10 Tips for Summer Preparation

Preparing for a season transition can be stressful, especially if you have school aged children wrapping up their school year and end of year performances.  While May is a busy month, I have created a list of things to do before summer is in full swing.  The key to summer is to have a plan. Summer Preparation Tips

  1. Budget 

    Summer days feel carefree and wide open. Your budget, however, may not be. Take some time to think about your summer budget. Summer time brings extra childcare and camp expenses. You may also be working a reduced schedule. Sticking to a budget can make your summer less stressful and more accomplished. No one wants to end the summer in debt and stressed out.

  2. Schedule
    A change in schedule for the family will bring new challenges. Plan ahead for summer activities and childcare. For you, schedule time for self care and exercise. If you are good about getting to the gym during the school year, you will want to schedule similar exercise time in the summer.  It’s easy to put other family member’s schedules before yours in the summer.  Your local library and school are great resources for scheduling activities for your children.
  3. Travel 

    Its time to plan your travel routes and lodging for summer travel.  Choose your destination, and schedule and research the best flights, routes and lodging.  If you have your travel plans nailed down, its time to get into the details.  Research the best local cuisine, fun day excursions, the best parks in the area, and free things to do with kids.  It is also a good idea to gather all important travel documents, and know where the local medical clinics are and drug stores for necessities while traveling.  For the weekends you are local, research your city’s summer bucket list for fun local explorations.

  4. Lazy Days 

    Plan plenty of lazy days for you and your family.  Allow yourself some time to read a book, nap in the hammock or putts in the garden. Kids love exploring in the backyard, creating fairy gardens, collecting bugs and camping in the backyard.  These creative activities are tough to accomplish with an overscheduled summer.

  5. Self Care 

    Do a few things for yourself in advance of summer time.  Schedule a hair appointment for a fresh cut and color. Pay attention to your feet by starting the sandal season with a fresh pedicure.  Stock up on sunscreen for both your body and your face. Declutter your makeup, toss the old items and add a fresh lip color to your collection.  This is also a great time to clean out your medicine cabinet. Dispose of expired or unneeded medications, and ensure your first aid kit is stocked.

  6. Your Wardrobe 

    If you have not yet transitioned your wardrobe, do it now. Purge the fall, winter and spring items that don’t suit you, instead of packing them away. If you didn’t like them this year, you won’t like them next year (even if you lose the ten pounds you are working on). For your summer wardrobe, get all items from storage. Carefully select the items you want to wear, purge the rest.  Make a list of items you need to complete your wardrobe and carefully purchase only those items.

  7. Kids Wardrobe 

    This purge is very similar to what you would do for your own wardrobe.  The good news is that it is easier to work through someone else’s clothes than your own.  Remove the fall, winter and spring items that are worn, stained and will not fit your children next year. If you are saving clothing for a younger child, only save the items that you truly love and are in good condition. There is no reason to handle stained or worn clothes more than one time. Neatly pack away the clothes you are saving.  Make sure they are clean and neatly folded, and placed in clear plastic bins that are labeled so you know right where to find them.  Make a list of the items your children need for the summer season, so you can once again shop with meaning.  Keep in mind summer camp and extended trips when inventorying kids clothes.

  8. Purge Toys 

    With the kids spending more time outdoors, it is a great time to get into the playroom and basement, and purge the toys they don’t receive joy from.  Consider the plastic toy sets they received for their birthday that are now missing parts and have broken pieces, the toys they scatter around unproductively, the nostalgic toy your mother-in-law picked up at a rummage sale last summer, and the toys they have simply outgrown. Keep the basic toys that allow for creative play such as Legos, Magna tiles, dolls and a few Nerf guns.

  9. House 

    Prepare your house for a fresh start to the summer. Taking care of a few things inside and out gives you a neat and clean feel for the summer.  Inside the house a good deep clean and purge will free up some space.  Clean the windows for a clear view, and clean the oven now that roasting season is over.  Have your air conditioning system inspected and serviced.  Moving to the outside, give your grill a good scrub down.  You’ll be amazed how great a clean grill can feel.  Wash down patio furniture and the cushions for meals on the porch.  Tackle the weeds in the garden now while the soil is moist and soft, and weeds are small.  Apply a pre-emergent to your gardens as well to prevent new weeds from appearing.  Seed the areas of your lawn that are thin.  Add some fresh annual flowers to the front flower beds for some curb appeal.  Clean the walkway, driveway and garage floor.  Prepare your lawn mower by servicing the engine and sharpening the blades.  Inflate the bicycle tires and grease the chains for summer bike rides.

At Top Shelf Home Organizing, we love to help people get stuff done.  See if Top Shelf Home Organizing can help you get ready for summer.  Contact Jayme to schedule a consult or chat about organizing.

Step by Step Guide to Transition from Paper to Electronic Files

Whether you own a business, run an office, are an entrepreneur or manage a household, going paperless can reduce clutter and improve efficiency.  Although it is nearly impossible to go completely ‘paperless’, you can benefit greatly by digitizing much of your paperwork. This will reduce the amount of physical paper you keep.

Benefits to reducing physical papers include increasing productivity, reducing time spent on paper management, and having a system that is easily accessible to you and your team.  This article focuses on creating a system of digital document workflow.

Document Workflow

Having a basic document workflow is the first step in properly establishing a reduction in papers. This simple workflow is described below.

Reception-Inbox-Capture-File


Reception

Reception includes receiving of both physical and electronic documents. Reduce the number of documents that enter your office by unsubscribing to emails and physical subscriptions. Eliminating the unnecessary saves time from having to manage useless papers. Recycle unnecessary physical documents and unneeded emails immediately. The remaining documents move to or stay in the Inbox.

Inbox

Have an inbox where documents are placed when they come in. This is where the documents reside until they are addressed. You should have a physical inbox and an email inbox for each person involved.

Once the document is addressed (read, paid, acted on, forwarded), it will be captured and moved the place it will be stored. How and when you move documents to file is up to you. You can save them for a limited period of time (day, week, month) and then have the documents filed.

Capture

Capture the information from the documents. Physical papers are scanned to electronic files, typically to a PDF (portable document file).  Emails and electronic documents are also converted to PDFs.  I find it helpful to go through and scan/create PDFs in small batches before filing. Letting the pile get too large can get overwhelming. This can also cause confusion if there are documents that need to be retrieved, but have not yet been filed properly.

How to Capture Documents
You can capture documents in many different ways.  A mobile device or a document scanner work well for this.

Document scanners work great for processing larger quantities of documents, and converting them to PDF files and searchable PDF files. Consider a scanner that can handle many documents at one time, and has the capability to capture both sides of a two-sided document. Neat and ScanSnap are couple tools that work great for this.  You can also outsource your scanning if you have a large number of documents and are short on time. Using a multi-function printer-copier-scanner can prove to be frustratingly slow, as it may allow only one side of a document to be scanned at a time.

From your phone or tablet, you can capture business cards, receipts, track mileage, and have documents signed on-site. There are also apps that can scan a business card and add the information right to your contacts and connect you on LinkedIn. I discuss a few of these resources below.

CamCard is great for capturing, saving and exchanging business cards

Evernote is great for managing all types of digital papers

MileBug mileage tracker app uses phone GPS and can export mileage to Excel

Expensify captures receipts and forms expense reports

Shoeboxed captures and manages receipts and mileage

Quickbooks is a full service accounting software that can invoice, track receipts, manage payroll and prepare financial reports

DocuSign and HelloSign allow you to receive full legal signatures from your mobile device and send them to email or your cloud-based storage

File

To effectively create useable file system, the file structure and naming convention of each file needs to be consistent and easy to follow.  Create a file structure and naming convention that makes sense to you.

File Structure

You will create an electronic file folder structure similar to a physical file cabinet. Think about how you will search for the file when you need to reference the document. Keep the file structure simple. Don’t have too many layers of folders that could over complicate things, or be too challenging to use. You will want to keep the file folders simple and shallow. For example, Insurance folder can store home owner’s insurance and automobile insurance.  The way you name the file will expose more details to the content of the documents.

File Naming Convention

Create a consistent file naming convention (how you label your files) that is easy to follow, and coordinates with how you would look for the file.  If you work with a team, have the team decide together on the best naming convention. That way it makes sense to everyone and everyone is willing to use the consistent naming convention.

It is good to include the date, subject or file folder title, client name, client code or number, and other words to help you recognize the contents of the document.  I like to start with the date so the files are nicely organized by date first. The subject or file folder name would come second. Remember, they will be placed in a folder that contains the main subject.

For example, in a “Contractor” folder you might have a file titled like:

04012019 Contractor Top Shelf Invoice.pdf “.  This could be your April invoice from Top Shelf Home organizing that you received on April 12, 2019.

In your “Insurance” folder you might have a file titled similarly to:

01012019 Insurance Automobile Jan thru April.pdf” This could be your automobile insurance for the first half of 2019 that was effective January 1, 2019.

Where to Store Files

There are a few places you can store your documents; the cloud, your computer, external hard drive and automatic backup service.  Select at least two locations such as your computer and the cloud, so when the inevitable happens your files are backed up.  Remember fires, floods and theft, and consider an off-site back up method.

Cloud storage examples include Dropbox, Evernote, and Google Drive.

Computer storage includes Windows folders, Finder on Mac OS.  There are also additional software products available for purchase that can streamline your files.

External hard drives are available for backing up your files. These drives are capable of storing very large files and lots of them for a reasonable price. You can also back your files up on simpler external ‘jump’ drives, which are more portable for storing backed up data offsite.

When implementing your file system, start with current documents. Get your system in place and bugs worked out. Once your system is up and running, begin to work through our backlog. It will go much quicker than you think.

Start your paperless journey with a plan. Jumping in without a good structure in place will lead to frustration and likely failure. The team at Top Shelf is happy to help you create your plan and guide you through the process.  Get in touch with Jayme when you are ready to take the next step.

Ideas for Organizing Kid’s Papers

Ideas for Organizing Kid’s Papers

If you have children in school: preschool to high school or anywhere in between, you know there is a tremendous amount of paper that comes into your house. Some papers require action, some are sentimental keepsakes, and others can make their way to the recycle bin. Here are some ideas on keeping track of all these papers before you become overwhelmed (or fixing the problem if you are already overwhelmed).

Paper Workflow

A system to deal with papers when they enter your home is the beginning of an organized paper management system. Upon entry into your home, papers need a place to go otherwise they will end up on your countertops, dining room table, desk or floor. 

Basic Inbox

An inbox of sorts works great. You can have a general family inbox or an inbox for each person. This is the most basic form of paper workflow. This inbox would be addressed frequently to avoid overflowing. 

Workflow System

You can take paperwork management to the next level by creating a paper workflow system.

Immediate Action File
This system has an immediate action file for parents. Which is the location where papers requiring immediate action are placed. That way when your kid is shoving a field trip permission slip in your face, while you’re in the middle of making dinner or on a phone call, he will instead know where to put it for you to address it when you are ready. 

Holding Zone
The paper workflow system also has a holding zone for each person.  So each person can initially manage their own papers. This can hold homework that is due later in the week: notes from friends, invitations, artwork and completed homework. To manage the paperwork, let it pile up in the holding zone all week. As part of the workflow, establish a time each week that you and your family can go through the papers. During this time, you can review their work (artwork, graded homework, homework to be done, etc.) and decide what papers go to storage, need further attention or can be recycled. Your child may identify what papers they are ready to recycle after you see them.

The paper workflow system also has a holding zone for each person.  So each person can initially manage their own papers. This can hold homework that is due later in the week: notes from friends, invitations, artwork and completed homework. To manage the paperwork, let it pile up in the holding zone all week. As part of the workflow, establish a time each week that you and your family can go through the papers. During this time, you can review their work (artwork, graded homework, homework to be done, etc.) and decide what papers go to storage, need further attention or can be recycled. Your child may identify what papers they are ready to recycle after you see them.

The papers that are going to storage, should be filed or stored soon after you go through the papers to prevent overwhelm. Papers for recycle go right to the recycle bin.

To-Do File
Have a personal To-Do file for papers that need to be addressed or dealt with. Set aside time each week to work through the To-Do file.

Storage

File Container

Create a file bin for each child. Have one folder (or two) for holding a nice representation of the work they completed each school year. Some great items to keep are: nice samples of their homework, quality art projects, certificates of participation, awards, and a few photos to represent their age.

I like the clear plastic bins from Iris and legal size accordion file folders from Smead. The legal size folders allow for storage of artwork and projects that are a little larger than the standard 8 ½ x 11. Avery file folder labels allow you to add a fun personal touch to the file bins.  You can handwrite the labels or use your computer to create graphically designed labels. Iheartorganzing has some great pintables to make your file folders look great.  Be sure to label each bin with the person’s name and age or grade.

Digital Storage

Digital storage is a great storage option for both children and adults. Digital storage is great for less physical papers when storage space is limited or not desired. By scanning your children’s work, you have the option of creating a custom photo or art book for their work. These books are great for kids that like to look back at their work and memories. Older kids can help create the books to add a personalized touch.   

Organizing kid’s papers is an ongoing job, but remember to keep it simple and have fun. Staying on top of their papers will reduce your stress, allow you keep what is meaningful, and address or recycle the rest.

If you want help getting started on filing your children’s paperwork, an organizer can help.  See if Top Shelf Home Organizing can help you on your journey.  Contact Jayme to schedule a consult or chat about organizing.

Tips for Organizing Your Books

Organizing your library is fun when you select an organizing method that fits your personality and needs.  There are two main methods for organizing books: by visual appeal and by topic. Which method you select will depend on a few things.  Who accesses the books? Are you the only person who uses the books?  Do you loan books to friends and family?  Do your household members store and access the books as well?  Are you a visual person or more of a systematic person? Consider these things when you determine how you want to organize your books.

Visual

Organizing your books visually is a great way to organize your books if you recall your books by color and design of the spine. This is also a great method if you are looking to display your books versus reference your books. Visual organization includes organizing by color, size, orientation and cover type. You may choose to use a combination of visual methods in your library.  Additionally, sorting books by hard cover versus paperback, and then by color, is an option for combining different visual strategies. 

  • Color
  • You may select this method for its visual appeal and allowance for creativity.  Creating a rainbow array or color block pattern may be your desire.
  • Size
    Aligning your books by height might create an interesting visual appeal for your collection. Organizing tall books with tall books and short books with short books will give your library a clean, structured look. 
  • Physical Orientation
    Create visual interest when you arrange your books horizontally, vertically, or a combination of horizontal and vertical.  Stacks of horizontal books can add a nice variety to your library and allow for select books to stand out from the rest.  This is most practical for books that you don’t access regularly. 
  • Cover Type
    Organizing your books by cover type is another visual method for organizing your books.  Hard cover ‘heavier’ books on the bottom and paper back ‘lighter’ books toward the top of the shelf will give your library a nice structural look.  This method is also great if you tend to recall your books by the spine design.

Topic

Organizing your books by topic works well when you have multiple people in your home, and when you reference your books frequently.  There are many, many ways to organize by topic. I have listed some ideas below. Think about what works best for you. Combining a couple methods may be required. For example, if you want to separate books by family member and then alphabetically.

  • Read vs. Have Not Read
    This method is great to separate out the books you have not read yet. When you are ready to start a new book, you know right where to go. This is perfect for the person who buys a lot of books or receives a lot of books as gifts. For the books you have already read, consider keeping only the ones you have loved and plan to read and reference again. Consider donating the books that you are done with.
  • Favorites
    You may want to designate a special place to distinguish your favorite books.  These are the books that have made a strong impact on you, and you want to display, share and admire.
  • Alphabetical
    If you tend to reference your books by title or author, alphabetical arrangement may work best for you.  This is a great method if you have a lot of books. It is easy to find and return books as you will know right where they go.
  • Owner or Family Member
    If your library contains books that belong to many people, you may want to organize them by person. Place the kids books on a lower level of a shelf to make it easy for them to see, access and put away their books. If your husband still has all his college text books, those can go in his section. Each person can be responsible for their own books including how they are organized, which books they keep and which they donate.
  • Subject or Genre
    Arranging your books by subject or genre makes sense if you have a lot of books. This method is great when you tend to reference your books by subject. Subjects can include cookbooks, travel, history, professional resources, science fiction, educational, etc.  Another simple method is to separate your books by fiction and non-fiction.

You may desire to combine two or three methods, possibly both visual and topic methods. However, before you get started physically organizing your books, make a list of the types of books you own and how you like to use them. Remember to gather all the books in your home (basement, attic, office and bedrooms) so you can see the entire collection before sorting them into categories.  

Have fun organizing your books and remember to keep it simple. Donate the books you are done with that don’t bring you any joy.

If you find organizing your books to be stressful, an organizer can help you complete your library organizing.  See if Top Shelf Home Organizing can help you on your journey.  Contact Jayme to schedule a consult or chat about organizing.

How to Organize Your Money

This is the time of year to get your finances organized! That way you can have a plan for the year, and can get ready to prepare your tax returns.  This is not an article on how to save money, or where the best place is to invest your fortunes. Before we can think about heading in those directions, we need to know where and what our current finances are.  Here are some tips on getting your finances organized. 

Where is my Current Money?
Jot down where all of your accounts are and their current balances. These accounts include savings, retirement, trusts, loans, credit cards, mortgages and medical debt. Share this information with your spouse or another responsible family member. Then if something happens to you, someone else knows where your finances stand.

What is my Monthly Income?
When tallying your income, remember to account for dependent care reimbursements, child support, social security, rental income and your income from your job. I like to think about my income after benefits and tax income (the income that is available to live on). This helps to put in prospective what I have to spend.

Make a Plan
Reflect on the last year or the last month. What where your expenses? Be honest. Then you can look forward to what expenses you will have in the coming year. Be honest. If medical expenses were $5,000 last year, will they be similar this year?

Divide Your Money into these Four Categories:

  1. Fixed –These are the monthly expenses that are probably not going to change. They may include housing, utilities, medical, food, tuition, etc. 
  2. Philanthropy – This is the money you plan to give each month. This can include religious contributions, charitable giving, capital campaign commitments and pop up fundraisers (think neighbor kid raising money for the class trip to Washington DC, or the Scout selling wreaths).
  3. Future – This is where you plan for your and your family’s future. This may include retirement, savings, college savings, etc.
  4. Fun – This is the category that we all live for. This could include traveling, movies, sporting events, dinner out, golfing, gym memberships, a photography class, and so on.

Simplify Your Spending
Consider using a cash only system or using one standard credit card for your purchases. This makes tracking your spending (and debt) simplified by having one platform to review your spending. Knowing where all your money is and where your money will go, will help you to get a grasp on getting your money organized.   There are great apps available to assist you with budgeting and tracking where your money goes. Mint, Wally and NYAB are popular apps that are user friendly.

Organizing your money will help you to make better decisions when unexpended expenses or fun opportunities are presented to you.

An organizer can help you determine where your money is and detail where your money will go.  See if Top Shelf Home Organizing can help you on your journey.  Contact Jayme to schedule a consult or chat about organizing.