If I were to create a business card, one which truly reflected the most successful of my abilities, it would read:
"Expert in Turning the Simple into the Difficult"
It has taken me 33 years and a lot of swallowed pride to articulate such a revelation.
I think it's time for a new job title.
My new, all-time favorite resource books is The Organized Homeschooler (see lower right). A great book for homeschooling, most definitely, and I'm extending these applications to all other areas of my paperwork life: bills, child activities, taxes, etc.
I've thrice read the book cover-to-cover. The wonderful organizing ideas hit you, one after another, and I soon felt myself getting caught up in a giddy, hyperactive state, planning the fabulous overhauls I was going to do as suggested in the book.
The giddy state evaporated as I gazed upon our looming bookcase/hutch where I have been stuffing--err, placing-- all homeschooling materials. In the past, I would have dismantled everything, starting over from absolute scratch, convicted with the toxic thought that if I couldn't do the project in its entirety and perfectly from the onset, it wasn't worth doing at all.
This book, however, encouraged me to try a different approach. To start nowhere. To walk through my home, assessing all the areas. To think about things. To pray. To ask God for guidance. To listen. To let it all digest.
Praise God, for it is working.
The simplicity of it all is humbling. "Duh!" is the only thing I felt as I have been hit, time and time again, with the realization of how I should be doing things.
Having the children's paperwork spread throughout the bookshelf, in different areas and with different methods, was simply not working. Not working with only a 3rd grader and a preschooler. How the heck was that going to work with 5 kids, once they are all in school? I could see a little red flashing "abort" light in my head, and I knew it was time to get it all together.
I incorporated the author's suggested filing system: manila folders with metal prong fasteners. I don't know what it is, but there is something about these prong fasteners. Papers end up exactly where they belong. Something is very purposeful about hole punching a piece of paper, then sliding it onto a prong fastener; you are purposefully claiming the paper as valued, so you then purposefully place that paper where it belongs. Nothing ends up just shoved into a folder where it doesn't belong with the intention of filing it "later" when there's "more time."
The author further suggests that ALL of the children's work goes into the folders. At first, I was not on board with that suggestion, because that is a forest full of paperwork. However, the merits of her argument slowly sunk in, and now I wholeheartedly agree. Everything is saved, and since the most recent work is always on the top of the pile, you get a concrete view of how the child is progressing in that area. Their best pieces get placed in their own "My Best Work" binders, but all other paperwork stays in the folder. One for each area of the child's schooling: subjects, projects, etc. The folder's labels list the folders content, plus the child's initials and grade level. Some of their work is kept in their workbooks; Hatfield's math and handwriting lessons. No need in undoing an entire book just to transfer it over into a folder. However, the rest is two-hole punched and filed appropriately.
My problem has always been taking the work and folders and actually filing it where it belongs. Our filing cabinets are in the basement, and my bookcase affords no space for such a system. So, at the book's suggestion, I utilized a portable filing crate for all of our homeschool papers:
So handy is this crate, and so effective is this system, that I have added folders in for all the children's activities, our household papers that are accessed on a regular basis and our bills. Riding high on the success of this system, I did the unthinkable when I went through 4 insanely stuffed, messing filing cabinet drawers and condensed everything down into one SINGLE basement filing drawer (where I keep tax records, legal documents, product registrations, etc.) and this filing crate.
Now, each morning, I set the file on the counter where I can easily access, file and store our papers. Simple. Shortly thereafter, my problem began to lie in the realization that I had no placed to put the portable file.
So after hauling it in and out of the front hall closet for two weeks, I had another, huge DUH moment: time to clean out the kitchen "junk" cupboard, residing a mere 24 inches from the homeschooling table.
It's quite humbling to realize that for 7 months now, I have schooled my children next to this little nook, never once thinking that I could somehow utilize it. Even more humbling is the fact that I threw away 90% of the contents of that cupboard. What the heck was I doing keeping all that junk for nearly 2 years? Only my laziness prevented me from tackling it before.
Two garbage bags later, I slid my neatly organized portable file crate into that sparkling clean and empty cabinet. So inspired, I then organized all of our markers (threw out the dried out ones), crayons (threw out the nasty ones) and art supplies. They all have a very nice home in this former hole-of-shame.