Let’s have a show of hands. Who loves to prepare for disasters and contemplate death?
…We didn’t think so.
Let’s have another show of hands. Who thinks of others and would like to make life easier on family and friends?
Here is a simple project to prepare for the unexpected. Regardless of the state of the rest of your house, these are the documents to keep organized and accessible just in case:
- Life or disability insurance policies and/or agent contact information. Don’t forget to include any coverage offered through your employer and/or auto insurance.
- List of assets and open accounts – you can gather sample statements or create a list of all accounts, loans, lines of credit, etc.. Make sure to include the safe deposit box key and information.
- Trust Document and/or name of your attorney
- Healthcare Directive and Financial POA
- Passwords and log-ins to unlock the phone or computer
- Medical cards and list of doctors/caregivers
- List of prescriptions
- Vital Records: Birth certificates, Social Security cards, marriage certificates, copies of drivers licenses
- If you own a business, who are the key contacts? What is your emergency plan?
- Funeral arrangements
Whether you are partnered or not, identify the person or persons who would be tasked with managing things in your absence and share with them the locations of these documents. It’s ideal to also keep a digital copy of these items and make sure your trusted helper has access to those as well.
Think of how much easier it will be for your loved ones, and better for you, if in the time of crisis they don’t have to dig through various drawers and files looking for information unsure what they may be missing. Creating a simple system for just in case is the kind of gift that provides peace of mind to you and to those who are left to take care of business when you can’t.
Filed under Business Organizing, Decluttering, General Organizing, home organizing, middle-age, organizing, Paper, paper organizing, Perspective, Seniors, Strategies
If you’re still getting these in paper form they are likely clogging up your filing system … or creating piles!
Pay stubs – They are informational only. When you get your pay stub each period, check it over to make sure your vacation, sick balance and other deductions are accurate. If all is okay, you don’t need to keep it. Your W-2 form at the end of the year is the only record to keep for taxes. If you need written evidence of accrued benefits, keep your last pay stub of the year. That would have your year-to-date accumulations. If you get electronic paystubs, then for sure, shred the archived ones from long ago.
Expired insurance policies – once the term is over, the policy isn’t valid. Having a claim or loss in the previous period, might justify keeping it. But most folks don’t have this issue and old policy statements can be tossed (shredded) when they expire. You’ll be surprised how many years back these bulky documents go. Hit all the categories – auto, home, life, umbrella, etc.
Monthly investment statements and activity confirmation statements. Once you receive the quarterly or annual statement, these documents are redundant.
BONUS! Banks and credit companies CYA privacy policies and term sheets. Have you ever had to refer to these in the lifetime of your credit card or account? They could trigger you to update your privacy settings with the institution (online or in writing) but if you know you will never get around to it, just let them go. All these are available online.
Give yourself the gift of a clear desk or roomy files by removing things that just make you feel unsure and guilty. If you truly can’t imagine letting these items go, get them in a box (labeled, with a “date to destroy” in a reasonable amount of time) and store them far away from your active work space.
The worst time to try and find something is when you need to have it and have little time to find it. Crises strike in many forms – natural disasters, family deaths, sudden moves, illness, divorce. Hindsight is 20-20 and that’s when we often get total clarity about what could have been done to prepare and alleviate some of the stress of the crisis.
You can be one step ahead by finding and organizing critical documents. Believe it or not, we have found all these for clients hiding among hundreds of other papers in drawers, bags, and boxes…
- Titles for cars
- Deductible receipts and statements for the current year
- Grant deeds for owned property
- Passports, birth certificates and death certificates
- Original stock certificates
- Improvement receipts so homeowner could deduct from purchase cost of house to reduce taxable profit
- Genealogy records
- Open bank and credit accounts that had been forgotten
- Will and trust documents
- Life insurance policies
- Contact info for all companies that insurance you
- Social Security card
- Pension and retirement plan records
- Marriage and divorce documents
Many of these can be replaced if lost but often not without cost and hassle.
If you aren’t ready to create an entire filing system at least make sure to create a dedicated home for these essential documents.
Bonus: keep your important documents in something portable that you can grab in an emergency. If all you have is a cardboard box to collect your important documents, use it. Progress is better than perfection!
If you want to go a step further, there are products available to help you capture your vital documents. A few to consider are: FreedomFiler®, Vital Records PORTAVAULT® or Suze Orman’s Protection Portfolio.
“The Freedom Filer kit is fantastic and was easy to move when I evacuated. Everything I needed was there. I love it!” Kathleen, LA wildfire evacuee
See our prior post about how FreedomFiler® works.
We’ve all been guilty of it – hanging onto business cards that somehow end up on dresser tops, stashed in drawers, or floating around on counters. We sort of know we probably don’t need them but there’s a nagging sense of importance about them that makes them seem valuable. So, we neaten the pile or shove them back in the drawer and forget about them for a while.
Why are you keeping them?
Managing clutter is all about making conscious choices. The first step to getting a handle on those stacks is to take a clear look at your motivations for hanging onto them:
- You may want to use that person’s services
- Something you want to do someday
- Somebody you want to network with
- Neighborhood services
- Cards of services you use regularly
- Nostalgia – cards of family members, cards of your past careers
- Cards whose designs you like
Figuring out why you’re keeping them helps you get clarity on how relevant the info actually is. That informs whether you really want to continue to keep them and how you store them. Part of what makes business cards a less precious resource than we think is there are so many ways other ways to find services and people – Facebook, Yelp, list serves, LinkedIn, Google… put in bits of information into a search tool and have that person show up.
After you do a serious purge of the stacks its time to decide how to store the keepers.
Store for easy retrieval
Ways to store them
- Electronically – scan or enter into your favorite digital address book tool
- In a mini-file box
- Rubber-banded in a drawer or on a shelf
- In a rolodex
- Binder sleeves designed for business cards
- File in a resource section of your filing system (can attach card to larger piece of paper)
Make them useful
If you are keeping cards, it can also be helpful to jot a few notes of relevant info to help you remember why you have the card. Write on back (have a sharpie close by):
- Next actions/promises you made to them
- Where you met them
- Your follow-up plan
- Interesting fact about the person (their dog’s name, for example)
- What you have in common with them
- Who you both know
- Key words (name and date of event, category of contact)
It’s perfectly fine to hang onto cards you may not actually need or use — so long as the stacks of cards don’t stress you out and don’t impact your usable space. If they impact your peace of mind or are getting in the way – take action to clear the clutter.
When you browse through your business card hoard, what is the wackiest card you find?
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.
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.
Filed under Decluttering, home organizing, homework, Kitchen, Living Room, Office, organizing, Paper, paper organizing, Perspective, Storage, Work
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.
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.
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.”
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?