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From Paper Madness to Paper Management in Six Easy Steps

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Most of us are drowning in paper these days. It doesn’t seem to stop – mail, school papers, magazines, and more. If you don’t have a good way to manage it, it will just keep piling up. To keep a handle on your papers, you need a good paper management system. A what?! Have no fear, here are six steps to set you up for paper management success:

  1. Open and review your mail and other paper every day! Open mail in one place with all your tools and supplies. Have a wastebasket, recycling bin, and shredder available so you can toss unnecessary items immediately.
  2. Make decisions as you open the mail. Get rid of anything you don’t want or need immediately – you’ll be left with only the items that require some action. This includes doing a quick scan of catalogs – if nothing interests you, recycle it right away!
  3. Sort what you need to keep by follow up action. For example: To Do, To Scan, To Shred (better yet, shred these items immediately), To File (again, file immediately if possible), and To Save for Taxes. Keep follow up items together with a desktop file – this should be your go-to place for transient papers.
  4. Just do it! Be sure to regularly set aside time to take follow up action – doing, scanning, shredding and filing. When it comes to the “To Do” category, if it will take 2 minutes or less to complete, it’s often best to ‘just do it!’ It usually takes more time to review, set aside, and remind yourself to do them later.
  5. Take Control Today. Put the past behind you and don’t let stress about past piles keep you from getting started. Start with new incoming mail/paperwork first – get your system in place, then tackle the old stuff. Speaking of…
  6. Tackle Your Old Piles and Files. Once you’ve gotten used to managing your incoming paper, it’s time to tackle your old piles and files. Start by gathering everything in one place, immediately tossing anything that is clearly junk. Then go through the piles and decide whether you need to keep each item, and if so, what the best way to store it is – scanned or paper file. Commit to just 15 minutes a day and you will make progress!

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6 Steps to Stay on Top of Your Taxes

Getting prepared to do your taxes can be overwhelming, especially if you haven’t been all that organized about keeping track of your tax-related documents throughout the year. Not only do you need to keep track of tax forms you get in the mail (or on-line), but also receipts for tax-related expenses and donations, and it can also be very helpful to put your hands on your previous tax returns and documentation for reference. Of course if you get audited, the value of having your tax paperwork organized sky rockets!

Here are six simple steps you can take to be better organized when it comes to taxes:

  1. Collect and Corral: Choose a drawer or a bin and as the tax-related paperwork comes in, toss it in there. Also, create a folder on your computer to save electronic documents. Once you have collected it all (usually by March 1st), sort it into categories (1099s, W2s, Receipts, etc.) and paperclip each category together. You may want to print the electronic documents, or just have them organized and ready to enter into your tax return.
  2. Contain It: Have a folder or bin labeled for each tax year which includes your returns as well as any supporting documentation. After the six years have passed, you can weed out the extra paperwork and just keep your return.
  3. Go Paperless: Yes, the IRS does accept electronic documentation! Scanning papers or electing to receive electronic statements will help significantly reduce your paper clutter.
  4. Start Fresh: Once you have collected all of your tax documents, do a purge of all your files (paper and electronic).
  5. Keep Track Electronically: We strongly recommend that you maintain an electronic accounting system, such as Quicken or an Excel spreadsheet. Come tax time, all the information you need will be at your fingertips.
  6. Plan Ahead: Create a folder for next year’s taxes. As documents come in throughout the year, you’ll have a place to put them. More importantly, you’ll be able to find them when tax time comes around again.

Check these off, get this year’s taxes done, know you’ll be better prepared for next year and breath a sigh of relief…ahhhh.

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3 Tips for Organized Packing

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I will admit that packing for a trip is one of my least favorite things to do. A little strange as it seems like it would be one of those things that organized people love to do – well, not this mostly organized person. I think it might be my perfectionist tendencies creeping through – and the fact that I am rarely thrilled with my wardrobe. Packing sometimes seems daunting because it can be hard to get just right – when you end up at your destination with just the right outfits in just the right amount.

I often write about what’s going on in my life, and you guessed it, I’m knee-deep in packing for a trip. Since this is a bit stressful for me, I wanted to share some tips that help keep me focused and get the job done – with minimal stress! So here are my 3 tips for organized packing:

  1. Check the weather! Don’t assume you know what it will be like – check the actual forecast before you start packing. We’re headed to San Diego where it is always beautiful and never rains – except that it’s going to rain cats and dogs most of the time we are going to be there. Raincoat – check.
  2. Lay out your outfits for each day. You can change your mind about what you wear on any given day, but this is the best way to make sure you end up with everything you need to put actual outfits together and don’t end up with tons of extra pieces you didn’t need. Think about what you will be doing each day and whether you’ll need a wardrobe change – morning at the zoo, then dinner out. Also add in a few extra options and layers.
  3. Leave a little room to spare. This is a tough one to accomplish, but try not to be packed to the gills when you leave. For whatever reason, things just don’t seem to go back together quite as well when you are re-packing for your return trip. And of course, you may end up coming home with a few extra things you picked up.

 

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Get Organized Challenge: Celebrate Your Successes

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Last week, we wrapped up our Get Organized Challenge: 5 Weeks to a More Organized You. Over the course of the challenge we focused on developing 5 healthy organizing habits that, when practiced regularly, can lead you down the path to happily organized. Just to recap, those 5 healthy habits are:

  1. Buy less stuff. The less you buy, the less you have to unload, store, clean, maintain, return, dispose of and otherwise manage.
  2. Do I need it, do I use it, do I love it? Only keep things in your home that you can answer yes for at least one of these questions.
  3. Create a home for everything. Find a home for everything you need, use and love. Get everything else out the door.
  4. Clean up us you go. When you’re done using something, put it away. Simple and hands down, the best thing you can do to stay on top of your space.
  5. Follow the “one in, one out” rule. If you get something new, make sure you get rid of something old – especially if the new item is meant to be a replacement or upgrade.

Now that we’ve spent 5 weeks honing our organizing skills, it’s time to celebrate! When you take on any challenge, celebrating your successes can be a great motivator to keep going. It’s also good to take an honest look at what was challenging for you – that way you can trouble shoot and come up with ways to be successful next time.

So how’d you do? Did you get some stuff out the door that you don’t need, use or love? Celebrate that! Did you avoid buying something you really didn’t need? Yeah! Did you finally find a place to keep the little stuff cluttering your kitchen counter? Awesome! Did you come home with new socks and actually take the time to weed out the worst of your collection? You’ve got it!

But as we mentioned, it’s not about perfection, and some of these skills are harder than others. So what did you find hard? Maybe cleaning up as you go just didn’t happen and couldn’t muster the energy to do it at the end of the day. Try posting little reminders in the rooms that were the hardest to keep up with. Or try this little trick – never leave a room empty-handed. Identify something that belongs elsewhere and take it there.

Or maybe you went shopping for new clothes but just couldn’t part with anything old when you got home. Try a “maybe” bin – weed out anything that you can’t say you love, but just can’t seem to part with. Put them in the maybe bin – you don’t have to decide right now. Give yourself 2 weeks and then re-evaluate whether they should stay or go. If you haven’t missed them, it will be easier to part with them using this 2 step process.

So celebrate your success, work on what you found tough and keep going! While our challenge was 5 weeks, if you can make these new habits stick, you have what you need to stay on track no matter what organizational challenges life throws your way.

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Get Organized Challenge Week 5: One In, One Out

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Wow – time flies when you’re working on your organizing super powers! Over the last 4 weeks, we’ve practiced buying less stuff, making sure the stuff you have passes the test, making a home for everything in your home, and cleaning up as you go. We’ve also reminded ourselves that it’s not about being perfect but about practicing new skills that we can keep coming back to when we fall off our organized path.

This week, we will add our last but not least organizing skill to the list – following the “one in, one out” rule. Simply put, if you get something new, you need to get rid of something old in order to keep your organizing equilibrium.

I will admit that for many people, myself included, this is the hardest of our organizing skills to actually carry out. This is because it often involves getting rid of “perfectly good” stuff. But it is SO important – if you think about it, unless you have lots of extra space to fill (I don’t know anyone who does) or you have lots of things you NEED to get, following the one in, one out rule is the only way to prevent having too much stuff in your space. It’s just simple physics. And remember, when you get new things, you usually start using them, so older items just sit around collecting dust. If you at least donated them, then someone else could be making better use of them.

Here are three ways to make this easier to stick to:

  1. Think long and hard before you buy (or otherwise acquire) something – does this sound like week 1, anybody? Do I really need this and am I ready to part with something I already own to make room for this? In general, it’s a good idea to wait before you buy – if you have an impulse to buy something, walk away and write it down. Hitting the pause button will give you a chance to really decide whether you need something and what you will part with if you do go ahead and get it.
  2. Make sure you are really ready to ditch the old version before you get a replacement. This is another good reason to hit the pause button, rather than buying something the first time it comes to mind. I recently got new sneakers (which I’d been thinking about doing for at least a month) and though I’ve loved them, I promptly put the old ones in the donation bin and didn’t look back. In my past, I might’ve convinced myself that I should keep the extra pair for some random sneaker emergency. But the truth is, I don’t have random sneaker emergencies, and if I did, I already have a pair of yard work sneakers that I could call on for help. Have I missed them? No! They’re just sneakers…and well-worn ones at that.
  3. Get in the donation habit. While it’s a good idea to literally practice (at least most of the time) the one in, one out rule and part with something for every new item that comes in your house, we know that this isn’t going to happen all the time. Just like doing a clean sweep at the end of the day if you haven’t quite been able to clean up as you go, getting in the habit of routinely donating items is a great safety net strategy to help you play catch up when you haven’t been following “one in, one out” religiously. Just build in regular reviews of your stuff, monthly or at least seasonally, during which you walk around with a donation box or bag and weed, picking out stuff that you no longer need, use or love. It’s also a great idea to keep a donation bin/bag at the ready in your house. That way, when you stumble across something that needs to go, you can just toss it in and take the whole pile with your monthly or seasonal donations.

Ok, that’s enough about that…let’s keep it up…we’re in the home stretch!

The Challenge – Week 5: Follow the one in, one out rule. Think long and hard about letting new stuff into your home, but when you do, make sure to toss or donate something old.

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Get Organized Challenge Week 4: Clean Up As You Go

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Here we are – week 4 of our Get Organized Challenge: 5 Weeks to a More Organized You! By now, you’re buying less stuff, making sure the stuff you have passes the test, and making a home for everything in your home. Or at least you’re working on it. I’m a realist – it’s not about rigidly following these healthy habits 100% of the time – all or nothing style. It’s about practicing these healthy habits as often as you can, and coming back to them whenever you fall off the wagon. That’s what will make you an organizing super-hero for the long haul!

So what’s next?? Hands down – my absolute favorite organizing healthy habit ever – clean up as you go! So simple, yet so effective – and that’s why I love it. I remember learning this phrase in a nutrition/cooking class in college – if you practice this while you’re cooking, you won’t end up with a giant mess to clean up when you’re done. Well guess what? Cleaning up as you go works wonders for keeping your whole home under control too. It’s almost too simple to explain – if you take something out of its home – a pen, the blender, your jacket – put it back when you’re done using it for now. But that last little part is key. Don’t live by the policy of, “oh, I’ll just leave it out since I’ll probably need it later.” That’s how our homes become a jumbled mess…fast. And that little bit of extra effort to put things away means you’ll always know where to find something the next time you actually need to use it.

Really push yourself to truly clean up as you go, but never fear, there’s a simple fix if you get to the end of the day and realize that you’ve failed to keep up. Just set your timer for 15 minutes and use that time to put stray items away. This simple super-power habit will also allow you to uncover clutter trouble spots on the fly – if putting something away is frustrating because the cabinet where it lives is a jumbled crowded mess, then it’s time to tackle it with a little de-cluttering session. No, you don’t have to tackle every trouble spot the minute you uncover it, but keep a little list of mini de-cluttering projects, so you can cross them off when you get 15 minutes and a little motivation. Trust me, if you keep trying to put stuff away in a cluttered home, that motivation will come sooner rather than later! So come on, we’ve got this…

The Challenge – Week 4: Clean up as you go! Each time you finish using something, put it away where it belongs – no ifs, ands or buts! And do a clean sweep at the end of the day to catch anything you’ve missed along the way.

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Get Organized Challenge Week 3: Make a Home for Everything!

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It’s hard to believe, but we’re already on Week 3 of our 2014 Get Organized Challenge. If you’d like to catch up, you can check out the first two posts and brush up on the organizing skills we’ve already started practicing: 1) Buy less stuff and 2) Give your stuff the “Do I need it, do I use it, do I love it?” test.

We hope you’ve got your heads wrapped around the idea that the less stuff you have, the easier it is to organize, take care of and appreciate what you have. This week’s skill is going to focus on just that – organizing and taking care of what you have. I’m sure you’ve heard it before – a place for everything, and everything in its place. The simple truth is that if an item doesn’t have a specific place to live in your home, it will live on one or more of your surfaces – your floor, your counter, your kitchen table. It will get in your way, be shuffled around, breed with other homeless items and eventually get lost in a pile of clutter!!

The good news is, there’s a simple solution – make a home for everything in your home! Whether it’s a paperclip, your jacket, or your child’s school bag, define and dedicate a place for it and other like items to live. And the more specific the home, the better, in most cases. For example, the paperclips go in the small compartment of the drawer divider in the top right drawer of your desk works better than somewhere on your desk. Getting specific not only helps keep the homes for items clean and uncluttered themselves, but also makes it easier to know where to put something, where to find something and much easier to tell someone else where to put or find something. And keep in mind that even transient items in your home need a landing zone. So create a home for returns, library books, items to be repaired, and whatever else you find lying around on your surfaces.

If the idea of giving everything a home seems daunting, just start with one homeless item. I often say that organizing is like a puzzle. Once you get one piece in place, it gets easier to figure out your next move. And if you’re practicing our first two skills, you’ll have less stuff to find a home for – yeah! So come on, stick with me here – we’re more than half way to organizing super-hero status!

The Challenge – Week 3: Make a home for everything in your home! Start with one item or one room and you’ll have some super clear surfaces in no time!

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Get Organized Challenge Week 2: Does it pass the test?

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If you’ve been following along with us, you know that last week we decided to kick off 2014 with our Get Organized Challenge: 5 Weeks to a More Organized You. Our plan is to focus on one new organizing skill each week with the goal of getting ourselves into amazing organizational shape.

Last week’s challenge/skill was to buy less stuff – the point being to really think before you buy. We often mindlessly buy things we think we “need,” when in reality, we could’ve gotten by just fine without it. So how’d you do? I know I ended up stopping myself from buying a few false “needs.” Some things I might buy down the road, but at least I’ve hit the pause button, giving myself time to really figure out whether it will be a good addition to our home. Bottom line, the less stuff we buy and bring into our homes, the less stuff we have to find a home for, maintain and otherwise manage.

Keep working on buying less stuff, but let’s move on to week 2’s challenge – give your stuff the “Do I need it, do I use it, do I love it?” test. This week is all about de-cluttering – getting rid of anything in your home that you don’t need, use or love. If you don’t already subscribe to this way of life, we don’t expect you to “test” every single item in your home in one week. Just start with one space and keep practicing from there.

Start with one room and try your best to look at everything that’s not nailed down – do I need it, do I use it, do I love it? If not, then why is it there? If you channel your inner minimalist, then this might seem easy – sometimes it’s just about taking the time to do it. But we also know you’ll probably stumble over that whole “but I might need it or use it someday” category. Your next question to yourself should be “Really?” If you’ve had the someday excuse for a long time, chances are, it’s not going to happen. Also ask yourself whether somebody else could make better use of the item now (rather than continuing to gather dust in your home), whether it’s easily replaceable if you do need it down the road, and whether it will be out of date by the time you get around to possibly someday needing it. You get the idea, give your stuff that critical look and get anything that doesn’t pass the test out the door immediately. Come on, let’s keep at this….

The Challenge – Week 2: Give your stuff the “do I need it, do I use it, do I love it?” test and get as many squatters as you can out the door. Just think, every item you get out the door will make it easier to use, love and take care of the rest!

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Take the Get Organized Challenge: 5 Weeks to a More Organized You

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We thought we’d start off the year with a healthy little dose of organizing inspiration. No, not the “you can makeover your house in a weekend” sort of inspiration, but rather the realistic and effective variety, which we think is a lot more useful.

So the truth is, being organized is not about a specific product or storage solution or even about the perfect routine or system. It’s about adopting and practicing healthy habits that help keep your stuff, your schedule and your life in check. When it comes to keeping your home and stuff in check, here are 5 simple ground rules you can practice to change your ways. The goal is that over time, these will become habits – the happy, amazing kind of habits that leave you feeling downright organized!

1) Buy less stuff. The less you buy, the less you have to unload, store, clean, maintain, return, dispose of and otherwise manage. And guess what, the less you buy, the more money you save – bonus! So THINK before you buy. Do I/does my home really need this item (now)? This thought should also apply to buying bulk quantities of things. If you grocery shop every week, you probably don’t need to buy 4 boxes of crackers now. Even little decisions like that can help keep your storage spaces and routines in check.

2) Do I need it, do I use it, do I love it? Only keep things in your home that you can answer yes for at least one of these questions. Period. If you just can’t part with something that you don’t need, use or love, put it in a “maybe” box and re-evaluate your choice in a week. If your “maybe” box fills up, it’s time to make some decisions – should it stay or should it go?

3) Create a home for everything. If something doesn’t have a home, it will clutter up a surface in your home. Clutter invites other clutter and before you know it, miscellaneous piles have taken over. So find a home for everything you need, use and love. Get everything else out the door.

4) Clean up us you go. When you’re done using something, put it away. Simple and hands down, the best thing you can do to stay on top of your space.

5) Follow the “one in, one out” rule. If you get a replacement for something, get rid of the old item immediately. And do not buy a replacement until you are ready to part with the old item. Also build in regular reviews of your stuff, monthly or at least seasonally – walk around with a donation box or bag and weed, picking out stuff that you no longer need, use or love.

If you’re new to this whole getting organized thing, don’t panic – we’re going to take it slow. We’ll practice a new ground rule each week, adding on to what we’re already working on. By Valentine’s Day, you will be rocking organizing skills that verge on super powers – now that’s something to love! Nobody’s perfect, but practicing these ground rules will go a long way toward taking charge of your home and stuff once and for all! Come on, let’s do this…

The Challenge – Week 1: Buy less stuff! Start by practicing buying less stuff for a week – think hard about every purchase you make and I bet you’ll leave a few things on the shelf that would’ve previously made their way into your home. Score!

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Last Minute Holiday Gift Ideas

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If you’re still shopping for holiday gifts, or haven’t started, a) you’re not alone and b) there’s still time to make it happen. The key is not to fall victim to buying random stuff that your recipients don’t need or want just because you’re feeling desperate. Desperation gifts can often turn into gift clutter, and who wants that. Instead, stay focused on gifts that are both easy to get and easy to use. Here are a few ideas that fit the bill…

1) Gift Certificate - While they sometimes get a bad rap for being impersonal, gift certificates can be a great way to make sure your recipient gets something that they really want! And you can make it more personal by getting one for a favorite store or a store that carries items related to a hobby or life event.

2) Gift Certificate or Membership to a Local Attraction - Think museums, aquariums, zoos, amusement parks, live music, and more. Experience gifts can really create lasting memories, will never clutter up your home and are often something the recipient wouldn’t do for themselves.

3) A Charitable Donation – This is especially great for the person who “has everything.” Pick a cause that’s near and dear to their heart and make a donation in their name. Some non-profits, such as zoos, even have gift packages that allow you to sponsor an animal. And you can often do all your research and the donation on-line, which makes this an extra-easy option.

4) Gift Certificate or Delivery from a Favorite Eatery – This can extend beyond a favorite local restaurant – think breweries, vineyards, bakeries, and even far-away favorites – they sometimes offer shipping of perishable items. Or consider an item-of-the-month club – they exist for just about anything. And many cities offer food-related tours – combining a great experience and local food.

5) Gift Certificate for Services – Give your family and friends the gift of some extra help – we could all use some. This could be anything from a salon or spa gift certificate, along with a few hours of baby-sitting, for a mom who never pampers herself to an errand service for those who are always running around town. And of course, we don’t know anyone who wouldn’t love a gift of some time with a professional organizer to help whip their home or office into shape for the New Year.

Happy shopping and of course, Happy Holidays!!

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