'I'll never make you throw anything away,” says professional organizer Audrey Lavine (212-362-2399), “but I sure will talk you into it.” Lavine, who’s been doing this since 1988, once excised 50 Hefty bags of paper trash out of a single studio apartment, so she’s something of a miracle worker. A basic four-hour consultation session is $600, with additional sessions costing $550 for a half-day, $950 for a full one. She consolidates all your papers and then prioritizes them, relegating the less-important (beloved birthday cards, last year’s tax records) to deep storage. If you loathe filing, Lavine will develop an alternative system—open shelves or three-ring binders, for example. Her favorite tools of the trade are vertical filing devices and color-coded file folders, and she will accompany you to Staples or walk you through Websites like Ultimate Office and Stacks and Stacks. Once she’s set up your new priorities, Lavine says you can maintain the order in one to two hours a week—if you’re diligent.
However, if you’re determined to tackle the desk-/mail- clutter nexus yourself, here’s how to start, according to Cynthia Braun of Organize Your Life.
To get a one-bedroom, two-person, mildly cluttered apartment into relatively organized shape, allot five to ten hours for the first sweep. Assemble the crucial desk tools: a letter opener, stamps, scissors, a tape dispenser, a stapler, a large box of file folders, and a label-maker.
Gather all paper in one place, ideally a kitchen or dining-room table with lots of surface area. Dig into your wallet, your car, and your handbag, and dump every scribbled-on napkin and receipt as well.
Next, divvy up the papers into piles by category: bills, receipts, medical information, travel information, personal and business correspondence.
Then, start the weeding. Look at dates, and toss anything outdated or unnecessary. That includes information you can find online (especially if you bank online), individual financial statements made obsolete by yearly reports, and magazines you haven’t read after six well-intentioned months. Shred anything that has your credit-card number or Social Security number, or account information (your name, address, and telephone number are considered public information).
Now get out the label-maker (even if you live alone, it’s a good idea to create legible headers, so someone else could retrieve information if necessary). Make files based on the piles you’ve created. Then move them into storage. Metal cabinets are still the most durable option, but if that makes your inner interior designer gag, consider the Tier Drop system or Pendaflex’s Vertical File, made up of a clever cascading rack of eight file folders that you can stick in the closet or on the wall by your desk.
To maintain the new order, be ruthless about canceling irrelevant newsletters and charity come-ons, and put a basket or rack by the door to quickly dump newspapers and magazines.
Pendaflex color-coded file folders . . . $17.15
for a box of 25 at Staples (1065 Sixth Ave., at 40th St.; 212-997-4446)
Two-drawer metal filing cabinet . . . $89.98–$119.98
TierDrop literature organizer . . . $59–$494
at Ultoffice.com (800-631-2233)
Pendaflex Vertical File system . . . $17.24
Brother P-touch . . . $19.95