Category Archives: Office

Couples and Clutter – Conquering Criticism

birds-communicating

As Valentine’s Day approaches we are reminded of the challenges couples face managing clutter in a shared space. “Clutter” is incredibly subjective. One person’s state of chaos is another’s state of total harmony. Do a quick Google search on “couples and clutter” and dozens of articles and statistics come up. You’re not alone if you’re feeling frustrated.

What to do when your styles and thresholds for clutter don’t match up?

Relationship researcher and expert John Gottman identified 4 key behaviors that undermine relationships and are barriers to communication: criticism, defensiveness, contempt, and stonewalling. Each has an antidote. In our next 4 posts we are going to illustrate how each one can show up when navigating clutter between couples. First up…Criticism.

Expressing a legitimate complaint is different than launching into a criticism. Criticism uses blame which can backfire and hinder communication. Talk about your feelings using I statements and then express a positive need. What do you feel? What do you need?

The antidote to criticizing is to state your complaint in a gentler way. A complaint focuses on a specific behavior, while a criticism attacks the character of the person. The antidote for criticism is to complain without blame.

Example: Messy Bedroom

Criticism: You never put your clothes away. Why are you so lazy and messy?

Complaint: The laundry on floor is making it hard for me to move through room. You said you would put them away today – what happened?

Example: Out of Sight, Out of Mind

Criticism: Who told you you could move my stuff without asking me? You’re such a neat-freak!

Complaint: I’m having trouble finding things after you clean up. I was late today because I couldn’t find my work bag. I want to be part of the process for deciding where my things live. Can we choose a dedicated spot for my things?

Example: Paper Issues

Criticism: PG&E is going to shut off our electricity! Are you so busy that you don’t have time to take care of this simple task?

Complaint: We just got a late notice from PG&E. You are in charge of the bills and this isn’t the first time they didn’t get paid. Can we talk about how to resolve this?

Relationship conflict is natural and has functional, positive aspects. Successful couples learn how to manage and live with differences by honoring and respecting each other.

Our next post is about Conquering Contempt.

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Filed under Bedroom, Decluttering, General Organizing, Office, Perspective, Strategies

Dedicating Space for Household Management

homeoffice

Do you find your household paperwork doesn’t have a home? Is your bedroom getting used for stashing unmanaged mail? Do you have papers and mail all over the house? Are you frustrated that your home never looks tidy? Many people use a large portion of their kitchen counter to manage notes and mail…and it spills over from there. But the kitchen counter space often doesn’t provide enough room for a tidy work space.

All these scenarios point to the importance of dedicating a space for a household management center.

Location

The ideal location for a household management center is close to where this work usually gets done. Kitchen, dining room, living room are very common areas. Look where your paper is accumulating and see if you can dedicate a bit of space to make it an “official” work area. Active projects need to be out and accessible where you will really work on them. Where does the work actually get done?

If you have a more remote home office but don’t find yourself staging the mail and active projects there, you might find paper clutter creeping into the living space. It would be appropriate to create an active work station more centrally and store overflow and permanent files in the office. For example, if you find yourself most often sitting on your couch paying bills online, can you create a space there to catch incoming bills?

The Critical Bits:

  • Active projects: to-do’s and bills to pay
  • Active reference: family schedules and phone lists
  • Basic office supplies (stamps, envelopes, paperclips, post its)
  • Dedicated containers to get the recycling and shredding out of the way and off the countertop

Nice to Have Nearby:

  • Printer – can be hidden or made wireless so it can be stored in a back room or closet
  • Main household filing system – including past years taxes and permanent records
  • Overstock office supplies
  • Kids’ art portfolios

Instead of berating yourself for being messy, embrace the idea that household management needs dedicated space. And give yourself the gift of organization.

 

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Filed under Decluttering, home organizing, homework, Kitchen, Living Room, Office, organizing, Paper, paper organizing, Perspective, Storage, Work

Organize Your Charitable Giving

Giving for Change

It’s end of the year and the charities are out in force with their hands outstretched. Do you succumb to every request?  Or do you give nothing out of overwhelm? Having a strategy will help make this process more satisfying and deserving charities will appreciate you.

Who to give to? 

  • You can sort charities by their mission to focus on the ones that have the most meaning to you or your family.  Charity Navigator and BBB Wise Giving Alliance are two organizations that research charities based on their financial health and accountability. A good benchmark for a worthwhile charity is having at least 75% of their income spent on the the non-profit’s mission.  One of our clients recommends Charity Navigator because they provide a rating for each of the 1,600 charities they research and you can do all your donation tracking and giving through them.
  • Ask your friends who they give to.  It can be a very enlightening conversation.
  • Keep a running list of your favorite charities and donations given. This helps at tax time but the bigger purpose is to avoid confusion about what you’ve given and to whom.“Did I give to ‘Children’s Alliance’ or ‘Children’s Allies’?” A spreadsheet or chart can help you track how much you give year-to-year.

How often to give?

Taking control of how often you give helps avoid feeling pressured every time you get a solicitation in the mail.

  • Rotate donations into monthly bills
  • Recurring automatic donation payments have the convenience of knowing you’re supporting your cause without having to remember to do it. Guaranteed monthly donations also help with an organization’s cash flow.
  • Setting aside a time to donate once a quarter or once a year helps you keep perspective.
  • If you are concerned about tax or estate planning considerations, work with a wealth manager, estate-planning lawyer or certified financial planner on your giving strategy.

Do you give a donation and later find yourself inundated with multiple requests from other charities?

Charities have varying privacy policies. According to Charity Navigator, the more small donations you give, the more likely your name will be sold to other organizations.  Charities are more likely to protect the privacy of their larger donors. The reason is; small donations barely cover the cost of processing them.  They can make more money by selling your name. Once you establish your list of favorite charities, just recycle any solicitations that aren’t on your list.

What to do with all the solicitations that flood the mail?

This depends on how complete your list of charities is. If you feel the need to hang onto solicitations to consider “later” create one box or folder to catch them and sift through them regularly to eliminate duplicates.

Does this make giving any easier? If so, then go out there and share the wealth.

 

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Filed under Decluttering, home organizing, Office, organizing, Paper, Strategies

Organize Your Passwords-Revisited

password-post-it

With all the cyber security breaches these days prudent password management is vital. Here is a refresh of a previous post about passwords.

Does keeping track of your online passwords make you want to pull your hair out? Having an organized system for password management reduces that frustration.

Just as people have to choose between digital and paper calendars these days, there are both digital and paper ways to manage your password information. Different methods have different advantages.

Digital

Managing your passwords digitally offers many conveniences but introduces security risks. While not nearly a comprehensive list – and not a specific endorsement — here are some options:

  • Maintain a list or spreadsheet on your computer…not named “passwords.” File could be stored in the cloud (Evernote, DropBox, Google Drive) to access across devices. You can password protect this document for an added layer of security.
  • Use Facebook, twitter or Google to log in
  • Use password management software such as 1Password, LastPass or KeePass. These typically work by storing all your individual logins under one main “master” password.
  • If you use a Mac, you’re most likely familiar with Keychain, which comes with OSX. Basically, it’s a password manager that uses your OSX admin password as the master password.

Paper

Some people don’t want their passwords stored anywhere in their computer. Storing them on paper prevents electronic hacking but it also limits your access to them when you are not home near the list. You also need to think about how to keep the list secure at home.

There are many options for managing passwords in paper form:

  • A small address book is an easy way to list passwords alphabetically by site name. Small address books are also easily hidden.
  • Some people keep a paper file in their file cabinet labeled “password”… you could make it a bit more secure by naming that file something random but unique to you like “junkdrawer” or “Rumpelstiltskin.”
  • An alphabetized index card box or business card box makes a handy place to drop in the post-its and scraps of paper you write passwords on.
  • To keep lists more secure, rather than writing down the actual password your list can be prompts that only you know. For example, if your password is some non sequitur like bootPolandgelato5, your prompt may be “footwear – country – food – number”. Or “147Guccigreen3970” could be prompted with “childhood address – favorite designer –color – past phone number.”

Password Strength

Regardless of what organizing tool you use to keep track of passwords, if you aren’t relying on software to generate secure passwords for you here are some tips for creating strong passwords:

  • Ideally use a mix letters, characters, numbers, and capitals
  • String together words to make a phrase. For example “I love ice cream” could become 1L0v31c3Cr3@m if you replace all the vowels with numbers or characters and capitalize the first letter of each word.
  • String together unrelated words as in the example of Boot, Poland, Gelato, and 5 becoming “bootPolandgelato5”

There isn’t one right solution or answer; ultimately it’s a personal style and risk management choice we all have to make. Whatever system you choose, pick one and stick to it.

What one smart step can you take to make your digital life more convenient AND secure?

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Filed under Decluttering, Office, Paper, Strategies, Technology

The A.R.T. of Clearing Paper Piles

messy-desk-1

Does this dining room table look inviting?

Have you ever your faced dining room table or kitchen counter covered in paper, taken one look and turned around to find something else to do? Planning to host Thanksgiving dinner by shoving the piles into bags and sticking it in the closet to deal with “later?”

Despite the appearance of being hundreds of items, all paper piles boil down to only 3 types of items: action, reference, or trash.

Action

These are items that need actual action – the “To-Dos.” Bills to pay, calls to make, items to research, forms to return. There are many ways to store this kind of paper but generally they need to be very accessible and fairly visible. For many folks storing them in a filing cabinet is too “out of sight, out of mind.”

Reference

These are items that are purely informational that you want to keep for reference either short or long term:

  • Insurance policies, medical records, financial, tax related, legal, etc.
  • Travel, art, leisure, self growth, parenting, job ideas, etc.

These can take the form of clippings, articles, printouts, and statements, mailed documents, books or magazines. Books and magazines are best stored on a bookshelf, loose papers are best stored in a filing cabinet. Freedom Filer created this concept of “Simplify With The Art Of Filing™” which is a great option for handling all of your reference files.

Trash

Self-explanatory! Shredding, recycling, garbage. It can be helpful to sort your incoming mail while standing over recycling & shredding bags. The quicker it goes out, the less pile-up of true junk happens.

Not being sure if you need to keep something often creates stress, anxiety, and confusion. Check out our prior post: Paper: to Keep or Toss? Problem Solved.

Try This!

Set the timer for 15 minutes and see how far you get with this method.  Enjoy the leftovers from your family meal rather than the aftermath from a hasty clean-up.

 

 

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Filed under Decluttering, home organizing, homework, Office, organizing, Paper, paper organizing, Products, Strategies

Even Organizers Need An Organizer Sometimes

Katherine tells the story of her home office…

I wanted to turn my grown daughter’s abandoned room into a full-fledged office but I all I had was a piecemeal of cabinets and desktops.  To get a more professional feel, I figured I’d need to have my desk and countertop custom built.

My first step was to have a contractor come and help me figure out the best configuration and give me a bid.  I had heard great things about Bay Home & Window so I made an appointment.  Their designer, Jeff Johnson came to my home and gave me a plan that was way better than I had imagined!  It seemed pricey compared to my makeshift set-up, but I loved the design. I stalled on purchasing the new office furniture and I wasn’t sure why.

As it turns out, I was stuck because I didn’t know what my needs were until I got really organized. That’s when I brought in my professional organizer colleague.

What were my goals?

  1. I wanted to create a custom built-in desk and file system suited to the way I work
  2. I like lots of open desktop space to work on projects and wanted easy access to the information I need every day
  3. My receipts system was inadequate…too much paper stuffed into my receipts drawer
  4. I wanted to streamline tax preparation

What got accomplished that I wouldn’t have done on my own?

  1. I spent time sorting through the little bits in my drawers that I wouldn’t have wanted to spend time doing…it was tedious, but getting it done helped clear the logjam
  2. I made paper files that mirrored my tax categories in my financial software program – Schedule C and business use of home categories
  3. I purged many files from past conferences and trainings and archived many others

How long did it take?

I went through 8 file drawers, 1 receipts drawer and 2 supplies drawers – purging old docs, refreshing file labels and creating new files from the homeless pieces of paper I found in and around my desk.  It took about 4 hours.

Accomplishments:

  • I was able to pare down my files and supplies stored from 8 to 6 drawers, saving me from having to purchase another file cabinet (at least $300)
  • My active client and project files got moved up to desk level to enable easy access
  • Clearing out unnecessary paper and gathering my miscellanous notes into a system helped me feel less burdened by my “To-Do’s”

 

a more organized office

a more organized office

I didn’t expect to feel such a powerful sense of relief from dealing with that drawer of miscellaneous bits.  I never thought it would be worth my time.  I look in my drawer and there is a sense of clarity and …dare I say…HAPPINESS? that what I truly need and use is right there, at my fingertips!

I am now able to confidently move forward with a built-in desk system that works for me…without over-building (and over-paying.)  I’ll keep you posted on the progress!

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Filed under General Organizing, Office, Paper

Get Organized for Tax Time

Are you ready?

Are you ready?

Have you broken out in your usual sweat anticipating tax time? Do you find yourself dreading the hours it’s going to take to round up the papers you’ll need to complete your tax planner? Being ready for tax time is all about having a system for keeping certain paperwork separate from others.

The most simple way to keep your tax paperwork separate from other papers is to create a box or file labeled “TAXES.”  If you want to get fancy, subdivide to create homes for:

  • charitable donations
  • childcare expenses
  • medical expenses
  • proof of income: W-2s, 1099s
  • tax documents

The home can be a file folder, envelope, or even a dedicated box. Anything that is easy to drop things into throughout the year.

If you’re keeping every single receipt and account statement, it’s worth asking your tax preparer to give you a list of documents you actually need to keep. Typically these are only receipts and statements that prove expenses you claim as deductions on your taxes.

For paper organizing, it’s important to understand the difference between a general living expense and an expense you can claim as a tax deduction. For example, gas station receipts are a general expense, but if you use your car for business they could become a tax-deductible expense. There may be other reasons you want to keep every gas receipt – budgeting, MPG tracking, etc. but you may not need them for taxes.

If you are self-employed and unsure what’s deductible, consider this Oakland tax workshop hosted in February by Enrolled Agent and author Jan Zobel. The workshop covers:

  • Which expenses are deductible and what proof you need to have
  • How to make quarterly estimated tax payments
  • Ways to reduce your chances of being audited
  • How to set up a simple recordkeeping system
  • What additional taxes self-employed people pay
  • How tax law changes will affect your return

If you want to take your financial organizing to the next level, consider the following:

  • Use a money management tool such as Mint.com or Quicken® to categorize your expenses automatically so you just need to run a report at the end of the year (still need to keep your original deductible receipts)
  • Use FreedomFiler® to manage your filing
  • Have a professional organizer or bookkeeper come in and triage your 2015 taxes–and having help come monthly or quarterly will help keep things straight

 If it’s too overwhelming to get a system together for 2015, begin now with categories  for 2016!

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Filed under Decluttering, General Organizing, Office, Paper