We’ve all been there. A friend calls because she’s in the neighborhood and thought she’d stop by for a chat, and suddenly you have exactly two minutes to frantically dash around the house and throw socks under the couch cushions, toss papers and knick knacks into random drawers, and wipe off last night’s spaghetti from your kitchen table.
And all the while you’re thinking, when did all of these things get here?
It’s so easy to let things pile up without realizing it. A stray mug set on a clean nightstand suddenly turns into three cups of water, a set of keys, a phone charger, and about a dozen bobby pins. A few neglected dirty dishes in the sink turns into a science experiment on several kinds of mold. And a few clothes on the bedroom floor turn into your entire closet strewn about the room.
Or maybe you’re just the kind of person who keeps everything — appointments, grocery lists, friends’ birthdays — secure in your brain. You don’t need to write these things down or organize them because you keep it all in your noggin. I can relate, I lived my life like this for a long time. It wasn’t until I developed some chronic anxiety that I realized I needed to unload some of the burden and find ways to manage that didn’t include jamming my brain full of every minute detail to remember.
Below is a list of common items or responsibilities that tend to build up over time if not dealt with properly, as well as some advice on developing new habits that can enhance your daily efficiency, maximize your time, and free up your mind:
Letters, bills, invitations … in a digital world, we still get a surprising amount of snail mail. It’s important to develop a filing system for bills and tax-related documents, yet, owning a file cabinet doesn’t mean that unopened mail can still sit around on coffee tables for weeks.
To rid yourself of a literal paper trail around your house or apartment, devise a system for dealing with mail as soon as it crosses the threshold of your home. One of the best ways to organize mail is with a tiered mail holder like this one. Put all invitations, personal letters, and bills in the front tier. Put anything that needs filed into the middle tier, and put magazines or catalogues in the last tier.
Take 10 minutes before you go to bed and deal with all the mail in the first tier; RSVP to the invitations, read the letters, and write checks or pay your bills online. Browse the magazines and catalogues over the next few days. At the end of the week, take 15 minutes to file all the mail in the middle tier. Throw out the catalogues and stack the magazines in a designated place or on a bookshelf.
Planning for meals is probably my least favorite activity. I agonize over what recipes to use and wrack my brain for new ideas. I gave up on meal planning for a time, and I soon realized that I was going to the store every single day after work and would spend most of the day trying to figure out what I should cook.
Find your own method for meal planning and see how much money and time you can save!
I hate going grocery shopping, and although I was aware of the general budget, I wasn’t keeping track of it in a concrete way. Meal planning is one of the best strategies for saving money and time. Every Saturday, I sit down with the weekly fliers from the local grocery stores and plan our meals around what’s on sale. It takes about forty-five minutes, but it’s so worth it. I now visit the store twice a week, and no longer have to think about what I’m going to cook every day. Find your own method for meal planning and see how much money and time you can save!
Many of us have hundreds — even thousands — of emails sitting in our inboxes. Searching through emails for a promo code or important information can be nearly impossible unless the emails are organized. The best way to solve this problem is to deal with emails as soon as they are opened. Make some folders in your inbox. Create an Evernote Notebook for each category. Or use an app like ToDoist.
As soon as you’ve read an email and taken the necessary actions to deal with it, either delete the email or send it to one of the archive folders you’ve set up. This method will make certain that things don’t pile up in your inbox.
This habit takes a bit more time to get started, but once the initial purge has been completed, it will be much easier to maintain on a regular basis. Personally, I think it’s best to take an hour or two for each area you wish to de-clutter: the closet, the bathroom cabinets, the office, etc. Go through every single item.
Ask yourself, “Have I used this ______ in the last six months?” If not, pack the item away in a box or suitcase for 30 days. If you don’t miss it during that time, donate it. You’ll be surprised at how many things you can live without.
If you are constantly bombarded with emails, calls, and people dropping by your desk to hand you one more thing to do, it’s crucial to have a system for organizing these tasks. I love digital apps and planners, but I can’t seem to get away from the old fashioned method of writing things down.
As soon as my boss hands me a new to-do, I immediately write it down. I’ve come to find that if I take care of even one other thing before writing the new task down, one thing leads to another and I can easily forget. So find an app, paper planner or a stack of sticky notes (whatever works best for you!) and write things down. It will take a load off your brain, I promise.
Possibly the simplest item on this list, the task of doing dishes can be simplified very easily: rinse them right away! Even if you don’t deal with your dishes right after a meal, the simple act of just rinsing off the leftover food will save you loads of time later. Otherwise, you’re left with dried, stuck, crusty old food that takes much longer to take care of later. Once you do eventually come back to your dirty — but rinsed — dishes, it’ll be a breeze to just toss them in the dishwasher or soap them up and set them on a drying rack.
There are many other ways to stay organized and on top of daily responsibilities. What are some methods you’ve found to be successful in dealing with the clutter in your life?
Image via Morgan Ashley Photography