It's Time to GO! January Marks National Get Organized Month

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Happy Get Organized (GO) Month 2013, DIYers! Organized (no pun intended) by the National Association of Professional Organizers (NAPO), GO Month – celebrated with the start of each new year in January – was created to “help individuals, businesses and schools bring time management, organization, storage solutions and productivity into their lives.” We wanted to learn more about this unique celebration of organization so we talked to Jodi Granok, Industry Member Director on the NAPO Board of Directors, who tackled some common home organization challenges with the following valuable advice. (For more information about the National Association of Professional Organizers or to find an organizer in your area, visit www.napo.net.)

Q: Many people are inundated with paperwork. Bills, cards, papers from children’s schools, junk mail - it can take over the home. Are there any easy ways you can organize it? How do you know what to keep and what to discard?

A: First of all, always check with your financial advisor and attorney about how long to keep financial and legal documents. To prevent unwanted junk mail for good, send a postcard or a letter to: Direct Marketing Association, Mail Preference Service, PO Box 643, Carmel, NY, 10512. List your name and address, and ask to be “removed from all mailing lists.” Each time you change your mailing address, send a new letter.

When a bill arrives, open it right away and discard the inserts and the outer envelope. The only paper you need to keep is the statement and the payment slip with return envelope. Keep your bills, calculator, stamps, and address labels together in one location, preferably near the place in your home where you pay bills. To really cut down on incoming mail, make the switch to online or automatic payments.

Recycle junk mail, magazines, catalogs, flyers, and any other paperwork that is free of sensitive information. Anything that has account information or personal information, such as your social security number, needs to be shredded.

As far as the paperwork that needs to be kept, I prefer to use a “Tickler File” – this is a filing system that holds papers that you need to act on, but not immediately. Using a tickler file allows you to put papers away without worrying about them being “out of sight, out of mind.”

To make a tickler file, start with a free standing file box. Inside the file box you need a sorting device that has pockets with the numbers 1 through 31 in the front section and the months of the year in the back section. You can order this type of sorter online, or simply make your own with labeled manila folders. The numbers section is to file paperwork that you need to take action on this month, and the month section is for paperwork that doesn’t need action in the current month.

Each morning, go to your tickler file and look for the number that corresponds with today’s date. Any items you have filed there need to be acted on, today. As you approach the end of a month, go to the next month’s section and pull out any items waiting there. If you are still not ready to take action on these items, re-file them in the numbers section and wait for the appropriate day to come around.

Add hanging file folders behind the sorting device for additional storage. If you have children, create one file folder for each child, and use that folder to store school directories, medical information, extra-curricular activity schedules and so on. Other potential folders are: vacation planning, take-out menus, donations/tax deductible expenses, and volunteer activities – whatever fits best for you and your family.

Q: How should a pantry be organized? Are there tools available that make it easy to see everything at once?

A: If shelf space is a concern, don’t be afraid to go vertical. There are rack systems that mount onto a wall or the back of a door to hold small or narrow items such as oils, bottled items, and spices. Another wall-mounted product is a wrap and bag organizer, which secures plastic wrap, aluminum foil, and sandwich bag packages vertically for space-saving convenience. For a really fun space saver, use a shoe pocket organizer to keep smaller items like tea bags, snack size chip bags, and other items that get lost easily or fall through wire shelves, safe and secure.

Another way to reduce bulk on a pantry shelf is to remove the original packaging. For snack items such as granola bars and fruit gummies, open the boxes, take out all the individually wrapped items, and place them in clear plastic containers or open baskets. This saves room, and makes the snacks more visible and accessible for the entire family. Transferring cereal and pasta to square or rectangular plastic canisters saves space and preserves freshness. The canisters provide an airtight seal with one push of a button, and the shapes stack up nicely.

If you have a lot of empty vertical space between shelves, stack it up! Stacked shelves, stacking baskets, and hanging baskets are all products that make the most out of existing shelf space.

It’s important to be able to see all of your pantry items, and sometimes grouping like items together is not enough. Riser shelves provide different height levels to elevate items and make them more visible. Lazy Susans are round turntables that can be spun around to see items in the back. Gravity-feed racks stack up canned goods horizontally like a soda vending machine. As you remove one can, the next can rolls down. For deep pantries, consider installing glide or pull-out drawers. As you buy new items, place them behind older like items, to ensure that the oldest items are used up first.

Q: Are there “everyday” items you can use to store things such as paper clips, rubber bands, etc.?

A: A desk drawer organizer tray works well for small items. Other options are empty checkbook boxes, (clean) empty butter tubs or other food containers and older plastic storage containers that have lost their lid mates.

Q: What are some of the best ways to utilize closet space?

A: Arrange your clothing by putting like items together, such as pants, skirts, suits, long sleeve shirts, short sleeve shirts, and so on. Within each group, arrange by color. This allows you to see, for example, how many pairs of black pants you own.

Install a second bar to double the hanging space in the closet. Just make sure to leave some room for longer hanging items such as dresses.

Use the existing systems in your closet as a boundary system. Let’s say that you have five narrow shelves in your closet that are perfect for storing shoes. Group your existing shoes into five categories (sneakers, boots, flats, heels, sandals) and let each shelf be the limit for how much of that type of shoe you own. If you buy a new pair of sandals and your sandal shelf is already full, you need to get rid of one of your older pair of sandals.

Consider using the vertical space on the inside of the closet door. Options include an over-the-door shoe organizer (for shoes or small accessory items), or a variety of racks that could organize ties, belts, purses, hats, scarves, or more.

Review your closet at least twice a year to weed out clothing that doesn’t fit you or that you no longer enjoy.

Q: Many people have a lot of accessories. Are there things they can make or create that will free up drawer space for clothes rather than belts?

A: Again, take advantage of the vertical space in the room. Install hooks on the wall or on the back of a door for an easy way to hang purses, ties, and belts. An over-the-door shoe pocket organizer or a peg board works well for storing hair accessories. Mount a bulletin board to the wall and use pushpins to display jewelry.

Q: Are there organizing systems you can use to store boxes of decorations, mementos and other items? To avoid having to stack boxes on top of each other, is there another way to store everything in basements and attics?

A: First of all, be very careful about what types of items you decide to store in a basement or attic. These two spaces tend to be very hot, humid, moist, and/or damp, which makes them a poor choice for storing furniture, paperwork, or photos. Additionally, it is better to use plastic bins with lids rather than paper boxes, which can be a feeding ground for mold, insects and rodents.

Try purchasing free standing wire rack shelving units, and use them to store your labeled bins. Be sure to put the heaviest bins on the bottom shelves, for safety. You may also want to secure taller shelving units to the wall if you live in an area that is prone to earthquakes.

Q: For those who have small homes and not a lot of space, who are forced to store things under the bed, should they attach something to the underside of their bed or simply use containers? What are some options for under-the-bed storage?

A: I recommend clear bins, because they provide visibility as well as secure closure. For under-bed storage, be sure to measure first before purchasing any containers. You need to know how narrow the height of the container needs to be in order to fit under the bed. The upside is that these containers are usually very large in width, so despite the short height, there is still a lot of storage area within the container.

Q: Do shelves allow for more room to store things or do they really just cause you to keep more than you need?

A: Shelves are a great organizing tool because they provide vertical storage, which helps maximize the available space in a room. There is always the possibility of wanting to keep too many things, but I am a firm believer in using shelves as a boundary system. Say that you have designated one shelf for DVDs. That shelf becomes your boundary limit. If you acquire new DVDs and the shelf is already full, you need to weed out some of the older DVDs to make room for the new ones.

Q: Many parents struggle with how to keep children’s rooms neat and organized while not making them feel as though they are constantly asking them to clean. Are there “kid-fun and friendly” products that these parents can purchase or even recreate?

A: There are toy bin organizers that are very colorful available at big box stores. It is a free standing unit that has removable open colored bins--some are wide, some are narrow. Review your children’s toys and other items, and group like-minded items together. This helps you determine which size bin is appropriate for each group of items. Label each container with words for older children and pictures for younger children. When each type of item has a specific storage area, clean-up is a snap!

The benefit to grouping like items together is that it enables you and your children to see how much there is. This prevents out-of-control collections. When all of the stuffed animals are kept in one basket, for example, the basket becomes the boundary system. If new animals are purchased, some of the older items will need to be let go to accommodate the boundary limit.

If you have special collectible items or trophies that are more for looking than for touching, you can install a shelf about two feet from the ceiling on one wall or as a perimeter around the room. This frees up surface space on desks and book cases, and makes for an interesting visual display.

Establish a “pick-up” time each day, such as right after dinner or before bath time. Set a timer for 5 to 10 minutes, and put on some energetic music. The children clean up their rooms, and parents can also join in the fun by bringing dishes back to the kitchen, picking up trash, taking items upstairs or downstairs where they belong, and so on.

Q: For those who don’t have linen closets that have been forced to store their towels and sheets in various parts of their home, is there an easy substitution?

A: As a general rule, it is best to store things as close as possible to where you use them. Store the towels and sheets that each family member uses in his/her room, either in a dresser drawer or on a closet shelf. If you haven’t already designated which family member uses which sets of sheets and towels, assign one set per person. An easy way to do this is by color-coding the items so that each family member has sheets and towels in a specific color.

For more home organization tips and to get involved with Get Organized Month 2013 visit http://www.napo.net.