“A place for everything, and everything in its place.”
January is Get Organized Month, a great time to discard the disorder of the past year and get started with a clean slate. For many of us, disorder and clutter are a part of daily life, and this clutter can be affecting you more than you realize. Imagine coming home to an orderly house, or leaving the same house, never losing your keys or rushing around in the morning to find an important paper. Getting organized in January can set the stage for a successful year. If you develop an organizational plan in the beginning of the year for all of the things you would like to achieve (including New Year’s resolutions!), you are more likely to be successful. Here are a few helpful ways to get organized.
Clutter is the hallmark of disorder and is the main thing to address. Clutter can be defined as anything that you do not find useful, beautiful, or very meaningful. Paper is often the biggest issue.
Organize your papers
Is your “filing system” various piles of paper? Do you have tax receipts from 1997 shoved in an overstuffed drawer somewhere? Time to clean it up. Take a few minutes every day to address “hot spots” in your house: the counter as you walk in, a table, a desk. Any horizontal surface can gather both dust and excess paper.
A good rule of thumb is touch papers as few times as possible. Starting now, deal with paper as it enters your house. You can gradually organize your old papers, but don’t add any new. Follow these general guidelines for how long to keep important papers and don’t let anything new pile up.
Use these strategies:
- Sort children’s artwork: Keep forever, toss, or rotate on the ‘fridge.
- Sort mail: Have a place for bills, a place for personal correspondence, and a place for recycling junk mail.
- Receipts: If you can, purchase a scanner and scan paper receipts immediately and save to a file on your computer. Then shred receipts.
- Personal correspondence: Keep letters, cards, and notes that are meaningful but discard the rest. For things like holiday cards, either recycle or save them for crafts next year.
- Other: If you have jotted notes, business cards, or other scraps of paper floating around, evaluate whether or not you need them, then be merciless.
How this helps you keep you on track: Clutter can be overwhelming. Getting a handle on it can help you move on to more important tasks. Like dealing with money, which is next.
Organize your money
It is important that you discuss your personal financial situation with an advisor who can go in-depth with recommendations based on your goals. If you are living from paycheck to paycheck, saving very little, and often find yourself running out of money and using credit cards for basic expenses, there are a few changes you can start right now.
- Find more money: Take a week and write down every penny you spend, from the coffee in the morning to the unexpected vet visit to the lunch out on Friday. Without judgment, see where your money goes. A $2 coffee daily adds up to $730 annually. If you get coffee every other day, you just found $360!
- Prioritize: There are differing opinions on what is most important to do first, usually depending on your stage of life (just starting out, raising kids, or close to retirement). A general rule is to try to get a savings account with at least $500 in it (for emergencies only), and then start paying off your highest interest credit card. Once that is paid off, take the same amount and add it to the payment for the next highest debt. Every situation is different, and you need to do what is right for you, but having a plan and prioritizing is the first step to gaining control of your finances.
- Pay yourself first: There is a reason everyone offers this advice. It is the best thing you can do with your money. Even if you only take $10 from every paycheck and put it in a savings account, you are saving something. Even if you only put $5 a month in a 529 plan for college, that is something.
- Evaluate your needs: Do you really need the latest gadget? Do your kids really need brand-name clothing? Are you shopping recreationally or to avoid dealing with a personal issue? If you can figure out what you really need and avoid spending time, money, and energy on anything else, then you are way ahead of the game. Think about the concept of living more simply so that you can focus on what really matters to you. Keeping up with the Joneses can be exhausting. Give yourself a break.
How this helps keep you on track: Stress over finances can consume you with worry. Once you have a plan and are getting your money under control, you can focus on your other resolutions.
Organize your food
Is one of your New Year’s resolutions to lose weight or to eat better? Using Get Organized Month to organize your food is the best way to help you keep this resolution. Unhealthy eating or overeating happens when there isn’t healthy food around to eat, or when time is short and you need to grab something on the go. If you have taken time to organize and plan, then you are less likely to reach for a bag of chips or a sugary treat.
Utilize these organization strategies:
- Practice meal planning: Sit down with your family and gather their ideas for delicious dinners. If you pack school lunches, ask for opinions there, too. Plan at least a week’s worth of meals and snacks at a time, and build a grocery list around that. If you are very ambitious, try cooking for a month at a time. Pinterest has a wealth of meal ideas and plans for all dietary needs. If you are comfortable in the kitchen and can spare one day a month, you can save yourself time and effort on busy weeknights.
- Get to know your grocery store: Healthy food is located on the perimeter of the store, but there can be some hidden gems in the middle aisles. If you are really pressed for time on a regular basis, take one day and go through your grocery store, writing down what is in each aisle, in order (use the signs; don’t write every single thing!). Then transfer this to your computer or phone and use it to make your weekly shopping list. This way there is no going back and forth because you missed something at the far end of the store.
- Expect the unexpected: There will always be an unexpected event. The primary cook may be sick, or you may need to go out of town last minute. Have easy, healthy meals ready to go so that whomever needs to feed the family doesn’t have to resort to fast food. Teach all members of the family some basic cooking skills, including simple meals for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. The number one reason people eat poorly is that it is much easier to go though a drive-through than to cook from scratch. A little pre-planning goes a long way to bridge the gap between convenience and health.
How this keeps you on track: Healthy eating and meal planning gives you more energy, helps maintain a healthy weight, and saves time and money.
Organize your exercise
Just like paying yourself first, organize your exercise so that it is a priority in your life. Remember the safety speech on airplanes about putting on your own oxygen mask before assisting others? Exercise is your oxygen mask. Put it on in January.
- Set a goal: “Get healthy” is vague. “Walk every day for 30 minutes” is more specific. Wherever you start, whatever your fitness target, set a SMART goal (specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, and timely) for yourself this year.
- Schedule your exercise: Block out and plan for exercise on the calendar. Mark that time as “busy” on your cell phone calendar. Treat this time as important as anything else on the calendar, and get to it when it’s time. Set reminder bells and whistles, whatever you need to do, but stick to a schedule. Eventually this will become second nature, but this is especially important if you are just starting out.
How this keeps you on track: If you schedule exercise like everything else, you are less likely to put it off.
Get Organized Month in January is a great time to start something new. Make a plan to get organized as you start the new year and use that plan to stick to those resolutions you set on December 31st.
What areas of your life could use a little more organization?
Image by Kris Krϋg via Flickr