Count me among the organizationally challenged. I’m one of those people who stares at a blank set of file folders, wondering how to label them. I scratch my head wondering where to stash that adorable picnic basket that I love, but only use once or twice a year in my temperamental Northeast Corridor climate. I just don’t have that organizing gene.
So you may wonder what I’m doing advising you how to get organized. Well, it’s precisely because I feel your pain. Natural-born neatniks don’t understand just how challenging this is, or what’s involved. Me, I’ve had to learn the hard way – and I don’t have money to pay a professional organizer, useful though it would be. Here, some fabulous easy, free and cheap ways to organize yourself. I’ve actually done these things, and believe me, if I can do it, you can, too.
1. A KEY ORGANIZING TIP
Do you go through the same frantic search for your keys every morning before you leave the house? I used to do that. I would come home in the evenings, and being tired and distracted, would just drop my keys down wherever…the kitchen table, my bedroom, or even leave them in a coat pocket. Then the next morning I would waste 5 or ten minutes and make myself late for work because I couldn’t find my keys.
Why aggravate yourself like that? Get a cheap rack with hooks, a cork board with hooks, or even just plastic stick-up hooks if you don’t have the time to drill holes. Check the dollar store, home stores and hardware stores and this will cost you less than $10 unless you really want a fancy-looking item.
Put the hooks on the wall right inside your front door. Then, train yourself to hang the keys up right away when you come home. It probably will take several days of reminding yourself, but once you’re in the habit, you’ll never scramble for your keys again. Seriously, this one tip has hugely reduced my stress level.
2. PAY BILLS AND KEEP RECORDS ONLINE
Clutter is usually a major issue when you’re disorganized. One great way to cut clutter is to reduce the amount of paper that piles up. I used to have stacks of paper bills, and the pile just grew. Now, I save bills only until it’s time to pay them. I keep each bill in its original envelope after opening it, and mark the amount and due date on the outside of the envelope; the bills are sorted in due date order.
I keep all the bills in a desk drawer, but you could always keep them somewhere else – just as long as it’s a place that you’ll remember. Then I go online to my bank account, pay the bills, and then I just throw the paper bills away. If I need to pull up records later, I can go online with the bank or with each company (for example, you can go online to check your phone account, mortgage, etc.). You can do this with many receipts as well – anything you’ve bought online, there’s a receipt online or in your email.
3. FILE IT EASY
There are still some records you’ll need to keep on paper, such as contracts, copies of your insurance policies, tax records, and some other things. For a complete list and explanation, check out this handy guide courtesy of Uncle Sam:
If you don’t have time or skills to organize good files, here’s an easy solution that worked for me. Buy a portable, accordion-style expanding file case with pre-printed category labels and presto, an instant filing system! My file case came already labeled with categories like “automobile”, “insurance”, “medical”, and “taxes”. I just take my records and drop them into the proper slots. I found my file case at Wal-Mart but you could try Target, Staples, Office Max, and other places.
4. KEEP A CALENDAR AND TASK LIST
Very often, disorganized people not only clutter up their stuff, they also clutter up their minds because they don’t keep good track of their appointments or their ‘to do” list. I’m definitely one of those people. So I’ve always had to rely on writing everything down – or keeping track on the computer. Use whichever method is easiest. I like technology, so I now keep everything on my computer and it syncs to my smartphone. Or you can go low-tech and just buy a cheap paper planner. Get one that’s small enough to fit in your pocket or purse, so you will always have it with you. Also see tip #5 (below) to find out how to print your own planner for free.
5. PLAN IT AND PRINT IT FOR FREE
You already have a computer, now make it work for you. You might be surprised to learn that popular software already comes with many pre-designed forms, lists, calendars and planners that you can simply fill in and print out.
In MS Word 2007, open Word, click the button at top left, then “new”, then “lists” from the template choices, then “home”. You’ll find an amazing array of pre-formatted lists to help organize your life. Lots of To Do lists, chore lists and grocery lists to choose from. Also try “planners” from the template lists and you’ll see all kinds of printable schedule and task planners.
In MS Excel 2007, use the same procedure as described above for Word: open Word, click the button at top left, then “new”, then “lists” or “planners”. You’ll find many different designs and choices, just pick the ones that you find easiest to use.
In Apple iWork Numbers, you can choose from many different forms, calculators and planners. One unique offering is a home inventory planner that allows you to drag and drop photos of your home and possessions.
6. RE-USE IT
While you could buy lots of fancy, attractive organizers, bins and storage systems, it’s not really necessary. I keep my scented body lotions and powders in a former Easter basket (minus the fake green grass, of course). Use shoebox lids upside down in drawers to create compartments for different items. Ice cube trays are nice for small things.
Dean writes, “Having a clear mind and organized home can save you a lot of money because you will realize how much stuff you have and how much stuff you just don’t need. In other words, maybe a messy house may be costing you money you don’t even realize.”
Photo Credit via Flickr