Simply Put Organizing

Paper, Paper Everywhere!!

The most important thing to remember about paper is to decide what you need to keep and define spaces to process it or to file it. If you haven’t decided what you need to keep it is very easy to just throw it in a pile to deal with “later”. Take the phrase “I’ll do it later” out of your vocabulary!!! It takes minutes to process paper on a daily basis and saves hours of work sorting through piles. The bonus: No stress from seeing paper piles laying all over your home or office.

Take the time to really think about the things you need to save. Remember if the paper doesn’t come into the home it doesn’t have to be processed. Resist printing information from the computer for future reference. Instead keep a journal of your favorite websites to refer to as needed.

The second most important thing is to create ONE central place to process all incoming paper and assign the task to one family member. If more than one person is in charge of bringing in the mail it is easy for systems to disintegrate.

Once paper is brought into the home make a decision on it immediately if possible but always within 24 hours. Get rid of unwanted paper immediately. I throw my junk mail away that is addressed to ‘Valued Customer’ or ‘Resident’ at the mailbox garbage. Keep a shredder close to your paper processing center to deal with identity theft concerns. Staples has a great tabletop shredder that is small and efficient. A stapler is also needed to attached multi page documents. Recycle envelopes and inserts.

There are three categories of paper that exist: Action, Reference and Trash. We have discussed the trash, the tips below cover the action category.

Using table top shelves create an action center to define a space for priority items and items that are not time sensitive but still need to be done. You can see the shelves I use on my desk by linking this paper management video . You can buy the shelves at Office Max. They come in silver and black. They are not the most attractive but they are the best thing that has happened to my paper.
Check high priority items on a daily basis and process as needed. This group can include bills to pay, permission slips, RSVP’s and anything else that is time sensitive. If you check it daily, you won’t forget anything.
Check the lower priority items, the “to do later” category, weekly. You can put items in this category that you want to do six months from now. If you check it weekly you will not forget them. Each week, make a decision on these papers. They might stay in the category, they could be moved into the higher priority shelf to be processed or they might become trash if they are no longer relevant.

Reference papers are those that are saved for legal reasons, tax reasons, warranties and certain receipts needed for proof of purchase and should be filed. Resist filing articles you have printed or torn from magazines. They are rarely referred to and clog up filing cabinets making filing more of a chore than it needs to be.

The other type of paper that tends to migrate to piles are notes to other family members and phone messages. For phone messages I love to use spiral journal to capture the info. I date the pages and refer back to them as needed. Consider creating a message board to relay information to your family. If you have enough wall space you can have a board for each family member. If space is limited use color coded post-its to stick each family members notes on the board. I love Office Max’s In Place post-its. They are super sticky, (so they won’t fall off) and come in five colors. Assign a color to each person in your family and let them know where to look for their messages. Ask them to take the messages off the board when they have received them.

I also love the idea of a central family calendar. Family members can sync their electronic devises to match the central calendar if that is how a particular person handles their schedule.

It is very important to have a family meeting and decide on a system that everyone understands.

If you have neglected your paper for a long time and have piles everywhere. Gather them up into one large bin, making sure that the time sensitive paper is separated, then make a commitment to process the paper for 20 minutes a day until it’s gone. Set a timer if need be.

Shredding is cathartic especially when done with your favorite beverage. Try it.

Organized Taxes

Suze Orman stated, in an article I read, that she had a ‘surefire way to build wealth’ that won’t cost a penny. So easy, she stated, that it can be done while watching television. Her suggestion, clean up old financial paperwork that serves no purpose other than attracting dust-I couldn’t agree more!!

If you live out of piles of paper and your file drawers are full it’s time to clear out the clutter and create a simple system to take control of your financial future. Suze Orman is a firm believer that orderliness begets wealth. I’m not so sure about that (I should be a zillionaire), but I do know that you will save quite a bit in late fees and have a much better idea what is going in and out of your bank accounts if your statements and bills are in order. Organizing paper is completely overwhelming for most of us I’ve tried (along with advice from Suze Orman) to take the overwhelming feeling out and make it as simple as possible.

What you’ll need: a crosscut shredder to prevent identity theft, a garbage can to toss non financial paper and an a few boxes of hanging file folders and a table designated for sorting. If you can borrow a banquet table for this process you can work on it over a period of days without feeling like it’s in the way. If you don’t know anyone with an extra table to share then try to designate an area of your home for the purpose of this task.

Sort all your papers into six piles:

§ Monthly bills, bank statements and pay stubs

§ Investment statements

§ Tax returns and support

§ Deeds

§ Warranty and User Manuals

§ Forever Docs such as marriage licenses, wills and birth certificates

If you have a file cabinet in your home, label one drawer finances. I am a huge fan of filing bills in a twelve month system. Label one hanging file folder for each month and sort bills that you have paid into the month they were paid. The reason I like this method is that you can go back to any month and see your total expenditures. I also store my bank statement into the same file. Basically you will have a snapshot of your finances for any given month at your fingertips. At the end of the year you can pull out anything you need for tax back-up from each month and the rest can stay in the self purging system. When January 2011 comes around you shred the contents of January 2010 the same with February, March etc. You will always have a year’s worth of financial documents at hand.

The other option, and it’s not one that I recommend is to make a separate folder for each bill you pay. The caveat here is that you have to remember to empty the folders on an annual basis. If you don’t have the discipline to do this your files will soon by overflowing with paper you no longer need. For those disciplined souls this method is fine.

Edit the Piles

For all the paper you are eliminating from your piles, I highly recommend running through a crosscut shredder. The FTC estimates that up to nine million Americans a year are victims of identity theft. A good shredder will help protect your financial future.

It is important to know what to keep and for how long. Suze Orman has a great cheat sheet on her website Here are some of her suggestions for financial papers:

Bills: one year’s worth. Put tax deductable bills in an accordian file by month so they will be ready when you do your taxes.

Pay stubs: one year. When you receive your W-2 make sure that your last check stub matches then shred the stubs.

Bank Statements: One year at least. If you are planning on applying for a mortgage or car loan it is better to keep up to two years. Again, check with your personal accountant if you have any questions.

Investment Statements: save all monthly and quarterly until you receive your end of the year summary and then shred the others. Save the documents for any trades you make during the year for three years.

Tax returns and supporting documents: The IRS has three years to challenge anything on your returns. Keep three years at all times. If the IRS suspects you haven’t reported income it can challenge returns up to six years. To learn more about IRS record keeping guidelines, see Publication 552 on their website (

Warranties: Keep only active warranties and toss the rest. I suggest tossing all user manuals you don’t actively refer to as manufacturers have downloadable versions on their sites. You can also visit or

Documents to Keep for Life: there are some documents you just can’t throw away. These include marriage Licenses, divorce decrees, wills, trusts, estate planning documents and death certificates. Suze Orman also suggests you keep a permanent record of all major loans you have paid off such as homes, cars and so on.

Tips for going Paperless

Of course, if you hate paper as much as I do, you can easily take care of almost all your financial to do’s online. If you’re worried about cyber-safety just make sure you are logged onto a secure network. That means no bill paying at wi-fi hotspots. Check out your banks website for automatic bill paying, accounts alerts and more. This should all be free, if it’s not, switch banks. You can also go online to check out things such as Social Security benefits. Toss all those green and white sheets once you have verified the current one is up to date. Go to and click on estimate your retirement benefits.
The most important thing to remember is to edit your files on a regular basis. If you really need to dig out from your piles of paper, take it a little bit each night, sit in a comfortable chair and sort. I think you’ll be surprised at how little you need.

Wishing you all skinny file folders….

Have Freedom With Less

My home was recently featured in The Arizona Republic. Click on each image to see the article. Hope you Enjoy!

How to Maximize Your Space

by Kara G. Morrison – Sept. 24, 2010 11:14 AM
The Arizona Republic

Read more:

Just as Charlotte Steill was buying a cozy condominium, the rest of the Valley seemed to be doing the opposite.

That was 2004. Homebuyers were flocking to McMansions in the suburbs; Steill was downsizing from an 1,800-square-foot Mesa house to a 1,200-square-foot space near downtown Scottsdale.

slideshow PHOTOS: Getting organized

She and her then 5-year-old daughter gave up a huge yard, a two-car garage filled with storage cabinets and a dedicated office. It’s exactly what the professional organizer wanted to do.

“I didn’t want to pay for the maintenance of a house,” explained Steill, who owns Simply Put Organizing. “I didn’t want to be tethered by all that stuff.”

Today, when many in the Valley find themselves downsizing to smaller spaces and living with less in this downturn, Steill has a message. She knows firsthand how to shrink into a comfortable, uncluttered life. And she prefers it to filling a huge house with unused stuff.

“In these economic times, I wish I had all the money I wasted on all the things I didn’t use,” she said.

More than ever, all of us are taking stock of what we have, what we need and what we can give up.

Steill’s cozy condo is a crisp oasis of calm. In the serene space with a palette of white, cream, silver and black, there is no clutter. Everything she keeps has a place, or it’s out the door.

It’s inspirational.

“There’s a freedom in not having a lot of stuff,” Steill said. “I want to be surrounded just by what I love and nothing more.”

Her 9-foot-square kitchen (including the countertop space and pantry cabinet) is spotless. Her bathroom cabinets are a model of efficiency, and her organized laundry closet (painted Restoration Hardware pale blue) could be a magazine cover, with its white baskets and boxes adorned with her custom chalkboard labels.

Although the condo sometimes seems cramped to her now 11-year-old daughter, Steill’s home feels plenty big, in part because it’s so neat. She explained it’s easy to keep things clutter-free when everything has a dedicated place.

If you need to downsize or simply “right-size” to a clutter-free life, here are 10 of Steill’s best tips for creating your own cozy retreat.

1. Edit your stuff. Steill tells a story about a fondue pot she finally gave up when space was tight. She hadn’t used it in years, and she knew she could borrow one from a friend anytime. Steill urges people to purge all they can at the front end when moving into a smaller space, rather than trying to cram too much into the new place. “If you don’t love it and you don’t use it on a regular basis, don’t keep it,” she said, adding it’s easier to let things go than to wrap, haul and unpack them just so they can sit in an attic or storage locker.

2. Choose wisely. When space is limited, even the furniture has to double as storage, so choose it judiciously. Steill’s living-room end table has a drawer for coasters and remotes. Her TV stand holds DVDs, and her entryway piece has big drawers for family games. Current magazines and books go in a silver tray on her living-room ottoman. If she had it to choose again, Steill admits she’d go for a storage ottoman to hold throws.

3. Use it or lose it. Stuff without a purpose doesn’t fit into a tiny space. Still, there are always things we want to keep. Steill didn’t want to give up her green-glass biscotti jars, even though they would overwhelm her tiny kitchen. So she repurposed them for her laundry closet where they hold laundry soap and softener sheets.

4. Get the right tools. Steill uses three organizing products consistently: Sterilite clear plastic bins, turntables and laminate shoe shelves. She often uses 32-quart shallow bins without lids as makeshift pull-out drawers. There’s nary a room in her home without a turntable inside a cabinet. Turntables give her easy access to cosmetics in her bathroom and baking necessities in the kitchen. “They make high spaces and deep cabinets usable,” Steill said. She also uses 31-inch ClosetMaid laminate shelves from Target to hold shoes and clear shoe boxes filled with all categories of household stuff.

5. Donate regularly. Clutter accumulates for everyone, but it’s easier to spot in small spaces. Steill has one or two donation bags handy at all times. She fills them with clothing that doesn’t fit or doesn’t flatter, cosmetics she has tried but didn’t like (they go to a women’s shelter) or decor she no longer needs. She urges all her clients to identify a favorite non-profit and start donating often. This also alleviates the guilt of having purchased something that didn’t work. “We have charities that we love to give to because we believe in what they’re doing,” she said. “I just envision the person receiving it, and I feel good about giving it.”

6. Start a “halfway house.” We all have a few things we don’t really need, but we also can’t seem to give up. These things go in a closet Steill dubs her “halfway house.” They’re typically seasonal decorations she’s not sure she’ll reuse. They linger here until she makes a decision to keep, sell or donate them. Any designated shelf can hold “halfway” items, but Steill recommends using one that’s removed from the main living space. “If you don’t retrieve it, you probably don’t need it,” she said.

7. Make money. A painless way to downsize is to get cash for things you can’t keep. Steill takes decor and clothing she no longer wants to a consignment shop. She sells gadgets such as old cellphones to, which offers cash for used electronics. She also sells things on and has helped clients sell books to used bookstores. All told, she said, the money from giving things up adds up.

8. Go vertical. “You have to use every vertical square inch you can,” Steill said about living well in a small space. Hence, she relies on “shelf helpers” – adjustable wire shelves that help create another level to store things. Steill uses several in her kitchen cabinets.

9. Use doors, walls. “All the walls are fair game inside a closet for storing things,” she said. Hence, her utilities closet holds assorted cleaning products and household tools. She also makes use of the inside of cabinet doors using magnetic dots called Anywheres ($7.99 at the Container Store) that turn any surface into a mini bulletin board.

10. Glam the closet. Steill thinks a person’s home should be a sanctuary that relieves stress rather than adds to it. The same is true of the closet, where clutter can quickly accumulate. Her remedy is urging clients to make their closets (especially the main clothing closet) look like a boutique. If the space is welcoming, defined and elegant, one is less likely to make it a dumping ground.

click the slide show below for inspirational pictures

Slide Show

Family Information Centers

There are two things you need to keep in mind when managing the paper and information that comes into your home on a daily basis. First, you need to choose just one location to process it. Second, you need to process it in a timely manner. Remember, clutter is simply a result of delayed decisions.

To set up a Family Information Center keep the following tips in mind:
• it should be located in a heavily trafficked area like the kitchen or a mudroom.
• it needs to have wall space for a bulletin board or wall calendar , a surface for an action center and reference material and ideally, a floor surface for a shredder (although there are some great tabletop shredders available)
• it needs to have a file close by to file papers that need to be retained for a long period of time. Remember to file once a week. If you wait any longer the task becomes unbearable to most people.
Once you have determined a place where you will process incoming information it is important to gather all the papers that are around your home and process them. if you are completely overwhelmed, at least place all the paper in one pile and process it for ten minutes a day until it’s gone. There are three different types of paper: reference, action, and trash. Reference papers are school schedules, invitations, legal papers and such. How long you keep them depends on the importance of the paper. Papers for medical and tax purposes have to be kept for a longer period of time but are seldom looked at. These papers belong in a file cabinet somewhere in your home but necessarily in your information center. Reference papers such as sports schedules, school information and such need to be referred to on a regular basis and should be kept in a binder or folio close at hand. I love Mom Agenda’s Kitchen Folio. Check it out at Don’t forget to check out the free printables to keep you and your family on track.

Papers that require an action such as bills to pay, invitations that require a response, permission slips to sign, etc. need to be placed in an action center. I love the three tier sorter from Office Max for this purpose. As you see there is a place to label each tray. Use one for items to do that are high priority (check it daily) label the second tray for items that are not really important such as things you may want to do with your family or things you want to buy (check it weekly) and the third tray for paper that needs to be filed. File it each week.

Paper that is to be thrown away needs to be discarded before it hits a hard surface. Open mail over a trash can, recycle bin or shredder on a daily basis and quickly put items in their predefined spaces: either the trash, the action center or a file.

To keep track of schedules use an individual planner. whether you choose an electronic schedule or a paper depends entirely on your personality. There are a lot of people who still prefer paper, including me. I have used and loved Mom Agenda’s personal portfolio for years. I like to look at my entire month at a glance and the uncluttered pages of this planner make be feel like I’m in control even though there is hardly a square in that doesn’t contain something I have to do or somewhere I have to be.
I think it’s gorgeous and I love to carry it. My good friend prefers her I phone which absolutely doesn’t work for me. Decide which calendar works best for you and then input all your commitments on a daily basis.
If you have a large or busy family. I think it’s important to have a family calendar. Dry erase calendars are perfect for this. Each family member can use a different color to mark their schedules and everyone knows where to look to see who is doing what. If you prefer the computer screen you can do the same thing online. I really like the clean look of the magnetic dry erase calendar at the container store,
If you don’t have the wall space, mom agenda has come out with a home office addition planner that is large enough to capture all your important information and attractive enough to leave out.

So, if you apply the organizing triangle to your new Family Information Center. The system would be the defined spaces that your paper goes to immediately when it comes in the door. The products are the planners, folios, action centers and shredder. The habits, keep on top of things. It only takes five minutes to process your mail each day. Remember, it’s not the things we do that wear us out. It is what is left undone.

Don’t know about the organizing triangle? It is my own organizing method that I teach my clients and use myself. Find out more in my coauthored book, Get Organized Today. Available at a discount on my site


What I’m Loving now…

I came across something today that I’m excited to share with you. They are removable vinyl chalkboards called ‘Wallies’ that you can place on almost any surface in your home. I would put one in the garage door for love notes to anyone entering the house that way. Or, imagine one on the fridge for a daily to do list. They work with the water based chalk markers that simply wipe off with a damp cloth. Genius!! My daughter is loves the idea of writing quotes and inspiration on her walls without getting in trouble. HA! Find them at

What would I do without…

Command picture hanging strips and command brush metal hooks.
Thank you 3M!!
If you don’t know what I’m talking about quickly go to your nearest Target or a similar store and look for them in the home maintenance aisle. No more nail holes!!!!!
I am feeling very grateful

clear your make-up clutter

I love innovative products so when I saw this in a recent magazine I new I had to tell you about it. Almost all of us have shadows and blushes that come in multiples. We may love one color and never use the others. Solution found, just pop out the colors you love and place them in this magnetic compact. Lose all the plastic compacts that are cluttering up your cosmetics drawer. To buy visit $29.00

One of my favorite products

I am here in New York, working with a client to settle him into his new apartment. This is an amazing apartment but has a typical tiny closet in the kid’s room. We need to stretch the space and create more horizontal surface area. For this, I am using one of my favorite products, the melamine shoe shelf. I buy these at Target and install them on closet shelves to make extra space for shoes, purses, folded sweaters, kids board games, the list goes on and on. Products are an integral part of The Organizing Triangle ™ and necessary to create defined homes. For more info on the triangle you can purchase my book by visiting the store at

Repurpose. Replenish. Renew. Restore. Relax.