Mail-Free Tuesdays?

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Old post office
We all get too much mail. We all complain about too much mail. And soon, there may be a day every week where no mail comes at all.

The US Postal Service is considering dropping mail delivery either on Tuesday or Saturday, historically the lightest volume days. USPS officials say, "The Postal Service may be running out of cash by year’s end."

USA Today wrote: ""We hope these changes go unnoticed by the customer," spokesman Gerald McKiernan said at the time." Perhaps they will. Between email and other delivery services such as UPS, we may only be missing our daily allotment of junk mail. What do you think? Will you even notice?

Old Post Office photo courtesty of yeowatzup's photostream. 

Make Time for Your Mail

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Last week, I wrote about setting up a way to sort your incoming mail.  That’s step one of handling the mail. It paves the way for the more important step of doing something with all that mail. This means getting it to its final destination rather than letting it stack up on the counter or in lovely labeled file folders.

The biggest mistake I see people make with mail is that they open it, glance at the contents, then set it down again “for later.” Sometimes they’re even at their desks; the place that mail gets handled. The problem is that they don’t allow enough time to make decisions and take action on their mail.

When you look through a pile of opened mail you plan to deal with later, you’ll find things like: bills, a credit card offer, an event flyer, catalogs, insurance company forms, bank statements and coupons (just to name a few). Since you’ve decided they are interesting or important enough to read, you need to make time to do that.

For example, to consider a credit card offer, you’ll probably want to refresh your memory about what card(s) you have now. What is the interest rate? Does the new card offer air miles or some other rebate you want? Are you going to condense your balances? Will this card replace one you have now, or be an additional one? Is there a yearly fee?

When organizers say that clutter is the result of delayed decision making, this is exactly what they’re talking about! Another question to ask is: Would you be better off tossing this offer in the shredder right now? if the choices are to let the offer molder away on your desk for six months or chuck it out right now, I vote for the latter. The ideal choice is to allot enough time to make a good decision, provided it’s worth your time at all.

Some items don’t require this kind of consideration, but they need to be put in the right place. Event flyers work well on a bulletin board or refrigerator; some place where you’ll keep seeing them. Catalogs belong somewhere that, again, you will see them and look through them before they expire. And keep throwing them out when the new ones arrive.

So try this two step method of handling mail. First, sort it as described in the previous post. Then, sit down with it at your desk and spend time making those decisions and taking action. If it seems like you’re spending way too much time on mail, you may be inspired to use the shredder more often. You can more easily let go of offers without feeling guilty when you’re clear that you have better things to do with your time.

Sentimental Clutter

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In her book Let Go of Clutter, Harriet Schechter writes about how to let go of sentimental clutter. This kind of clutter is stuff with valid emotional attachments, and logic doesn’t play any part in whether you decide to keep it or not.

Items that make you feel joyful with the memories they bring back, such as love letters and home movies, you’ll want to keep.

We all have items that bring up less than happy feelings, but they are parts of our personal history, so we want to keep them too. The trick is that not all negative emotions are created equal.

What you need to know is: is it sad or is it bad?

Items that make you feel sad, such as condolence cards or pet mementos, are worth keeping in spite of the memories they hold. Even if they make us sad, they give us the warm fuzzies as we remember how much we loved those who aren’t with us now.

Items that make you feel bad should go. These are angry letters, heirlooms from relatives who make you feel bad about yourself, gifts from embittered ex-spouses, etc.

Certainly, into each life a little rain must fall, but that’s no reason to keep a bucket full of it in your closet.

Let the mementos you keep inspire happy memories, or tender ones. Mementos should be reminders of a full, rich life.

Another way to pare down sentimental clutter is by keeping only the “greatest hits.”

 

Pay Your Bills

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Next week is National Pay Your Bills Week. Isn’t that exciting? Okay, so it’s not. It’s important though. Like filing, death, taxes and going to the dentist, bill paying is a must.

How could it be easier?

Use online banking. I believe this is a very safe way to pay, despite recent alarms. You have to do your part to make it safe, however.

Remember:

  • Don’t click on links from bank emails! Just don’t ever do it. Many intelligent people have been scammed this way. Go to your bank website, log in and check for messages.
  • Check that the website address starts with https instead of just http. The “s” means the site uses encryption. Windows users will see a closed padlock indicating encryption at the bottom right of their screens.
  • Create passwords using letters and numbers, not common words. Here’s a post I wrote about how to make good passwords. Keep them safe! I record mine using hints only as described in the post.
  • Change your passwords regularly, at least twice a year.

Even if you don’t want to bank online, you can save trees and reduce clutter by getting your bills electronically. And don’t print them out! I do recommend downloading the PDF version if you want to keep a record. Sometimes your bills are only on the website for a few years and you may have to pay a fee to recover old ones.

Schedule days every month to pay bills and put them in your datebook. I use email reminders in iCal to pay my bills twice a month. Choose dates that allow for online processing or mail delivery so your payments aren’t late.

What’s to be gained by doing this?

  • Freedom from worrying about what is due when, and paying bills multiple times per month.
  • No more late fees!
  • Spending less time on a task you don’t really like anyway 😉

Manage Expectations with Email

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People put a variety of information in their email signature files, from business phone numbers to favorite quotations to colorful images of their signatures. I recently got an email that had a very clever sig line, as follows:

"I reply to emails at 8AM, 2PM and 4PM.
Calls returned: 10-11AM, 1-2PM and 5-6PM."

Short and sweet, gets right to the point.

If you find yourself constantly interrupted by emails and calls (and can't seem to resist answering/looking at them), try managing the expectations of your correspondents this way. Tack a similar phrase onto the end of your outgoing voicemail, too.

Don't Just *Open* Your Mail

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Does this happen to you? You get home from work and you’re looking forward to relaxing, having a nice dinner, maybe going out. But you really want to get that mail out of the way so it doesn’t pile up on the kitchen counter. So you stand there and open everything. You dutifully toss the junk mail into the recycling along with any other mail you know you’re not interested in.

But there are a few things that are important; a few bills, a flyer about an event you might want to go to, an insurance company question, etc. So you stack those pieces, feeling good that it’s a much smaller stack than it was, and dump it on your desk. For later. Maybe tomorrow night. Or Saturday. Now you can enjoy your evening!

Come Saturday, or a week from Saturday, you’re faced with a pile of mail on your desk that you should do something about. You’ll need to sort through it again and figure out what’s needed in each case. Then you have to do it! After 15 minutes, you’re sick of the mail and you go off to do your Saturday errands.

So there are a few problems here:

  • Not sorting the mail completely right away
  • Not allowing for enough time to really handle the mail

There are numerous ways to sort your mail: a container with vertical slots and stacking trays are two time honored tools. Julie Bonner has a very detailed description of setting up a mail center with a file crate and folders on her Declutter It! blog.

After you get rid of junk mail, sort the rest by what kind of action you need to take. Bills are one category, reading material is another, purchases or opportunities you want to consider is another, items that require a response from you is another, etc. The categories you choose will depend on what kind of mail you get.

There will be items you need to shred too. I recommend having your shredder in the spot where you sort mail and shredding as you go. Most shredders accommodate only a few sheets at a time, so if you let it pile up you’ll be standing there patiently (or not) feeding it for a loooong time.

Once the mail is sorted into logical categories, you can go off and enjoy your evening, knowing that when you do sit down to deal with the mail, you’ll know exactly what to do. In the next post, I’ll talk about that part. So get your station set up and then come back and read!

My Video about Using Your Inbox

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I finally did it! I made a video and slapped it up on YouTube. For my first one, I think it turned out pretty well. There are lots of things I'll do differently next time (put the camera higher so I'm not talking down to people, project more, wear brighter clothes and make up), but I decided it was worth posting. Having the "play" arrow right over my nose makes me look a bit like Minnie Mouse!

I'd love to hear your comments! Is the material helpful? Are you eager to see the next installment? What topics should I cover? Thanks!!!

Top 10 Reasons to Hire an Organizer

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Is getting organized on your to-do list? You’re not alone. Unfortunately, for most folks, it just stays on the to-do list, year after year.

See if any of these scenarios sounds familiar. If they do, I can help.

  1. You want to have guests over without stashing things in the bathtub and praying no one looks behind the shower curtain
  2. You moved in two months ago and are sick and tired of pawing through those unpacked boxes to find your stuff
  3. You want to know what’s inside a drawer, before you even open it! What a concept
  4. Your child is a tireless art-making machine and the refrigerator door is getting saggy under the weight of it
  5. You started a home business and your desk is being taken over by folded laundry, stuffed animals and stacks of magazines
  6. You’re getting ready to move and the enormity (and expense) of packing up ten years worth of stuff you haven’t gotten around to getting rid of yet is beginning to sink in
  7. You can’t use your dining table because it’s the official mail sorting center
  8. You’re frustrated by continually paying late fees for bills that got lost in a pile somewhere
  9. Your guests sleep on the pull-out couch in the living room because the guest room is your storage unit
  10. You’re embarrassed by being late to appointments because you couldn’t find your keys

All these situations are painful and stressful. They’re also totally fixable! Find out how you can get relief by clicking here.

Snail Mail 101

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Ah, the plague of the daily mail. Kind of like death and taxes, it’s inevitable. Here’s what’s in your mailbox: stuff to

  • delegate
  • read
  • act on
  • file
  • trash

Let’s call it DRAFT for short.

Delegate
This is mail that you can fob off on someone else. If you’re married, you may decide one partner is responsible for paying the bills, so they go in that person’s in box (don’t have an inbox? Get one). Similarly, one of you may be responsible for social engagements and medical appointments.

If you have a business partner but not an office manager, divide up responsibilities. This really helps things not fall through the cracks. Especially things involving money.

Everyone needs an in box.

As above, each partner needs an inbox. When the question of “where did you put that ________?” the answer is always “In your in box.” Not “on your chair.” Not “somewhere on your desk.”

Read
Reading material includes magazines, newspapers, annual reports, tip sheets from the garden center and professional association bulletins. Keep it near where you read. Don’t read? Then stop subscribing to things.

If you don’t know where your “to reads” are, you can’t read them. Pick a spot, like a basket near your bed or a shelf in your living room, to stash it.

Don’t pick too many spots. You want to know where things are and you also need a reality check about how much there is to read. When it’s all in one place, you can clearly see that it’s not humanly possible to read all that stuff.

The rule is that when the basket or shelf is full, you have to get rid of the older publications. Grab a handful from the bottom of the stack and recycle them. Just do it. I know they have fascinating and important information in them, but you don’t have time to read them and keep up with what came in today.

Information is only useful when you can get at it.

An article buried in a months-old magazine is not accessible to you and therefore irrelevant. Just having all that information is not the same as being able to use it. If you can’t use it, it’s just like not having it at all.

Act On
This category includes bills, medical forms to file, an insurance or telephone plan to compare with what you have now, information about a product you intend to buy and a list of activities put on by a group you belong to. Put in your in box anything that requires you to take some action, whether it’s filling out a form, making a call or adding activities to your calendar.

Avoid decisions you don’t really need to make.

Do you really need to get a better phone plan, or would it just be a nice idea to know what’s out there? If it’s the second one, when are you going to take the time to compare plans?

File
Be careful about filing too much. Most people’s file cabinets are neglected paper graveyards. Paper goes in and promptly gets forgotten about and never looked at again.

Things you are keeping that you don’t need to:

  • receipts that are not for tax purposes or under-warranty purchases
  • ATM slips
  • old catalogs
  • paid bills*
  • manuals and documentation for stuff you no longer own; electric toothbrush, car, medical insurance plan

Keep files you refer to near your desk. Get a tray to store file-ables until you’re ready to file them. Files you need to maintain for legal reasons (tax returns, legal documents) are archives and should be kept in a less accessible spot, like the attic or the top shelf in the closet.

Trash
A lot of your mail shouldn’t even come into the house. Your first pass at mail sorting is to weed out the junk mail and recycle or shred it. No brainer recycling: product and service solicitations you’re not interested in, announcements for things you don’t care about, invitations from groups you aren’t joining.

To cut down on unwanted mail, register with the Direct Marketing Association (you can stop junk email here too). Get off catalog lists here.

Whether you shred or not is up to you. Some people don’t want to toss out magazines with their address labels on them. The rule of thumb is to shred anything with personal information such as account numbers, medical and employment info, ATM slips and travel itineraries. Also shred credit card applications.

Shred every day.

It’s boring and tedious and if you let it pile up, you’ll put it off forever (unless you have a six year old; they love to make a racket with the shredder). Also, if you only shred a few things a day, you won’t jam or overheat the thing.

Start Today
Don’t worry about last week’s mail. It’s getting older by the second and, unless it’s a bill, it doesn’t need your immediate attention. Develop your new mail system with today’s mail and you’ll keep on top of things.

Quick Start

  1. Get an inbox
  2. Designate a reading stash spot
  3. Have a tray for to-be-filed documents
  4. Sort your mail over the recycling bin
  5. Shred as you go
  6. Sign up for electronic bills and statements
  7. Get off junk mail lists

*I heartily recommend receiving and paying bills online. You can download PDF copies and keep them on your computer. Pay them through the biller’s website or your bank’s website; both services are generally free. Go even further and sign up for automatic monthly payments for your bills. Then you don’t have to deal with the bill at all.