Yes, you can have an organized life. Just start at the beginning. Close your eyes and let’s go back in time…
Take a Drink Every Time I Use the Word “Box” In This Post*
Boys and girls frolicked across the shiny new box. Under the hinged lid, the assurance of fresh beginnings beckoned. From inside wafted the aroma of freshly shaved pencils, Crayola-scented-wax, and (the always delectable) Elmer’s school paste.
This year would be different. This year, I would keep everything neat and in mint-condition. My sadistic teacher would not dump my desk onto the floor in front of a classroom full of giggling smelly freckles.
I was going to use a bad word here, but in an effort to reform my language, I Googled synonyms. Buried on page 3 of the results was the gem “smelly freckle” – hello, new favorite insult!
Why Do Elementary Schools Always Smell Like Soup?
I would not spend recess in a dimly-lit hallway smelling of old soup (the hallway, not me), shoveling out my disgraceful locker.
Oh, that’s where those safety-monitor belts went. I guess my brother didn’t take them after all. Sorry for the accusations, Arthur. In my defense, I’m sure you took other stuff.
You smelly freckle, you.
How To Use the Word “Virgin” In a Post About Office Supplies
Virgin pencil boxes symbolized hope. New school supplies promised forgiveness for all past sins of disorganization and neglect.
Alas, though, the wind always left my sails.
Usually by week 2.
Box = Good
I blamed the slowly collapsing cardboard boxes for disappointing me, year after year. Surely not my own carelessness. My lack of respect for their wondrous usefulness; their long-suffering dedication to serving my stationery needs; their ability to contain all the tools necessary for my scholastic success.
Maybe because once you chew the crap out of a pencil, it’s not so hopeful looking anymore.
Silly, You Can’t Sign a Check with a Unicorn
Many years later, my eureka moment came at my Martha Stewart-esque sister-in-law’s house. I love her so much, even in her aggravating perfection. Many of my revelatory flashes occurred at Annie’s. **
One day at her house, I noticed a box (attractive, antique, yadayada, of course) filled with office supplies. She did not have a desk, just this gorgeous, weathered wood box , brimming with envelopes, stamps, pens, and other mythical creatures elusive in my ADHD world.
And I remembered those long ago school days.
Here was the solution to my paperwork woes. In a box.
Where Barrettes, Nail Clippers, and Their Brethren Co-Exist in Peace and Harmony
Once again, a box reignited my hopes. Of change. Of forgiveness.
Or, at least, a pen when I need one. A pen safe from tiny, grubby monster hands. And scissors that won’t toddle away on miniature scissor legs to commune with others of their kind in the dust-choked nether region of a racecar-shaped bed.
Yes, dear youngest, I’m on to your room-cleaning secret.
What Can I Say? I Grew Up Taking Phone Messages On Cereal Boxes With Crayon Nubs.
If you are thinking, “what is wrong with you? Why would you not have an office supply box, always neat, always stocked?” then you may be in the wrong place.
So grab a box. A container. Not necessarily a pretty box. It can be a freakin’ Chewy.com box (the ones that clone themselves while you sleep).
Or a shiny box with deranged children pictured on the top?
Most any closeable box will do.
I Want To Be Her When I Grow Up
My point: Don’t get hung up on the aesthetics. You’re not Annie-level. Not yet.
Let’s face it, some of us will never be Annie-level. Certainly not me.
Just, for now, don’t get hung up on how your box looks.
We Are a Solutions-Oriented People, Are We Not?
Now, brainstorm a list of anything you’ve formerly had to scrounge to pay bills (other than money, I mean), mail letters, sign school forms, cut coupons…you get the picture.
Or, more likely, all the stuff you’ve ever wished you had when you tried to complete those tasks but had to go without. After all, tearing the top of two pieces of paper and folding the flap down works in the absence of a paper clip (or, heaven forbid, a stapler).
But aren’t you tired of wasting that kind of creativity just to get through life?
The Sanity-Saving Part Might Be Too Late
Here are my suggestions for this sanity-saving box. Most can be found at Dollar Tree:
- Pencil(s) (with Ticonderoga eraser tips – trust me – you can get these at Walmart)
- Skinny highlighters
- Binder clips
- Paper clips
- Rubber bands
- Security envelopes (both letter and business sizes)
- Rubbing Alcohol Wipes (or dry erase spray)
- Off-brand sticky notes in various sizes (have you seen the price of brand name Post-Its?! No wonder I used to steal them from work)
- White-out tape (not Dollar Tree – it sucks – go name brand here)
- Packing tape (Dollar Tree will suffice if you are not prone to throwing things in frustration)
- One or two larger, like 9×12, envelopes – maybe even a padded one (if you’re reckless)
- Forever stamps (take out a second mortgage – $11 a book!)
- Black Sharpie
- Dry erase marker (or two) – don’t get black. You will mistake the black sharpie for this, and you will be sorry. Get colors. I’m not kidding.
- Stapler and staples (not Dollar Tree – Walmart has small ones for under $5. $1 is not a bargain if it’s a piece of crap)
- Staple remover (can you say, “awe-some!” (sing-song voice here))
- Glue stick
- AA battery (because when your mouse battery gives up its cursor-producing ghost, you just know the one you decide to borrow from the smoke detector remote control will have already been pilfered by a gamer)
- Return address labels (don’t worry if yours are like mine and only have one person’s name on them. As long as the address is correct, who cares? Nobody will consider a singular name as an announcement of your pending divorce. And if they do, maybe they know something you don’t so you might want to delve into that a bit?)
- Cheap calculator (yes, I know you have a phone. Get it anyway. $1. You’re worth it.)
- Scotch tape
- Reading glasses (squinting causes wrinkles)
- Pencil sharpener (or mechanical pencils and lead – you’re the boss here)
- 3-hole punch
Oxygen Mask or Rubber Chicken – Your Choice
Later, you can assemble a box for your kids. For now, though, let those ungrateful darlings search for their own supplies. It builds character. No distracted “I am the queen of making unicorn boxes for everyone!” here. Not until your own is done. Oxygen mask for yourself and all that.
Sniff Longer If You Included Rubber Cement
Put all of this lovely, lovely stuff into your box. Look at it and smile. Sniff it a little, if you want (no judgment). Make it neat if you want to. Organize it any way you want.
But, and this is where the lid comes in, if you can’t keep it organized, that’s okay. Better jumbled than non-existent. Ignore the perfectionism that energizes and then cripples you. Organized does not always mean neat. Just keep it stocked.
I’ll give you the tools later in this series to keep the box stocked and maintained. Maintenance can be the hardest part – I get it. For now, just try to put anything that’s running low on your grocery list. And hang in there, I promise a future post on keeping up with things like this. Pinkie swear.
Child Abuse = Bad
The final necessity when it comes to your box is the most important one. Gather your sweet angels around you, kiss each one lightly on the forehead, and explain to them that “Mommy has her own special office supplies that will help her not be so nutty, and she will break your cute, sticky fingers if you even go so far as to look at her lovely, lovely box.”
Then follow through on the threat.
Don’t follow through on the threat. Please don’t. You and I both would look terrible in the mug shots. They don’t even let you Photoshop them.
Did She Just Say Weekly Paperwork Review Day? I Can’t Breathe.
But do hide the box in a location easily accessible to you on Weekly Paperwork Review Day. Yes, I said Weekly Paperwork Review Day. Capitalized.
More on that later in the series.
Stop hyper-ventilating. After all, you have a box now! You, my dear, are on your way!
As for yourself, keep your own hot little digits out of the box, too, unless you are using it FOR PAPERWORK PURPOSES ONLY. This is absolutely crucial.
Once it’s 100% done, I grant you permission to scamper off and make other boxes for the kids and for anyone else to keep them away from your box. Even another for yourself so you’re not tempted to sneak into this one.
Remember – repeat after me: THIS PARTICULAR BOX IS SACRED.
If you have to, put it somewhere difficult to get to even for you. Not so difficult that you can’t get to it for paperwork, just difficult enough that it’s not the quickie solution for wrapping a gift or taking a phone message***.
If you actually hide it somewhere that you know is just perfect and makes perfect sense, you will never find it again. Send yourself a quick email reminding yourself of where you put it. (Check out this post I wrote on remembering things like this: How to Keep Track Of … Everything!
- Get a box.
- Make a list.
- Go to Dollar Tree.
- Swing by Walmart.
- Fill the box.
- Sniff the box.
- Keep the box full.
- Child abuse bad.
- Hide the box.
- Don’t lose the box.
Awakening Is a Very Ambitious Word
Before my own awakening, I don’t know why I had never granted my adult-self permission to purchase my very own office supplies. Like, buy at the actual store with actual money. Post-its, pens, rubber bands – you name it – just magically appeared here and there in our house.
It never occurred to me that I could actually buy a paper clip. Not depend on the homeless ones who showed up on my doorstep, seeking refuge? Really?
And to gather said supplies all in one place? Say what? You can’t have office supplies all in one place without a desk. That would be…well, that would be wrong.
Riding the Unicorn
This all sounds so simple, I know. And why will this box be any different, after a long line of failures?
It will be. You will maintain it. You will not pillage it. You will respect it. You will see its great worth.
You will take ownership of it. You will not blame its poor, hard-working little box-self for your transgressions.
And you will recognize it as the first step toward mastering the never-ending deluge of paperwork needed to manage your busy life.
I hope you’ll join me for the next step – How To Effectively Use a Planner (for Beginners) (Home Management 101: Post 3).
Now…go! Go be your distracted, obsessed, queen of box-making self. Unicorn boxes! Unicorn boxes for everyone!
*Box! In case you weren’t counting, that’s 42. If you took the title to heart – maybe do the box tomorrow. Especially the driving part. (By the way, that’s 43).
**As a matter of fact, if she lived closer, I’d probably stalk her house right now, peeking in windows. No real reason, just to see how the beautiful people live.
Annie, lovely, organized Annie. Annie of the gleaming, non-fingerprinted, non-dishwasher-gritted ( where does that grit come from anyway – I swear I rinsed the dishes) parfait glasses, proffered forth to layer with yogurt, granola, fruit, and berries, all artfully arranged for unexpected guests.
Yes, I love her so much. I do. I…do.
No, no, that’s not a tear. Really.
***Do people even take phone messages anymore?
P.S. I’m excited to say the entire series is finished and posted.