Where do you start when you begin making that abode of yours manageable after the holidays? Where is the most effective place to initiate change?

Setting up a home office is a great place to begin as it seems to make the most difference to the most people as they approach organizing their home. Why? Because dealing with the constant presence of "too many" papers causes enormous stress in our lives. Confining and managing paperwork brings a great sense of control to a home manager's life.

So, set up a home office. There are three essentials: a flat surface (the bigger the better), a small drawer or container for office supplies and tools, and a larger drawer or box for filing papers.

While an actual desk with drawers large and small is best, other useful flat surfaces may be your kitchen table or even a card table in a corner of the bedroom.

However, one thing is very important: The surface is kept reasonably clean at all times. This is because most paperwork is best handled without first having to clean up a previous mess. Try to keep that surface clean and ready for you at all times.

Second, prepare a small container or drawer with office supplies. Gather or purchase tools which will aid you in handling paperwork: paper clips, a stapler, a three-hole punch, pencils and pens, post-it notes, and scotch tape. Keep these together as close as possible to the "desk" so you can sit down and easily go to work at a moment's notice.

Third, have a larger desk drawer or a convenient box to hold file folders.

Four file folders should be labeled immediately. They are: "TO DO," "PENDING," "BILLS TO PAY" and "TO FILE."

Every piece of mail which comes into the home can be kept in one of these folders as it is handled.

Papers in the "TO DO" file are dealt with the next time you tackle paper work.

Papers in the "PENDING" file have been handled partially but are waiting a reply (rebates), an event (a wedding), or a response (outstanding correspondence).

"BILLS TO PAY" is very self-explanatory. This file keeps the bills in one place so they can be paid in a timely manner.

"TO FILE" is where papers of value are kept for one month before being re-examined to see if they really are worth the trouble of keeping permanently.

So, with the acquisition of these useful tools and some set-up time, you are ready to be a professional home manager with his/her own home office. Your paper life can become more controllable and your "home office" can be a haven of order.

Marie C. Ricks is the host of Utah's new radio AM820 "Keep It Simple," Saturdays from 10-noon. Call in at 888-362-1820. She is a motivational speaker and the author of the House of Order Handbook and other home organization materials. To order her products, offer comments, suggestions, or questions, go to: www.houseoforder.com. © Marie Calder Ricks/House of Order