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Clutter Busters: Paper Management 101

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Between endless notes coming home from school, bills and invitations to birthday parties filling the mailbox, and health and school records to save, it can be difficult to get a handle on the paper clutter that enters your house.

Keepsakes: Schoolwork, Artwork, and Report Cards
Your child will bring home what seems like 17,432 pieces of artwork over his school career. You can't keep it all, but it's easy to feel serious mom guilt when you think of tossing it in the trash. What to do?

  • Create an "inbox" for all the goodies that your children bring home with them and purge weekly, suggests Debbie Williams, author of several books including "Organized Kidz," and founder of www.organizedtimes.com. Recycle or toss the unwanted paper and keep the real treasures in an unused pizza box, file box, or folder, she says.
  • Make a portfolio by taping two pieces of poster board together on three sides, creating a pocket to slip paintings and other flat creations inside. Make sure you go through the portfolio every so often to cull the must-keeps from the rest. You can also move artwork out of your house by sharing it with Grandma or other relatives, suggests Williams.
  • Take a digital image of your child's artwork and have it printed on T-shirts, coffee cups, mouse pads, or holiday cards -- a perfect way for proud family to show off your child's artistic prowess.
  • Put your child in control. "I suggest giving each child an under-the-bed memory box and letting them keep what's important to them," says Mary Pankiewicz, professional organizer, author of "Clutter Free & Organized," and founder of www.clutterfree.biz. As children get older and decide that every paper that came home in the third grade is no longer as important to them as they once thought, they'll do their own culling -- without inducing a mommy guilt trip.

"Pending" Papers: Notes to Be Signed, Bills to Be Paid
Some paper can get immediately stored away and some can get tossed -- but what about those papers that you can't do anything with for a week or two? How do you keep them from getting buried -- or turning into clutter?

Label a folder or a clear plastic envelope and keep it in a safe place, such as your home office or near your family calendar, suggests Williams. If you have several children, it's best if everyone gets his or her own pending file to avoid confusion: let kids decorate theirs so they are more eager to use it and can tell at a glance whose is whose. For some, out of sight is out of mind, so be sure to make a habit of checking -- and purging -- this file on a regular basis, warns Williams.

Important Documents: Birth Certificates, Immunization Records
It's school registration time and you can't find your child's birth certificate -- you know, the one you distinctly remember filing away last August. Keeping track of important documents is a pain, but it's absolutely necessary. What if you had to travel suddenly or needed the document in some type of emergency? Williams suggests giving each family member a file folder, dropping in the records as you collect them, and putting the files in a safe place -- such as a file drawer set up just for that purpose. She also suggests having an extra set of copies made to keep in a safety deposit box at your bank. That way you won't have to worry about damage in the event of a natural disaster -- like when Hurricane Toddler manages to break into your filing system.

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