Okay, I have to confess…I’m not 50 yet.  In fact, I’ll be 42 next month.  When my friend and sort-of relative Ronna asked me to write a column for Better After 50, she said, “I know you’re not 50 yet, but it’ll be here before you know it!”  The truth is that no matter our age, we all struggle with getting and staying organized.  Whether you have school-aged children or not, the beginning of the school year is a great time to revisit your organizing systems to determine what works and what needs an update.

Mail and Paperwork:

– Open your mail next to the recycling bin/trash can/shredder, and discard what you can as soon as you receive it.  Better yet, visit www.catalogchoice.org and www.dmaconsumers.org/consumerassistance.html to reduce the amount of mail that you receive.  Be realistic about whether you are really going to read all of the magazines you receive.  Consider cancelling them and just buying them as an occasional treat.

-Streamline your bill paying and paperwork:  have your mortgage payments, car payments, utilities, etc., automatically deducted from your checking account or charged to your credit card, AND sign up for electronic statements.  It takes a little while to set everything up, but then it saves you time every single month!

-Try to follow the “two-minute” rule: if it takes two minutes or less, just do it!  Fill out that form, return that response card…before it goes in a pile!

-If you don’t have a tax file yet, make one now for the remainder of the year.  You can catch up on the beginning of the year later.  That is a good rule in general:  start a new system and move forward; try not to be paralyzed by the backlog.



-Take all of the cards out of your wallet.  Photocopy them, turn them over, and photocopy them again.  Keep this document in a safe place.  Then, if–heaven forbid–your wallet is lost or stolen, you have all of the account numbers and customer service numbers in one place.


-Keep your returns/exchanges/packages to mail in your trunk so that they are always available for errands.

-Buy a small accordion file to keep all of your gift cards and coupons in the car—that way you have them with you when you need them!  (Do you see a trend?)  Review the contents occasionally when you have a few minutes in your car to jog your memory and weed out the expired ones.


-Use a canvas shoe organizer on the back of a closet door to hold gloves, hats, scarves.  This is an efficient, attractive use of space.

-If you want to keep clothes in different sizes, consider storing them in the attic or basement so that they don’t take up prime real estate in your drawers and closets.

– If your clothes have sentimental value (e.g. college t-shirts you’ll never wear again), you can store them in a memory box to save space in your drawers.  Create a memory box (the simplest is a large plastic container) for each member of the family to store special mementos.


-Keep an inventory list of the freezer and pantry (either on the front or inside a cabinet door) to keep track of what’s inside—it is easier to use up what you have and not duplicate your purchases.

-Think about “hot, warm, and cold” storage, depending on how frequently you use things.  If you use the turkey platter once a year at Thanksgiving, try to find a place for it in “cold” storage (basement, garage, etc.).


-Aim for the “one in–one out” rule.  If you buy something new, something old has to go!  Be thoughtful about what you are buying.  Do you need it?  Do you love it?  As my clothing buddy Karen used to say, “Does it make you feel like a million bucks?”

-Organizations such as Big Brother/Big Sister Foundation (www.bbbsfoundation.org) and Vietnam Vets (www.vva.org) will pick up housewares and clothing donations at your house.  Consider the recently-established Fashion Project (www.fashionproject.com) for donations of high-end clothing and accessories.  They send you a box for your donations, sell your clothes online, and donate the majority of the profits to the non-profit organization of your choice.

I have finally accepted the fact that organizing is a circular task, just like laundry and dishes and cleaning.  You have to figure out how to build time for it into your life.  The rewards are significant–less stress, less money spent unnecessarily, and more time to enjoy what is really important to you.


Allison Schnipper, Professional Organizing Services, www.professionalorganizing.net.

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