By Diane Benson Harrington
You have stuff piled up all over the house. You can't keep track of the kids'-never mind your own- schedule. Face it, you need to get organized. Don't worry. You won't have to break a sweat or devote huge chunks of time in order to get things under control. A few minor changes are all you need to put an end to the chaos and bring order to your life.
1. Get in the habit. Do a few small things regularly: Toss clothes in the hamper when you take them off, sort the mail as soon as it arrives, put items back in their proper place after use. Little routines-even obvious ones-do make a difference. "If you feel challenged by the very idea of getting organized, starting with simple habits makes it easier," says Regina Leeds, author of One Year to an Organized Life.
2. Box it up. Well-stocked, labeled plastic or cardboard grab-and-go boxes help you sort your life and minimize the time you spend hunting. Try them for anything: Bill Paying (envelopes, return address labels, checkbook, pens, calculator, stamps), Car Trips (crayons, mini-coloring books, games), Birthdays (cake candles, cards, party hats, rolls of streamers). Keep them in a handy spot.
3. Gather as you go. Don't wait for certain times of the year to collect unwanted clothes and other items. Hang a shopping bag or set a basket in a corner of every closet or bedroom (or the laundry room), and have family members toss things in. When the containers are full, donate the contents.
4. Create a home office on wheels. Tired of forgetting things when you're dashing out of the house? "In your glove compartment, keep separate envelopes of bank deposit and withdrawal slips (the generic bank ones that don't include your account number, for added safety), grocery and retail store coupons, and other often-needed items," says Debbie Lillard, author of Absolutely Organized.
5. Make a pending file. Use it to track things you're waiting on, such as online orders and rebates you've mailed in. Go through it once a month to be sure you've received your item or your money. "For now, these things are off your to-do list, but you can follow up when they've been in the file too long," says Lillard.
6. Start a lost-and-found. Prevent stray parts and odd items from becoming scattered throughout the house by keeping a basket or storage ottoman in your family room. "When you find a USB cord (for the Game Boy? the iPod?), a pair of sunglasses, a piece of doll clothing, in it goes," says Jamie Novak, author of The Get Organized Answer Book. "Now, when something's missing, everyone knows exactly where to look."
7. Keep a fix-it bin. "We all have things we need to fix, but it's not always convenient to do it right away," says Novak, who keeps a stapler, instant glue, a screwdriver and other tools in a handy container. When she or her husband are watching TV, they'll often grab the bin and tackle little projects.
8. File it right. We really only need about 20% of the papers we file. Here's Lillard's method for weeding things out: Every time you retrieve a file, put it away in the front of your filing drawer. At the end of the year, the most frequently used files will end up in front, and the ones you never look at will be in the back. Give those hidden ones a quick once-over and toss whatever is unnecessary.
9. Jot it down once. Use a calendar that has plenty of space for everything, like the ones at BusyBodyBook.com. These flexible family calendars have plenty of columns for each day so you can track everyone's appointments, activities and more. If you're tackling a big project, track it on the calendar: Instead of making separate to-do lists, assign days and times to each of the project's tasks-now everything you need to do is written in one place.
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