Paper Clutter Disaster: the six-month update

A few months ago, I shared my secret shame, my piles of disorganized household papers that were making a mess and causing me constant stress. If you missed it, here’s a link. The problem bothered me because I am extremely organized at work and overall pretty neat.

As of that blog, I had been practicing a new system for about three months, and I’m happy to tell you that at the half-year mark, my paper clutter is still under control, thanks to this very easy organization method.

IMG_6486Every new paper that comes into the house goes into fabric box I keep on my writing shelf. There are only four “active files” in my box, standing up in the back. For me, they are:

1. Goals/Projects/To Do – where I put random lists or ideas

2. 2015 bills/claims – anything for tax purposes

3. 2015 writing receipts – I keep my writing business paperwork separate

4. Gift certificates/shopping/coupons – I pull this file out as needed for household purchases

Anything that doesn’t fit into one of those folders goes into the pile at the front of the box. Once a week, I go through that pile and file what needs to be saved in my filing cabinet, make calls for appointments, or handle whatever else is in the pile. It never gets overwhelming when I keep up with it weekly.

IMG_6489I’ve found the most papers come from my two sons’ schools. There are pictures, permission slips, artwork and other mementos they want to save, and information on upcoming events. The papers we will need in the future go in the main pile. For keepsakes, I bought a Hefty clear plastic box with a locking lid for each son and enough envelopes for each school year.

It took us some time to sort through previous years’ papers and art, but once those were all in envelopes, the rest of the organizing has been easy. I’ve put anything we might want to keep on top of the envelopes in their boxes, and now that school is over we will sort through and keep enough to fit into one envelope.

Each envelope is labeled on the front with name, grade, school year, and school name. When they are ready for them as adults, I will hand over their boxes, all finished.

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One of the keys for finding more satisfaction in my life is feeling like I have some control over the little things. I constantly felt like I was failing because I couldn’t keep up with my paperwork. This little victory has allowed me to feel so much more relaxed and peaceful when I’m at home.

If you enjoy reading my blog, please check out my first novel, Giving Myself Away, about a divorced mom making tough choices and a fresh start.

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Smart advice from a successful woman

blog isaacscherylbooneLast week, I wrote about the importance of sharing our setbacks and challenges with other women, and this week I’d like to add to that one very successful woman’s advice to high school students.

Cheryl Boone Isaacs, president of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (best known for the Oscars!) spoke to a student audience where I am a teacher, but I found her words encouraging and inspiring for people of any age.

The film industry is a daunting one to break into, but Boone Isaacs decided her passion for movies made all the hard work worthwhile. She started at entry level, but she gave every job her all, telling students the best way to make headway in a new career is to make yourself indispensable.

A lot of top executives make it sound like they were destined for greatness on one long trajectory of success, but I appreciated Boone Isaacs’ honesty in stating that she flitted from job to job until her mid-twenties because she didn’t know what she wanted to do.

“Every experience matters, the bad ones as well as the good ones,” she said. “The bad makes you appreciate the good and realize what you don’t want.” Nothing you’ve done has been a waste because it is all essential in creating the person you are today.

She also openly stated that she still struggles with maintaining a positive outlook, saying that her first instinct is to tell herself why something won’t work before rewriting her mental script to a more positive message. I find this tremendously reassuring: If someone who has gained this level of career success has her doubts, it makes it seem normal for me too.

She told students that even though she is asked all the time about barriers in her field based on race or gender, the biggest issue is the obstacles we create ourselves.

“People put up their own barriers, such as ‘I’m not good enough’ or ‘I’m not smart enough,’ but the barriers that you create, just know that you can also take them down,” she said.

My favorite quote in her hour with us was “Why not me?” No matter what you are dreaming of doing, instead of thinking how audacious it is to imagine yourself achieving your most far-off goals, say, “Why not me?”

Photo credit: http://www.oscars.org/about/board-of-governors

If you enjoy reading my blog, please check out my first novel, Giving Myself Away, about a divorced mom making tough choices and a fresh start. 

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This is why women need each other

“I feel like I don’t fit in.”

“There are a lot of days it’s a struggle to even get out of bed in the morning.”

These are statements from beautiful, accomplished women who look like they have it all. I was astounded to hear them confess that things aren’t always awesome for them, but it was exactly what I needed to hear because those are thoughts I’ve had at various times too.

I had the pleasure of recently attending a women’s workshop where we got to share our victories and setbacks of the past year, and the most helpful part for me was hearing other women admit that sometimes it’s a real trial to reach their goals. Two steps forward and one step back? Sometimes it’s more like three steps back and one step forward!

Blog Men are From Mars picI just finished reading Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus by John Gray. Certain things suddenly made sense when he said that when women have problems, they merely need to be heard and validated to start feeling better. We don’t need someone to come in and fix it, nor do we expect that. Just the release of being able to say honestly what’s on our minds helps us let it go and move on.

I feel like I spend most of my life skating on the surface with the people around me. “How are you?” “Fine.” It helps me to know that when I feel like I’m the only one who doesn’t have my act together, even the most polished and professional among us also struggle sometimes to reach their goals.

Photo credit: stock photo by Serge Bertasius Photography at http://www.freedigitalphotos.net

Please check out my first novel, Giving Myself Away. Divorced mom Adrienne gets pregnant after fooling around with a lonely mortician. He wants to marry her and raise the baby together, but she has other ideas. 

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The paper clutter disaster that was dragging me down

FullSizeRender (4)Everyone who knows me knows I am super-organized. At work, I can pull out any file, piece of paperwork, or email you might need in a minute or less. I’m compulsively on time, and everything goes into my calendar.

But beneath the veneer of the put-together version of myself was the stress caused by a teetering mountain of papers covering half of our dining room table that got scooped up and shoved into my bedroom closet when we needed the whole table. Coming home from work to look at that overwhelming stack of bills, receipts, school papers, and who-knows-what was disheartening. Every night I said I’d deal with it and every night I threw the day’s mail on top of the pile and ignored it for another day.

I made it a goal for this year to once and for all tackle this little nightmare and, yes, this new year’s resolution took more than two months to cautiously say I think I’ve got it licked. I reached the point where having to shuffle through months’ worth of papers to find the form my son needed for school the next day or to remember to pay that bill on time felt worse than the daunting work of fixing it. “Filing” for me meant periodically throwing out papers that were no longer relevant and sorting the rest of them into some semblance of priority.

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I took an entire day from breakfast til dinner to salvage my sanity (and our tabletop). I started by sorting everything into piles (school, tax receipt items, upcoming bills, etc.). Things that needed to be filed but didn’t need ready access got put into my office filing cabinet. I made a few files for papers I expected to be filing regularly in the upcoming months.

I bought a cute fabric box that fit on my new writing bookshelf (because I’m girly and I feel more inspired to put things away in a cute box than a metal filing cabinet). Every day I put in any papers that can’t be recycled, and once a week I have to deal with everything that’s in the box, whether it’s filing to the office filing cabinet, making an appointment, paying a bill, or whatever else might be in there.

IMG_5831I’ve felt such a load lifted from my shoulders in the past few weeks as I come home from work to see a beautifully clear dining room table, ready for family dinner. I feel at peace when I look at my file box, knowing it never has more than a week’s worth of papers in it.

I’d love to hear what you’ve done to lighten your own load. Please comment!

 

 

Please check out my first novel, Giving Myself Away. Divorced mom Adrienne gets pregnant after fooling around with a lonely mortician. He wants to marry her and raise the baby together, but she has other ideas. 

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Peace be with you

“Peace be with you.” These are words I have spoken countless times over many years – only on Sundays around 11 a.m., of course – but it wasn’t until very recently that I began to reflect upon what that phrase means.

The new pastor of our church wrote a greeting in our monthly newsletter suggesting we add something to our daily practices during the season of Lent, rather than taking something away. Her bulleted list included many activities that would be easy for families to do together, so my children and I considered the ideas and voted to share the peace every day in our own home.

I wrote “Peace be with you” on an index card with a black Sharpie and taped it to our alarm clock so that we wouldn’t forget this new daily ritual. Each night before bed, I look my boys in the eye, hold their faces, and say “Peace be with you” and smile as I hear them say it back to me. Then they face each other and do the same. This is the most touching part, because how often really would you see two boys, brothers no less, offering each other peace and hugging?

Sometimes at church, the passing of the peace seems rushed and devoid of meaning. It’s a race to shake the hands of everyone in the pews ahead of and behind us, and I’m often wondering, “Do my hands feel cold?” “Am I smiling enough?” “Did I already shake her hand?”

At the same time, this is one of my favorite parts of our Sunday church service. I would feel funny in my daily life to go about wishing peace to people, but it’s totally normal and expected at church. I’m already considered kind of out-there for being a vegan; I don’t need “hippie” added to my labels. But if I could wish my fellow humans anything in this world, it would be peace – peace within and peace without, a sense of being loved and comforted and blessed that fills each person until it overflows and radiates outward and lights up all of humankind so that we can trust each other and wish each other well.

Expressions of peace are common to many religions – they are the heart, really, of our relationship with whatever form of God we believe in – but even those without religious affiliation can appreciate peace. I’m hoping to work up the nerve to sometimes say “Peace be with you” rather than “What’s up” or even “Have a great day” to those I meet in my daily travels. And I vow to really mean it when I say those words each night to my sons, and to all of the people I greet and shake hands with on Sunday mornings.

 

Photo credit: stock photo by markuso at http://www.freedigitalphotos.net

 

Please check out my first novel, Giving Myself Away. Divorced mom Adrienne gets pregnant after fooling around with a lonely mortician. He wants to marry her and raise the baby together, but she has other ideas. 

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Amazon |  Barnes & Noble | Apple iBooks |

Kobo Books | BAM | IndieBound | Powell’s

 

 

 

 

Be careful, your mood is contagious

You know the phrase, “If Momma ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy.” It might be a southern saying, but it’s just as true in my northeastern home.

I’m in the midst of reading The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin, in which she at first struggles to justify why a happily married mother needs to take the time to seek out happiness for herself. Her conclusion is that her own happiness is not a selfish luxury, but a necessity to bring joy to her whole household.

I agree. I notice that on the days where I am short-tempered and impatient, my kids react by looking glum, shuffling their feet to get out the door, and sometimes even snapping back at me. I hate to think of them traipsing off to school this way. On the mornings where I wake them with kisses and songs, we all manage to leave the house on time with smiles on our faces.

When I bring positive energy into my classroom, it comes back to me with students who answer questions and don’t moan and groan over assignments. I connect with my coworkers when I smile and look them in the eye rather than mumbling hi and walking on by. In my personal relationships, my loved ones seek me out to talk and spend time with me when I show enthusiasm and joy.

Every interaction with another person is an exchange of energy. Pain and sorrow is meant to be shared, and we need others to boost us up when we can’t pull ourselves out of a bad situation. Sometimes it’s hard to smile when I’m angry, feeling let down, tired, or otherwise hurting, but those are the days it’s most important of all to smile.

Try putting aside your everyday grumbles and notice how differently people respond to you when you tell them you’re great (even if you’re just okay). You may bring a smile to their face and they may bring one back to yours.

 

Photo credit: stock photo by tigger11th at http://www.freedigitalphotos.net

 

Please check out my first novel, Giving Myself Away. Divorced mom Adrienne gets pregnant after fooling around with a lonely mortician. He wants to marry her and raise the baby together, but she has other ideas. 

cropped-givingmyselfawaycover.jpg

Amazon |  Barnes & Noble | Apple iBooks |

Kobo Books | BAM | IndieBound | Powell’s

 

 

 

 

Give respect to your passion

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What’s the thing you most wish you could do, but it means so much to you that you put it off or push it to the side? What’s that one thing you want, but you’re afraid it will get ruined forever if you don’t do it right?

For me, it’s always been writing. Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White was the first book I remember reading that filled with me with longing… if I only I could write like that. Then I read White’s The Trumpet of the Swan and swooned. In the years that followed, there were many others. I recently finished reading Me Before You by JoJo Moyes and had the same experience.

For many years, writing fiction felt like a fragile bird’s egg I held in my cupped hands. The idea of breaking that egg caused me to avoid my truest passion by majoring in journalism and starting a career in nonfiction because it didn’t seem so precious to me. I loved the creative outlet that news and feature stories brought, but there was a desire in my heart that wouldn’t die, telling me to go ahead and write a novel.

I finally did so a few years ago, and as I work on my second novel now, the same fears dance around in my head. What if this is the one that everyone hates? What if even my friends think eww, but don’t want to say it to me?

I’ve decided to put away those fears once and for all. I don’t need them telling me what not to do anymore. The fear of writing manifested for me in a lack of time and organization to devote to my craft. Sure, I’m a single parent with a teaching career, and I don’t have a lot of time to write, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be done. What I found is that I was often putting everything else ahead of writing, even things like scrubbing down the refrigerator.

Instead of having an office for my writing, I used the side table in my dining room to throw my writing notes in with a teetering pile of kids’ schoolwork, bills, and other papers that have varying levels of priority. I wasn’t giving respect to my passion.

I may not write in an office, but I recently made my writing more official by devoting a small bookshelf exclusively to my notes and files, my copies of Writers’ Digest, and the binder that organizes my work-in-progress. The boost of knowing there’s a physical space in my house devoted to writing has fired me up to keep at it, day after day. Instead of hiding my writing with the rest of my household detritus, it has its own orderly space.

What can you do to respect your passion? Make a space, even if it’s a little one, so that you can see the evidence of your biggest, fondest dream every day. Don’t hide your passion in the corners of your life.

 

Please check out my first novel, Giving Myself Away, about a divorced mom making tough choices.

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Amazon |  Barnes & Noble | Apple iBooks |

Kobo Books | BAM | IndieBound | Powell’s