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Old School Organizing: Lessons I’m Still Learning From My Mom

My mother and I (2005)

My mother and I (2005)

My mom’s shoebox for receipts, a large check register that would not fit in your wallet, and an over-stocked pantry.  These are three things that in my professional life I might have advised against.  But my mom recently passed away and is continuing to teach me important lessons in simplicity.

Her shoebox of receipts was a perfect receptacle for the year’s spending.  Little handwritten notes chronicled what was important.  It took twenty minutes to sort and document medical expenses, taxable items and things that were to be kept.  It was easy to see where she went and how she navigated life using this little paper trail.  There were not two or three places to look for these.  They were not scanned, downloaded, and emailed.  She had a “go to” and it worked.

Her check register was too big to carry along so it just sat on her desk.  Notes detailed extra info about what she was writing checks for and what she owed on things.  It was all clear and made assembling a report simple and definite.  There was no QuickBooks or mint.  She had a love/hate relationship with her computer, but made sure she could check her balances and move money as needed.  She never used an ATM, she would rather chat with a teller and never met a stranger.  That was her gift.

As for the pantry, she simply wanted to be sure she would always have enough to take care of anyone who might come to visit.  It did not have to be fancy but everything she made was piping hot and good.  It was more about surrounding herself with people she loved.  As time went on, fewer people were there to “put their feet under her table” but that pantry never suffered.  She was ready, and it-symbolized her desire to feed and care for friends and family.

As an organizer I think of efficiencies, best practices and streamlining things.  I always consider the way my clients think and live and hope to help them learn knew ways to think about their processes.  Lately, I’ve grown to appreciate some slower paced solutions that might take a little extra time or be a little wonky, but can add a little bit of elegance and grace to the process.

Thanks Mom…

What to Do With All of Those Holiday Cards?

What to Do With All of Those Holiday Cards?

It is that time of year. Holiday cards are stuffing your mailbox and overloading the systems you usually have in place. These cards are emotionally charged so it helps to establish some rules to handle the influx at this already busy time. Use the five D’s to keep from getting overwhelmed.

Designate a drop spot for the cards as they arrive. I like to use a pretty bowl or basket. I separate them from the other mail and do not open them until I have time to sit down and really enjoy them. This system ensures that none will be misplaced around the house.

When I open the cards I try to immediately make a decision about which I want to hold on to for display, reuse for crafts, archive, or leave in the bowl to save. Ask yourself these questions to help make your rules: Do you only want to keep cards from certain families? Only photo cards? Only cards from relatives? Only the top ten of the year? Only your own cards? (TIP: If you are keeping your own cards a good rule of thumb is to keep a copy for each child. If you have 5 children, keep 5 cards) Keeping all of your cards is just a way to not decide. Making decisions on this small batch of emotional items is good practice for bigger jobs – like your photos. If tackling holiday cards is difficult for you, photos are probably even more of a challenge.

Displaying is generally for current cards. There are many different ways to display holiday cards, from clothespins to mantles and garlands to wall sconces! I usually display cards of the people closest to my family and me. A bonus is that when those families join us for holiday celebrations it makes them happy to see their card on display. Check out our Pinterest for more ideas on displaying your cards, you can buy or DIY.

Take down your display at the end of the season and decide how you want to document/archive your cards. Most of what I choose to display each year is what I end up archiving and documenting later on. Once you decide which cards to keep from past years, think about how to save them. Is it okay to just put favorite cards in a shoebox or does it have to be something more aesthetic? I have found that a nice photo box works well for me. I like to save certain cards to look at each year when we pull out our decorations. Also, this year I will be making a scrapbook of my family’s cards over the last 25 years using Shutterfly. I will share my scrapbook link once the project is complete!

5. DIY
This last ‘D’ is an option if you want to get more out of the cards you are not displaying or documenting by reusing them. The front of non-photo cards make great thank you notes if you cleanly separate the front flap. Most people do not write in that area so the back should be blank. Now just find an envelope of the right size or use it as a postcard! My daughter is really great at this! These front flaps can also be cut into smaller pieces and used as gift tags. This is something my sister does. She often writes heartfelt notes on these and attaches them to a satin ribbon as gift wrapping. Whatever is left over can be recycled.

Back to School: Organizing the Paper – Part Two


Let me start by saying I would like to pass legislation stating anything that comes home from school and needs my attention should be allowed to be returned to school the next day. It is usually the active papers that are the problem and having a guideline on what is active, what is reference and what is archive is crucial. Getting clarity on this from teachers and students will make all the difference. You will be able to have a streamlined system and you can help your child with this skill. Many times kids are paralyzed with paper too and tend to carry everything in oversized backpacks and overstuffed desks and lockers because they don’t want to be embarrassed by not having what the teacher wants and inevitably this creates a situation that papers get lost in. This skill takes time and support not just verbal instruction. Do it together to build better habits.

Every home needs a LAUNCH PAD or CONTROL CENTER for school papers.

Here are some components for a good launch pad:

  • A one step space for EACH child’s backpack

This will save the day for you. Have a place to hang that backpack and create a procedure for going through it after school. Make sure it’s loaded for the next day and many stresses will disappear with putting that one step into place.

  • A place for important ACTIVE papers

Use a red folder for active papers, I think of them as HOT. Everyone in my house knows where the HOT file is and that it is important and things that belong there are typically safe and not lost!

  • A work space for HOMEWORK

I am a big believer in the dining room table homework area. I like to have that activity under my nose because I have found it’s easier for me to answer questions and keep things on track if they are centralized in the home rather than hiding in a bedroom. So many parents think the answer to a distracted student is a desk in their room but 9 out of 10 times that desk is on Craigslist a year later because it becomes a clutter catcher and not a work space. Using the dining room or kitchen table has other added benefits, it helps to get homework done before dinner because things have to get put away in order to eat. I realize this won’t work for everyone, but take the ideas to your home and see what does work.

  • A place for SCHEDULES and INVITES

Along with the HOT folder I have a folder for soccer schedules the directory and invites. This is one clear plastic wall pocket that I nicknamed ”my brain” because when stuff gets in there I don’t have to remember it all. I put important info in my phone or on the calendar but I keep the details there until the event is over then I toss it.

  • ONE family calendar

Our family calendar hung above the wall pocket (my brain) and everyone could see it in my kitchen. It is where all the info resided for everyone. If you want your activity to be counted, it better be on there. I delegated a bit here because frankly I couldn’t keep it all straight.

As time went on smart phones came into play so the calendar on my phone was THE calendar and everyone entered info on that. I can remember the kids asking if they could do something and passing the phone to them so they could see if there was time available and what was going on that day. Like the HOT file, the calendar gets respect because if it’s not on there I can’t really get it scheduled or done, so everyone quickly knew to get on board and get their events in the calendar.

  • Night time routine for readiness

When you get this in place you will be a rock star! It is so easy to do, but so easy not to do. Think of it as PEACE for you and your students. Just take ten minutes to go over what needed to be completed that day, what is needed for the next day and put it away or where it needs to be for the next day. It will calm everyone down, and set the stage for a more relaxing evening or bedtime as well as a smooth morning exit.


For examples of launch pads or family control centers, check our Back to School board on Pinterest

Reusing Your Homework

As the school year comes to an end you are probably as eager as I to start the summer and get rid of all of your old school work. It is the familiar mentality of “I never want to see this again!” and there is definitely a feel of satisfaction that comes from dunking your binder into the nearest trashcan. However, this year, think about taking a little extra time and going through those old notes. I do this every year and find at least 200 pieces of paper that are only one-sided and aren’t ready for a fate in the dumpster, they belong in your printer as scrap paper! You might be thinking that this seems like a tedious task but it can actually be fun as you stumble upon old notes and doodles or a good test score. Not to mention you’re saving money along with trees!

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