Posts Tagged ‘cleaning out’

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!

Donating Household Items

Nearly anything you clean out of your home can be donated to a local thrift store. It's okay if items are worn (people know they are used when they buy them), but make sure they are clean and functional — don't just dump broken junk into the donate bag, because that creates more work for the thrift store employees. The nice thing about donating your discards is that someone else will get some use out of them — as they say, one man's trash is another's treasure. You can clean out with a clear conscience, knowing that your stuff isn't clogging up a landfill, but moving on to a new owner who will love and cherish it. And, of course, if you choose a non-profit or church organization, the resale of your donations will benefit their cause.

Donating Office Items

Some thrift stores simply can't take office furniture, business electronics, and computer equipment — but there is no reason for these items to end up littering the landscape as trash. Why not go straight to the source? There are many worthwhile non-profit agencies in your town that are running on a shoestring budget and have a hard time affording the basics — these organizations can always use donations of business supplies. Whether you're cleaning out a desk or a box of file folders, a copy machine or a high-end printer — you can easily find a group that would appreciate the help and put your discards to good use. If you're not sure where to start, contact your local United Way and they can point you in the right direction.

Donating Building Supplies

Cleaning out as you renovate has always been a challenge — thrift stores have zero interest in items like cabinets, cans of paint, tile, grout, windows, doors, sinks, fixtures, and lumber. But now, there's a great way to keep these items from ending up in a landfill. Habitat For Humanity's Restores accept donations of building supplies — both new and used. They then resell these items through their “building thrift stores” which are open to the public (FYI: a great way to find inexpensive items for your next fix-it project). Everyone benefits — you receive a tax deduction and a greener way to dispose of home repair and construction materials, and someone else gets a great bargain on discounted building supplies.

Commonly Accepted Recyclables

You can actually recycle more household items than you might think — most recycling centers will take some or all of the following (visit Recycle.net or GRN.com to find a drop-off near you):

  • clear and frosted plastic bottles
  • glass bottles, jars, and containers without the lids
  • aluminum (cans and foil)
  • steel cans (the kind that canned vegetables come in)
  • plastic and paper grocery bags
  • white copy paper and office paper
  • junk mail and colored paper
  • magazines
  • newspaper and newsprint
  • telephone books
  • corrugated cardboard (not slick)
You can also recycle a number of other items — it just takes a bit more effort to find a drop-off location:

  • aseptic packaging (milk cartons, drink boxes, etc.) — call Coca Cola at 800-888-6488
  • refrigerators, heat pumps, and air conditioners — must be taken away by a certified hauler
  • packing “peanuts” — the Plastic Loose Fill Council offers a list of drop-off sites
  • polystyrene packaging — contact the Alliance Of Foam Packaging Recyclers
  • carpet and carpet padding — Dupont Antron has a program for recycling carpet
  • eyeglasses — the Lions Club accepts donations to fit with new lenses for the needy
  • holiday cards — send to St. Jude's Ranch to be made into new cards
  • GreenDisk has a program to recycle media (digital or magnetic) and computer components
  • tires and rubber, scrap metal, and automotive parts — contact your local mechanic
  • ink and toner cartridges — choose from a number of recycling programs
  • cell phones, cordless items, and rechargeable batteries — contact Call2Recycle

Toxic Substances

Some items are considered toxic and will poison a landfill if thrown into the trash. These must be handled with care, and can't be recycled along with your glass and paper — but you can take them to a hazardous materials recycler for correct disposal. Take motor oil, antifreeze and other automotive fluids to your local quick lube shop. You can call your local garbage company for advice in dealing with fluorescent light bulbs, thermometers, household cleaners, poisons, paints, and solvents. Lead acid batteries may be taken to an automotive shop — or contact The Battery Council for a referral. And if you have a smoke detector (which contains radioactive material) to discard, call First Alert at 800-323-9005.
While the goal is to recycle as much as you can, some things just can't be re-purposed and must be tossed:

  • other grades of plastic (varies by local area)
  • waxed, food contaminated, and oil-soaked paper
  • stickers and plastic laminated paper such as fast food wrappers
  • pet food bags
  • carbon or thermal fax paper
  • sanitary products or tissues
  • plate glass and mirrors
  • crockery, china, or pottery

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.

The Keepers

The first step toward cleaning out the clutter is recognizing that not everything is a keeper! Even those things that used to be keepers can slide into the “Get Rid Of” category without you realizing it. “Keep” is only meant for items that you have defined as CURRENTLY beautiful, useful, or loved. Deciding which items are “Keep's” should be fairly obvious — if you use it all the time or consider it a cherished memento, that's a “Keep.” You may even want to have several boxes of “Keep's” — each box labeled for a different area in your house. That way, you can take all of your “Kitchen Keeps” and “Bedroom Keeps” and “Basement Keeps” to their respective homes without making 30 different trips.

You may locate a few stray objectsthat are missing a part or in need of an accessory. Of course, youwould be perfectly happy to use these items — if you only had thoseessential lost components. Put these fabulous finds into a box labeled”need to buy,” and make a list of all the parts and pieces you arelooking for. Then you can take the list with you on your next shoppingtrip. You can do the same with any object that requires modification or repairbefore it can be used. But set a time limit — if you don't get an item in functional workingorder by your deadline, it gets moved to the “Get Rid Of” pile.

You can also create a space for unfinished projects that you still intend to tackle. However, this box is not meant to be a graveyard for past guilt. Askyourself if each task is still as meaningful as when you first beganworking on it. Macramé potholders may have sounded like a good idea 10years ago, but now? It's okay to admit that you will never write thegreat American novel. You're not going to hell if you decide that tennis just isn't for you anymore. I hereby grant you permission to let go ofoutdated interests, and to focus on activities that bring you joytoday. And if it sits in the project box for more than a couple ofmonths, it's out of here!

Get Rid Of

This box is for those objects that you are certain you don't want any more. Oh no — you have to make a decision?  Whatever will you do! I know the concept is frightening, but what I'm asking really should not be that hard — you ought to be able to look at a broken lamp or an old book you haven't read in 20 years or a pair of pants that will never fit you again and know that it serves no purpose in your life (if not, we've got much bigger issues to tackle than disorganization!) Remember, we're only looking for those items that you can immediately identify as clutter — ones that don't require a lot of thought or deliberation. Of course, you may want to break “Get Rid Of” into some smaller categories — such as “Throw Away” for the trash, “Give Away” for those things you would like to donate, and a even a “Sell” box for anything you think might be worth money.

You're also going to find some “Get Rid Of's” that aren't even your responsibility. If you are like every other person on this planet, you probably havecustody of at least one item does not belong to you. These orphanedsouls create a sense of guilt, of incompleteness, and of loose ends tobe tied up. How freeing would it be to rid yourself of other people'sclutter? Let's put these in a box labeled “To Return,” and then schedule time to get them back to their respective homes. I promise that — once youhave freed yourself of everything that doesn't belong to you, serve a purpose in your life, or mean anything to you –you will find it much easier to organize the rest. And you will havetaken a tremendous weight off of your shoulders — the weight ofunnecessary clutter. Just be sure to go through this process at leastonce a year to keep the piles trimmed back!

Not Sure

While I would love (in a perfect world) for you to be quick and decisive about each item, I realize that you are going to run across a few things that stump you. I give you permission to label these as “Not Sure.” That having been said, it's best if you can try to keep the “Not Sure's” to a minimum. This box is supposed to be for belongings that you can't rationally justify keeping — but some gut feeling won't let you part with them yet. Remember, your “Not Sure Box” isn't a dumping ground for things that you just don't want to take the time to think about. The last thing we want to do is ask the same questions about the same objects over and over again. Try your very best to make a solid “yes or no” decision about your belongings the first time that you pick them up.

If you honestly can't decide what to do with an item, put it in “Not Sure.” When your box is full, tape it shut and label it. Make sure you list the contents (kitchenware, books, clothing), the date you packed it away, and any special storage instructions on the outside. Then, I want you to stash this box in the garage, attic, or basement — some place out of the way. Trust me on this one. I actively want you to forget about this stuff for a while. Just make sure that you put your box where its contents won't get ruined (that means, don't place something that will melt in an attic without air conditioning!)

Make a note in your calendar (you are using a calendar, right?) to check back in 6 to 12 months. If, during that time, you haven't needed anything out of your box, it will be a lot easier to let go of those “Not Sure's.” If you still can't part with an item, that might be a hint that it is more beloved than you first thought. Either way, this will help you make a final decision about what to keep!

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!