, I can honestly say this is the toughest thing to come to grips with when there is no office to leave.   So setting up systems where work can be closed up and put away can be essential to your overall stress level, as well as bring harmony to the rest of your home.

Next week we will be moving to the kitchen!  So go finish up the home office, and get ready to deal with the fridge!

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