Good Life

Communities that Care: Help kids get organized by example

As Centre County emerges from an unusually long, cold winter, the spring cleaning bug has struck in many households. At this time of year, cleaning up clutter and getting organized just feels good. For parents, this can be an opportunity to teach children the value of organizing their belongings and the space around them.

Recognizing that the “do as I say and not as I do” strategy has never been especially successful, one of the best ways to teach children organizational skills is to model them in our own lives. Looking around at the paper clutter that may have accumulated in your household over the winter, a good place to start is with your own filing system.

What shape is your filing system in? Are your filing drawers stuffed so full that it’s almost impossible to get another piece of paper into — or out of — them? Once a year, you should take time to review your files and purge as much as possible, leaving room for next year’s papers.

• Determine what to keep. As you sort through papers, ask yourself, “When will I really need this again?” “Can it be easily re-created or retrieved elsewhere?” Don’t hang onto things unless you have a really good reason. Be ruthless — remember, 80 to 90 percent of the things you file will never get referred to again.

• Keep records retention guidelines in mind. Your accountant, attorney or professional organizer can tell you which documents you should keep for legal purposes.

• Keep only day-to-day paperwork at your fingertips. For rarely used files that must be kept, archive them in an out-of-the-way area, such as a closet, basement or off-site storage facility.

• Some things can be immediately tossed. Instruction manuals for products you no longer own, old research materials, previous drafts of letters, out-of-date magazines and articles, and receipts for items past their return date can be discarded.

• Stash important documents in a safety deposit box. It is imperative that you stock your safety deposit box or home safe with the following papers: adoption and citizenship papers; passports; birth, death and marriage certificates; deeds; divorce decrees; insurance policy papers; lease agreements and loan documents; mortgage papers; personal property appraisals (jewelry, collectibles); Social Security cards; stock and bond certificates; vehicle titles; copies of wills; and powers of attorney papers. And don’t forget to lock your home safe. It is not fireproof unless the lock is engaged.

With the school year winding down, this is a good time to encourage children to follow your example by sorting through and organizing the many papers and projects they have brought home from school in the past year. By learning from and modeling your behaviors, your kids will be better prepared to organize their own lives and manage their own households someday.