This week's challenge is to create a home mail organizer center, which will help you keep track of incoming and outgoing mail, plus to develop certain routines and habits to keep on track with mail organization.
Keeping track of your mail, and dealing with the papers you receive on a daily basis is really about setting up a workable system, and then building up habits and routines to deal with it, on a daily basis.
Once your system is set up, dealing with your mail daily need only take you 5-10 minutes, per day, maybe less. In addition, you'll need to set aside some time weekly to deal with paperwork.
Are you new here? The Create a Home Mail Organizer Center Challenge is part of the 52 Weeks To An Organized Home Challenge. (Click the link to learn how to join us for free for future and past challenges if you aren't already a regular reader).
Paper clutter takes up a lot of our time and energy in our home, so I've devoted several weeks in the challenges to dealing with it, since you can't have an organized home full of stacks of paper.
Because there is so much paper in the typical home, and so many types of it though, it would be impossible to tackle all the paper explosions in our house in one week. Therefore, this week's challenge is really just laying the foundation for the next couple of weeks by starting to gain control of the influx of paper we receive on a daily basis.
However, the little bit of time investment we spend this week creating a home mail organizer center will set up the main part of your system for dealing with incoming mail, and will reap huge dividends for you in savings of time and anxiety over the long term.
Some of the benefits you'll see once you begin dealing with your mail and other incoming papers in a more organized manner are the following:
So, are you ready to begin a several week process of conquering your paper clutter? If so, here are the steps to take this week, as part of the Create a Home Mail Organizer Center Challenge.
***Update: And new this year I've also begun a Paper Organization Series here on the site as well, which runs in tandem with the next several weeks of challenges. It provides even more general resources to help you get this area of your home and life under control! ***End Update
The first step in the Create a Home Mail Organizer Center Challenge is to choose a central location in your home where you'll gather and process your mail each day.
There is no right or wrong place to do this in your home, but I will tell you some useful criteria to keep in mind while you're brainstorming where it could be:
Homes are all laid out in different ways, and everyone's needs are different so the place you choose may not be ideal, but you've got to choose a designated place to create your home mail organizer center. Doing this haphazardly will just invite piles of paper all over the house, which is a recipe for disorganization.
Don't forget, when choosing a spot, to involve anyone else in your home who also picks up the mail, such as your spouse or kids. They need to agree to the system and follow it too, otherwise you'll have chaos, and the easiest way to get them to comply is to let them help make the decisions for where the center will be located.
The next step in this challenge is to gather all the right supplies together for your home mail organizer center.
The most important of these supplies is the trash can, recycling bin, and/or shredder (such as the one to the right).
I've found one of the most important things to do each day is just throw away all the junk you don't need, right away, so it doesn't stay in your home a second longer than needed. This could be part of your home recycling center in your kitchen or mud room, or in your home office, for example.
In addition, here are the other supplies that you should have close to your home mail organizer center:
Some people like to have their mail and keys together, such as on a wall mounted mail organizer, even though you can't have many home office supplies in a set up like this.
Others like something that keeps their mail and other supplies together, such as on a counter in the kitchen. Here are some examples of mail organizers available to suit your needs.
Once you've got your home mail organizer center in place somewhere in your home, you've got to use it, daily.
On a daily basis you should gather your mail, and other incoming papers that you've received that day (including kids school papers, papers from work, etc.) and take a couple of minutes to deal with them.
"Dealing with them" does not necessarily involve taking every step necessary to complete every action that piece of paper might require you to take. Instead, dealing with it involves examining every piece of mail and incoming paper and making a decision of where it will go in your home mail organizer center.
Here are your choices:
This is one of my favorites, and should be used liberally. Don't keep things you don't need. If something is trash, treat it as such and don't keep it in your house a second longer than necessary.
As you get this junk out of your home though make sure you're doing it safely, to protect your sensitive personal information. Here's the ultimate guide to what documents to shred or otherwise destroy, as opposed to placing directly into the trash or recycle bin.
You will inevitably run across mail items that aren't yours, or that should be dealt with by someone else in the family, or someone you've hired to assist you in various areas of your life, such as a lawyer, accountant, etc.
For each of these items, if you can delegate it right then, within two minutes, do so. If not, put a sticky note on it with the next action step to be taken (delegate to ________), and stick it in an inbox, basket, or file you've designated for paperwork you'll deal with during your weekly paperwork time (see step 4 below for more information about this weekly appointment for yourself).
If you get something you don't need right now, but will need to reference in the future, place it in the right file right then and there, if possible.
If you can be disciplined enough to file weekly, at the end of your weekly paperwork session in your home, you can place these types of things in a "to be filed" file instead.
Many pieces of mail, and other influxes of paper that you receive on a daily basis fall into the category of items you need to take action upon.
These can be further categorized into papers you need to take action on relatively quickly versus a while from now.
The further out you need to take an action on something, the easier it is to misplace the paper in the mean time. These are the perfect types of items you should place in a use a tickler file. (If you don't know what this is click the link for an article explaining the concept, how to make it, and picture examples.)
Other items you need to take action on more quickly include things like bills, invitations, insurance and medical information, paperwork you need to read and study before it is filed, things you need to put on your calendar, etc.
Here is where you really need to implement the two minute rule. The two minute rule requires that you should not put off anything that takes you less than two minutes to do, right then.
The reasoning behind this rule is that if you put it down after you've picked it up and determined what you need to do with it, you'll just have to re-remember in your mind what it was again alter, perhaps by re-reading the paper all over again in the future. That will waste at least two minutes of your time, so once you pick it up you've got to do it right them, if it takes less than two minutes to do it.
Examples of things you could do in two minutes including signing the permission slip or putting a date of an event on your calendar.
However, no one expects you to pay every bill as soon as it comes in, or make a phone call the second you read something requiring that action from you. You save more time by batching most tasks.
Therefore, when you sort your mail you place all of the things that you need to do, but that would take you more than two minutes, into your inbox, basket or tickler file, which is part of your home mail organizer center, to deal with later, during your weekly appointment for dealing with paperwork.
If your next action is obvious upon first sight, such as pay the bill, you don't necessarily need to write yourself a note about what to do with that piece of paper before placing it in the inbox.
However, if you realize your next step is something more complicated, grab yourself a sticky note and write down what you've got to do next, so it is easier for you to accomplish your tasks during your weekly paperwork time without completely having to re-read or redo your thinking process again in the future.
During next week's challenge, about paying bills, we'll go more in depth into the weekly paperwork appointment time.
Suffice it to say, right now, you just need to understand that you'll be dealing with all this paperwork again later, and begin considering when in your weekly schedule you can designate time to work on household paperwork on a consistent weekly basis.
Finally, to the extent you've got paperwork, bills, and mail all over your home, your purse, your briefcase, etc. take the time this week to gather it all up.
If the paperwork is less than a month old, go ahead and process and sort it now, making a decision about each piece as suggsted above in step 3.
However, if it is over one month old put it in a pile to be dealt with slowly, over the course of the next couple of weeks of this challenge, where we'll be tossing, sorting, filing, etc.
When you get around to all these older papers many of them will just be paper clutter, and can get tossed. Here's the article on how to declutter your piles of paper.
The reason I've made this time period cut off of one month is because your mail is typically dealing with time sensitive items. You can't undo what was done in the past, but you can start fresh now and deal with those things that come in as they come.
If you've got lots of old papers lying around trying to deal with everything right now will quickly overwhelm you, and you'll be in danger of quitting. Therefore, this week just worry about the most recent papers.
Everyone gets mail, on an almost daily basis. But what if you could get less of the mail you automatically pitch in the garbage can, recycling bin or shredder each day?
It would save you a lot of time, plus it would be better for the environment since less trees would be needed to create mailings you don't even want or need.
That's why I've written an article all about how to stop junk mail from even coming into your mailbox to begin with. There are several online resources you can use to eliminate, if not all the junk mail you receive, at least a big portion of it.
If you're feeling particularly ambitious during this week's Create a Home Mail Organizer Center Challenge I encourage you to take this additional step to stop postal junk mail from coming to your home.
I would love to know how this week's Create a Home Mail Organizer Center Challenge is going. You can tell me your progress or give me more ideas for how you've organized your mail in the comments.
I also love before and after pictures of your mail organization system, and would love to see some of yours. Submit your pictures (up to four per submission) and get featured in the Creative Storage Solutions Hall of Fame. You've worked hard to get organized, so now here's your chance to show off!
Here's the Hall of Fame I've compiled already for this week to give you some inspiration.
We're working on our homes slowly, one area at a time, so don't get too distracted from the Create a Home Mail Organizer Center Challenge this week. However, I want you to know that this week's challenge is a launching pad for the next couple of week's challenges, which will deal with where to put various types of mail and other papers that come into your home during the course of your daily life.
For example, next week we'll deal with organizing and paying bills that are due at a regular time and/or come in the mail each month.
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