Back-to-School season is a good time of year for all of us to get organized. I took the liberty (and channeled my former office worker self) to interview my friend, Hannah, who also happens to be a professional organizer. Did you know there was such a thing?! For those of us who are not-so-organizationally or spatially inclined, or are just plain messy, Hannah offers some great tips for my "duh" sounding questions:
Me: I can't even see my desk because it's covered in stuff. Where/how do I start?
Hannah: Start by sorting the easiest pile for you to trash or shred. This will make you feel accomplished so you avoid getting overwhelmed and quitting halfway through the organizing project. I suggest finding a clear spot on your desk or the floor to lay your papers into categories as you sort. This will help you visually see what you have before you start creating a filing system. Be sure that your file categories make sense for your specific paper needs, and label your folders clearly.
Me: Soooo much paper--how do I keep it in order?
Hannah: Once you get a filing system set up and all of your papers in order, spend 5 minutes every day sorting and filing your current papers. That way you won't get overwhelmed with growing piles of paperwork on your desk. I suggest keeping a stapler handy to attach groups of papers as soon as you get them so they are sure to stay together. Once or twice a year, reevaluate your filing system. Determine what works, what doesn't work, and throw out files that are obsolete.
Tip: Always open mail as soon as you get it and immediately throw out junk mail and any empty envelopes.
Tip: Reduce the paper flow and opt out of getting junk mail using handy apps like PaperKarma.
Me: I have a million pens-where do I put these?
Hannah: Get rid of some of them! Spend 15 minutes testing them out, and only keep the ones that you like and that actually work. It is surprisingly relaxing! Then find a container to keep on your desk and resolve to never get more pens than can fit in that container.
Me: There is so much RANDOM stuff-staples, pushpins, stickers, tape, cards, etc. around. How do I find a place for these items?
Hannah: If you have drawers, invest in some drawer organizers with multiple sections in a variety of sizes. They are perfect for keeping your office supplies neat and organized. If drawer space is scarce, find some desktop containers to contain your office supplies. Be sure to purchase containers that fit your style- if you love them, you will use them!
Me: How do I know what to throw away and what to keep?
Hannah: Now that most documents can be accessed on a computer or online, it is not necessary to keep as many paper files. As a rule, the IRS says tax-related documents should be kept for 7 years. You can keep the following documents for a year or less: bank records, bills, receipts, and pay check stubs. Be sure to shred anything that has personal information!
Me: I can't see what's in my file folders. Help.
Hannah: If file folders aren't your thing, I suggest using horizontal desktop paper trays or mounted wall files. Both are great options for visual people, as they allow you to easily see your files and access them quickly. I like to use file folders for long-term file storage and these more accessible options for daily paper flow.
Hannah Marsden is a Chicago-based professional organizer for Chicago Anytime Assistants, a company offering personal assistants that specialize in errand services, professional organizing, and moving and relocation.
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