Don’t Fear the Bills!

debreceipts-150x150I have found an interesting trend with my clients. They are afraid of the bills. Unopened bills. Seriously. They don’t’ want to deal with them so they stay in the envelope, in a pile of other mail and usually that pile moves around a few times, and eventually ends up in a bag (cleared the table for company). When the client reaches the point where their office is filled with bags of mail, I get the call, “Debbie help!”

Now let me mention that these clients are not broke, they have the money to pay the bills so it’s not like when you graduated college and feared the bills that kept coming and suddenly realized your parents were paying for a lot of intangible things. No, they can pay them. And these are intelligent people; they do complicated things in their day to day lives. So it’s not the money, it’s not the degree of difficulty. Frankly I don’t know what it is that creates this mental block about bills. But I do have a solution.

  • First of all, gather them all together no matter how intimidating the pile.
  • Then open them! Half the stuff in that envelope is irrelevant. Recycle or shred the parts you don’t need.
  • Next, categorize them. You can do medical – taxes – utilities – credit cards – other. Or you can categorize them by company.
  • Pare them down. If you have several months worth of bills, you’re going to have duplicates. Keep the latest bill from each company. With medical bills check the patient and date of service to make sure you’re really looking at a duplicate bill. Make sure it has gone through insurance first.
  • If you get paper from a company and you pay them automatically on line, consider eliminating the paper bills.
  • Call the company if you have a question about the bill. So you might need a “Call” and a “Pay” pile when you’re finished.
  • Consider paying some bills on-line. I recommend regular payments that are the same amount or utility bills. Credit card bills and medical bills are ones that you want to look at the statement to make sure there are no errors.
  • File the statements and only keep out the stub and the envelope.
  • Put the bills in due date order
  • Pay all the older bills that you possibly can to avoid any more late fees
  • With medical bills you can often make a payment plan
  • If you are mailing a check, do it one week before the due date

That clears the backlog. Now decide if you are going to deal with the mail daily or weekly. Then decide if you are going to pay bills weekly or bi-weekly. That’s the only way to stay on top of it.

 

Any questions about dealing with bills? Leave a comment.

10 Things This Pro Organizer Wants You to Know

cover shotAbout a year ago, Reader’s Digest published a list in their “Who Knew” section entitled, 13 Things A Personal Organizer Won’t Tell You. I like to think that I do tell my clients these things when we meet in person and when we are in the process of getting organized. For those of you who haven’t worked with me, here are my tell-all nuggets that I have picked up over the last 12 years:

  1. Yes, many of my clients “know” how to organize. I don’t think you’re stupid. In fact most of my clients are smarter than me. But there’s a reason why you called me and just by making that appointment and having me work with you, we will get to the project that has been escaping you, for whatever reason.
  2. Most clutter is just post-poned decisions. I’m going to press you and play devil’s advocate just to get you to decide. If you say, “keep it for now” you’re postponing again!
  3. I know your stuff may have been worth a lot of money when you bought it, but the reality is that it’s probably not worth much now. (With a few exceptions.)It’s easier,and I believe better, to donate what you don’t want or need. If you’ve got classic antiques, we’ll check those out but clothes and household trinkets are just not worth selling.
  4. I don’t recommend yard sales. Like consignment and trying to re-sell items, it takes a lot more time and energy than it’s worth. That being said, if your neighborhood is having a sale day and someone does the advertising and marketing to get people on your street AND it’s going to be a fun day outside for you and your family – go for it. If it’s only you, think twice.
  5. Your closet is full of “someday” items and “wear only with ___” items that are really just taking up space that could be filled with “I love this” items. Keep clothes that make you feel great and look great. Everything else can be donated.
  6. Don’t be afraid to have your kids help with purging. When you start them young, they learn that sometimes you should let go of things. If they are the type that is emotionally attached to everything, you hold up the item and ask for a YES or NO decision. It keeps things moving.
  7. Don’t make your systems too complicated! Some of my perfectionist clients do this, and then they can’t keep up with their own system. So use bins, files – things that are easy to dump things into. If you are designating a single category to each, it’s easy to keep up with. For example, in a linen closet have a bin of household refills, another for medicine. Keep files names general until they get too big, then sub divide.
  8. There’s no magic to keeping up with organization. It’s a matter of having routines. You can do them daily, weekly or monthly. I suggest paperwork & mail – deal with it daily. Straighten bedrooms & family rooms daily, clean weekly (or bi-weekly) and clean out monthly or seasonally those areas that you don’t use all the time. (garage, basement, attic)
  9. Hiring an organizer is a luxury, we know. But if you need someone to keep you focused, give you different ideas, help you haul stuff out, and teach you systems and strategies, that may free up valuable time for other things in your life. Don’t feel guilty that you need help.
  10. If I’m taking donations out the back door, don’t keep bringing new stuff in the front door. Learning to live with less stuff can be very calming. The less you have, the less you have to categorize, purge and re-arrange. One simple tip is always shop with a list of what you need.

What’s your experience in working with an organizer?

Organizing Your Middle School Student

arc notebookThose of you who have read my books might have guessed that the tips in there for busy moms, come from my own experience. When I wrote my first book, my children where 4,7, and 10 years old. I was in the early years of being a stay-at-home mom, adjusting to all the nuances of keeping up with the house, having time for myself and spending quality time with my children. When I  wrote my second book, it was two years later. My children were at the stage where they could do more for themselves and I wanted to teach them what I feel is a life skill – to be organized with your thoughts, your actions and your surroundings so that every day flows.

 

Now here I am with a middle-schooler, a high-schooler and a college student and the challenges are changing. So I thought I would share my experiences in a blog. The first one is about middle school.

In our school district, middle school starts in sixth grade. It is the first time students have a locker and are responsible to get themselves to the right class and remember which papers and books to bring to class and then home. They are getting into  paper management, at a time when they are anxious about being in a new place and probably going through some hormonal changes as well. It’s the perfect storm. And often their lockers, school bags and bedrooms reflect that.

Here are a few tips for setting your middle school child straight in the first few weeks of school:

  1. Go to back-to-school night! You can see whom you know in your child’s classes. Parents can then use each other for resource when instructions are unclear and homework is forgotten. You also get to meet your child’s teachers and get a feel for their personalities. Most will give you their email so use it whenever there is a question about a certain class.
  1. If your child has to use binders: use one for all the classes they have before lunch and another for the classes they have after lunch. They can usually go to their lockers then and switch. Make sure to use dividers to mark each subject. The teacher may also require sub sections.
  1. If your child can use folders and spiral notebooks: color code each subject so a blue folder and notebook for math, red ones for science, etc. Have them keep the notebook and the folder together for each class.
  1. Make one TAKE HOME folder. This should always be with your child. So when they get forms in homeroom, they go in one pocket marked “Forms.” And as they receive papers for homework each day, then go in the other side marked, “Homework.” I tell my kids to empty the folder every morning in homeroom – get papers back to the teacher or put them in the right binder. Then the folder gets filled each day and comes home. This prevents them from dragging two big binders home every night along with their textbooks.
  1. Have a routine at home for the morning, after school and before bedtime. Post a chore chart or just a little reminder card in a place they look every day until the routine becomes second nature.

Middle school is a growing season. Let your child have more freedom and see how they do with it. They will start to develop their own systems and routines and that’s fine – as long as they work. If something is not working (like they keep forgetting homework) talk it out and come up with a solution.

What are some challenges you find with your middle school student?

Absolute # 7 – Subtract Before You Add

imagesIf you remember the “order of operations” in basic arithmetic it went: “My Dear Aunt Sallie” which stood for: multiply, divide, add then subtract. Well I’m flipping that around because my dear Aunt Sallie has a lot of clutter! So I suggest she subtracts before she adds. This can apply to a lot of operations we perform while organizing.

First example, lets take the clothes closet. Many of us do the seasonal clean out in the fall and spring. You really need to look at every piece of clothing, make sure it fits, it makes you look beautiful or feel wonderful and you are going to wear it! Those clothes can stay. Everything else should go to an appropriate donation center. So you subtract what doesn’t work for you. Then comes the fun part. Make a list of what you need to replace and any basic items that you don’t have (like a little black dress or a blazer) and go shopping! That’s the adding. You also want to take out clothes before you buy any bins, dividers or organizers for the closet. Too often people rush out to buy bins before they have pared down. Rookie mistake.

Another example of subtracting can happen in the kitchen. Why would you go food shopping if your refrigerator is stuffed so full, there’s no room on any shelf? Most likely you’ve got some old stuff in there that needs to go. Or if you have a ton of leftovers that don’t look appealing to your family, get creative. Mix some veggies and rice together with a sauce and cook fresh chicken or steak to go with it. Or if you have meat leftover, consider making a fajita, or stir fry dish. Just adding something new makes it so much better! Leftover fruit goes great into a smoothie or milkshake. Of course anything with mold should be tossed. Then you can go food shopping and add. One thing I like to do on food shopping day is take all the half-eaten snacks in the house and put them in a divided party dish. Those are the snacks for the day and until they are gone, we don’t open anything new.

One more example is with paper. Don’t just look at the piles you have and buy bins or file drawers to fit everything. First categorize & purge them. Then you can see what you’re left with and you can go buy file drawers, bins or file folders to put them in. And always take care of the backlog before you filter in any paper that has just come in.

I hope you remember this rule as you tackle your next organizing task.

In what ways do you subtract before you add?

Absolute #5-Keep Like Things Together

wrapping paperOne of my absolutes comes up all the time when I’m working with clients and my own family. “Keep like things together. “We’ve all heard this before, but have you thought about all the ways you can do this? As with most organizing techniques, there is no right or wrong way to do this, you just have to find what works for you. Often the way I see one item and categorize it is not always the way my client sees it.

 

Let’s take the example of an open, studio apartment. With one big room it’s easy to have things all over the place. When everything is everywhere, chaos ensues. This makes it hard to find what you need when you need it. It often leads to countertops and tables being covered with clutter. So the first step is…put like things together in a big way. Categories might be: kitchen, entertainment, office, and exercise equipment. If you do a big sort you can put every category in a corner or just a pile. Or if you’ve already decided on zones, put everything in its correct zone.

 

The next step is getting into the nitty gritty. With entertainment you can break it down into: cd’s, dvd’s and books. With office materials you might have paperwork to file, office supplies and computer equipment. Putting these things together helps you see what you have and maybe what you can get rid of. Then you can find appropriate bins, drawers or shelves to put these items on. Having designated bins makes it easy to clean up too!

 

And this rule applies not only to physical items but also to tasks. I find when I put like tasks together, they get done much more efficiently. If I have a list of calls to make, I do them one after the other. If I have tasks that need to be done on the computer (as I’m doing right now) I do them and then I can walk away from the computer for a while. This is especially true with errands. If you want to save time, it helps to make a list of where you need to go and plan it out geographically. Can you do some on the way to or from an appointment? Plot it out, and then make sure you have all the things you need to easy on down the road in your car. Sometimes my goal is simply to get rid of all the things I have on my passenger seat by the end of the day.

 

So the next time you’re trying to bring order to your home or office, think “like things together” and see how this can guide you to a neat outcome.

Wrapping up the School Year in 6 Steps

As we approach graduations and the end of school hoopla, it’s a great time to pull together your child’s memories of their school years. The problem is, many of these papers, pieces of artwork and awards and ribbons are all over the house in bins, files and maybe hanging on refrigerators and bulletin boards. Here are a few steps to pulling together and savoring all your child has done and accomplished this school year:

 

  1. You have to be reasonable about what you keep. It’s often said that the key to organizing is making decisions. I completely agree with this statement and have seen it with many of my clients. The people with the most clutter and the most “old stuff,” can’t seem to make a decision and let go of the past. When it comes to savoring your child’s life with little pictures, and tokens of their stages of growth, it’s best to do it on a year by year basis. Think of it as finding the “best of” that year. Chose the best, toss the rest and move on! There’s so much more ahead.
  2. Only save the happy memories. Believe it or not, there are people who save mementos of unhappy occasions. I have seen people save bloody blankets from when their dog was hit by a car, newspaper clippings of national tragedies and obituaries, and pieces of casts from a broken arm! And I have to think, “Why?” Why would you want to be reminded of something sad, tragic or unhappy? I guess it’s a matter of opinion and preference but I would like to think that if you are saving things for your child, you would want only the happy memories to be preserved. So when considering what to keep for your child, ask yourself and your child, “Does this bring a smile to your face?”
  3. Gather it all together. If you’ve already accumulated a bunch of memorabilia for your child or children, to get it under control and organized you’ll have to gather it all in to one room. If you have more than one child, do this for one child at a time. It’s a great excuse to have some one-on-one time together!
  4. Finding time. Make sure you have allotted a few hours for this process because you may get lost in your reminiscing and that’s okay! If you don’t think you’ll get through it all, make sure you have an area where you can leave the stuff until you do finish your project.
  5. Use my Categorize, Purge and Re-Arrange (C.P.R.) process. Your categories might be: photos, artwork, baby blankets & clothes, baby photo albums or scrapbooks, trophies & awards, religious articles, schoolwork and stuffed animals, just to name a few. Of course your personal categories will depend on the age of your child and how much you have saved thus far. As you categorize, ask your child “Do you want to save this?” If the child says “No” you’ve got to honor that. You can also decide if something is necessary to save just by your child’s reaction. If there are lots of “oohs” and “aahs,” and “I remember this!” You probably want to keep it. If you get, “what is that?” it’s probably a toss.
  6. Create a Memory Box. Once you have looked at everything and made your decisions, create a memory box for each child. I recommend a trunk that can be left out in their bedroom. This way they can add to it easily.  Or a plastic tub in their closet works well too.  If you collect lots of papers (awards, artwork, cards) consider putting them in a scrapbook. Summer break is a great time to review, reminisce and refresh your memory box. You can also take some time to put together a scrapbook of all you’ve collected over the year. The first time you do this, it’s a big project but if you continue each year, it becomes a seasonal clean out.

Organizing After a Business Conference

We’ve all been there. You go to a business conference and you accumulate great ideas, business contacts and therefore business cards, as well as free products. No matter how organized you are, it’s a little overwhelming to re-enter your real world with all this new-found stuff and excitement!

As I recently came back from such a conference, I wondered how many days (or hours) on average it takes my colleagues to unpack their suitcases and put away all their new items? So I decided to test myself, do it in a day and document the process I used. So here it is, for all you other entrepreneurs and business travelers:

1. Compile receipts – Obviously this was a business related trip so you’ll need to save receipts for tax purposes. While I traveled I put all receipts in a pocket in my wallet. When I paid cash and could not get a receipt I wrote myself a note and put it in the same place. I also use one credit card for business so the receipts will get dumped in that credit card’s file folder and will be compared to the next bill. I also totaled them up for my own curiosity about the cost of the trip.

2. Connect with Business Contacts – I put business cards in one spot in my travel bag as I collected them. I also made some notes on the back of each card as to why I was saving it. Some people were company representatives, some were board members in my same position from another city and others were just personal acquaintances who I spoke to because of a common interest. When I arrived home, I sorted them, connected with each on Twitter and Facebook and will write personal emails to those who I would like to keep in contact with. Business cards can get filed, or scanned and saved into your contacts list.

3. Review Your Notes – If you’re lucky enough to actually learn something from your conferences like I do each year at the NAPO National conference, you’ll want to review your notes, highlight the gems and then create an Action list for tasks that you want to start working on immediately. Some courses might have been informational but you’re not going to use that information right now, so you can file it in a reference folder. Other info may not be useful to you ever, so recycle it. The conference you attend might also like feedback so fill out the survey after you have looked over your notes.

4. Gather your freebies – What is it with expos and trade shows that makes you want to pick up every free item someone is giving away? I like to think I avoid that temptation being a minimalist at heart. But sometimes I take items for my kids (cheap souvenirs) or my clients. So divvy up the goodies and either toss the rest or use some as prizes the next time you speak somewhere. I know my clients are always excited about another canvas bin, Command hook or file folder!

5. Start Fresh! Going to a conference can open your eyes to new possibilities in your business. You can’t do it all and change everything, but decide what goals you would like to set or new avenues you want to pursue and incorporate them into your business goals. Post your action list right in front of your desk so you can see it daily. Add the day to day tasks into your planner that will help you reach those goals.

One thing I learned for my next conference is to pack a small bag with wheels. That will save my shoulders in the airport and walking around the expo!

What take-away do you have from your last business conference?

 

Summer Sanity Savers – Review

The first thing I like about this book is that it’s short and to the point. Because as a work-from-home mom of three, who has time to read a 200 page How To book?

Prerna offers some great ideas for how to streamline your workload , which really apply to all year, not just the summer. And she offers some great suggestions for delegating, simplifying and prioritizing all the other tasks that go along with being a mom and having a home to run.

I agree that when you delegate to other people, and give your kids responsibilities in the home your business will grow as a result. Years ago I hired a cleaning person to come twice a month so now I just have to straighten daily with the help of my family and do basic cleaning on the in-between weeks. Financially it makes sense too because I pay her less per hour than I make. Less time cleaning = more billable hours for me. And I don’t worry about when I’m going to clean the house.

There are several applications and helpful links that Prerna provides. Personally I’m going to visit Quick Notice and WWSGD to help grow my contact list automatically and create some Canned Responses to emails. I think these will be great time savers for my business.

I love the meal planner sheets because although I sometimes do this in my head, it helps to write it down so that my kids and husband can see the list and we can do a “first one home starts the dinner” kind of approach. In my case, I do not work from home every day, but rather run a business out of my home.

The parenting and activity ideas were also good for pre-school children but the one thing she doesn’t address is the coordination of schedules when your kids are older and more active.  When you have more than one child and throw part-time jobs, summer camps and having friends over into the mix, it gets nutty. The author admits that her husband also works from home and they coordinate their time with their daughter – which is nice and tidy but not a reality for many moms. If she thought the summer with one three-year-old was tough to work through – my life would look like a battlefield in comparison! (Maybe this will be covered in a sequel.)

Everything You Need to Know About Spring Cleaning & Organizing

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It’s not too late to get organized this year!

Every year around this time I receive calls of “help!” with regard to helping clients get their paperwork in order for taxes. Here are some basic filing tips that bear repeating:

Like Christmas, tax time comes the same each year so there’s no reason not to be ready for it. I know that circumstances change with homes, business, investments, etc. But if you have the usual numbers ready to go, getting the totals on your tax forms should not be that difficult.

  • First of all, ask your accountant what he/she needs and what back-up information you need to save. Don’t just give her/him everything that may be related to your taxes or everything you gave last year, because often people give the accountant way more than they ask for only to pay a higher price for the accountant to sort and make sense of it. So give him what he wants and no more.
  • Now make files for those categories. I’m a big believer in specific folders for: Business Expenses, Medical Expenses, Investment income, Income receipts, charitable contributions, etc. Think in terms of your line items.  If you have one filed just called “Tax Stuff” you’re going to have to sort it next year anyway. You can make these actually hard copy folders or folders on your computer. Simply drop in statements and receipts all year long. At the end of the year you can tally and staple these receipts together, voila – no more sorting for the accountant.
  • If you have your own business or you travel for business, keep a mileage log in your car. Or use a mileage app. For every appointment write down the starting and ending mileage, total mileage and purpose of the trip. At the end of the calendar year, tally up the mileages and take your deduction allowed by the IRS. You can also use an app on your phone to do this.
  • Again, if you have business expenses for your work, use one credit card for only business purposes. If you have a card that offers a year end statement – that’s perfect – they will categorize your expenses for you! For miscellaneous cash expenses for business, just remember to get a receipt and drop it in your Business Expense file.
  • If your family needs to keep track and itemize out of pocket medical expenses, have a folder for those receipts as well. Or you could make all medical payments on one credit card, and use those statements for the year so you don’t have to tally receipts. You can keep another Medical file for each member of the house which contains medical reports, labs, diagnosis, etc. That you keep forever. The expenses file you can clean out each year.
  • No need to keep weekly paystubs once you get a correct W2 form. And no need to keep ATM receipts if you are balancing your bank account every month. The monthly statements will support the transactions.
  • Finally, once you have your tax “back-up” ready, pull it out of the filing cabinet and put it in a manila envelope marked with the year. In some cases you may need a banker’s box. Give the accountant what he needs and then file the completed return with all the back-up info. As you put in this year’s, shred the tax file that is 6 years old. *

*always check with your accountant about what you can toss – everyone’s circumstances are different but 6 years is a general guideline.

Keeping You Organized

Get the inside scoop on how I got started in the organizing business, what goes on behind the scenes on Hoarders, and some tips on keeping your home organized! Listen to this podcast from Smead:

Back to School Survival Tips for Moms

 Before the tide changes and we go from carefree summer days to the scheduled and often over-scheduled fall, take a moment to consider some of these organizing tips to get you and your family ready for September:

  1. Go through the kids’ clothes to find out what still fits.  Make a list of what they’ll need as far as shoes, clothes, jackets, etc. and go shopping for those items.
  2. Pull out the required school supplies list and see what you already have in house.  Check off what you have and take the list shopping to buy other supplies.  Put everyone’s supplies in their backpack or a separate bag.
  3. One week before school starts, (or at least a few days) practice going to bed on time and waking up when you would need to for school.  Use the extra time to spend outside in the morning, or catching up on things you wanted to do all summer.
  4. If you don’t have one, make a file for “School Information” and “Kids Activities” for each child.  This could be a hanging file or a pocket folder.
  5. Create activity bags for after school sports, lessons or classes. That way the kids can grab & go! Have hooks for these bags in a mudroom or front closet.
  6. Decide where & when homework will be done.  For younger children the kitchen or dining room table might work if they need help from parents.  For older children a desk in their room is better for concentration.
  7. Establish a morning routine for yourself and the kids. For non-readers you can make a pictogram of what they need to do in the morning:  get dressed, make bed, eat breakfast, and brush teeth.
  8. Hang a family calendar in your kitchen so everyone knows where they need to be each day.  Also mark half days and days off so you know when you need to be home for the kids or have a babysitter.
  9. Handle school papers and forms every day.  Go through the papers as the kids are doing homework.  Read each, trash it or put it in a “to do” or “to file” pile.  Mark significant dates on a Family Calendar and throw away the paper whenever possible.  Keep your To Do pile on a desk or hall table so you look at it every day until it’s done.
  10. When the kids are back in school – take a day off for yourself! Get a massage, a haircut or mani/pedi. Get together with other moms & celebrate – you survived the summer!

Avoid the Tax Rush

  If you find yourself stressed out this time every  year, trying to find papers and receipts to give to your accountant, you’ve got to be thinking, “There must be a better, simpler way!” And there is. Think about it. Like Christmas, tax time comes the same each year so there’s no reason not to be ready for it. I know that circumstances change with homes, businesses, investments, etc. But if you have the usual numbers ready to go, getting the totals on your tax forms should not be that difficult. It’s a matter of keeping good files all year long.

 

6 Tips to Organizing Your Files for Taxes:

  • Write down the categories of papers that your accountant asks for. Not everything you gave him last year, because often people give the accountant way more than they ask for only to pay a higher price for the accountant to sort and make sense of it. So give him what he wants and no more.
  • Make files for those categories. I’m a big believer in specific folders for: Business Expenses, Medical Expenses, Investment income, Income receipts, charitable contributions, etc. Think in terms of your line items.  If you have one filed just called “Tax Stuff” you’re going to have to sort it next year anyway. Put the files close to your desk and drop in statements and receipts all year long. At the end of the year you can tally and staple these receipts together, voila – no more sorting for the accountant.
  • If you have your own business or you travel for business, keep a mileage log in your car. For every appointment write down the starting and ending mileage, total mileage and purpose of the trip. At the end of the calendar year, tally up the mileages and take your deduction allowed by the IRS. You can also use an app on your phone to do this.
  • If you have business expenses for your work, use one credit card for only business purposes. If you have a card that offers a year end statement – that’s perfect – they will categorize your expenses for you! For miscellaneous cash expenses for business, just remember to get a receipt and drop it in your Business Expense file.
  • If your family needs to keep track and itemize out of pocket medical expenses, have a folder for those receipts as well. Or you could make all medical payments on one credit card, and use those statements for the year so you don’t have to keep receipts. You can keep another Medical file for each member of the house which contains medical reports, labs, diagnosis, etc. That you keep forever. The expenses file you can clean out each year.
  • No need to keep weekly paystubs once you get a correct W2 form. And no need to keep ATM receipts if you are balancing your bank account every month. The monthly statements will support the transactions.
  • Once you have your tax “back-up” ready, pull it out of the filing cabinet and put it in a manila envelope marked with the year. In some cases you may need a banker’s box. Give the accountant what he needs and then file the completed return with all the back-up info. As you put in this year’s, shred the tax file that is 6 years old. *

*always check with your accountant about what you can toss – everyone’s circumstances are different but 6 years is a general guideline.

What tips do you have to keep tax info easy to find? Leave a comment:

 

And so this is Christmas…

Many people might wonder what does a Professional Organizer DO? And isn’t it just a luxury to be able to hire someone to organize your home? Well, yes,in some ways it is. But in many ways the career of a Professional Organizer is filled with much more rewarding circumstances than you might think. Take my association, the National Association of Professional Organizers (Greater Philadelphia Chapter). We recently embarked on a project that was amazing, fun and rewarding. Here is the summary that I wrote about our experience:

Nine professional organizers invaded the home of Master Sergeant Susan Springsteen on sat. Dec. 15th armed with sticky notes, bins and labelers. It’s not the kind of invasion MSGT. Springsteen was used to, having served three tours in Afghanistan. But it was a welcome day of organizing her home which she won on Veteran’s Day as a prize through “Project Thanks.” This contest was a lottery-style drawing open to all active Delaware Air National Guard Service Members deployed away from home in the last 18 months, made possible through the generosity of the National Association of Professional Organizers, Greater Philadelphia Chapter. (NAPO-GPC)

The NAPO-GPC organizers came once to assess the project which was to organize the home office, creating a paper filing system and doing something with the plethora of family photos and military plaques that Ms. Springsteen had not had a chance to put up and display.

After the assessment they set to work ordering needed supplies like bins and shelves and even finishing touches, like curtains, pillows and frames. It was easy to round up volunteers who wanted to offer thanks to our military servicemen and women. When project day came, much more was accomplished. The eager organizers did go through boxes of paper, sorting, shredding and filing with meticulous accuracy. They also culled favorite photos and created framed collages while categorizing and filing the rest. They hauled away clothing and household items meant for donation. They organized closets, pantry and laundry room.

To some people this may sound like a nightmare, to others, a dream, but MSGT. Springsteen seemed to take all this free help graciously. In 6 hours (54 woman hours) the team of Type A’s had whipped the home into one worthy of a military inspection. The organizers, who all own their own businesses, had a chance to collaborate and learn each other’s systems while MSGT. Springsteen received the benefit of their expertise, energy and enthusiasm. Everyone left exhausted but feeling good for the work that was done. NAPO-GPC plans to make this an annual event between Thanksgiving and Christmas as a way to give Thanks to our military service men and women.

Leave a comment:

Setting Up Your Home Office

Whether you are setting up a home office to run your household or you have a home-based business, there are certain steps you can take to make sure it is set up for maximum efficiency. And if you have a home office now that is “not working” (as I hear from so many of my clients), don’t be afraid to start from scratch: de-clutter and re-organize it.

Set up zones & furniture

If your office has multiple functions, you’ll want to create zones for each function.  For instance, if you are using your office area for managing your household files and doing a home business, you need to have separate file drawers or file cabinets for each. You may even want to have two desks, one for personal and one for business.

If you have a computer and several peripherals, make sure you set them up near a grounded outlet using a surge protector.  Also make sure the computer is in a position that will not have a glare from the sun if there are windows in your office. One of the basic rules of feng shui is that a desk chair should face the door of the room. This is the “control” position. You definitely want to be in control of your business.

Consider Paper flow

One of the most common clutter problems in a home office involves paper. Think about the flow of paper in your office and set it up in an assembly line fashion.  If yours is an office for managing your home, you could set it up like this:

To Do Bin > Open space on desk > Printer > shredder/trash can > “Going Out” table

If bills are often paid late, leave those out and visible on the desk top. Even if you pay them electronically, you need some visual reminder of the amount and due date.

If you are also using your office to manage a home-based business, your set up may be more complicated.  But as Philip Crosby says, “all work is a process.” Whether you have a product based or service based business (or a little of both) document your process from customer requests, to fulfillment to payment. You could set up stations for each step in the process.  For a product based business, have order forms by the phone or computer – wherever they come in.  Then spread them out on a table for filling orders.  Keep a record of who has paid and who has not.  You could use a letter holder on the table or two bins accurately marked.  Have your packaging materials either under the table or in a closet in your office and pull them out when you’re ready to ship.  Once the packages are ready to deliver or mail, have a “Going Out” bin by the door of the office.   So your straight line process might look like this:

Take orders > Record Payment > Fill Orders > Package > Send out product

Having your business set up in this way will avoid a lot of confusion about where a certain order is, and who has paid you or not.  It also helps you see exactly what piece of the process you need to focus on at any given time.

For a service based business, you will still have customer requests. These may come in via phone or email. Most likely you will create a record of the request, defining the customer requirements. The workflow may look something like this:

Customer request>Define Requirements>Contract or invoice>Schedule work>Complete work>Check requirements>Collect payment>Follow up

Set the stages of this process up from left to right in your office so you can easily move from one to another without going in circles!

Put on the finishing touches

Once your office is set up functionally, make sure it’s aesthetically pleasing too. When you feel at ease and have a clear space to work, you will have a clear and focused mind to do your work.

  • If you like visual reminders and motivators, put up a bulletin board.  Post pictures of loved ones, pictures of prizes you are working towards, or simple notes.  Bulletin boards do have potential for clutter so make sure you keep them current. Don’t cover old notes with new ones.
  • If your office is in a corner of a larger room in your house, make sure it blends.  You wouldn’t want a metal desk in a French country living room.  Try to match the wood tones of the furniture.
  • If your file cabinets are visible in your office, also make sure they are wood.  Metal or plastic bins should be tucked away in a closet and not out in the open.
  • If you have clients come to your office, make sure you have a comfortable place for them to sit, and a clear table for them to use.
  •  Add something pretty like a vase of flowers, a beautiful picture, or a great smelling candle.

What’s your tip for a great home office?

FORGET THE CROWDS ON BLACK FRIDAY!

Maybe I’m getting old, but I have no desire to face the chaos of Black Friday. There is nothing I or my family wants that badly. So I shop for most of my Christmas gifts from the comfort of my own home, right here on my computer. Shopping on-line is more efficient – you can do it anytime you want. And it saves you time and stress. I’m all for that! So the way I organize my Christmas shopping is to browse catalogs, circle what I want and then log on to the computer and start. Before I check out, I always check retailmenot.com for coupons or free shipping codes. Sometimes they are posted right on the hard copy of the catalog.

I thought I would share with you my “favorite things” which include organizing products and unique gifts that you can give this year or just buy for yourself. These are all from a amazingly priced catalog called Lakeside Collection.  It has served my family well for the last several Christmases.

 

Over the door jewelry valet – for your daughter or decorative friend      $14.95

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Revolving Jewelry Stand – another option for jewelry, smaller but nicer display $8.95

 

 

 

 

 

Heirloom Recipe Binder – for the saver of recipes on your list     $7.95

 

 

 

 

 

21 Photo Collage Frame – for the saver of pictures who has no frames   $16.95

 

 

 

 

 

 

Three pairs of touch screen gloves – know any texters?:)                          $6.95

 

 

 

 


 

 

Easy Change Artwork Frames – fill with art from your kids for a great grandparents gift   $8.95

 

 

 

 

 

Color coded Dry Erase Calendar Set – This one’s for you to start the New Year off right! $8.95

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Set of 4 magnetic bins for your kitchen, bathroom or file cabinet   $6.95

 

 

 

 

 

 

Decorative Bench & Mirror for your entryway – A simple way to decorate and organize $12.95-$39.95

 

 

 

 

 

Toy storage net – get those stuffed animals off the bed an up in a hammock       $6.95

 

 

 

 

These are my favorites, check out the site and find yours!  www.lakeside.com

 

I’m learning!

Ok, so here’s what I’ve done with my smartphone today. I took pictures at a fun event this morning. The NAPO Philadelphia chapter volunteered to help with NPR’s fundraising campaign on the radio – 90.9 FM in the Philadelphia area. We got there at the crack of dawn – 6:30 am and stayed til 10. We had a great time answering phones, meeting our goals, (some of us can get very competitive) and chatting during slow times.  The staff at WHYY treated us very well with coffee and breakfast and even took us on a tour of the station. So I took pictures with my phone for the first time, AND posted them to Facebook! I also tweeted while we were there to get more people to call the donation line.  It was all happening so quick and I finally felt like I could keep up with the speed of social media.

Now, do I want to stay on this treadmill? I’m not so sure. But when I want to slow down, I can always silence my phone and tuck it away in the pouch of my handbag and get back to real life.

So check out my Facebook Page to see the photos!

Organize Your Children’s Artwork

Here’s a category that seems to have a life of its own. Depending on how creative you and your children are, you can accumulate from 1-5 pieces of kiddy art per day for each child. No mother wants to trash her child’s creation but then again not many moms have room for all that creativity. The key is balancing sensitivity and realism. You want to treasure your child’s creation but be realistic about how long to keep each piece. Here are some options:

Display it …

* on the refrigerator, but limit it to one creation per child. Make it like an art gallery that gets updated on a regular basis.

* on a cork board or bulletin board in the play area or a child’s bedroom.

* in a plastic box frame if it’s a really good drawing or painting.

* on a display shelf if it’s a sculpture or chunky piece of art.

Stash it…

* in a desk drawer if there’s no more room to display it.

* in a portfolio labeled with the child’s name and year.

* in a plastic container under their bed if there’s no other place.

* in a memory box if it’s a piece of art that was done a while ago but is “a keeper.”

 

Trash it…

* once it has had its time on display.

* after you have taken a picture of it

* if it’s a sculpture that has deteriorated or gone bad (like a macaroni necklace).

* if you have multiple versions of the same drawing, painting or art piece.

* after the child has decided they no longer like it or want it.

 

With September just around the corner, now is the time to set up your system for artwork done in the new school year. Go through all the old stuff you’ve already accumulated, and have those bins, corkboards or desk drawers ready for the new school year! Take heart, after 4th grade or so the volume of artwork slows down for most kids!

Could you use some Administrative Assistance?

One problem with being a solopreneur (and I’ve been one for nine years now) is we have no one to handle the administrative work.  With Secretaries Day approaching I am often reminded that I would love to be able to hire an administrative assistant.  Actually what I need is a scheduling secretary, but with three kids who are active and multiple clients every week, that person would have to follow me around and be inside my head at the same time.  Even more frustrating is that my accountant husband told me the income level I need in order to hire someone full time. Let’s just say I’m not there yet! So in the meantime I do it all: the writing, the scheduling, the social networking, the delivery of services, the invoicing and the promotion. Whew, I’m tired just typing this!

So what’s a control freak to do? Well, I’ve come up with interim solutions until I get to that income level where I can just hire someone to do my logistical work so I can concentrate on organizing, writing and speaking.

  • I have kids, so I’ve trained them.  This is not a sweat shop, but it’s not a free ride either. Since they were 5 years old, my kids have put away their toys, clothes and cleaned their places at the table.
  • I took the craziest time of day (4-6 pm) and delegated the duties. Someone walks the dog, another person sets the table, I make the dinner and we all sit down together for a family meal on most nights. After dinner my husband and I split the homework & clean up duties.
  • I realized I was spending half a day every week cleaning my house and that I could be making more money spending that half day working for a client. So I hired a cleaning person and although she comes every other week, I’m okay with that. If the house starts to look hideous in between I do a “quick clean.”
  • I hired someone to set up my social media connections. Last year I had an urgent need from my publisher to participate in a Twitter Party and I didn’t even have an account yet. I hired an old friend and had her do the set up and then give me a simple tutorial on how I could manage my Facebook, Twitter and Blog on a daily basis.
  • I hired someone to revamp my website and business cards to create a unique brand. Up until this year I’ve been maintaining my own website and functioning with basic white & blue business cards.  Now I have a style.
  • I’ve decided to swap services with a business coach. I need to build my business and she needs to get organized. It’s the beginning of a beautiful relationship.
  • I’ve agreed to teach someone how to become a professional organizer in exchange for helping me with some administrative work.

So you see there are alternatives when you can’t afford to hire a full time employee, and you can’t afford not to get some help. We all have our areas of expertise, admitting what you’re not good at is the first step, letting go of something you don’t need to handle is another. As a woman you may feel like you have to be Supermom with a great career and a perfect house.  Let your family pitch in, they will appreciate you even more. Be creative, make offers to other professionals and soon you’ll have a support team at home & at work that could take your business to the next level.

AVOID THE TAX RUSH – NEXT YEAR

This may sound like another New Year’s resolution, and it is in a way. But if you found yourself stressed out over the last month, trying to find papers and receipts to give to your accountant, you’ve got to be thinking, “There must be a better, simpler way!” And there is.

  • First of all, write down the categories of papers that your accountant asked for. Not everything you gave him, because often people give the accountant way more than they ask for only to pay a higher price for the accountant to sort and make sense of it. So give him/her what he wants and no more.
  • Now make files for those categories. I’m a big believer in specific folders for: Business Expenses, Medical Expenses, Investment income, Income receipts, charitable contributions, etc. Think in terms of your line items.  If you have one filed just called “Tax Stuff” you’re going to have to sort it next year anyway. Put the files close to your desk and drop in statements and receipts all year long. At the end of the year you can tally and staple these receipts together, voila – no more sorting for the accountant.
  • If you pay taxes quarterly, make monthly files for income/expenses. Get your First Quarter 2012 together now. It’s much easier to gather statments quarterly than annually.
  • Use one bank account and one credit card for business. If you have a card that offers a year end statement – that’s perfect – they will categorize your expenses for you! For miscellaneous cash expenses for business, just remember to get a receipt and drop it in your Business Expense file.
  • If your family needs to keep track and itemize out of pocket medical expenses, have a folder for those receipts as well. You can keep another Medical file for each member of the house which contains medical reports, labs, diagnosis, etc. That you keep forever. The expenses file you can clean out each year.
  • No need to keep weekly paystubs once you get a correct W2 form. And no need to keep ATM receipts if you are balancing your bank account every month. The monthly statements will support the transactions.
  • Finally, once you have your tax “back-up” ready, pull it out of the filing cabinet and put it in a manila envelope marked with the year. In some cases you may need a banker’s box. Give the accountant what he needs and then file the completed return with all the back-up info. As you put in this years, shred the tax file that is 6 years old. *

*always check with your accountant about what you can toss – everyone’s circumstances are different but 6 years is a general guideline.

Once a Week Organizing Tips

I had the pleasure of working with a teenage client the other day. My daughter warned me that it was going to be tough to get a high school student organized, but I felt up for the challenge. Even the mother who hired me warned that her daughter did not seem motivated to do anything. But that did not deter me.  Often it’s the tension between a parent and child that halts any progress towards organization. Suggestions from a third party often seem novel and interesting compared to a parent’s constant nagging to “clean up your room” or “get your schoolwork together.”  I’m happy to say the session went well and we were able to clean up her bedroom, schoolbag and even make a plan for upcoming school projects in a matter of three hours.

What I notice about teenagers is yes, they can’t be bothered with organizing for organizing sake. They have better things to do. So if I suggest some habits that only have to be done once a week, I am much more likely to gain compliance. If this works for teens, why not adults who can’t find the time to do tedious tasks every day?  So here are 10 simple habits you can do ONCE A WEEK to stay functionally organized and motivate your family to help you with a lot less stress:

  1. Go through your mail pile. Throw out envelopes, filler and sales offers you don’t want. Move reading materials to your magazine rack or favorite chair, bills and action items to your desk and receipts and statements to your filing cabinets.
  2. Straighten your bedroom. Put books on the bookshelf, wash the sheets, pick up clothes & shoes off the floor and move items out if they don’t belong there.
  3. Put your clean clothes away. In my house each person’s wash is done once a week so you only have to put it away once.
  4. Wipe down the bathroom sink and toilet, wash towels and washcloths.
  5. Clean out your pocketbook. Put make-up back in the bathroom; ATM receipts in your checkbook ledger or in a file and dump the trash.
  6. Clean out your car. Climb in the back of that minivan and see what the kids have left. Hopefully it’s not stuck to the carpet!
  7. Kids can clean out their backpacks on Friday. Give parents any papers they need, trash old assignments if you can. Put other study materials in the right subject folder.
  8. Go through your bills and put them in date order. Pay anything that’s due in 2 weeks.
  9. Take a basket and straighten the whole house, moving things to the right room. Start at the top and work your way down.
  10. Take your planner or calendar and plan out your week with your spouse & kids if necessary. I like to do this on Sunday nights.

What things do you do once a week just to stay on track? Leave a comment.

Whatcha gonna do with all those RECEIPTS?

Here’s a common problem I find when organizing paperwork: People don’t know what to do with receipts, but they don’t want to throw them out. Some save them in envelopes, some in hanging files, some even gather them all together and throw them in a box or drawer. But then what?

When clients ask me, how do I keep my receipts? I answer back with a question (not to be a smart alec but the answer is really “it depends”) What are you going to do with them if you save them?
All receipts are not equal in importance. Receipts for cash expenditures for example don’t need to be saved UNLESS you want to be reimbursed or it’s a TAX DEDUCTIBLE expense or you want to closely watch your BUDGET. So there, one receipt fall into 3 different categories!

Here’s a few of the most common reasons for saving receipts and suggestions for how to keep them under control. Note well that throwing them all into one box or drawer is not a permanent solution that any organizer (or accountant for that matter) would recommend. It may be a temporary solution to get them out of your purse & pockets and gather them all into one place & then sort into smaller categories later.

TAX PURPOSES -This is the most important reason people save receipts, because the IRS requires them. So before you start saving know what is deductible for your circumstances. Medical expenses, business expenses, and charitable contributions are some of the most common. So create a hanging file for each category and toss in receipts all year. At the end of the year gather them together, total them and keep them with your tax filing information. Mark them with the TAX YEAR and save for 7 years. No need to make new hanging folders each year, just re-use the same ones.

BANKING – Another type of receipt is your debit card or ATM card receipts for money withdrawn from your bank acoount. These are important to keep your account balanced. You can tuck them in the folder of your check book ledger and discard after you balance your checkbook with your statement each month. You are doing that, right? If there is a discrepancy, you now have a record that you can take to the bank. Shred after you balance.

BUDGETS – Some families and most small businesses have budgets that they want to track. For this reason you may want to save all your receipts and categorize expenses. You can do this manually or electronically with a receipt scanner like NEAT RECEIPTS. If you have a lot, try the electronic it’s much more efficient and fun! You can take your receipts from one month, scan them all in and the system categorizes them for you! You might even get one of your kids to do this once you set it up. (Go to www.neat.com for more information.) To save the receipts until you scan, have an envelope or hanging file for each month and empty it monthly. Shred after you scan and check.

CREDIT CARDS- Even if you’re not tracking a budget in detail, you may want to check your credit card statements against the receipts you have saved for a given month.  To do this, you just need a hanging folder for each of your credit cards. Toss the receipts in and when the statement comes in, check it staple receipts & statement together and keep in the file for a year. This serves 2 purposes: 1. making sure you’re not over paying for items on credit and 2. giving you a place to easily find receipts in case of return.

RETURNS – If you are giving lots of gifts (like around the holidays in December) or buying lots of home products (after a move or renovation) you may want to create a subject file like “Home Improvements Receipts” or “Christmas Receipts.” Keep them for a month or so, and then you can shred. Of course it’s always smart to get a gift receipt and just tuck it in the present so you don’t have to worry about someone else’s returns. For your own personal purchases, keep receipts either in your credit card file as mentioned above, or in a special envelope. When the envelope gets packed, clear it out and shred!

WARRANTY – For big ticket items like appliances, it’s a good idea to keep the receipt stapled to the warranty/user manual. That way if the item breaks within a year, you have a proof of purchase. Two options for where to keep these booklets/receipts: 1. close to where the item is stored (like a kitchen cabinet for instance) or 2. in a file marked “Warranties.”

Okay, I hope that helps. You can use one or all of these suggestions to keep your receipts under control.  If I missed a category, please chime in!

 

Eliminate Your Paper Piles forever

Ask any organizer and the main thing people have trouble with organizing is paper. I was told in the 80′s that we were becoming a paperless society. Really? I have personally seen one doctor’s office that is paperless and I felt like I was on the Starship Enterprise. So zen, so clean, so efficient. I wanted to work there.

But for most of us that’s a long way off, so in the meantime I’ve developed a 5 Step Process for cutting down the paperwork you have to deal with on a daily basis. Here’s the plan:

  1. Stop the bleeding – Most paper comes in through mail so go to www.dmachoice.org and sign in to opt out. This will clear your name from most mailing lists. Opt for on-line statements from your bank, and investment companies. You can check them, delete them or file them on your computer. If you’re comfortable with it, also receive and pay your bills online. If you have more magazines than you can read, let the subscriptions run out. Check the upper right corner of the mailing label to see when yours runs out. Donate old magazines to your library, local school or doctor’s office.
  2. Clear the backlog – This is easier said than done but set aside the time, bring all your old papers into one room that has either a clear table top or floor space to spread out.  If you’re not sure what to keep, ask an accountant or lawyer. Most people save papers “just in case” of an audit. So keep all your tax-related papers together in one envelope or box marked with the year. Don’t keep these papers in your active filing system. You’ll need a recycle bag, a shredder and probably 4-12 hours depending on the quantity. The decision is simple: keep? or toss? If you keep it, put like things together and create file names on post-it’s as you go.
  3. Set up a basic file system – If you don’t have one or if yours is not working, try the Freedom Filer System: https://freedomfiler.com/AffiliateClickThrough.cfm?cid=10990
    I believe a 2-drawer file cabinet is a must for most families. Ask your accountant what you need to save for taxes and create line-item folders. These make it easy to tally up a category each year. Most people need these files: Charitable Contributions, Medical records & expenses, Insurance, Home, Car, Bank, Credit Cards, Business Expenses, Investments, School Information. Start general and if a file is too big, get more specific.
  4. Handle your mail daily – Now that you’ve cleared the backlog and set up a file system  handling the mail should be easier. Open it up and decide, is it a to do? to read? or to file? If not, recycle or shred it. Then move your 3 piles to where you will take care of them.
  5. Make recycling easy – No one wants a big blue trash can in their entrance way, so make it nice and easy to recyle your unwanted mail. Get a wicker basket or an attractive bin and put it near the front door. When you finish the newspaper, it goes in. When you identify “junk mail” that goes in too. Just make sure any personal info gets shredded first so have a shredder in your home office area too.

The idea with paper is not where to keep it, but rather how to keep it flowing so that it gets handled or filed.