Click here to start shopping at

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Organizing Books and Publications

I would be curious to know the percentage of people whose New Year's Resolution is to become more organized. I know for me this always tops the list. And unlike the familiar but slightly unrealistic goals we tend to set for ourselves, becoming more organized is not only achievable, it's really essential in our busy lives.

That's not to say I wouldn't like to be as thin as a super-model, but the fact of the matter is that I am not a super-model, I am a business woman and a mother, so while being ultra-thin might have its advantages - in my life being organized is an absolute necessity.

Please spend this next year with us organizing one aspect of your life or office each month.

I could definitely be considered a collector, not of a particular object, but of information. I keep articles on travel destinations, jewelry, fashion, business and parenting. I am only limited by the space on my bookshelf and the memory in my computer.

I have occasionally tried to give up my collection, but I just can't. I became the office darling when I magically pulled out an article on New York hot spots just as two co-workers were preparing for a trip there. A new mother was ecstatic when I brought in my dog-eared parenting book on managing colic. My business partner was impressed by my collection of articles about starting a new business.

Now that I have a reputation to uphold, I simply can't give up my collection. If any of this sounds familiar, I can help. I have learned a few things over the years that will help you maintain your collection and your sanity.

# 1 Edit your Collection
The most important issue when saving books, magazines, or articles is to carefully edit.

If you use just one recipe out of a cookbook, photocopy that recipe, put it into a clear sheet protector and then into a binder with other “one hit wonders” from your cookbook collection. Then donate the cookbook, or organize a cookbook swap with friends or co-workers. Tip: Once you have several pages worth of recipes, add index tabs dividing them into categories such as appetizers, main dishes and desserts.

Thin out magazines and paperback books monthly and donate anything you’re unlikely to read again to a local hospital or senior center. When trying to decide whether or not to keep a magazine, try going through it with a pad of page markers. If you’ve marked five or more pages, go ahead and keep that issue. If you found only one or two pages that you think you’ll refer back to tear them out, place them in sheet protectors, then put them in a binder labeled by subject and recycle the magazine. Tip: Store back issues in magazine files to avoid unmanageable stacks, and label your magazine file boxes by subject (for instance Holidays) rather than magazine title or year.

Nearly all electronics and appliance manuals are available online. If you will only need to read through the manual once to figure out how to set up and use the product, consider tossing the paper manual. If you come up with a question later, the manufacturer’s website can probably search for the answer more quickly than you could look it up in a printed manual. Tip: Before you toss the manual consider when and where you’ll be using the product. For example you may want to take the directions for your digital camera with you when you go on vacation in case you don’t have convenient access to the internet. Also factor in the potential resale value of the item. Designer products and high-end toys that include the original packaging and accompanying manuals might fetch a better price on eBay.

#2 Create a Place for Your Collection
It's really only helpful to save written materials if you can find them when you need them, so storing things accessibly and labeling them accurately are critical.

Bookshelves needn’t be only for books. If you find your travel information is mostly in the form of brochures, newspaper articles, pamphlets and maps, put these items in a labeled See Jane Work Basics Art Box. They stack nicely and keep odd-sized publications together. Tip: Newsprint yellows and becomes brittle with age. Consider making a photocopy of articles you plan to keep for more than a few months.

Desktop File Boxes are another way to contain and organize printed materials that can’t stand alone on your bookshelf. Sort loose pages into file folders and then create hanging files labeled with specific categories.

If you like to look through magazines and catalogs in bed, put a basket next to the nightstand so you can deposit new arrivals there as soon as they come in the mail. Keep a few clear, re-usable project envelopes in the basket so you have someplace to keep pages that you tear out. Tip: If you plan to place an order later, tear out the order form, and/or catalog cover so you’ll have the catalog edition, your customer number and any coupon codes handy.

#3 Sort Materials by Subject Matter
There are two ways to go wrong here, either by over-categorizing, or by under-categorizing. Fortunately it’s fairly easy to recognize both.

If you’ve got a binder titled Party Decorating that only contains two pages, try instead labeling it Party Planning, or maybe just Entertaining, and include recipes for appetizers, decorating ideas, a note pad for making guest lists, and flyers from caterers and party rental stores.

Likewise if you’ve got a file box labeled simply Home that the lid won’t quite close on anymore, you probably need to make a box for each room or even just divide your files into indoor projects and outdoor projects. Tip: Divide your reading material into categories that make sense to you. Just because your file cabinet came with preprinted files labeled Home, Auto, Taxes and the ever useless Miscellaneous, doesn’t mean you have to use them. If you know that you’ll look for an article on scuba diving under Travel rather than Sports, go with your first instinct.

#4 Know Your Organizational Style
We’ve all met someone whose idea of order seems to lie somewhere between utter chaos and random disarray, yet she can somehow find, and photocopy, the directions for a fantastic grade-school science project just in time to save your 12-year-old’s 6th grade career.

It doesn’t matter if your method of organization is a little unconventional as long as it works for you, but do try to pick one system. If you will really take the time to scan everything into your computer, then ditch your paper files. If your inbox is overflowing with articles waiting to be scanned, just admit that system doesn’t work for you and put the articles in binders instead. If getting your tears into binders sounds like a project unto itself, start by using Jane Marvel Pouches to contain tears until you’re ready to sort through them. If your tears never make it into binders, but you can always find what you need in your decorating zip pouch or accordion file, then skip the binders. Tip: Schedule time at the end of each week to go through your inbox, stacking trays, and the pile of paperwork on the corner of your desk, putting everything in its proper place. It’s a lot easier to stay on top of your filing if you never allow yourself to fall more than a week behind.

If you’ve let yourself go a little in this area, don’t despair. Just as children, career changes and other major life upheavals seem to add ten pounds in all the wrong places, we tend to gain unsightly clutter for many of the same reasons. And, like losing those ten pounds, getting our living and working spaces back into shape requires setting realistic goals and then following through to accomplish those goals. By focusing on one problem area at a time we can help you achieve and maintain your organizational objective.

If one of our ideas or products works for you, or if you have a solution you’d like to share, please let us know at


  1. Great article! Thanks for the tips! I do many of these things already, but it was nice to hear that there is no one "right" way to organize, and so it is best to figure out what works for you and then just go at it!

  2. it's amazing what you can do once you get the right tools for the job! my letter boxes are exactly what i needed to get organized and they are beautiful too.

  3. What great ideas... I especially love the one about putting reading material in a basket next to your bed. I'm always reading magines and sales catalogs in the bed. And I've already started making xerox copies of newspaper articles. I used to work as a reporter so I know about the yellowing newsprint. Al though I have to admit, the idea of scanning everything makes me a little nervous. I'm that what if... person, so I would probably scan half of everything and have some hard copies nearby in a pretty storage container. Thanks for the info.