Saturday, March 28, 2009

Kids and Chaos: Tip No. 1: Those Pesky Toddlers!

All of us who have had toddlers have experienced this annoying little phenomenon: We go into a room, clean, put items away and everything is neat and tidy (if only for a moment). As we move on to the next room we hear a crash or giggle or babbling of delight. We cringe as we head back to the room that we had just left and see our adorable little toddler taking apart practically everything we just put away and cleaned up. We thank our creator that our child was sent down to us with an adorable smile and irresistible laugh so that the momentary feeling of yelling or screaming at the top of our lungs disappears and we shake our head, remove our little munchkin and move on to the next room or just give up.

Do not accept motherhood as an excuse for chaos. It is better to lower our expectations for "tidiness" to reduce stress while maintaining an overall sense of orderliness. It's what I like to call "Organized Chaos."

Organization is one dimension of family health. Without enough of it, families suffer the consequences of a chaotic environment.

While a wide range of styles or methods for organization abound, finding what organizing method works and makes sense for you and your family is important.

I've been there with a toddler and I know many of you are there right now! Here are some solutions that will help you combat the terrible toddler tornado that destroys your clean house!

While you are cleaning and tidying your home, invite your toddler to be a team player. That's right; invite your toddler to help you. They are most eager to be a part of anything and everything the family is doing at this age and they love to see Mom and Daddy happy with them.

Many toddlers are eager to help with chores, and while their "helping" may not always be appreciated, keeping their excitement and the habit of helping out alive, should be. Sticker charts are a great way to keep toddlers excited about helping. Their chores may have to be completed with you helping every step of the way, but you are laying the groundwork for children that find chores and helping a way of life. Helping you is a great distraction to them and keeps them from creating new messes while you are busy cleaning up.

Below is a list of a few things toddlers can "help" with that will keep them occupied while you clean and pick-up house.

Some chores 2-3 year olds can do…

  • Help make the bed.
  • Pick up toys and books.
  • Take laundry to the laundry room.
  • Help feed pets.
  • Help wipe up messes.
  • Dust with socks on their hands.
  • Mop in areas with help.
  • Clear small items from the kitchen table.

By implementing these simple solutions, you will find that your toddler will thrive and look forward to cleaning up with Mommy instead of making Mommy clean up after them!

Remember that children mature at their own pace and not all kids will be capable of advanced chores at the same age, just as some children may be ready for more difficult chores at a younger age. The most important guidelines are supervision and evaluation of your child's needs and abilities.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Home Office Series Tip No. 5: Going "Almost" Paperless

though it is nearly impossible to become completely paperless, here is the 5th and final tip in our home office series: Going "Almost" Paperless
1. Sign up to make Payments Online:Companies will continue to send statements to your home unless you ask to opt out of receiving statements in the mail.

  • If you do opt out for paper statements remember to keep an electronic file of all your statements in case there are any questions on your accounts.
  • Check to see what other accounts, like insurance, you can make online.
  • Make PDF documents of your receipts and save them online instead of printing out paper copies. If you do not have the capability to create PDF documents on your computer, the software is inexpensive and there are some sites that you can create PDF's for free. Be selective in your choice of free software, the programs always have a loophole.
  • Develop a regular back-up system that you do at least weekly to make sure you don't lose important documents (A flash drive or CD can work, unless you have enough data to need an external hard drive for back-up).
  • Add a firewall and evaluate your software to make sure you have adequate security for your electronic documents and can protect them from cyber-thieves.
2. Create a Message System: When the phone rings or visitors drop by, many people scrounge for the nearest scrap piece of paper to write message information on.
  • Have one place in your home where a pencil and a notepad are always accessible.
  • Post messages in the same place always so household members know where to look for their messages.
  • Keep a household address book near the phone to take down permanent information in.
3. Purge Regularly:
Update your files, tossing outdated information every 3-6 months or yearly.

  • Get rid of items you do not need to create room for the ongoing flow of paperwork.
  • Shredding or discarding paper that you do not want or need immediately when you receive it cuts down your paper clutter by more than half.

4. Receipts: Receipts kept for tax purposes can be filed under the appropriate heading.
  • For those of you who like to track all of your expenses, create a receipt "container" or "file" that will temporarily hold the receipts until you decide their importance.
5. Contain Memorabilia:
  • Create a place for paper memories.
  • Youth artwork, birthday cards, and other memories need their own storage.
  • Give each family member a container to store memories.
  • Once the container is full they may have to make choices about what to keep and what to throw out.
6. Assess Your Subscriptions:
  • Consider putting your magazines in a specific place so you can evaluate how frequent you read and or look at them.
  • Keep only the subscriptions you read on a regular basis.
  • Consider donating magazines to a seniors center or shelter after you've read them or take them to a recycle bin.
7. Create a Mail Station:
Create a centralized place with stamps, pens, envelopes, paper, and slots to sort incoming and outgoing mail.
  • Keeping all of the supplies together means you will be able to find them more easily when they are needed.
  • Reduce junk mail by calling 1888-OPT-OUT (1-888-567-8688) to stop receiving credit card offers. Once you've cleared out the unnecessary paper, you can work to keep those newly cleared spaces free of clutter.
The key to cutting back on paper problems in your home is to reduce the incoming paper and then to create regular places to store the necessities that find their way to your door. Whether you toss it or file it, it won't find its way to a pile anymore.

I hope you have enjoyed our home office series. In the next few weeks we are going to tackle kids and their clutter. Enjoy your weekend!

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Home Office Series Tip No. 4: Action vs. Reference

During the past 3 weeks our blogs have been focusing on Home Office Tips. We've established our foundation by asking ourselves what is not working and what we want, we've also talked about cutting down our paper clutter in regards to snail mail. And lastly we have made suggestions on how long to keep records and what to shred.
This week we are going to focus on the difference between Action Files vs. Reference Files.
This concept is very important for beginning to get through your piles. You need to separate out paper and information that requires action from information that simply needs to be kept for possible future needs.
Active Files: These are accessed on a regular basis. Keep these files by your side(right side if you are right handed), for fast retrieval and access. Most homes require two drawers for Active Files.
Examples of Active Files:
  • Bills to Pay
  • Items that need immediate attention
  • Files that need to be accessed daily or weekly
  • Health Insurance Claims and other related info.

Storage Files: These files are rarely accessed, papers filed away for reference purposes. These files can be across the room or in a different room if necessary.

Example of Storage Files:

  • Product Manuals
  • Insurance (Life, Home, Auto)
  • Taxes
  • Articles or Quotes you want to be able to reference
  • Religious Materials and Pamphlet

Keep Reference Files in a separate place than your Action Files if possible.

Establishing these 2 categories is critical in getting your papers organized.

Also remember that it is crucial for someone else to know where this information is if heaven forbid something were to happen to you. Separating your files is the first step in this process.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Home Office Series: "How long do I keep it?"

The most common question I'm asked is "How long do I need to keep these files?", followed closely by "What do I need to shred before throwing it out?" Though the answers usually vary, this week we'll take a look at some guidelines aimed at making filing and record keeping more efficient and less painful.

How long to keep records: Most of us keep records around because we want to be sure to have them on hand if the IRS decides we're audit material or because we're just not sure they can safely be discarded. This can mean backlogs of things like utility and phone bills, credit card statements, and canceled checks.I always recommend checking with your tax preparer, accountant, and attorney before discarding any papers you think you might need; the professionals who know you and work directly with you can advise you on what to keep and what to throw away.That said, you can find some general guidelines on record keeping both on the IRS Web site ( and at, a site that provides lots of objective information on a wide variety of financial topics. Both of these sites generally advise getting rid of records like bills, credit card statements, and canceled checks within a year unless those records contain information needed on your tax return.

Keep in mind that many records--especially bills, bank statements, and credit card information--are now available online. Taking advantage of electronic statements can help further reduce the amount of paper you need to keep around. Online statement availability varies; check with your phone company, power company, bank, and credit card providers for specifics.

Finally, if there are records you want to keep long term that you're not legally required to have in paper form (check with your accountant or lawyer), consider scanning them onto a computer and saving them to a thumb drive or other portable storage device. You'll have the reassurance of knowing you can access the records if you need them without having to store the paper copies.

To shred or not to shred: Once you have a sense of what papers you can get rid of, you're faced with another decision: which of them do you need to shred or destroy, and which can you simply recycle? Here again, it's worth consulting your accountant or attorney for guidelines specific to your situation.
You should also use your best judgment: if you feel safer shredding anything with your name or address on it, even if guidelines recommend otherwise, go ahead and shred. I suggest shredding (or otherwise destroying) papers that show your social security number, your full credit card number and/or expiration date, your bank account number, sensitive medical or personal information, and other info that could present legal or financial problems if it were to fall into the wrong hands. Unused checks, pre-approved credit card applications, and checks you can write against a credit card account are also feed for the shredder.

Again, it's worthwhile to take the time to establish your own shredding guidelines based on the advice of your financial and legal advisers and on your own preferences.

Purging your files of unneeded records and creating guidelines for what you do and don't need to shred won't be immediate cures for the headache of too much paper, but they can help you keep closer tabs on your files. By clearing out the papers you no longer need, you'll create more space for those you do, and will make your filing system more efficient in the process.
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