Bringing order out of chaos… Thoughts on taming the purse monster

Note – way cool site… not just for SAHM types!

It happens naturally enough, throughout the day, the week, or even the month, the clutter builds up until you are faced with the gargantuan task of sorting it all out.

No, I’m not talking house cleaning, though the same is true…

I’m talking about all those little things that collect in and clutter up a woman’s purse.

The receipts, the business cards, the little scraps of paper with grocery or to-do lists, the gum wrapper because there wasn’t a trash can handy… and if you have young kids, the contents can get even more strange.

Over the years I’ve tried various methods of taming the insanity that is my purse. Some more successful than others – and some appropriate for certain periods in my life, but not others. The two children under age 3 meant I skipped the purse and simply carried a diaper bag. Days as a church secretary meant carrying a purse that did double duty as both purse and portable office.

I’ve tried electronic organizers – and still battled the paper clutter since I rarely took time to add things “on the fly” which meant I then had to find time to sort the papers, and enter their contents electronically, and… yeah… That failed.

I’ve tried the good ole paper organizers, and had better luck with those – usually. Though one small enough to fit in my purse is not large enough to hold all the info I want it to hold, and one large enough to hold all the info is unwieldy at best.

Since I didn’t want to do double duty – entering things several times, and I’ve had the joy of losing electronic data, and I’m notorious for writing stuff down on the strangest pieces of paper, or stuffing receipts into pockets, that then get washed, thus ruining a perfectly good tax deduction, I had to have some easy method of control.

It had to be small, lightweight, portable and uber-simple – no flipping though categorized tabs to find the right category that doesn’t exist – just, here, this is where you contain all of this stuff to keep it from becoming a repository for a piece of gum one of the kids needs to spit out.

The solution?

Under wraps
Under wraps

A simple, unlined suede journal. It’s small. It’s got paper that I can write on, make lists on, even tear out a page to give to someone. And since it has a wrap cover, it handily holds receipts, and other papers until I get the chance to sit down and go through them.

That simple method, with the addition of a small envelope for containing specific receipts (with notes written on the envelope), has even seen me through business trips with aplomb.

Receipts in front, papers in back
Receipts in front, papers in back

(Note the lined notepaper in the back up there? The week I took these pics, I had been in a lot of meetings and had various lists and tidbits of info that either I, or someone else had scribbled on a legal pad, and had to keep track of all those little bits of info)

No more wondering “what is this business card about?” The card gets tucked into a page, and a quick note scribbled on the page with the card owner’s name, just in case the card slips out (it never has). Back at the office, the cards get sorted, info entered into my contact list, and the notes make it easy to create an action list.

My phone serves as my electronic calendar, so I always have my “date book” handy, including vital contact information, and the little journal handles everything else simply, attractively, and more efficiently than most people can manage with their various electronic doodads or cumbersome Day-Planners.

My little notebook has kept my travel papers neatly in line, served as a handy spot to jot notes that came up on the flight (don’t forget to ask Mr. Thus and Such about the this and that), eagerly held onto receipts for the cab ride and looking back at my last trip to that particular city, I can even tell you the name of that restaurant I said I would never go to again, as well as the name and address of the one that had fabulous food, and even better service.

Whether you choose an electronic method, augmented with something to contain all those little bits and pieces, or you carry around a full-size planner, or whatever… the key to taming the purse monster is simple. Like any system, it only works if you actually use it.

That means, the simplest system, that meets your needs with the least fuss, one that you can actually keep up with, is the one that will serve you best.

I’ve read dozens of articles and how to lists on getting and keeping organized, and they’re all full of great advice – some very practical, some a great idea but not applicable to me and my life, and still more seems ridiculously complex when my goal is simplification.

What works for me?

  • Have a spot for papers that accumulate
    Whether it’s a pocket in your purse, a notebook, an envelope, or whatever – never just stuff a piece of paper into your purse. For me, I don’t want one spot for receipts, one for cards, one for… Too complicated. It all goes in one spot. That way I always know where to look and don’t have to think “Now, did I stick that phone number in with business cards, people to contact, or???”

  • Go through the system on a regular basis
    It’s a no-brainer – you’ve got to periodically clear out, or the clutter takes over. Whether it’s at the end of each day, the end of each week, or whatever. Take the time to go through the accumulation and organize it properly. Your purse is not permanent storage – it’s temporary and portable. Put phone numbers into your contact list. File business cards where they belong. Notate and sort those receipts, you or your accountant will love you come tax time! Toss the trash. Keeping the system clear of clutter means it works more efficiently for you.

  • Knowing my strengths and weaknesses and working the system to suit them
    Yea, I know I’m a bit scatterbrained at times. So I know if I just shake hands with Joe Scmoo of XYZ Corp, and tuck his business card into my purse or pocket then happily go about my business, when I get home, I’m going to look at that card and wonder – “what in the world did Joe want?” Instead, I can scribble on the back of Joe’s card, or on a page in my little journal – Joe Schmoo/wants media kit/possible story. Suddenly that card makes more sense and I have clear info to transfer to not only my contact list, but to an action list once I’m back in the office.
  • Having the right tools
    Sounds like another no-brainer, but it’s true. I don’t want to be scrambling for a pen that works. Or digging through umpteen other people’s business cards looking for my own to give out. Or sorting through every pocket and zippered compartment in my purse looking for something I know I put in there somewhere. To that end, I know what I use regularly, and only buy purses that have the right stuff. Spaces to hold a pen or two, small compartments to hold my own business cards, a spot for my cell phone, enough room to hold my wallet, journal and a small zippered bag that keeps my lipgloss and powder compact from opening up and mucking up the inside of my purse (ask me how I learned to not use the tiny zippered compartment in the purse for that purpose).

  • Keeping it simple
    I know myself. I am not going to say, “Excuse me whilst I flip through my categorized portable file system and properly file this thing” when what I really need to be doing is laughing at the joke that followed the exchange of business cards. I’m not going to take time to type info in on that tiny little keyboard and hit “save” only to realize at home I hit “cancel” instead and since I tossed the card into the abyss, I now don’t have the info. I’m not going to do anything that requires that I stop what I am doing to take time to sort through, figure out, rummage, or anything else.

  • Working the system
    They say it takes 21 days to ingrain a new habit. I’m not so sure about that, but I do know that I had to make the determination to find, or create, a system that worked for me – and then work it. In the early days, that meant slavishly sticking to an overly complex system because it was supposed to work. I hated it, it was cumbersome, and I routinely fell down at the system, making me feel like a failure. However, once I found the simple solution that worked for me – it was easy. Keeping it simple means it’s not as tempting to just stuff a receipt into my open purse because I’m in a hurry, thereby defeating the purpose of the system.

I’m not some organizational guru who has all the answers, and as wonderful as I think many of that type are – I tend to feel that the best system of organization for any one person is what works for them, for the way they think, the way they function, their lifestyle and their preferences.

Receipts, ready to file for taxes (can we tell where I was shopping that week?)
Receipts, ready to file for taxes (can we tell where I was shopping that week?)

That simplicity is the same way I keep my files at home, the same way I organize my cupboards, do my shopping, and even clean my house. I look for, or create, a method that is easy enough to follow that it doesn’t take me extra time at the start, and I know I’ll stick with it – and that saves me time in the end, because I know where everything is.