The Sorted (Household) Inbox: Before and After

Jan 27, 2014

By now you know I moved from Brooklyn to the DC ‘burbs about six months ago. You may recall how the summer, and then again the fall, were a sort of wild ride of Together Teacher times for me and my family—jetting about the country, welcoming a newborn baby, living out of suitcases, calming an out-of-sorts preschooler, shadowing awesome teachers, trying to find reliable childcare, cheering on husband starting new teaching job, etc. In the mayhem of unpacking a Brooklyn duplex apartment into a three-floor small-ish suburban house (but still . . . a whole house!), we (meaning I) kind of shoved things into closets, dumped stuff into containers and emptied papers into baskets. And then I called it a day.

6 months later, here I am with our household inbox. You know, the place where you dump the mail until it overflows with magazines, bills to pay, papers to grade, Netflix DVDs to return, permission slips to sign, some Starbucks gift cards you got in the mail, and you know. . . just STUFF. Lots and lots of stuff.

If you walked into my house, it APPEARS decently Together, just like many of your classrooms and offices probably do. But I know I can fool a lot of people, including myself, with a labeled container. Confession time: Just because you see a label on the outside of a container does not mean the inside of said container is Together.

I’m not sure what triggered me to just lose it on our household inbox. Maybe it was because I couldn’t find the checkbook, and I was pretty sure I plopped it in there that day. Maybe it was the prescription I was digging for. But in 15 quick minutes, I went to town and we had a fix.

Here’s the inbox (before):

Let’s examine a sampling of its contents. Don’t judge me, please. I’m being vulnerable here.

  • Season 1 of Downton Abbey to return to a friend (yes, I watched it all in one weekend)
  • Recent Netflix arrivals
  • Health care flexible spending benefits cards
  • New AAA cards that needed to go into our cars or wallets
  • Financial statements from retirement funds
  • Residual late arriving holiday cards (I’m not judging you, either!)
  • Blank holiday thank you notes for when I pretended I was actually going to hand-write these (Whoops! Email counts, right?)

And here’s a view of our household entryway.

His and hers drop bowls for watches, wallets and such. Never mind that I found exactly two paperclips, three old keys to our past apartment, one Lego and one dead battery in Jack’s drop bowl. We fixed that situation very quickly with one swift visit to the trashcan! Under the table, each adult and child also has a bin for his or her seasonal-appropriate outdoor gear.

So, what was the fix? A SORTED inbox. We did this with Kelly’s desk at work long way back and we write about it in the book. Consider this the home version.

The main gist? A container is not enough. I found this puppy at a store awhile back and grabbed it on sale:

And then, I sorted. . .

  • Step 1: Stuff that needed to go to the trashcan or recycling bin
  • Step 2: Stuff that needed to go into my home office in the basement, like financial statements
  • Step 3: Stuff that needed to go into other parts of our home, like the Netflix to the TV area and the magazines to the magazine bin
  • Step 4:  I arranged the segments of the inbox into the following categories:
    • Out – like the Downton Abbey DVDs
    • Shelf—stuff to reshelf elsewhere, but I don’t have the time in the moment, like that flex spending card
    • Process – that FOURTH speeding ticket Jack just acquired, bills to pay
  • Step 5: If I were feeling really cool, I would add labels. Maybe I will do that someday. But not now.

There. Functionally, but not beautifully, organized. I’m sure there are people out there who would have contact-papered, gold spray painted, or epoxied (is that a word?!) this inbox. But me, I don’t really care how the stuff looks. I just needed to find what I needed. And I was tired of wasting time looking.

How about you? Got a “To Grade” folder with 500 papers in it? A basket full of stuff from September?