photo credit: opensourceway via photopin cc

photo credit: opensourceway via photopin cc

A few weeks ago, I promised that if you would tell me your biggest question or challenge about cleaning, decluttering, and/or organizing your home or life, I would respond to the top three.

I received 51 responses to the survey and got another 21 responses in the comments of my original Ask Me Anything post, five of which I responded to. (Click here to read those questions and answers.) Read on to see if I answer YOUR question in this post!
QUESTION #1: What to do about paper clutter? 

Elaine wrote: The PAPERS!!!! I do try to toss any unnecessary mail daily, but it’s the rest of the stuff… that I’ll need to think about or get to later on, and it just piles up on every horizontal surface in my house.

Mike wrote: What is the best method for filing or organizing your important papers? How long do you keep them?

Terri wrote: Paper trail that seems to litter my entire house! Esp medical bills, insurance EOBs, etc. I just don’t have a handle on a good system for how to file, how to address the stack while waiting to pay, etc. Then when I have to reference something, I end up wasting tons of time going from stack to stack to find the (usually unopened) document I need. ugh. It’s truly an ongoing nightmare.

Trish wrote: I am still lost in the paper war! I throw stuff out, but turn around and there is more!

And that’s just a sampling of the questions I got about paper clutter. I could write an entire book about this subject, but the bottom line is that there are a few simple things you can do to get out from underneath paper clutter.

1. Stop the inflow. The less you have coming in, the less you have to deal with. Opt for paperless billing statements from credit card and utility companies. Toss the junk mail immediately (if you didn’t ask for it, consider it junk). If you get a lot of junk mail and catalogs you rarely read, get off those mailing lists at www.dmachoice.org. Opt out of credit card and insurance offers at www.optoutprescreen.com.

2. Purge frequently. Keep receipts from daily purchases like groceries and restaurants just long enough to check that the amount is correct on your bank or credit card account (I check my account online every day or so). Set up a folder to file all receipts for recently purchased items. If you need to return something or if it breaks under warranty, you’ll know where to find the receipt. Periodically, go through your file and toss receipts for items you no longer own. Better yet, scan or take photos of receipts and store them safely and securely online. I use Shoeboxed.com. You might also check out OneReceipt.com. Both programs have an app that lets you take photos of receipts with your smartphone.

3. Think: Out with the old. You don’t need to save old utility and phone bills. If you paid them, your cancelled check is proof. When you receive new vehicle and home insurance documents, shred the old ones. Explanation of Benefit (EOB) forms can be tossed after they serve their purpose – to confirm amounts owed to medical offices and facilities. If you’re tracking deductibles, you might want to keep the most current one. Or if you have an ongoing claim, set up a folder or binder to store them until all payments have been made. But you should know that many insurance companies now offer easy access to EOBs online and, in fact, you can opt out of receiving paper EOBs.

4. Make a decision. The biggest reason why paper piles up is because of delayed decisions. We don’t know if we should keep or toss a document, so we set it aside. Click here for a great article from Consumer Reports with a list of documents and how long to keep them. Do be sure to shred papers with personally identifiable information like your name and address AND an account number or social security number.

5. Set up a simple system. What do you do with incoming mail? If you don’t open it every day, do you put it all in one place? Where do you put bills to pay? What do you do with statements after paying bills? Creating a system will improve your workflow and reduce clutter. To deal with a backlog of unfiled papers, sort into two boxes – one for papers you know are important and one for all the others. Recycle or shred as you go. Then set aside 15 minutes a day to sort important papers into things to do (like pay bills) and documents to file. Keep your filing system simple with just a hanging folder and tab for a few major categories. Or buy a ready-made, self-purging filing system from Freedom Filer.

QUESTION #2: I’m organized. He/she/they are not. Help!

One reader wrote: I will say that I am pretty organized, both at home and at work. However, my husband is another story! Any strategy suggestions on getting him onboard the declutter train?

Another reader asked: How do I get the family to help keep the house (kitchen table, living room tables, laundry room) in shape once I get everything decluttered? I’ve tried scooping their items up and stacking them in their room/office, but then there are just piles elsewhere… Any advice on getting the family to buy in?

My answer? Let them know how much it would mean to you to have an uncluttered counter, table, laundry room or whatever. With a spouse, negotiate. What are you willing to offer in exchange for your spouse decluttering that space? Start this decluttering project with a single room or space and build out from there. Maybe you can successfully negotiate for even just one clutter-free zone or room that can be your happy place. If all else fails, try to remember why you fell in love with your spouse in the first place!

With kids, the best thing you can do is set a good example. The worst thing you can do is do the work for them. Teach “responsibility for your stuff” by tying privileges with set expectations. For example, if they are leaving schoolwork and backpacks on the table, set a rule that they need to be removed before dinner or they don’t eat. Just kidding!

Seriously, you’re the one who wants a decluttered home. What’s in it for them? Think about what might make it fun. Maybe you can set a timer for five minutes for a game of “Beat the Clock” every night with the reward of earning the privilege to stay up late on Saturday night.

QUESTION #3. Is there a way to clean pet urine stains from carpet?

A reader wrote that she is buying a new house and there are “dog” stains on a white carpet. Short of replacing the carpet, she wondered if there are any good solutions. I chose this question because I learned a really nifty trick from a certified carpet cleaner that you might find useful. It works best on fresh stains, but can also remove older stains. What you need: 3% hydrogen peroxide, clean white towels, a steam iron, and a little patience.

Blot up the excess with a towel (or a wet/dry vacuum cleaner). Pour 3% hydrogen peroxide on the stain. It will not bleach the carpet (test it in an inconspicuous area if you don’t believe me). Cover the area with a clean, white, wet towel. Heat a steam iron on the cotton setting. Press and hold on the wet towel for about 15-20 seconds. Lift and look at the bottom of the towel. You should see some transfer of the stain to the towel. Repeat until the stain is gone or is no longer transferring to the towel. Take care not to burn the carpet and be sure to turn your face away from the steam. Cover the area with a clean, dry white towel and set something heavy like a skillet on it. Leave it overnight. The rest of the stain should be gone by morning.

MY QUESTION: Did you enjoy this post?

This was a challenging post to write, but now that it’s done, I enjoyed writing it. Maybe we should do this Q & A thing again? What do you think?

 

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