It all started sometime after the birth of our first child. I noticed piles of papers popping up all over our tiny apartment. I had heard stories of living quarters being filled with baby equipment, supplies and toys, but I never heard much about what I term "the paperwork explosion." I quickly learned that babies and children come with a lot of paperwork! It starts out with receipts for all of those darling baby purchases, next comes the arrival of your little one accompanied by a host of hospital and insurance bills, next comes pediatrician and immunization records…and thus it continues until your child enters school. At that point, the phenomenon called the "paper explosion" begins to pick up speed, sort of like a snowball rolling down a hill until it hits you like an avalanche!
Shortly after our twins entered school, I learned that having 3 children in school creates even more paperwork than I could imagine. By the time our fourth and fifth child were born, I realized that I was heading into a downward spiral. Losing bills, permission slips and important school notices was becoming more frequent and disturbing. Now, I had always considered myself to be an organized person, but this parenting challenge clearly put me over the edge. With practically every horizontal surface in our house covered with piles of paperwork, I realized that I had to somehow come up with a creative solution.
I began to brainstorm and test out paperwork control strategies before our two youngest children were about to enter school. I was a desperate woman! Then, it came to me one day as I was approaching my refrigerator (basically the only surface in our house that was not overrun with "stuff"). Aha! I came to the realization that if piling paperwork along horizontal surfaces wasn’t working, I would simply have to go vertical! The refrigerator was the best (and probably only clear) place to start. What better place could there be in the house? After all, I visit the refrigerator on a daily basis. I hailed the refrigerator as the new "control central," my key to returning organization and some sanity back to our home.
I surveyed the type of information I was receiving and processing for several weeks. Once I compiled my results, I headed out to the nearest office supply store and made the following basic purchases: a large magnetic calendar; a set of magnetic clips; a small magnetic wipe board; a magnetic storage bin large enough to hold a pen and memo pad, and some magnetic photo frames. I rushed home full of excitement and began to set up my "control central." I informed my family that if they needed or required anything, it had to pass through "control central." They seemed unimpressed as I praised this new system that would change our lives, but I was determined to make this work.
Several years later, I am happy to report that "control central" is still up and running. I knew it was a success when I was able to locate school paperwork easily and without cluttering up my kitchen counters. I really believed that it was a success when I overheard my husband on the phone stating that he was going to "check the refrigerator calendar" before scheduling his next appointment to see if there were any conflicts. I was absolutely delirious when I saw one of our teenagers actually finish a box of cereal and write it down on the memo pad shopping list hanging on our refrigerator!
Now, does this mean my counter tops are perfectly neat and tidy? I would be lying if I said yes, however, I have seen a marked improvement involving the "paperwork explosion," and am reaping the benefits of a more organized household…alll thanks to "control central."
If you wish to enjoy the sweet taste of organization, simply turn to your refrigerator (or a large bulletin board) and follow these 5 simple, but effective strategies.
#1 "Calendar Central": Post a large family calendar on the refrigerator. Attach heavy duty craft magnet strips at the top and bottom of the calendar’s backing with a glue gun. List all weekly activities and times onto the calendar, ie: Dance Class 4:00-5:00pm for each Tuesday. You should include reminders such as doctor appointments, PTA meetings, due dates of permission slips or library books, or anything else you have to remember, right onto the calendar. Encourage family members to check the calendar daily (They are guaranteed to visit the refrigerator!) and write in any upcoming events as they become known, even events in the upcoming months. Write any information from school e-mails regarding dates and times of upcoming events right onto your calendar. You can delete your e-mail as soon as you’ve transferred the info! Repeat the same procedure with any school fliers that come home, making sure to recycle the flier as soon as all the info has been transferred onto your calendar. Be bold enough to transfer the entire list of soccer game times and locations onto your calendar and recycle all of the soccer league paperwork you’ve received. Whenever you receive a listing of multiple dates (school calendar, club meetings, sports games) take the time to list events directly on the calendar, and either recycle or file away the paper trail. (Helpful hint: Using pencil instead of pen works best since plans and appointments can change on a daily basis.) Then make it a habit to run through plans for the day during breakfast so everyone knows what to expect. It may seem like a lot of effort to list everything down on your calendar, but it serves to organize all your information into one location and gives you the freedom to recycle loads of paperwork!
Little Ones Calendar Pick:
AT-A-GLANCE® QuickNotes® Monthly Desk Pad/Wall Calendar, Nonrefillable (2009 QuickNotes Nonrefillable Desk Pad/Wall Calendar)
#2: Magnet Clips": Magnetic clips can be your best friends when it comes to organizing piles of paperwork. Purchase several strong clips for your refrigerator. There are some really cute designs out there, but make sure they are sturdy enough to do the job! Next, assign a clip for each category of paperwork you need to organize. Each household should have a customized system according to their specific needs. Start out with a School clip for important school papers such as field trip permission slips; class/bus schedules; cafeteria calendars; emergency contact forms, medical forms…you name it. Anything that needs to be returned to school by a certain due date or needs to be retained for future use. (Helpful hint: Try to file paperwork in chronological order. For example, earlier due dates are at the front of the pile.) Parents of multiple children may wish to set up a separate clip for each child’s school. Once you have organized your papers and entered any dates/times/location information onto your calendar, place papers in the clip and hang them onto the refrigerator so they don’t get misplaced. Immediately add any additional forms or fliers to clips as needed. Remember, try not to let any paperwork which comes home even touch your counter top or it may be sucked into "the black hole!" Another useful clip is the Extra-curricular/Special activities clip. This includes after-school club information, religion class forms, sports or dance recital information, birthday party invitations (retain for directions and rsvp phone numbers) and so on. Follow the same procedure of adding any details to your calendar, clipping papers together and hanging them onto the refrigerator. A Shopping Clip is also useful for organizing store coupons or fliers (in chronological order) and items like dry cleaner pick up stubs. A word of advice about clips is to flip through clip contents frequently to refresh your memory and weed out any outdated information.
#3: Magnetic Storage Bin: Attach a small magnetic storage bin, large enough to hold a memo pad and pen, to your refrigerator. Use the memo pad as a "running" grocery shopping list. Get into the habit of writing down on this pad, any grocery items as you need them. And for those of you who are always searching for a pen in the kitchen…don’t forget to put the pen back in the storage bin when you’re done! Once you routinely use your new shopping list strategy, the real challenge is to enlist the help of your spouse and older children. It’s simple in theory. If you are the last person to finish the gallon of milk, then it is your responsibility to write it down on the shopping list. The rule is, "If it is not on the list, it doesn’t get purchased". It may sound a bit extreme, but I’ve learned that if you stand firm about this simple request just once or twice, you’ll see an improvement in responsibility. It is well worth the effort! When you are ready to shop, simply rip off the top page of the pad and take it with you to the grocery store.
#4: Magnetic Wipe Board: Make your refrigerator "Safety Central." Post a magnetic wipe board with any important information which may be needed by babysitters, older children or in case of an emergency. Make a listing of the following phone numbers: parents’ work and cell numbers; family members’ home/work/cell numbers; phone numbers of trusted neighbors along with their street address; school phone numbers; local police and fire department numbers; hospital and ambulance numbers; your pediatrician’s phone number; your dentist’s phone number; your local pharmacy and other important safety numbers such as poison control. Make your spouse, children and babysitter aware of these safety numbers, and remember to update your wipe board periodically.
#5: Local Store/Library Magnets: Collect and post magnets from local stores, pharmacies and your local library. Having the phone numbers and hours of operation of these locations can assist when you are searching for last minute items or books. Save time and gas by using store phone numbers to call ahead for information about the availability of items. You can even make your own custom refrigerator magnets by attaching magnetic strips to the back of business/index cards, or by simply placing cards into magnetic photo frames. Photo frame magnets are also a great way to organize your school and family photos!
Good Luck and Happy Organizing!!!