January 27, 2012

Sort, Purge and Thank the Garbage Man

As a Professional Organizer, I help people de-clutter their homes and get rid of things they no longer need, want or use. Sometimes the items are donated, sometimes they're given to friends and relatives. But, most often, they're bagged up and left at the curb.

Professional Organizers (and their clients) make LOTS of garbage. On 'Garbage Day' our clients put it all the trash bags we've made out to the curb (some tell me they wait for nightfall when the neighbors can't see) and say goodbye to them forever. We are the hero. Our clients are relieved of a weighty burden. But, who is the real hero here with the most weighty burden?

Trash Collectors, Garbage Men, Sanitation Personnel--the people who haul away trash.

Professional Organizers partner with Home Stagers, Psychologists, Real Estate Agents and other professions to help clients reach their organizing goals. Trash Collectors are the silent member of a Professional Organizer's team.

I recently read a blog post, written by Kindness Girl (also known as Patience Salgado) that piqued my interest. Patience took a poll to find out what the most thankless job in America was. Turns out the answer was--garbage collectors. Knowing what an important role they play in our society, she created a 'kindness project' for them. She says in her post,

"What could be a more lovely and simple message of respect than saying, "I see you, I value your contribution to my community and I thank you."

Patience enlisted the help of her daughter's kindergarten class to make thank you cards for the trash collectors. Word spread and more schools joined in on her kindness project.

How great is that? Just when you think one person can't make a difference--think again.

So if you get a moment, stick a 'Thank You' sign on your garbage can once in a while--especially days you put out an inordinate amount of trash.

As for me, I'm going to look into making some 'Thank You' stickers to place on the trash bags I create in my own home and those of my clients. It's never too late to show appreciation through random acts of kindness.

January 19, 2012

Uncle Sam Wants YOU--To Be Organized for Tax Season

It's the beginning of the new year--a time when people make resolutions to lose weight, spend more time with family and make other such improvements to their life. Many set goals to get organized in the New Year.

If that is one of your goals, that's wonderful! I commend you for setting a goal to improve the quality of your life. I have the perfect organizing project for you. When you've finished it, you'll be less stressed and have more time to enjoy the beginning of Spring.

I don't want you to sort your sock drawer. No, I'm not sending you to organize your garage in the middle of winter.

Your first organizing project of the new year is to: Get Organized for Tax Season.

We've all heard about the person who walks into an accountant's office with a shoebox full of receipts. It's a stereotype, but if I polled a bunch of accountants, they'd probably tell me that the stereotype is more of a truth than an exaggeration.

If the thought of getting organized for tax season makes you start to twitch, not to worry. I'm going to use a few basic organizing principles to guide you through the process and put a smile on your face and your accountant's.

Break a Large Task into Smaller Tasks
Prepping for your tax appointment can seem overwhelming. I'll tell you that a task becomes less overwhelming once it is broken down into many smaller tasks. Do a brain dump of all the things you need to do to prepare for a tax appointment. Then put those tasks into priority order and create a check-off list for you to follow until the last step has been completed.

Create a Home
In the next few weeks, your mailbox will be stuffed with W-2's, 1099's, statements from financial institutions and other papers necessary for filing your taxes. In order to keep track of them, you'll need to create a place for all of these papers to 'live' before they visit the accountant. Normally, I advise people to use shoeboxes an an inexpensive organizing tool but in this case, I'd prefer not to feed the shoebox stereotype. Take a large poly envelope, preferably see through, and place all tax-related documents in there. Have a file drawer or cabinet? Create a hanging file with a tab that says 'TAXES.' As they come in the mail, place the tax papers in the file.

Make an Appointment with Yourself or Delegate
If you're doing your own taxes, make an appointment with yourself to get them done. Pick a day and time when there are few distractions and when you are most coherent. Write that date on your calendar and stick to it. Are you having an accountant file your taxes? Great--you're delegating! Call their office in late January or early February to make an appointment. Put it on your calendar.

Sort it Out/Group 'Like with 'Like'
It's a week before your appointment. Take out that poly envelope or tax file and look at all your papers. If you have a stack of them you'll need to sort them by grouping 'like with like'--all interest statements from banks go together, all receipts for gas and tolls should be clipped together, etc. This will enable you and your accountant to process your tax return quickly and with less stress (and coffee).

A few tax season Do's and Don'ts:

Don't: procrastinate. This is one of the worst things you can do at tax time except for showing up with that shoebox (see above).  If you're doing your own taxes, it won't be much fun if your version of Turbo Tax unexpectedly quits at 10:30pm on April 15th. You'll never get your accountant's full attention if you procrastinate--in fact you might be put on extension. And by then, you'll be talking to the secretary if she hasn't fallen over from working overtime for the past three months.

Don't: arrive at your accountant's office with your statements in their sealed envelopes unless you want to see his/her head pop off. If your accountant's head does not pop off, it's because they have already decided that they will charge you for having to open all of your envelopes.

Do: take the Social Security numbers of all family members you are filing taxes for. If you or a member of your family owns a business, bring the tax ID number with you as well. Your accountant will thank you a hundred times for being prepared with that vital information.

Do: collect all proof of donation papers (thrift stores, schools, great causes, etc.) throughout the year and keep them in the poly envelope or tax file discussed above. You'll need them to get that tax deduction!

Tax season does not have to be a painful time of year. With some preparation and organization, you'll be on your way to a less stressful and more relaxed way to pay Uncle Sam.

January 12, 2012

Organizing on a Budget

It's 2012. You've made a resolution to get organized in the new year. That's great!

But, I'm getting the feeling there's something bothering you...

What's wrong? Low on cash after the holidays? Got a pink slip for Christmas?

OK--I get it. You don't have a lot of money to put into the organizing project (or projects) you'd like to tackle this year.

Not a problem. Organizing doesn't have to cost you a lot. In fact, getting organized SAVES you money long-term. Getting there doesn't require a whole wad of cash.

You need time, elbow grease and some free and low-cost products to help you achieve your organizing goals. There's no need to max out the credit cards when you're organizing on a budget.

For inexpensive (or FREE) ideas on how to declutter your space or create places of order in your home and life, read my article, Organizing on a Budget. In the article, I talk about products and resources for getting organized on a budget. Here's an example...

Some of the best organizing products are FREE!

Boxes from the liquor store, shoe store, jewelry store or from your bank shouldn’t cost you anything and most of the time, they’re happy to hand them over to you. So when you buy jewelry, ask for a box and when your checks come in the mail, don’t throw out the box they came in. **It is best to not use boxes that might have had contact with any type of food product.

• Use boxes from liquor store as temporary file holders and for storage of infrequently used items.
• Use shoe boxes as deep drawer dividers (Ex. to separate different colored socks, scarves, etc.) or to hold shoes.
• Use check boxes (from your bank) or jewelry boxes from a department store as drawer dividers in anything from a desk drawer to a junk drawer.

For more ideas and ways to keep costs down while getting organized, take a look at Organizing on a Budget. Even if you use just one of my tips, it will bring you one step closer to your organizing goal and keep your financial status 'in the black.'

January 4, 2012

Organizing Inspiration from Curious George

A few months ago, I was watching an episode of Curious George with my five year old. The episode was called 'Trader George' which made me laugh for a moment because it sounded so much like 'Trader Joe's' which is a food store I love to shop in and eat from.

Hey, it was really early in the morning and I was hungry. OK--back to how this connects with organizing...

So, in the episode George does some trading of items with people in order to get what he thinks he wants. The back story involves The Man With the Yellow Hat. While George is out trading his stuff to get other stuff, The Man With the Yellow Hat is at his county house going through the closet looking for items to put out at a local swap meet (where George is doing all this trading).

I'm getting to the organizing part...

Mr. Yellow, as I'll call him for brevity sake, ends up spending much of the episode sitting in front of his closet pulling stuff out and reminiscing about it. My son is enjoying the show while I'm yelling at the TV in my head, "Don't do that!'

You see, Mr. Yellow was breaking one of the cardinal rules of organizing.

Do not reminisce while organizing.

Why is this a bad idea?

It's distracting. You're supposed to be sorting and purging and getting rid of the old to make for the new and instead you're looking at pictures or dreaming about the last time you fit into that cocktail dress and now you've stopped organizing to look for the matching shoes and handbag you wore with it ten years ago.

It's a time waster. Not many people have all day to organize. Time is precious and it's important to focus on organizing during the time you've alloted for it before you get tired or have to move on to the next activity of the day.

There's nothing wrong with taking a few moments to think about the past. But those moments should not take you away from the task at hand. Pick a time later in the day or week to go through all the bridesmaids dresses you uncovered or all the never-before-seen pictures you found from your parent's first Thanksgiving together.

Next time you're organizing a spot in your home and you come across some cool stuff you want to dwell upon for more than thirty seconds, think about The Man With the Yellow Hat. Make time later to reminisce--or you may miss out on a lot more than just a swap meet...