The school year has begun here and so has the inflow of paper and other school “stuff.” I still have a lot of catch-up filing to do associated with the school year. The paperwork isn’t necessarily academic-related either. For example, I need to update the personal health binders for all of us, particularly in light of all of those school checkup appointments. We need to de-junk the home office (again! . . . a never-ending process) and keep our calendars in sync to manage all the school, personal and business appointments that keep us all busy.
Below are some tips for organizing school papers and office supplies. While these tips are oriented toward younger school students, they really apply to all of us at any age. When we save school papers, we are essentially creating a scrapbook of accomplishments. It is a good idea for all of us to do this throughout our lives. If you are a working professional, it is a good idea to keep a running list of your major accomplishments each year and/or samples of your best work. If you ever need to update your resume or provide a performance review, you have your material at the ready. It is also a great way to keep up your self-esteem if your workplace does not routinely recognize your work. If you are not working, it can also be helpful to maintain a sort of life journal of things you are thinking about, books you read, uplifting letters you received, etc. We all get so busy and it is easy to forget the great things we have done or want to remember.
Tips for Controlling School Papers
You are either a packrat or a minimalist when it comes to school papers. Almost no one falls in the happy medium in the middle. You either have way too many papers and they are starting to clutter up your home or you throw almost everything away the second it comes home (or never bring it home in the first place). There are pluses and minuses to either strategy. It is important to recognize which one you are, though and think ahead about your long-term strategy.
Sentimentality for the Minimalist
If you are a minimalist, you just have to watch for signs that you are not causing hurt feelings in your children due to your streamlined philosophy. Your child may have put a lot of effort into a particular essay, drawing or science project and your tossing it into the trash sends the message that that effort was essentially “junk.” Your child may not care but if your child does, find a way to honor the effort without keeping the stuff. You could save one or two important projects and give them a place of honor in your home, such as on the fridge, on your child’s bedroom door, on a bulletin board, in a re-usable frame or on a shelf. You could photograph or scan important projects. You can re-use some work for wrapping paper, book covers, cards or other projects. You could keep a short journal or list of the projects. If you have a good memory, you could also remember to praise your child’s work to others. “Suze did an amazing collage the other day!” It is also a good idea to talk with your child about why you are throwing things away. “This is excellent work but we can’t keep all of it. We need to keep open space so you have room to create more things in the future.”
Filing for the Packrat
If you are a packrat, you need to create a filing system now to keep up with the paper as it flows in. Some people buy a large plastic bin and just toss all the papers and projects inside for the year. Others use file folders. I like to use a large binder with sheet protectors so that my children can easily review their work but I don’t have to punch holes in everything and the work stays clean. Oversize projects like mobiles and sculptures are kept for a time and then tossed unless there is something worth saving about them.
What makes a school paper worth saving? This is a really personal decision. I prefer to save things that show individuality. I give highest priority to original drawings, stories or ideas. Next are projects that look really cute but aren’t that original in that everyone in the class made the exact same thing. Last priority are routine worksheets or assignments that show knowledge of a concept but aren’t particularly memorable to me or my child.
Keeping an organized desk helps to boost productivity. When you start with a clear work surface, your mind opens to focus on the project at hand without the distraction of the 400 other unfinished projects you have to do. If nothing else, it is physically easier to sit down and start working. I am still working on my own desk organizing techniques. When you have a lot going on, it is hard to keep things from piling up. So, I look to others for help with organizing the desk and office space. Below are some tips from other organizing experts.
First, take a look at 3 home office makeovers from RealSimple here. One lesson learned from these makeovers is that you need a megaton of storage in your office space. A few shelves or file drawers are not going to cut it. These makeovers resulted in huge amounts of added storage, from wall-to-wall shelving to large entertainment/storage units.
If your office is struggling with clutter, take a look at your current furniture and storage space and imagine how you would double your storage space if you had to. What shelving, file cabinets, etc. would you add? Note that you don’t necessarily need to fill every inch of storage space that you have and you should discard things you aren’t using. However, also note that you don’t want to pack everything right next to each other either. You need a little breathing space between groupings.
Many home office makeovers I have seen make heavy use of decorative monochromatic file storage boxes stacked in a group on shelves. They look really pretty but I have never yet used this technique. If you are a proponent of this technique, you would have to get in the habit of taking works in progress and dumping them in a box (with a label, of course!) routinely. You would also need to remember to scan your boxes just as you would a set of file folder labels to see what needs doing or write these projects down on your master to do list.
Some more office tidying tips:
4. Crafting Supplies. Martha Stewart’s clever design for organizing supplies like glue, paper, pens, pencils and other creative tools.
5. Quick-change labels. Another gem from Martha Stewart to use clothespins and index cards to label containers that are constantly changing contents.
6. Hiding cables and cords. If there is one thing that is universally aesthetically unpleasing in an office, it is hanging electrical and computer cords. Some people get really perfectionistic about how to wind up and label these cords. You could do something extensive, like this idea from Martha Stewart or something ingeniously simple, like this tip from Lauri Ward, to hide your cords with a sheet of painted foam core.
Do you have a tip for organizing school papers or the home office workspace? Please share in the comments.