women

1. Banish Paper Pile-Ups

This week, you can

• Reduce paper clutter and start a simple file system
• Begin collecting and organizing baby-related information

DON’T LOOK NOW, but with the joy of pregnancy something unwanted is coming to your home: the Paper Monster. The coming months are going to find you inundated with pregnancy and parenting materials. Medical reports, insurance claims, baby books, pregnancy guides, magazines, and clipped newspaper articles from your mother-in-law are going to stack up like planes on the runway the day before Christmas. What’s a woman to do? Why, get organized, of course!

If you are like most people, paper clutter is your nemesis. Mail piles up on the kitchen counter. Magazines, catalogs, newsletters, and invitations ooze across the dining room table and tumble onto any available floor space. Projects from work pile up on your home office desk. Stacks of books you hope to read one day create a barricade on your side of the bed.

We need a map showing us the way to a quiet work zone, and this week you’ll establish a home for the baby-related information that’s key to a successful pregnancy and transition home for your infant. We also need to start implementing systems. They are at the heart of an organized lifestyle. You can have the most perfect file setup in the world, but if you never use it, what’s the point?

Set time aside to file paper. It has probably piled up in the past because you didn’t have a file folder waiting to absorb it. At regular intervals, take out your “To Do” or “Pending” folders (more about those below) and take care of the business of your life. Schedule time in your calendar—don’t leave those sessions to chance. It takes some effort to create the system. But then it only takes consistency, not huge blocks to time, to maintain it. The rewards are many and include paying bills on time (one of the best ways to build a solid FICO score), receiving medical and other reimbursements in a timely fashion, and feeling in control of the business side of your life.

2. PAPER NEEDS A HOME

The first step is to take a good look around and create a battle plan. Hopefully you have a home office; but if you don’t or if your home is small or you live in an apartment, take heart: You can designate any area to function as a de facto office. The key is to have some sort of file cabinet.

If you have a home office, chances are you already have a two- or four-drawer metal filing cabinet. One drawer will probably be all you need for this project. You can make do, however, with a large file box; I’d pick one in wicker or wood. You can plop a vase on it and help it blend into the decor when you’re not busy sorting paper. And if absolutely necessary, you can use a cardboard file box. It’s not my favorite choice because there’s nothing permanent about it; cardboard breaks down over time and eventually the hanging file folders start to fall because the sides are wearing down. So go with a sturdy file solution if possible.

Your designated spot shouldn’t involve the kitchen. You want to keep those counters clear. They will soon be filled with baby paraphernalia. The dining room table should also be free of debris. Family members and friends who come to assist you after Baby arrives can have a quiet meal here while you are resting. In fact, it’s nice to keep this table clear all year long. Why save the dining room for holiday meals? Eat here every night if you like or make Sunday night supper a new family tradition in this room. Finally, many people work in their bedrooms, but it’s preferable that you keep this space as a place for rest and fun. Televisions, computers, file cabinets, and so on should not reside here. Of course, personal taste and necessity may find you multitasking in this room. Do the best you can. We’ll tackle these rooms individually over the next several months. I’ve scheduled big projects for the time in your pregnancy when the nausea has likely passed and your energy level is high.

GIVE YOUR BOOKS A HOME
If you’ve got a small library of baby-related books, why not get a small bookcase to hold them all? Lightweight portable bookcases are available at The Container Store and elsewhere and do the trick nicely. The sides fold out and release the shelves. Whether it’s newspapers, magazines, books, or paper, give everything a designated home. All the time you save not having to look for things is time you can spend with your partner or your baby. There’s an old saying: “pennies make dollars.” Just so, minutes saved easily add up to hours spent in fun or nurturing pursuits.

3. GET READY

When your baby arrives, you’ll want everyday tasks like bill paying and receipt filing to be as easy as they can be. Your time and energy will be needed elsewhere. This is a project that takes some time but pays huge dividends. If you don’t have a working file system, during your downtime over the next several days you can use the following guidelines to create one.

Here is the first set of tools you will need for this project:
• A few sturdy trash bags (think the heavy-duty black ones earmarked for yard work, not the flimsy white ones used in the kitchen)
• A box for recyclables
• Twenty uninterrupted minutes (i.e., no phones, no e-mails, no text messages, etc.). Use your cell phone’s timer to keep track.

4. SPEED ELIMINATE

Now we’re going to do what I call a Speed Elimination to remove the obvious clutter. The key word is speed. Now is not the time to linger over letters from friends, feel remorse for invitations to parties you missed, or stop and read the instructions for your new iPod. It’s time to move with resolve and ignore emotion. You’ll feel better once this step is taken no matter which room or project you are tackling. The room is going to literally feel lighter and less overwhelming. Don’t be surprised if this becomes your favorite area in your home!

The items we’re eliminating here are the same ones you’ll be searching for when it comes time to clear off the dining room table, the kitchen counters, and any other places you’ve let paper accumulate. Here’s a list of the most likely candidates for the trash or recycle containers:

• Invitations to parties that have passed and store sales you missed
• Magazines older than two months and newspapers older than two days
• Receipts for items that are not deductible on your income tax
• Catalogs
• Expired coupons

There will also be items that you wish to keep that need to live elsewhere in your home. Here are some of the most likely suspects:

• Stale food (think gum and candy for starters; look for dishes that held lateafternoon snacks etc.). Food should be tossed; serving items go back to the kitchen.
• Set aside items that belong to other people. If you don’t have a car or the means to return them, make some calls later today so they can be picked up.
• Set aside items that belong in other parts of your home (coffee mugs that need to be transferred to the kitchen are a prime example; if you already have children you may have toys and other items that need to be returned to their rooms).

5 . CATEGORIZE YOUR PAPERS

Once you have completed this phase, you can go back for another twenty minutes and this time separate out the items you wish to keep. Keep the information in related piles. These are, in effect, your categories. They represent the material that continues to grow over time. We’ve got to make a home for it. This information will form the basis of your file system; you’ll create folders for each category. If you have projects for work or home, they will come to order following these simple guidelines. For example, here are some common categories of paper for the average family:
 
Household Expenses
1. Homeowner’s insurance
2. Mortgage or rent
3. Phone
4. Utilities
Automobile Expenses
1. Automobile club Membership
2. Auto insurance
3. Auto loan
4. License and registration
5. Repairs
Banking
1. Bank of America; personal account
2. Citibank; business account
Credit Cards
1. American Express
2. Macy’s
3. MasterCard
Medical Insurance
1. Dental
2. Flex spending or medical savings accounts
3. Medical
Business-Related Expenses
1. Charitable donations
2. Continuing education classes
3. Entertaining clients
4. Gifts for clients
5. Phone calls (depending on the status of your business, you may be able to deduct some of your cell and land line calls. If you don’t qualify, “Phones” should most likely be filed under “Household”)

While these are among the most common categories I find when I am creating a file system for a new client, the receipts are rarely organized in this fashion. If there is a rudimentary file system in place I typically find all of the receipts relating to a category in one folder. This makes retrieval of a specific piece of information a laborious project because you have to sift through everything related to the topic. You can streamline a category by breaking it down into the parts that make up the whole.

For example, let’s say you own two cars and a pickup truck. Each has a title. Your vehicles might all be under one umbrella insurance policy or each might have a dedicated policy. And of course you have your payment record and repair history. Most folks stuff all of this into a drawer or single file folder and struggle when they need to retrieve a specific piece of information. That translates to a big drama before Tax Day on April 15! But if you take the time to create a hanging file folder for each vehicle and a subfolder for each category to house the information, you are set. Why look at the information for the Ford pickup truck if I need to see how much I spent on repairs for the Toyota Camry? Why sift through phone bills when it’s my medical receipts that matter? With this in mind, take another quick look at the file examples I gave just above. Break every category down into its parts. This concept is key to your success.

6. ORGANIZE YOUR FILES

Now we’ve come to the next set of tools we need for this project. Here are my favorite items when it comes to creating a file system. You can find them at any office supply store:

• Hanging file folders
• Manila folders (or colored if you wish to designate some of your categories); get the one-third or straight cut
• Long file tabs (the short variety will come with the hanging file folders)
• A label maker (Brother P-touch is my personal favorite) with extra tape cartridges. If you are making a purchase, don’t forget to have extra AA batteries on hand.
• Rails for your file drawer if you need to insert them
• One box of two-inch-wide box bottom hanging file folders for the large categories if you anticipate you will have a few
Here’s an example of how you use these wonderful tools. I’ve taken a category from the above example.
Business-Related Expenses
(This is the title you put on your long tab. Use your label maker so it’s easy to read. Attach the tab to a regular hanging file folder and place it on the rails in your metal filing cabinet or in your file box.)

1. Charitable donations
2. Continuing education classes
3. Entertaining clients
4. Gifts for clients
5. Phone bills: cell and land line

Numbers 1 through 5 represent individual file folders. Keep the contents in alphabetical order for ease of retrieval. If the material in the file folders is bulky, use a box bottom hanging file folder instead. You’ll have two inches of space to fill instead of a simple sleeve. (Many of my clients think you can fold a regular hanging file folder and make a wide bottom. The lines on the side are for decoration only. If you do fold along those lines, the folders you place inside will sit too high for your drawer to close.)
Box bottoms come with a piece of cardboard you insert to create a sturdy flat bottom. Check your box before you make your purchase. Sometimes folks take the inserts out! And don’t purchase box bottom folders that are wider than two inches. The material will be so heavy the folder will eventually rip off the metal rail it’s attached to. You don’t want to be replacing folders every few weeks.

7. CREATE A “BABY FILE”

Now you’re ready to take these guidelines and apply them to your baby-related documents. Here is an example list of things you might be researching, broken down into related categories.

Baby:
What do I have to have on hand for his arrival home?
Which items are necessities in the baby’s room?
When should my friends schedule the baby shower?
 
Medical Insurance:
Will my pregnancy and birth be covered by my policy?
Have I met my deductible?
 
Pregnancy:
What’s happening to my body?
How is the baby developing?
What prenatal exercise classes might I want to take? When do they start and where are they? Will I need a note from my doctor or midwife?
When do I need to sign up for a childbirth education class? What is available in my area? (Lamaze, Bradley, birth hypnosis, etc.)
What clothing will I need? When do I start actually wearing maternity clothes?
What kind of birth experience do I want? (medicated, natural, water birth, etc.).
Where will I give birth—hospital, birth center, or home?
If I deliver in a hospital, which one in the area is the best fit for my circumstances and preferences? If I deliver at home or in a birth center, which options exist in my area?
 
Work Issues:
Does my company have maternity leave?
Will I be paid for the time off?
Do I want to continue to work full-time at my current job after the baby comes? If not, what might my options be—work at home, telecommute, flex time, taking an extended leave, or becoming an at-home mom?
The list of items and issues you might want to research is virtually endless. But don’t let a feeling of overwhelm settle over you: I’ve got you covered. All of these issues and more are dealt with within the pages of this book. (If you want even more information, see the Resources section, page 325). However, let’s suppose that you wish to research one or two areas in detail. Your files for this purpose might look like this:
 
Baby
(Name on file tab, announces a new category)
Baby’s Room
Baby Shower
Baby Supplies
(These bulleted items are the individual file names)
Medical Insurance
Claim Forms/Blank
Claim Forms/Pending
Policy Information
Pregnancy
Baby Development
Birth Methods
Body Changes
Childbirth Classes
Doulas

The really great news is that in today’s world, most of your research will be conducted online. You can easily create folders on your computer and organize this information in the same way. As you go along, you can delete files that are no longer of interest or concern. Suppose, for example, that you are considering several different birth methods. Once you make your decision, only material relating to your final choice needs to be saved. Don’t clog up your hard drive no matter how huge it is. It’s electronic clutter!
This week may have surprised you. You no doubt want to shop for teddy bears and I’ve asked you to organize your files. But this simple task will make your life much easier in the months ahead and especially after your baby is born. Soon you’ll be dealing with work and insurance issues. Those endeavors as well as all the medical tests and doctor visits create an incredible mountain of paper. I promise that in just a few weeks you’ll be shopping for your maternity clothes, planning the nursery, and, yes, picking out that teddy bear.

As readers of my previous books know, my mom was the Queen of Organization. I never saw piles of anything in our home. If you could clean it or organize it, my mom was your woman. But when it came to research, my mom couldn’t stand to read anything medical. In the case of her pregnancy, this refusal to read medical information worked against her. When my mother’s water broke, she didn’t know what was happening and thought she was literally going to die! Fortunately her mother, who had given birth to eight babies, was with her to reassure her. Knowledge is power.
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