Posts Tagged ‘storage’

Have A Plan Of Attack

Begin working in the area that is the biggest thorn in your side — the part of your home or office that causes you the most agony. Even if every area of your life feels cluttered, it's not hard to pinpoint your MOST frustrating organizing challenge. When you find yourself saying, day after day, “Man, I wish I could get my (bedroom, desk, storage closet whatever) straightened out. This mess is driving me crazy!” — you know that's where you want to begin. Where is your greatest pain?

As you dig in, you're guaranteed to notice a few other spots that could use some organizing help too — that's fine. Create a list of the areas you want to work on, in order of priority. Be sure to include a deadline for completing each project. This will help you focus on the big picture as you work your way through your home or office. It's much easier to stay on track if you have a specific timetable within which to work. Crossing tasks off of your “to-do list” as you finish them also reminds you that there is a light at the end of the tunnel!  Don't feel overwhelmed — you will get to all of your problem areas, in due time.

One Baby Step After Another

It's tempting to want to organize everything at the same time, but that's a surefire way to sabotage your efforts. Instead, start by tackling just one small area at a time — a drawer, a cabinet, a shelf, a closet. Don't attempt to clean out the whole place at once. If you overdo it, chances are you will become frustrated and give up on the entire project. Set aside some time each week to work on a different area — once you get started, you'll be surprised at how quickly the job goes.

Do your best to move systematically, finishing one area before you begin another. There is nothing more draining than finding yourself surrounded by a bunch of half-finished projects — and it's even harder to find things if you have only organized part of your closet or cleaned out half of your filing system, while the other half is still a wreck.

Once you discover your own particular organizing style, you'll really be able to make some progress. Some people work best if they empty an entire storage area before organizing it. Others find that too overwhelming, and choose to tackle their clutter one item at a time. You need to decide for yourself which of these methods suits your personality best. But there is no “right” way — only what's right for you.  Remember, there are as many different ways to organize as there are people on the planet!

Call In The Troops

Don't be afraid to enlist a little help. If you can recruit some organizing “assistants” — do it! This is a big job, and it will go a lot faster if you aren't all by your lonesome. Consider drafting your friends, family members, or co-workers — put on some music, serve them pizza, and turn cleaning out into a party. Who said organizing has to be a chore?

You might even consider hiring a Professional Organizer to help you out — sometimes it's good to have someone around who has no vested interest your “stuff” and can offer expert advice when you get stuck. Just be judicious about who you bring on board. If you what you need most is an objective opinion, your nosy mother-in-law may not be the best choice!

Organizing is hard work — and it's going to take a minute. So don't get frustrated with yourself if you can't tackle every pile of clutter in one weekend! And don't drive yourself until you drop — cleaning out does not have to be painful. Just go at your own pace and cut yourself some slack if you aren't moving forward as quickly as you had hoped.  Most importantly, be sure to reward yourself every time you finish a particularly challenging task — even adults need “gold stars” (or a cappuccino or a movie or a soak in the tub) every now and then!

A Bad Case Of Indecision

You know what “waffling” is. It begins when you decide to get rid of that old waffle iron you never use. As you put it in the donation bag, you think to yourself, “But what if someone wants waffles?” You take it back out. Then you think, “That's silly. No one has wanted waffles in more than 5 years.” You stick it back in the bag. “I could start making waffles again.” It comes out. “I hate making waffles.” It goes back in. This continues for another 15 minutes until you go to the dark side with, “But I might need it someday.” You put the waffle iron back in the cabinet, to collect dust for another 5 years. Why do you do this? It's not because you are an evil and indecisive person. You simply lack a solid set of criteria for determining an item's worth. No longer!

The key to trimming down the clutter is being honest with yourself about what purpose that item serves in your life. If you can't conjure up at least one plausible scenario requiring the use of that green shag toilet-seat cover or dot-matrix printer from 1988, you may want to ask yourself if it is worth hanging on to. Try to provide solid answers to each of these questions:    

  • Why would I need it? (try to come up with one occasion when you would need that particular item again — what would have to happen in your life for it to be useful, relevant, and valuable to you)
  • Where would I need it? (if the item in question is only useful up north and you now live in Miami — or only useful in a corporate environment and you're now self-employed, why keep it?)
  • What would I need it for? (what purpose does this item serve? are you still involved with that activity? no reason to keep letterhead from an old job or tap shoes if you gave up dancing)
  • Who would ask me for it? (people seem to hang onto stuff because they are afraid someone will ask them for it someday — if it's the IRS or the police, keep it — if not, think twice)
  • When would I need it? (okay, you might need it “someday” — but when is will that day arrive? 3 months or 35 years from now? is it worth hanging onto that long?)

The Past Is Future

Ifyou haven't touched something in years, chances are thatyou're not going to use it anytime soon. Clothes and sporting goodsseem to be some of the worst offenders! It's natural for people to havea hard time letting go of the past. And if an old outfit or a bowlingball really means that much to you, put it away with yourkeepsakes. Just don't take upvaluable space in your active storage areas with items you don't use. Behonest and realistic about this one! At what point will the aforementioned green shagtoilet-seat cover be crucial to your survival? If you can picture aspecific, concrete instance when you will need it in the foreseeablefuture, then by all means keep it. “I might need it someday” isn't agood enough rationale.

What Is The Worst Thing That Would Happen If You Got Rid Of It?

When my clients are anxious about discarding an item, they are reallysaying, “I'm afraid of what might happen if I got rid of it.” This issimply fear of the unknown — uncertainty about the consequences oftheir actions. So I ask my clients to let their apprehensions run wild,and to imagine the absolute worst-case scenario. Will the world end if you toss outthat ring binder you haven't used since college? Probably not. Thisknowledge helps dissipate the fear and makes letting go a little easier.

So let's say you do get rid of something, and then decide thatyou need it 6 months later (my mother claims this always happens toher, as a justification for postponing cleaning out!) This isn't alwaysa problem. Ask yourself what would be required for you to replace thislost treasure. If we are talking about an expensive or hard-to-finditem, you are certainly justified in thinking twice before tossing it.But if it's just an old butter dish or an extra stapler, it's not such a big deal. You have to consider cost versus benefit — it may cost you more (intime, space, energy, or money) to keep the item than to replace it ifand when you ever need it.

You Have To Move A Pile Off A Chair So Someone Can Sit Down

Having a closet where you hide it all away is one thing (not good, but certainly a bit more tolerable). However, when your “junk” starts spilling out into your active living and working spaces, it's time to re-evaluate the situation. I have seen clients who couldn't turn on the stove because it was piled three feet high with unopened mail, used their shower as “storage” for  boxes of who-knows-what that they hadn't opened in 10 years, and never slept in their bed because it was covered with “stuff” they hadn't gotten around to putting away yet. If you are unable to use portions of your home or office because of clutter, it's time for the hard hat and shovel!

You Know You Own A Pair Of Scissors, But You Can Never Find It

Not being able to find things when you need them is a sign — your belongings are homeless and crying out to you for a place to live! Don't let them suffer any longer! If you want to stay organized, you need to have an assigned storage area for each and every thing you own. And not just any old place, but a logical, rational, and defensible spot nearest the point where you use that item. It's really pretty simple. Ask yourself where you would look for scissors when you needed them — that's where they should be stored. And if you use scissors in several different places around your home or office, buy 3 or 4 pairs and give each its own unique home.

It Takes You Three Tries To Get Out Of The House In The Morning

Let me guess — you walk out the door without your briefcase. You go back for your briefcase, then head out again sans keys. You return for the keys and get all the way to your car before you realize that your lunch is still sitting on the counter. No, you're probably not suffering from Alzheimer's at the tender age of 37. This is nothing more than poor planning. Take a minute the night before to gather up everything that you need to take with you in the morning. Put it in a designated holding area near the door so you won't forget it — a “launching pad,” if you will. You can even put a sticky note on the door to remind yourself to get your lunch from the fridge!

You Pay At Least One Late Fee Or Interest Charge Each Month

If you had a standard way of dealing with financial paperwork as it came in, you wouldn't get behind. Set up a small filing rack where you put all of your bills — lined up in the order in which they should be paid — and write the due date on the envelope. Then, schedule time on your calendar twice a month to pay the bills that are due in the next two weeks. Treat your bill-paying time like an appointment — block it off in your planner and don't let anything get in the way of completing that chore. Of course, if you find that your bills are late because you simply don't have enough money to pay them, then it's time to re-evaluate your spending patterns and plug those money leaks!

You Regularly Request An Extension On Your Tax Returns

For some people, tax day isn't April 15th — it's August 15th! Most folks who file extensions do so because they can't get all of their paperwork together on time (but if you're an organized small business person like me who has been advised that an extension is the best way to skirt the first-come-first-served rule regarding audits, you can ignore this section!) Otherwise, set up a filing box just for tax documents. Break your receipts down into basic categories — office supplies, charitable donations, medical expenses, travel, etc. — and file any new ones as soon as you get them. Then, you can hand the entire box over to your CPA at the end of the year. Better yet, set yourself up on a computerized accounting program (your accountant will love you!)

You've Never Seen The Bottom Of Your In-Box

If you have a hard time staying on top of “to-do's,” I would first ask if you are setting aside time each week to deal with incoming paper. You should sort through all the new stuff — mail, faxes, memos, etc. — once a day. That means doing more than just putting it in a pile on your desk How on earth will you know what you need to do if you don't at least open the envelopes? When you pick up a piece of paper, make a decision about what action you need to take (put a sticky note on it to remind you, if you need). Then, schedule that action into your calendar. You should set aside regular time each week for making phone calls, writing letters, filing, data entry — whatever “to-do's” you normally do.

Your Typical Workday Ends Three Hours After Everyone Else's

Workaholism has become a serious problem in our society — but not everyone who works late does it out of a compulsion. Some people have to put in longer hours to make up for the fact that they are less productive during the regular work day. Do you get a lot done while other people are around — or are you constantly being interrupted and distracted? Make a list of all the things that draw your attention away from work during the day — drop-in visitors, clutter in your office, time spent surfing the web — and start tackling these “time wasters” one-by-one. Once you get organized, you'll find that you can go home on time every night of the week.

You Can't See Your Desk Under All The Stacks And Piles Of Paper

People who pile instead of file tend to do so because they have never set up a really useful filing system. Some are afraid that sticking an item away where they can't see it is a recipe for disaster — not if your files are working for you. Look at your folders — do the categories make sense? Are they grouped into logical clusters of information (all of your insurance paperwork together, utility bills in the same place, computer manuals in one home)? Do you have multiple files with the same information in it (a “car” file, a “Toyota” file, and a “vehicle” file)? Are your drawers cluttered with ancient paperwork that you really don't need? It might be time to re-vamp, re-organize, and clean out!

You Are Always Running Someone Else's Errands

Have you learned how to say “no” yet? I have never understood why people think that “no” is such a bad word — as though they are being disrespectful to the other person by turning them down. What you are actually doing when you say “no” is being respectful of yourself — understanding and accepting the limits of what you can reasonably accomplish in a day. You aren't doing anyone a favor by overloading your day with responsibilities. In fact, you are doing others a disservice by rushing from one activity to the next without giving any of them your full attention. And you are certainly causing yourself a lot of unnecessary stress. Stop it!

Your Life Feels Out Of Control

Many signs of clutter are tangible — you can see and feel them. But that vague sense of overwhelm can be ten times more damaging than a stack of unopened mail or a pile of junk in your closet. Do you feel that you are terminally behind and will never get caught up, no matter how hard you try? Or that you are losing your mind because you can't deal with the mess anymore? The first step to curbing these anxieties is to take that first step — tackle a cluttered drawer or a today's mail or a shelf in the garage. Just putting a dent in your mess will take a great weight off your shoulders — and often give you the motivation you need to dig in deeper.

Quit With The Excuses Already!

It's fine to keep things that you don't use everyday — I don't believe in the “you haven't touched it in a year, it's out of here” rule. But I don't want you convincing yourself to keep an item that gives you no real benefit and is just taking up space! After you've been doing it for a long time, holding onto clutter becomes a habit — and habits (especially bad ones) are hard to break! It's easy to continue justifying  your failure to clean out  the excess and unused with a variety of different excuses. “It was expensive.” “It was a gift.” “I've had it since I was a child.” “I don't just want to throw it away.” “I might fit into a size 6 again.” “But what if it comes back in style?” Yeah — right. I'm here to respond to each of these rationalizations with a bit of cold, hard reason — hopefully allowing you to see that you can let at least a few things go and you'll be none the worse off for it! Wink

  • is it beautiful, useful, or loved? (artist William Morrison developed the most effective way to determine if an item truly serves a purpose — ask yourself if the object is “beautiful, useful, or loved” — I teach this phrase to my clients like a mantra, repeated over and over and over (actually, they get a bit sick of it after awhile!) — all of your most treasured belongings seem to fit into one of these three categories — and if an object isn't beautiful, useful, or loved, then why are you keeping it?)
  • but it was expensive! (you may say that you are keeping an item because you spent a lot of money on it, and you can't stand to see it go to waste — I hate to burst your bubble, but if you aren't using it now, isn't it still going to waste? — keeping something simply because it was costly is not a good enough reason — these objects are nothing but high-price reminders of purchasing mistakes you made in the past — better to let it go and move on, and perhaps you can sell it to recoup some of the expense)
  • I might be able to wear it again (does keeping a garment that is too small encourage you to lose weight or fill you with shame because you still haven't reached your goal?  — we already heap enough guilt onto our heads every day without creating additional pressures — isn't it healthier to focus on feeling better about your appearance now? — why not take your old wardrobe to a consignment shop, then spend your profits on clothes that fit and make you feel attractive just as you are?)
  • get off the guilt trip (another rationalization that I hear fairly regularly is, “Aunt Mildred gave that to me, she would be so disappointed/hurt/angry if I got rid of it.” — I can only respond by asking, “Who runs your life? You or your Aunt Mildred?” — the idea of keeping something that you have no use for, just so you candrag it out when your relatives visit, seems a bit dishonest — and I firmly believe that once you receive a gift, that item is yours to do with as you see fit, even if you choose to discard it — we place too much importance on “stuff” as it is, without creating an unnecessary sense of obligation)
  • I've had it a long time (not to be rude, but so what? if it has no sentimental or historical value, I'm not convinced that longevity is the best reason to hang onto something you don't really care for anymore or use — your lifestyle and interests change over the years, and it's entirely natural for some of your belongings are going to become obsolete — they've had a good life, but now it's time to let them go and focus your energies on your current interests)
  • I don't just want to throw it away (clutter is not an either/or proposition — you have many other options besides just throwing an unwanted item away — find a local charity that will accept a donation, sell the thing on Craigslist or at a yard sale, give it to a friend or family member who could put that item to use — if it's still in functional order, you can always find someone who would love to have it and give it a second lease on life)

If you are still having a hard time letting go of your clutter, youmight try an alternative approach. Judith Kolberg, former head of the NationalStudy Group on Chronic Disorganization, suggests that you treat yourbelongings as “friends, acquaintances, and strangers.” Friends arethose items that you like having around — ones that really meansomething to you. Acquaintances are objects that come into your life,stay for a short time, are enjoyed, and then leave again. And strangers are easilydiscarded — you have no strong feelings of devotion toward theseitems. This method works particularly well for people who have powerfulemotional attachments to their belongings.

Tax Records

Start by pulling out any documents that relate to income, withholding, tax payments, charitable contributions, business expenses, and deductions for the past year.  If you normally give these to your accountant to tally, please do not just dump everything into a box or bag — at least take the time to put each category in a separate file, making things just a bit easier on your poor CPA. Wink And if you do your bookkeeping on the computer and have NOT inputted this information yet, now's the time to get caught up! In the future, you'll make tax-time a lot less stressful if you do your updating each month instead of waiting until the end of the year.

Once you've emptied these items from your drawer, make sure you have labeled folders set up for storing each category of the coming year's paperwork in the “tax” section of your active files. Generally speaking, you should hang onto supporting tax documents for 6 years in case of an audit — but ask your accountant if you face any special circumstances that would extend that to 10 years. Store your archived paperwork in hanging file pockets labeled with the year, contents, and destruction date. Then when you add the new year's tax records, the oldest can be shredded.

Permanent Files

You are required to keep tax returns forever — there is no statute of limitations on how far back the IRS can ask you to prove that you filed a return. So make sure you have these stored together, separate from the supporting documents, organized in chronological order. A few other items should also be moved from your monthly storage to a permanent file:

  • receipts for expensive items like art and jewelry
  • warranties and manuals for major purchases
  • investment statements and trade confirmations
  • important correspondence and legal documents
  • car and property records
  • insurance policies
  • medical, treatment, and lab records

Put these in a file where you can easily put your hands on them when you need them — preferably something that is fire-proof. And of course, hard-to-replace vital records (titles, deeds, birth certificates, passports, etc.) should also be placed in a fire safe or safe deposit box.

Know What To Toss

Our goal here is not just to move documents from one file to another — we also want to do some actual cleaning out! Take a look at the files where you store all of your monthly bills — utility payments, credit card and bank statements, medical expenses, household services, receipts, etc. Your active files are only intended for current paperwork. They should be emptied and their contents redistributed (either to archive storage, your permanent files, or the shredder) each New Year.  If it's not serving one of the purposes mentioned above, why are you keeping it? The rest of your “everyday” paperwork has a limited shelf life. Aside from tax records and major purchases, there are only a few good reasons to keep a bill or receipt after 1 year's time — because:

  • you are trying to clear up an error or dispute with your account
  • you need to return an item that you have purchased
  • you are waiting on your insurance company to pay a claim

If a receipt doesn't meet one of these criteria, what purpose is it serving? With most bank and credit card companies, you have a limited time in which to resolve a dispute — usually 60 days. So letting a receipt linger in your files will actually make it harder to clear up a problem later. If you're keeping old statements because you “might need them someday,” remember that most of these records are now available electronically any time you want them. And if you still can't convince yourself to toss them out, you can keep bank and credit card records archived for 3 years – but after that, they have to hit the road!