Monday, May 16, 2011

Mail Crime

On a lighter note, I've been nesting working on organizing and simplifying our house lately. There are three areas of our house that make me absolutely crazy because we can't seem to keep them organized. One is our paperwork/mail system. Another is the garage. And the last is our laundry. Now, I don't want to point any fingers. However, two of those areas of the house I have very little control of. My husband deals with almost all of our finances (because it's either that, or death) and we have a lot of bills and paperwork that come into our house. We have six properties that we own, five of which we rent out. So that's six sets of utilities. Five sets of rents coming in. Four mortgages going out (one of our units is a tri-plex). Plus all of the paperwork for the property management company we hire. And just our regular bills for our personal lives too.

And partly because of these properties, and partly because he just really really like them, he also has a lot (I mean A LOT) of tools that take up a lot of space in our garage. It's great that he is willing and able to do most of the repairs around our house and our rentals. It has saved us SO much money. But this means that there are tons of tools everywhere. We've tried organizing the garage before, and have been successful, until something happens where we have to actually move things around. Like having a garage sale or a big home project. Then it all gets messy again. It's very frustrating. As far as the mail goes, we've never had a very good system. It's always just been a stack of papers on our kitchen tech center.

So, I've taken on these two projects recently. The laundry still needs a lot of work, but we aren't wearing dirty clothes or anything, and it's easier to hide dirty laundry (no pun intended) than to hide a messy garage and bills everywhere. So let's get into how I organized our mail system.

Like I said before, we've never had a good system for our mail. Typically it goes something like this.
1) The mail comes into the house and is plopped on the
kitchen counter.
2) An initial sort is done for who's is who's, and three stacks are made. Mine, Eric's, and random stuff for nobody, like ads and coupons.

3) I usually ignore anything that doesn't look like a greeting card, money, or an invitation to something fun. I won't deny that I haven't contributed a little to this mail mess, however, I don't get much mail. It's mostly junk, and the two things that I'm responsible to pay on a monthly basis are online.

4) Eric goes through his mountain of mail and kinda sorta sorts it into piles that I have no idea what they mean. There is usually a trash pile, and then three or four other piles that I don't dare touch. Usually one on the kitchen table, one on the counter, one on the tech center. Like a mail explosion, of sorts.

5) That's where the mail sits until one of us moves it weeks later.
After a couple weeks of random piles, I usually get frustrated and at least take all of the little piles and put them into one big pile on the tech center. And that big pile grows and grows until it's falling over.

Then another pile starts beside it.

This is not a very effective system. I've known for a long time that we needed to get this under control, but either A) lacked the motivation to actually do something about it or B) let my perfectionism get the best of me because I only wanted to do it in the way that I felt was right.

What I really wanted to do was get a beautiful piece of furniture. I envisioned a tall cherry wood book case with nice glass doors that closed and perfect little matching baskets on the shelves. One basket for each of our bills. Larger baskets to help organize some of Jackson's crafty things. Baskets for magazines. Baskets for catalogs. Baskets for everything you could imagine. But, you know, bookshelves and baskets cost money. Money that we really shouldn't spend. And for the sake of simplifying our house, spending money on something like this seems a little counter productive. My motivation and frustration with our current "system" was overtaking me. So I knew I needed to figure out a free alternative. I looked around our house for areas and things I could reorganize and re-purpose. I found that the broom closet in our kitchen could be reorganized for sure. I've recently switched all of our cleaning supplies over to Melaleuca brand, and therefore didn't need a lot of the stuff I had in there. And one of the bonuses of Melaleuca is that it also saves on space, by using concentrates. (I really like the stuff, BTW) Plus, the broom closet is a great location, given that it's in the kitchen, which is the scene of our mail crime, and there is a door on the closet so I don't have to constantly look at our bills. I also found
a possible solution in our coat closet. I've used this shoe organizer on the top shelf to organize our hats, gloves and scarves. It worked well as a winter accessory organizer, but truth be told, we usually used the same scarves, hats and gloves all winter long and the other stuff just sat in there, well organized, yes, but unused. I think I could be just as happy going through all of them, giving away what we don't regularly use, and storing the rest in clear plastic containers. Then I could pull the shoe organizer and use it as my mail organizer. There weren't as many compartments as I was hoping, so that meant I'd have to double or triple up on some of the bill categories. But it was free, and it fit in the broom closet, so I was willing to give it a shot.

I started the process by going through the broom closet. I took out all of the cleaning supplies and got rid of a large majority of things. I also moved the big bin of dog food to a spot on the bottom of our pantry that wasn't really being used. That cleared enough space for the organizer and a shelf below it for other items that needed a new home. (Jackson's crafts, note paper, magazines)

Then I took the old winter-accessory-organizer-soon-to-be-mail-organizer and emptied it out. (Now I have to re-organize that closet, but I'll get to that another day)

Now the real work started. I sorted through our many giant piles of mail and put them into piles on
our kitchen island. I had more piles than compartments in the organizer, so I had to make some adjustments and merge some of the categories. I labeled the organizer with post-its. I wanted to live with the system for a bit before breaking out the more permanent label maker. I'm not sure I have accounted for absolutely everything that comes into our house yet. (I can tell you that I have a "misc." compartment and it's quickly filling up, so I'm sure adjustments are eminent.) I found a couple of bigger plastic containers in Jackson's old room/new baby's nursery that I'll probably have to replace later, to organize things on the lower shelf, and I hung an old dry erase board (that I already had just sitting in storage) on the door, to write down important notes or bills that are not accounted for in our monthly budget. (Like some of the medical bills I'm receiving now)
I finished the project off by re-organizing the tech center in the kitchen, now that all of those pesky piles were gone. I went through all of the drawers, sorted everything, threw away a lot of stuff, and made it a better use of space for us.

Our new mail organizer has been in effect for about three weeks now, and so far so good. Although not *all* of us have been effectively using it, it's much easier for me to take the random piles strewn about and sort through them and put them in their proper home. And as nice as it would be for everyone who lived in this house to be super organized, that's just not the case. And I guess shouldn't put my "issues" onto others anyway. But as long as we have a system that works for at least one of us, that's a huge improvement.

You might also like:
Clickety-Clack Bouncer

Steam and Sweep

1 comment:

  1. That is a great idea! I usually pile our mail in the kitchen during the week and sort it on the weekends. But I love your new system!