Strategies of Reasonably Organized People

Newsletter graphicWhat does it mean to be organized? The ability to find anything you need in 30 seconds or less.

What is the purpose of being organized? To take effective action and live the life you want.

What does clutter represent? Postponed decisions. When we save things we don’t need or make plans we don’t really want, we trash our future. When we let go of things and activities we don’t really need, we create space for a new future.

Have you tried to get organized and felt stumped by where to begin? Or looked at your organized friends or colleagues and wondered how they do it?

So let’s look at Strategies for Reasonably Organized people. Notice I didn’t say “perfect” people.  These are key strategies that really do work for real people and can be applied to any space, whether it’s in your home or office. 

First we’ll look at set-up strategies, which provide the structure of an organized system. And then we’ll talk about maintenance strategies – the habits and routines of organized people.

SET-UP STRATEGIES

 

Make your systems fit you and your life as it is now

 

Signs that your systems don’t fit you/your life:

  • Space is set up for activities you’re no longer doing, such as supplies from an old hobby you haven’t touched in years taking up valuable space.
  • Stuff for current activities is floating around without a home.
  • There are unused rooms in your home. Perhaps a rarely used guest room could double as a home office rather than using your dining room table for this purpose.

 

Solutions:

  • Evaluate the purpose of the spaces in your home and the current activities to be performed there.
  • Build out spaces around your natural habits and preferences.
  • Consider the relationship of one activity to another.
  • Remove items that don’t fit into the purpose of the space – put them elsewhere, sell, donate, recycle, or trash them.

 

Sort everything by how you use it

 

Symptoms of disorganization:

  • Closets and storage areas are a jumble of mixed items and you can’t find what you need.
  • What you need is stored far from the activity.
  • You don’t know how many items are in a collection – books, shoes, kitchen gadgets

 

Solutions:

  • Group similar items together – papers that require action, books, office supplies.
  • Identify what is important, those items that you currently need, use and/or love.
  • Think like a realtor:  location, location, location! Put high-use items into high-use spaces. You want the things you need and use every day at your fingertips, such as the top of your desk. Medium-use items go into medium-use spaces – file cabinets or a credenza adjacent to your desk. Low-use items are stored in low-use spaces, like an office supply closet or a basement storage room.  

 

Use the right containers and tools

 

Signs of a mismatch:

  • You spend a lot of time looking for basic items.
  • There aren’t enough containers to hold belongings and stuff is everywhere.
  • The furniture in a room doesn’t work.

 
Solutions:

  • Make a shopping list and purchase supplies you need – pens, scissors, step ladder, etc.
  • Based on what needs to be stored in the space, evaluate and make a list of the containers you need – file folders, storage containers, laundry hampers, etc.
  • Evaluate furniture needed to support activities; for example, a “working desk” has drawers for supplies, two file drawers, and a large enough surface to spread out as you’re working.

 

Label everything

 

Signs that you’re label-deficient:

  • You don’t know what’s in boxes, drawers and storage containers.
  • When you put things away, you can’t find them again.
  • Only one person in your home or office knows how to find anything.
  • You can’t locate your important papers.

 

Solutions:

  • Label all shelves, boxes, and storage containers.
  • Use a Sharpie and stick-on labels or purchase a label machine.
  • Label logically, legibly, largely.
  • Set up a user-friendly filing system and create a filing system for electronic documents that mirrors your paper system.


MAINTENANCE STRATEGIES

 

Keep it simple

 

Symptoms it’s not simple:

  • Systems are set up, but don’t get used because they’re too complicated.
  • Things are left out because it’s too hard to put them away.
  • You spend too much time and energy doing things that really don’t need to be done.
  • You have no time to sit and relax.

 

Solutions:

  • Think before you buy. Studies show that 80% of the things in our homes are rarely or never used. Before you buy anything, consider the time you’ll spend cleaning, storing, and maintaining the item.
  • Thoughtfully plan your schedule and avoid activities that are unimportant or drain you. Learn the art of saying “no” gracefully.
  • Avoid perfectionism. Resolve to be “organized enough” – doing something is better than avoiding doing anything because it must be absolutely perfect.
  • Be flexible. Tweak your system until it flows and requires little thought.

 

Decide to decide

 

Indecision Indicators:

  • There is unopened mail everywhere.
  • Your “To Read” pile is enormous.
  • You often use phrases like “for now” and “someday.”
  • You have lots of piles all over your home or office waiting for your attention.

 

Solutions:

  • Open the mail every day and deal with it right away.
  • Avoid looking at documents and putting them down without making a decision. Try to handle paper only once.
  • Stop making excuses and take it one step at a time. Getting started is half the battle.
  • Realize you can have a little pain now or a lot more pain later. You get to decide.

 

Weed constantly

 

Signs You Need to Weed:

  • You have more stuff – papers, clothing, keepsakes – than will fit into your space.
  • All the flat surfaces in your home or office have piles.
  • Belongings are overflowing from storage areas into the living space.
  • Maintenance of your things is taking over your life.

 

Solutions:

  • Make friends with your trash can. Resolve to be ruthless with clutter.
  • Invoke the Six-Month Rule:  If I haven’t used it in six months and don’t plan to use it in the next six months, I probably won’t miss it (seasonal/specialty items excluded).
  • When something new comes into your space, look for a similar item to leave your space. This applies to paper and electronic files too.
  • Designate a place for donation items and add to it regularly.

 

Evaluate honestly and often

 

You need to re-evaluate your stuff and your space if:

  • Things used to be organized, but now they’re piling up and causing problems.
  • You don’t know what’s in closets and storage areas.
  • You’re going through or recovering from life events.

 

Solutions:

  • Take a little time along the way to maintain systems so things don’t go back to their former condition.
  • Look at your schedule and scale back on unimportant activities that are taking too much of your time and energy.
  • Be patient with yourself if you’re going through difficult life events that are causing situational disorganization.

 

Get help when you need it

 

Signs you need help:

  • One person is doing all the work while others do little.
  • Tasks aren’t done because no one knows how to do them or wants to do them.
  • There are conflicts about how and when things should be done.

 

Solutions:

  • Don’t try to be a super hero. Realize that no one can be good at everything; we all need help sometimes.
  • Ask for what you need – talk to family, friends and colleagues.
  • Sometimes it makes sense to pay for help with tasks you can’t do or don’t want to do
  • Professional Organizers and Seniors Move Managers are available to help – check out napo.net and nasmm.org for professionals in your area to help. If you’re located in the Atlanta metropolitan area, feel free to contact us for additional information.

Sparkle & Shine: Organizing and Your Jewelry

Jewelry - boxRegardless of whether your jewelry collection is made up of “real” pieces or costume jewelry – or a combination of both – organizing your jewelry makes it more valuable, because if you can easily find the items you want, you’ll actually wear them.

Clean Out. As always, start organizing your jewelry by emptying all of drawers and boxes where you keep it stored. Set aside pieces that are broken, earrings that have no mate, and items you no longer wear. Donate items you don’t wear (Dress for Success is a great option – find a location near you) and have a jeweler repair broken items you’d like to keep. Consider alternative uses for unmatched earrings – they can often be made into pendants or bracelet charms. Gold jewelry that you no longer want can be melted into new pieces or sold to a reputable jeweler.

Time to Sort. Once you’ve narrowed your collection down to those items that you love and wear on a regular basis, sort them in a way that makes sense for you. You can group them by color, type, matched sets, etc. – whatever categories will make it easy for you to find what you need when you’re accessorizing your outfit for the day.

Shop Smart. Don’t purchase a jewelry organizer until you’ve categorized and counted the items you need to store. There’s nothing more frustrating than buying a snazzy organizer, only to find that it will hold only half of your earrings or is not tall enough to accommodate your longer necklaces.

Think Outside the Box. If you have more than a few jewelry items, a jewelry box may not be your best option. Hanging organizers are a great solutions for necklaces and long earrings; small divided containers make finding favorite rings and earrings easy.

A few of my favorites include:

Stacking Jewelry Trays – these modular trays can sort jewelry by size, style and function. Stacked trays slide side-to-side to provide access to lower trays.

Jewelry Tree – this piece is pretty and functional, holding necklaces, bracelets and earrings on a nature-inspired metal tree stand.

The simple, classic Portofino Jewelry Box includes 35 compartments on three levels and provides great storage on a counter or closet shelf.

Jewelry - dress organizerThe Little Dress Jewelry Organizer is a fun hanging jewelry organizer that hold lots of jewelry – with 39 clear pockets on one side, and 24 hook and loop closures on the other.

For travel, a Drawstring Jewelry Pouch holds items in small interior pockets, and offers space for bracelets and necklaces in the center of the pouch. Small enough to slip into to carry-on bag for safe-keeping.  I’ve personally used one of these for more years than I can remember for travel, and it works great!

As always, please remember that organizing is personalized to each person’s needs and tastes– one side does not fit all! There are many customized solutions to fit the individualized needs in every situation.

SO YOU WANT TO BECOME A PROFESSIONAL ORGANIZER?

Blog Photo 6.25.2013As an Atlanta Professional Organizer and Senior Move Manager, I often get inquiries from people who are interested in the field and want to pick my brain.  Here are some words of wisdom I wanted to share about creating a successful career as a professional organizer and/or move manager.  The first few tips are more about who you are than what you do, so I’ll start here first:

Really care about people and helping them. You must love working with people and not be judgmental of the organizationally challenged.

Be flexible.  Remember, this isn’t about you but the client. There is not one “right” way to do things but a multitude, depending upon the client’s needs.

Have perseverance and don’t give up. It will take some time to gain expertise and build a solid reputation. If you get discouraged easily, you should probably find something else to do.

Have a sense of humor! Don’t take yourself too seriously and remember to have fun, even as you work hard.

Next comes the more nuts and bolts tips to building a successful career:

Make sure you want to be a business owner FIRST, then an organizer second.  Having a successful professional organizing business is so much more than just working with clients organizing.  If you neglect the non-organizing part of your business, you won’t have one.

Join NAPO, the National Association of Professional Organizers – www.napo.net.  If there is a local chapter in your area, join and attend the meetings regularly. It’s important to build relationships with your colleagues so you’re not a lone ranger. Getting involved with NAPO was probably the best business decision I made as a new organizer.

Be a sponge.  Read books, newsletters, blogs, anything you can get your hands on to learn about professional organizing and related fields such as time management, psychology, business practices, etc.

Invest in education and training. Take teleclasses offered by NAPO, NASMM (www.nasmm.org) and the Institute for Challenging Disorganization (www.challengingdisorganization.org).  Go to conferences and soak up the wisdom from those who are ahead of you.

Take advantage of resources such as the Small Business Administration and SCORE to learn about how to run a business, including topics such as marketing, accounting, etc. Get help in the areas that require expertise such as a CPA or business attorney.

Invest in a quality website and learn about search engine optimization so your site comes up in internet searches, as many people look for a professional organizer this way.

Last but not least, practice your organizing skills on your family and friends. Pretend they’re a paying client and work for free in exchange for testimonials and before/after photos.

Getting It All Done

MultitaskingCena Block – professional organizer, productivity consultant, coach, entrepreneur, speaker, author, wife and mom – shares that you can address your priorities, finding balance and fulfillment at the same time. A contributing author to The Unstoppable Woman’s Guide to Emotional Well-Being, Cena says that knowing yourself and what is most important to you is the key. I hired Cena as my coach at a time when I was tired of treading water and needed an accountability partner to help me move forward in my life/business. Without doubt, a key factor for personal change is when we take responsibility for our lives, accept accountability and then take appropriate action.

According to Cena, the secret to “getting it all done” and feeling well happens when we’re able to balance these five essential elements:

  • Clarifying my perspective and determining whether it serves me
  • Knowing myself and what is most important to me
  • Finding personal motivation, repeatedly
  • Minimizing self-driven limitations and barriers
  • Consistently aligning my actions to make a positive contribution

 

Here are some highlights of the five points, but you’ll have to read the book to get into the details. By the way, this book is for anyone, not just women.

Clarifying my perspective and determining whether it serves me
Define this statement for yourself in everyday terms. What does “getting it all done” look and feel like daily, weekly, and monthly? Clarify what actions you’re willing to take to achieve success at getting it all done. (Examples: I am on time for meetings; I have time for me, my family, and occupation; I will accomplish my three most important tasks daily; I will hold a family meeting weekly, etc.)

Knowing myself and what is most important to me
Define and prioritize the core values that are most essential to you – the elements that form the foundation on which you conduct yourself and evaluate others. (Examples:  Honesty, commitment, service, success, wisdom, balance, love, etc.)

Finding a personal sense of motivation
Having clarity on what is most important to you may propel you to take action so you are in alignment with your core values. Generally, the less satisfied you are with any given factor, the more motivated you are to do something about it. So, it stands to reason that in order to get motivated, it’s important to discover what is NOT working for you. List situations and factors that you’re currently dissatisfied with to identify areas of improvement.

Minimizing Limitations and Removing Barriers
Studies have shown that highly successful people focus more on building upon their strengths and talents, and seeking assistance with their areas of weakness. It’s important that you not only know your skills, but also where you struggle. Make a list of your strengths/abilities/expertise and a list of areas of weakness/struggle/deficiency.

Aligning Actions with Positive Contributions
As humans, we all seek meaningfulness in our lives, and want to know and feel that what we do matters. Things and situations have meaning because we attribute meaning to them – it depends on our perspective, reality and beliefs. So how do you know what that is for you? Define your essence/who you are deep down inside, apart from any roles you play (family, career, etc.). Define your mission – brainstorm until you feel a sense of clarity. Create a vision board – pictures or words that have meaning – combine your thoughts, clippings and ideas together in a visual, tangible way on a poster board.

So the bottom line is this – Getting it all done isn’t so much about “how to,” but doing the internal work to have an aligned purpose in life. That’s what drives our thoughts/actions and motivates us to focus on what is most important and helps us to reach our goals.

CREATING A HOUSEHOLD INVENTORY

Blog Photo 2.22.13The devastating tornadoes in the Midwest over the past few days are a harsh reminder of the importance of having an up-to-date inventory of your household possessions. Though homeowner’s or renter’s insurance will pay to replace your belongings, the impetus is on you to provide a complete list of everything you’ve lost.

In my work as an Atlanta professional organizer, I find that most people don’t have a household inventory. It’s really one of those things that you don’t need until…well, you need it. If you lose your home or possessions in a natural disaster, fire or burglary, it can be hard to reconstruct a complete inventory of everything you own, particularly when you’re dealing with the stress and grief that accompany the loss. And most people have far more than they realize, so tend to underestimate their losses when reporting to their insurer.

People who have a household inventory recover about 25 percent more than those who do not. Their claims are processed more quickly and they receive thousands of dollars more in benefits. A household inventory makes working with your insurance company, police department and attorneys much more simple – and simple is what you need when you’re trying to reconstruct your life!

Creating household inventory can also help to ensure that you have adequate insurance coverage. Without knowing the value of your possessions, it can be difficult to estimate the amount of coverage you actually need.

You can create a household inventory in a number of ways. A notebook that includes photos of all of our belongings along with a description and dollar value of each is one option. Once you’ve photographed and logged everything, be sure to store a copy of your inventory outside of your home; perhaps in a bank safe deposit box.

There are also several apps that make capturing, organizing and updating your household inventory even easier. Here are just a few:

MyStuff2Pro – this iOS app is priced at $8.99 and with it you can keep track of not only furniture and electronics, but music and movie collections, jewelry, books and more.

Visual Inventory for iOS and Android lets you snap a photo of an entire room and then tag your items.

MyHome Pro for Android includes password protection and a set-up wizard.

Remote back-up, such as cloud storage, is important for app-based inventories should your mobile device be lost or damaged.

10 WAYS A SENIOR MOVE MANAGER CAN HELP

Senior Move LogoIf you’re downsizing your home or just reducing the number of possessions you’ve accumulated over 30, 40 or 50 years, a Senior Move Manager can help. As a professional, a Senior Move Manager can provide objective guidance and assist with making the transition to a new home smooth and less stressful.

Here are 10 was a Senior Move Manager can help:

  • Develop a move plan that includes all of the tasks that need to be accomplished
  • Create a realistic timeline for the process of sorting, packing, moving and unpacking
  • Develop a scaled floor plan of your new home to be sure your belongings will fit comfortably
  • Provide hands-on help for sorting and decluttering before packing begins
  • Provide resources for selling and donating items you no longer need or want
  • Stage your home for a quick sale
  • Recommend local movers you can trust with your treasured belongings
  • Pack your belongings
  • Unpack and organize your home so it’s move-in ready
  • Provide a free estimate for all services, so that you know up-front what to expect

Rightsizing for Seniors – 7 Steps for Preparing to Move

Floor PlanBeing comfortable in your home is dependent on having systems in place for the way you live at each stage of life. As you age, there’s often the need to “right-size” your home, whether that means moving to a smaller house or downsizing the possessions you’ve accumulated over the years to fit the way you live now. Many seniors have been in their homes for 30, 40 or 50 years and often have more space and stuff than they need or can use.

Here are seven steps for downsizing in preparation for moving. However, you can follow much of the same process to reduce clutter and allow your space to work better for you.

 Step 1 – Develop a Move Plan

This is a picture of everything you’ll need to accomplish to deal with your belongings and implement your move. Your plan will include steps to:

  • Sort through your belongings, identifying what is going with you and finding solutions for the things not going with you
  • Determine furniture placement for your new home
  • Find trustworthy movers
  • Purchase packing supplies and, if necessary, line up movers, family or friends to pack your belongings


Planning Your Time

  • Plan on 100 hours for sorting through and making decisions about your belongings. This includes identifying and documenting what goes with you and what will go to other places.
  • Estimate about 20 hours to address selling, donating or disposing of items not going with you.
  • Packing and unpacking will take about 40-60 hours, if your decisions have been made in advance and you have all the right supplies.

 
If this sounds like a lot of work and a lot of time, it is. You spent decades accumulating all your possessions, and it takes time to go through them and make decisions. But knowing the big picture is a good thing, because now you know when to start. Earlier is always better!

Step 2 – Think Strategically

Chances are your home is your biggest single asset so you want to get the most you can when you sell it. Preparing your home for sale isn’t an emotional decision, it’s a business decision.

The first step in preparing your home to be sold is to declutter it, but you’ll want to focus on what needs to be done first and will have the greatest impact – “strategic decluttering.” So what does working strategically mean? It means doing first things first. If your realtor wants to list the house for sale in one month, your focus might be on decluttering bedrooms and rooms on the first floor – the areas that will be in the listing photos, because this is what will bring prospective buyers to your door.

Once your house is on the market, then you can address the basement, attic and garage.

Step 3 – Develop a Scaled Floor Plan

A floor plan helps you visualize your current furniture in your new home and determine what will fit. It’s important that the floor plan be drawn to scale. Floor plans drawn by hand indicate where you want your furniture to go, but not whether it will fit. A scaled floor plan removes the guesswork from moving and avoids costly and stress-producing mistakes.

When we envision a move, there is a hierarchy of how we approach it. Most of us need to have the big picture before we can focus on sorting through belongings. The floor plan provides that big picture, and then leads the way to other decisions. For example, let’s say you plan to take your china cabinet, but not the buffet. But what about the two sets of dishes that are IN the buffet? Where do you plan to put them since the buffet is not going? The floor plan is the reality check that provides the incentive to let go.

Step 4 – Divide Big Tasks into Smaller Ones

Downsizing, preparing your house for sale, and preparing to move does not have to occupy every minute of your day. In fact, if your move is months – or maybe even years away – you can get it done with 15 minutes per day.

How? Break bigger tasks into smaller ones. Take the kitchen, for example. Sorting through your kitchen is a big job, but not if you break it down into 15 minute chunks. Sort through your spices on one day, the next day, baking pans. A third day, coffee mugs and thermoses, and so on.

Step 5 – Sort, Don’t Pack

One of the first things people do when they decide to move is start packing. Why? Because packing a box is much more fun than sorting through your junk drawer or garage. For many people, packing is a way of avoiding decision-making. Sorting will save money in the end. When you haven’t sorted your belongings, packing is inefficient and you take more than you really want or can comfortably fit into your new home.

Step 6 – Take Control

Are you warehousing things that belong to your adult children? It’s time to take control and have them take their things. Be firm, give your children a deadline, and stick to it. You have plenty of downsizing to do without having to deal with their belongings as well.

What about things you want to give your adult children? Sometimes they want the things you offer them, but often they don’t. What holds you up the most is that they don’t get back to you, or they decide, but don’t make plans to remove the items they have accepted. Once again, take control. Give your kids a deadline so you can make plans and accomplish what you need to do.

Step 7 – Hire Professional Help

This can be a challenging transition but you don’t have to do it alone. A Senior Move Specialist, such as Real Order Professional Organizing, LLC provides hands-on help, so you can be in control but not have the physical burden associated with downsizing and moving. Most of all, a professional provides objective advice and guidance throughout the process.

Real Order provides a complimentary, no obligation 60-minute home visit and gives an estimate based on the services needed. Services are a la carte so you can pick and choose what you need and can afford. And many people realize enough money from selling things they no longer need to cover the cost of a Senior Move Manager’s services.

Real Order can help in these ways:

  • Develop a realistic move plan and timeline
  • Develop a scaled floor plan
  • Provide hands-on help for sorting and decluttering
  • Provide resources for selling and donation
  • Stage your home for a quick sale
  • Refer movers you can trust
  • Pack your belongings
  • Unpack and organize your home so it’s move-in ready

 
Right-sizing, moving and dealing with decades of belongings can feel overwhelming. But you don’t have to do it alone.

Organizing Containers: 5 Storage Container Mistakes

Blog Photo 4.29.2013When you set a goal to be more organized, it’s easy to get carried away by all of the beautiful, functional organizing containers available to store your stuff. There are so many types of organizing containers available, there’s even an entire store named for them! But common storage container mistakes can result in unnecessary expenses and end up contributing to your clutter problems rather than solving them.

Storage Container Mistake #1 – Storage Containers = Organization

Organization is more than simply having bins and totes to contain clutter and store items. While products can be a part of your organizing solution, you need to identify the right organizing containers for your needs and use them consistently in order for them to have a positive, lasting effect. Take time to assess your needs, set specific goals for organizing and articulate the steps you need to follow to be successful. A pretty basket just isn’t enough.

Storage Container Mistake #2 – Buying Organizing Containers Before You Know What You Need

It happens all the time. You’re shopping, you spot a great deal on storage products or something that will great in your kitchen and you stock up. If the products are not part of your overall organizing strategy, they’ll simply become more clutter in your home. Before you buy anything, get your project started and determine exactly the products you need to store and sort the items you need to organize. Sort them into categories so that you know how many storage containers are required. Measure the space you have available so that when you do shop, you know exactly what size and shape containers will fit your closet, cabinets, shelves, etc. It’s also good idea when you’re shopping to buy storage containers of the same size and from the same manufacturer so that they’ll stack neatly, saving space.

Storage Container Mistake #3 – Overlooking Storage Space

You probably have more storage space than you think. Think outside the box and consider the backs of closet doors, inside cabinet doors, dead space between shelves and under beds. Products that expand shelves give you more horizontal space, while shallow racks hung beneath shelves allow items to fill often unused space between shelves. Racks, hanging storage products and shallow shelves can be fitted inside closet or cabinet doors. Under-bed storage can include bins or roll-out baskets, depending on your space and what you need to store.

Storage Container Mistake #4 – Using Storage Containers that Hide Your Stuff

Have you ever tried to find your holiday decorations while staring at a stack of gray, lidded storage containers?  Clear containers, or at least those with clear lids, make it easy to identify items inside. If you do use opaque containers, be sure to label them so that you can find what you need quickly. There are some cases where decorative, non-see-through containers may make sense; for example, on a bookshelf in your living room. In these cases, use open containers so that you can easily identify and retrieve the contents.

Storage Container Mistake #5 – Overfilling

When storage containers are packed too full, it’s difficult to find anything without removing nearly every item, which is a waste of time. Once you’ve identified the items you need to store, select the size and quantity of storage containers that you need to comfortably them. Sort and store the items together – sweaters in one container, boots in another. Give items some breathing room, and leave some space to accommodate new additions.

Guest author Stephanie Shalofsky is a New York City professional organizer and founder of The Organizing Zone. Since 2008, Stephanie has been transforming combat zones into comfort zones for her NYC clients.

Save or Shred?

Blog Photo 4.18.2013So much of the clutter in our homes, our offices, our lives comes from paper. It seems that paper has a way of reproducing, piling up on our desks and stuffing our file cabinets and storage boxes. Often, paper clutter comes from not knowing when we can discard documents. Most of us hold on to far too much paper for much longer than we need to. In her book, The 10-Minute Tidy, author Sharon McGinnis shares these recommendations for document retention:

Keep for 1 Month:

  • Receipts for potential returning of items
  • Bank withdrawal and deposit slips (shred after reconciling monthly bank statement)

 

Keep for 1 Year:

  • Paycheck stubs
  • Monthly bank, credit card, mutual fund and retirement account statements

 

Keep for 7 Years:

  • Tax returns, W-2’s, 1099’s, and other tax forms
  • Any tax-supporting or related documents
  • Year-end credit card statements, brokerage and mutual fund summaries

 

Keep Indefinitely:

  • Receipts for major purchases (discard when you no longer own the item)
  • Real estate records
  • Wills and trust documents

 

Items to Store in Safe Deposit or Fireproof Box:

  • Birth certificates and adoption documents
  • Bonds and stock certificates
  • Social Security cards
  • Passports
  • Marriage, business and professional licenses
  • Insurance policies
  • Vehicle titles
  • Wills and trusts
  • Property deeds

 

Other items to consider storing:

  • College diplomas
  • School transcripts
  • Tax returns older than 7 years

 

Copy or scan documents such as birth certificates and insurance policies that you may store outside of your home but may want to access without making a trip to the bank to get the original. Any documents that contain personal information or account numbers should be shredded before disposing of them.

Simplicity – One Step at a Time

SimplifySimplify your life. It’s a goal that many of us share. It even sounds simple. Or maybe it sounds daunting. If your life is complicated by stuff you don’t use and activities you don’t enjoy, simplifying might seem like just one more thing on your to-do list.

And it’s hard to define. Simplifying your life may require different steps and result in different outcomes than the steps and outcomes for your friend, your co-worker, your sister. Simplifying your life may be different if you live in an in-town apartment or if your home is large and filled with furnishings.

Simplifying in just a few ways can lessen your sense of overwhelm and make your to-do’s more manageable. Here are some tips to help organize and simply a few different areas. Some seem minor, while others require a significant change in your habits. Regardless of what “simplifying” means to you, taking even a few small steps can have a positive impact.   

FAMILY

Create lists ahead of time. This set of Essential Everyday Forms from Real Simple includes a family contact sheet, a form for emergency numbers, a household appliance inventory and even a form to write down your family’s rules, routines and quirks. Having information documented before you need it makes it easy to hand off the kids to a babysitter for the evening or find the serial number when your refrigerator needs service.

Pare down. Work with your family to decide what “enough” is, and stop when you get there. For every new item that enters your home (toys, shoes, cook books, video games), donate two.

Simplify meals and shopping. Create a weekly dinner plan and shop just once a week for groceries. Getting a healthy meal onto the table is easier when you know ahead of time what to prepare and everything you need is in the fridge and pantry.

WORK

Process Email 2-3 times per day. This sounds difficult at first, but it can have a significant positive impact on your productivity. Most email communication doesn’t really require an immediate response, and in trying to multi-task, we’re less efficient overall. Turn off notification chimes or close email altogether so that you’re not tempted to “just check in.” Use dedicated “email time” efficiently – respond to inquiries, move action items to appropriate follow-up folders and delete messages that you don’t need to respond to or refer to later.

Learn to travel light. Skipping baggage check, especially when you’re traveling for business, saves time and aggravation. Pack light using items you can mix and match (one pair of shoes to go with everything!) and invest in a good carry-on bag.

Eliminate the unnecessary. Excuse yourself from meetings that you don’t really need to attend, and don’t schedule meetings that aren’t vital. Regular “check-in” meetings can often dissolve into unproductive complaint sessions or social gatherings. Unsubscribe from emails, newsletters or RSS feeds that you don’t read regularly.

FINANCES

Do your banking and bill paying online. This reduces the amount of paper flowing in and out of your home, provides a way to track payments and ensure on-time delivery, and eliminates the time and money spent purchasing envelopes and stamps.

Use cash. What could be more simple?

Set up automatic savings. Fund your retirement plan, college savings fund and other savings accounts with automatic electronic funds transfer or payroll deduction. This is an easy way to ensure that you’re saving where you need to be, without having to remember to write checks or transfer money.

YOU TIME

Go to bed early. Everything seems more manageable when you’re well-rested. Don’t skimp on sleep – 6-8 hours a night is essential to your physical and mental health.

Get outside. Exercise – walk, jog, swim, do yoga, read a book on a park bench. Just getting outdoors for fresh air and sunshine can relax and re-energize you.

Say no. It’s easy to get overextended because you want to help everyone who asks, or because you don’t want to hurt someone else’s feelings. Practice saying no to requests that aren’t something you really want to do or don’t fit your interests or skills. Check out 7 Simple Ways to Say No for suggestions on how to opt out firmly but with grace.

Spend time with people you love – and spend time alone. Both are vitally important. Make time in your schedule (and write it on your calendar) to enjoy dinner with friends, a family afternoon at the park, or a solo hike in the woods.