Sunday, March 9, 2008

Paperwork, paperwork, and a little note on vacay planning

March sure is a long month! In honor of March feeling so long, I have written an exceptionally long blog this week. Don’t get used to it. I say that tongue-in-cheek, as many of you know I am a woman of few words.

You have voted and we are done in the kitchen. (For you, Bekah, we will do a "pantry revisited" segment soon.) I am getting lots of questions lately regarding paperwork, so let’s start there. I do have a feeling this is leading us back into the office. Paperwork is a challenging area. It is not something you can get rid of because there is a constant influx (shopping fliers, newspapers, magazines, school papers, mail).

Newspapers, Magazines, Catalogs and the like can be sent to the recycle bin as soon as they have outlived their usefulness. Let me stress that NEWS papers are meant to inform you of CURRENT events. (Can you see where this is going?) If it isn’t current, it is no longer news. Magazines also have a shelf life – usually monthly or quarterly. Catalogs and sales fliers are replaced by their next installment as well. However, if you do not plan to order anything from a particular catalog (or shop using the aforementioned flier) it can go out immediately. If you never plan to order from said catalog, call the 800 number on the back page to discontinue it. That was easy enough. Let’s move on to something harder like…

School papers. You all know of the precious artwork, genius academics, notes home, event calendars, and endless bureaucratic paperwork. What do you do with it all? Child creations: Each day/week that creations come home, place them in a special box to sort through later. If it is especially important to display some artwork immediately give it a place of honor -- like a special frame or a special spot on the fridge for ONE week. When the box gets full (ideally monthly), it is time to go through and sort. Keep only the most special pieces. You choose one and have your child choose one for each month. Any artwork that is extra special can be saved in a binder portfolio. If there are pieces you would like to remember, but are not necessarily attached to take a picture and store it digitally, add it to the portfolio of other artwork, or make a special scrap book.

I saved the best for last. Mail. This is my never ending nemesis. For sorting any paperwork, I like to use the RAFTS system. It is especially helpful for sorting mail. Mail will fall into one of these five categories: Read, Act, File, Trash, Shred (RAFTS). How do you decide? For simplicity of explanation, let’s work backwards.

Shred: Things that have personal information and account numbers need to be shredded before they are discarded. Credit card offers also fall into this category. Beware the glue and the plastic fake cards.

Trash: Ah, the junk mail. Advertisements of no interest, sales fliers for places you do not shop, coupon books, etc. this is the essence of junk mail. (Hint: If you never use your *Handy Shopper, go ahead and toss it when it comes in.) Junk mail, is by definition, junk. Please just throw it away. *Name changed for obvious reasons. You get the idea, right?

File: This is not yet the “Bills to Pay” category. These are things you need a record of, but do not need to do anything to - like insurance and bank statements.

Act: Things that you need to act upon. This is your “to do” group. Bills to pay, things to add to your calendar, calls to make, and correspondence to return - fall into this Act Category.

Read: Things that you need to read. Catalogs you enjoy, letters, cards, magazines - this one was rather self explanatory, wasn't it?

Two more options for limiting excess mail:

Many of the credit card applications not have an opt out 800 number listed at the end of the offer. It pays to give them a call.

Thanks to Aby Garvey of Simplify 101, I have stumbled upon a new service,, for limiting junk mail. I signed up this past week, but do not know yet how well it is working. Please enjoy this excerpt from Aby’s latest newsletter posted here:

Reduce paper waste. According to sources at , Americans receive more than four million tons of junk mail a year! As an organizer, I have to wonder how much of that junk mail is still piled high on the counters of America, wreaking unrest and overwhelm in the hearts of homeowners everywhere.

The formula here is simple: less paperwork coming into our homes, means less paperwork to deal with and organize. Plus, you'll help reduce the million tons of junk mail landing in mailboxes, and ultimately landfills, each and every year.

But how to do it? There are services available such as which charge a fee to have your name removed from mailing lists. I also recently learned of a new website that is a free service designed to reduce unwanted direct mail by removing your name from mailing lists. In some instances they take care of it for you (with a simple click of a button) and in other cases, they make the process super simple by giving you a pdf to print, fill out and mail in to remove yourself from the list.

By the way, I removed this tip for the flow of the newsletter because I haven't tried and tested one of these services yet. I just signed up for an account on this week and found the process to be super simple. At this early stage, I can't vouch for the effectiveness of the process. But, with over 100 million trees being used for junk mail every year in the U.S. alone, I wanted to include this topic in this green organizing newsletter.

If you have participated in a service to remove your name from marketing mailing lists, please tell me about it on my blog. I'll summarize your findings, the findings of others, and report on my own experience in a future newsletter or blog post. Thanks so much!

Aby Garvey is a professional organizer and the founder of simplify 101, inc. Her mission is to help you create time and space for what matters most in your home and life. Aby is the author of the e-book "the happy scrapper - simple solutions to get organized and get scrapping!" Visit the simplify 101 website for organizing ideas and to subscribe to Aby's organizing email newsletter.

Share with me this week:

What is your biggest paperwork challenge?

Let’s take 15 minutes and…. Talk about summer vacation. Yes, I understand it is not yet the first day of Spring. Summer hot spots will be filling up sooner than you can say “Pass the sunscreen.” so get your reservations made now. At least get those you will be vacationing with talking about: who, what, where, when and how of traveling. Who is going? (Is the pet going to be included?) What do you want to do for your vacay? Where do you wish to travel? What dates work for everyone involved? How do you plan to get there (plane, train, automobile, cruise ship)?

This is my personal one. Who? Just the 3 of us. What? Fishing and other outdoorsy stuff, possibly a festival, shopping. Where? Mountain Cabin. When? The date is now set. How? The wheels on the car go around and around.


snaphappee said...

Love the RAFTS system! I'm going to set that up this week. Thanks for explaining that in detail.

Who: All 9 of us! What: Family Reunionish Thing When: August Where: Dad's property in CA How: 9 people in a Suburban for days on end - sounds fun!

Thanks for the constant encouragment!

Your Organizing Guru said...

That's a crazy vacation, friend! God speed!