Category Archives: Paper

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

The Best Wedding Gift Ever

Your child is getting married or graduating or having a baby…what is the most thoughtful gift you could give them that would last a lifetime? A filing system!

Now, a filing system may sound like the most boring, uninspired gift you could possibly give someone but bear with us while we explain…

A good basic filing system is an essential part of an organized life. Despite the promises of a paperless world, we constantly see people overwhelmed and confused by piles of paper in their homes. Often the problem starts at one of these of these major life events where suddenly the amount and types of paper coming in multiplies exponentially.

For a new graduate, having a central place to manage personal records, job history, and tax documents starts to teach them about leading an adult life.

For couples getting married, having a central place where all important insurance, ownership, certificates, account & tax documents are kept minimizes stress and will help them manage a life that will become increasingly more complicated.

For new parents, having a central place to keep health records, school paperwork, parenting resources, and sports/camp info prevents the stress and inefficiency of searching the house for needed documents. Providing a dedicated box for memorabilia/artwork is a great addition to a filing system.

You can easily set up a basic system in a portable file box, small or large, using categories you create or a kit such as Freedom Filer. The box doesn’t have to be their permanent container; they may already have a filing cabinet or one may be needed once all their papers are gathered.

Basic categories include:

  • Career
  • Health
  • Insurance
  • Finances
  • Personal
  • Resources
  • Vital Documents (passport, birth certificate, marriage certificate, etc.)
  • Taxes

Give your loved ones a head start on the challenges of paper management. A gift certificate to a professional organizer to help them integrate their papers into the system and further customize would be icing on the cake!

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Filed under Decluttering, Empty Nest, Paper, paper organizing, Products, professional organizer, School, Storage, Strategies, Wedding

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

Organize Home Receipts Now For Big Bucks Later

plans

Don’t just save the plans after a remodel – save receipts too!

Sheila is 85 years old and has decided to downsize into a retirement community. Her house is worth a whole lot more than what she paid for it 60 years ago. Let’s say she paid $25K and is able to sell the house for $625K. That means she may have to pay taxes on as much as $600K profit – or gain (minus a $250K exclusion the IRS grants).

Sheila’s accountant tells her she could pay significantly less taxes because she can add the costs of various improvements she made over the years of ownership to the base amount she paid for the house. This is called increasing the cost basis of the home. But where is the documentation?

This is where being organized comes in handy. With a simple system, homeowners can preserve the records of improvements they have made to their property. When the house sells and the accountant is asking for ways to reduce your tax burden, the seller can produce the receipts and records which could save them thousands. Selling the family home and moving is stressful enough without adding last minute scramble to dig up old documentation.

The simplest system is a single file drawer or filing tub to hold all the purchase and improvement related documents. From there you can get more organized if you desire by separating different types of documents into different folders. If you’re planning a full remodel or major improvement it is helpful to keep all the permits, contracts, inspections, receipts and invoices together labeled by the name of the project.

Here is specific info from the IRS’s publication, Pub 523 – Selling Your Home, which outlines what qualifies as a cost basis improvement

Improvements

These add to the value of your home, prolong its useful life, or adapt it to new uses. You add the cost of additions and improvements to the basis of your property.

The following chart lists some examples of improvements.

home improvements chart

Repairs done as part of larger project.   You can include repair-type work if it is done as part of an extensive remodeling or restoration job. For example, replacing broken windowpanes is a repair, but replacing the same window as part of a project of replacing all the windows in your home counts as an improvement.

Examples of improvements you CANNOT include in your basis.

  • Any costs of repairs or maintenance that are necessary to keeping your home in good condition but do not add to its value or prolong its life. Examples include painting (interior or exterior), fixing leaks, filling holes or cracks, or replacing broken hardware.
  • Any costs of any improvements that are no longer part of your home (for example, wall-to-wall carpeting that you installed but later replaced).
  • Any costs of any improvements whose life expectancy, when installed, was less than 1 year.

Exception.   The entire job is considered an improvement if items that would otherwise be considered repairs are done as part of an extensive remodeling or restoration of your home. For example, if you have a casualty and your home is damaged, increase your basis by the amount you spend on repairs that restore the property to its pre-casualty condition.

Obviously everyone’s tax situation is unique and there are other variables that can affect the picture, even year-to-year. We are simplifying for the point of illustration.

So no matter when you bought your home, now is the time to gather up all the house related receipts and start keeping any original improvement receipts. If you neglected to keep them, at least make a list of known improvements and try to estimate what you spent.

Did you find this article helpful? Let us know!

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Filed under Decluttering, Moving, Paper, Seniors, Strategies, Technology