Getting Organized

By Nancy Moffett

It’s one thing to be organized at your job, quite another to come home and face piles of mail in the kitchen, clutter in your closets and general disorganization. To help you get a handle on some of these problems, we asked two local pros for advice.

How to Organize Paperwork

Certified Professional Organizer Diane Albright says the number one thing she helps people with is organizing paperwork. “People waste time looking for receipts, warranties, coupons and reference papers throughout the house, in the car, in a purse,” she explains.

Let’s begin with mail. Most people like getting the mail. They go through it looking for things like checks, letters or cards, then they set the rest down. The pile grows and gets moved from one spot to another and doesn’t get dealt with in a timely manner.

“People don’t know what to do,” Albright says. “Should I keep it or toss it? What you need is a retention plan.” She suggests starting with these categories: warranties, sales receipts, coupons, photos, reference papers and things that need action. Other categories could be “want to read” or “want to buy.” “The system you develop should be so easy that anyone can use it,” Albright explains.


Reference papers can go into a filing cabinet (insurance policies, warranties, tax returns, etc.), while papers you need more often should be more accessible. I use stackers on my desk, but you could set up baskets on shelves if that works for you. Albright says there are many products you can use to build your retention system. As for categorizing, titles should be general topics, not specifics: Auto versus Toyota; Pets versus your current pet’s name; Insurance versus Auto Insurance, etc. so the system isn’t obsolete when things change.

My system starts with mail…some goes directly into recycling; bills, charity solicitations, travel information, etc. go to designated spots in my office. Coupons go into a drawer in the kitchen island. Magazines and other reading material go into a drawer in the living room. A bulletin board in my office holds things I want to find at a glance: neighborhood medical centers, my travel bucket list, etc. The key is to develop a system that works for you.

Albright has moved much of her information online, eliminating some paperwork. “Bank information, car registration, insurance numbers, warranties, credit card statements, tax filings and all those user IDs and passwords…I scan items, then copy and paste them into my online file,” she says. A Google search for “storing personal information online” finds many companies that offer this service for free or a monthly fee. All guarantee security and let you access information from your smart phone or computer anywhere, anytime.

If any of this doesn’t come easily to you, “Don’t beat yourself up,” Albright says. “Nobody is born knowing how to organize.” For help in setting up a system, you can hire a pro like Albright. Or, attend one of her paperwork management seminars (look for dates on to get started.

How to Organize Closets

The day of one shelf and one rod in a clothes closet is long gone. Every closet should have an organization system with several hanging heights, shelves and a place for shoes before you can begin organizing the contents. For the DIYer, home improvement stores carry lots of options. Or, if you need help, companies like Creative Closets® can determine what system will work best for you, then design and install it. Ellyn Elstein, the company’s founder, has been helping people organize their homes since 1983.

Once that system is in place, Elstein recommends you begin organizing clothing by doing a purge. My rule of thumb is if I haven’t worn it in the past two years, it goes. “Many people have several different size clothes in their closets,” Elstein says. Logically, even if you lose enough weight to get back into your skinny clothes, they’ll be out of style or won’t fit the way they once did. Here’s a neat idea from Elstein: When you wear something, turn the hanger around so the hook faces you. At the end of two years, you’ll know which items haven’t been worn by the hanger’s position.

Divide casual clothes from professional and dressy wear, summer from winter. Then organize them by color, going from light to dark. Hang blouses or shirts above, skirts and slacks below. Divide shirts and blouses by no-sleeve, short-sleeve and long-sleeve. Hang everything you can except sweaters, shoes, underwear, nightwear and accessories. These can go into drawers, but sweaters should be on shelves, Elstein explains. Shoes should be sorted by color and season.

Another neat trick: store pairs of shoes heel-to-toe so you can easily distinguish pumps from flats, open-top from closed, etc. “The ideal is to get dressed directly out of your closet,” she say – even down to jewelry – which makes it easier to achieve a put-together, professional look in the morning.

And, of course, if you need help, Elstein (aka the Closet Lady®) would be glad to give you expert advice on how you can “take control, purge the junk, organize the treasures and regain your peace of mind.”

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