« August 2011 | Main | October 2011 »

3 posts from September 2011

09/20/2011

Organizing the Paper Problem

If you have papers that have turned yellow with age or there is a stack of newspapers that crumble when you lift them, you are not alone. The abundance of papers coming into the home makes keeping on top of the accumulation an ongoing task. And unless you have a plan to remove them, you become like many others who simple have allowed papers to take over spaces in their homes. Of all the organizing situations I see, papers are a one of the most frequent problems.

A few weeks ago I posted strategies on tackling papers as they come in the door in order to eliminate saving unnecessary papers and avoiding stacks of unrelated paper items. But there are papers we need to keep and placing those where we can find them when we need them is important. The problem arises when we are not sure which we should keep, where we should keep them and for how long. And then there are the differences in personal preferences that make some systems good for one family member but not another.

While there is no system that will be perfect for everyone, there are some guidelines that everyone can use. All legal papers such as birth, death and marriage certificates, passports, adoption papers, divorce settlements, car titles, insurance policies, property deeds and deeds of trust, etc. should be kept forever. Most financial documents are now kept on computers so paper copies are not as important as in the past. Banks have copies of your checks, your monthly statements and other financial information and history on their computer files. Now it is not necessary to keep paper copies of those after you have verified their information.

For those who get nervous in letting those go, I recommend keeping the closing statement on loans and the end of the year statements. These can be kept with tax records for that year. Keeping the original and selling costs of investments you manage yourself is important, but only the year end statement of brokerage houses is needed for taxes. Once you verify the monthly or quarterly reports, you no longer need to keep them. Monthly credit card statements are no longer needed after they are verified. Even department stores can find sales tickets for purchases you made a year ago. If you are still fearful, keep items for a year or two but not for 10 or 20 years. I have even seen files with cancelled checks from 40 years back! At this time IRS states they do not audit tax returns more than 3 years back unless you have missed a year in filing, a return was challenged, you owed back taxes, you had employees, you have incorrectly filed, or there are other unusual situations. For any questions or more information check out the retention guidelines at their web site: www.irs.gov

As difficult as it may be letting go of financial papers, those with emotional ties are even harder. Love letters, school work, cards from special occasions, etc. can become an organizational nightmare if not sorted and contained in an alloted space. The general rule here is to save as much as you want and have the space to store in an organized manner. It is a good idea to set aside a container for such items and when it is full, no more can be added unless something is removed. Getting bigger or more containers defeats the purpose of maintaining order. And remember when everything becomes special, then nothing is really special. Pieces of paper are not necessary to remember those that we love or are special to us.

Finally, learn to be ruthless in dealing with outdated magazines, newspapers, catalogues, sales flyers, coupons, etc. If you haven't had time to go through them while they are current, there will not be more time later to do it. Most information in them is online should you need it and it will be more up to date. Set up a schedule to recycle them so they do not create piles in your home or office. Diligence is the name of the paper control game. You must deal with them in a consistent manner or they will win. If you have questions or comments about paper organizing feel free to contact me through my web site: www.OrderlyPlaces.com

09/14/2011

My Top Ten List Item #9

DSC_0440
There are lots of ways to save energy.  One way to save is to reduce the amount of water you use.  Sure, you could take shorter showers or turn the water off when you are brushing your teeth, but that all takes thought and changing our habits and we all know how likely that is.  A much simpler way to save water without even thinking is to install aerators on all of your faucets and low flow shower heads in your showers.  The Environmental Protection Agency says “If one out of every 100 American homes retrofitted with water-efficient fixtures, we could save about 100 million kWh of electricity per year – avoiding 80,000 tons of greenhouse gas emissions.”  That’s a lot of water and all without even thinking or changing any of my habits. 

Now, I have a test for you.  Get a 2 qt saucepan out of your kitchen and head to the shower.  Yes, the shower.  Place the saucepan on the floor of the shower right in the center of the shower discharge and turn it on.  If it takes less than 12 seconds to fill the pan, you need a low flow shower head with an aerator.  It doesn’t take away from your shower experience, it just helps you save money.  Changing out your shower head  could help you use as much as 50% less water!  How does that save you money if you pump it out of the ground instead of paying for your water?  I have teenagers.  Have you seen how long they can stay in a hot shower?  Nuff said?

Next, you need to check out your kitchen faucet.  You want an aerator to lower the flow rate of this fixture as well.  The thing to keep in mind in the kitchen is that you routinely are filling pots and things for cooking so you don’t want to lower the flow as much as you would in the bathroom where you are only washing your hands and brushing your teeth.

All faucet aerators have WaterSense ratings on them to insure that you are getting an aerator that has a flow rating that falls under the EPA recommendations.  For your kitchen think about purchasing one that is between 2.0 – 2.5 gallons per minute or gpm.  For your bathroom you can go as low at 1.5 gpm and never even notice the difference.  If you have no aerator at all now, you will probably be reducing your flow by as much as half.

You can find aerators and shower heads at any hardware store and the prices will vary depending on the manufacturer, just remember to look for the WaterSense label when you buy!

09/12/2011

Organizing with Calendars and Planners

At-A-Glance 70 950V 05: Professional Weekly/Monthly Triple View Planner Ruled One Week Per Spread

This is the best time of the year to purchase calendars and planners. The selection is better and you have adequate time to put it in order before the new year begins. Some have additional months for the end of this year included making the transition to the next year easier.

There is a difference in calendars and planners. Calendars have the essential day and date and many contain spaces to write in some activities for the day. These are good for families to see the highlights of each day especially when posted in an common area. Planners allow space for the day's major activities, for setting goals and the tasks to reach them, for daily reminders and often for other related activities. Planners usually break the day into segments or hours so that more detailed information can be given.

There are many types of planners out there to suit our preferences. For the "older" and more paper loving crowd there are stand alone paper versions in every price range and style available at office supply and large department stores. Online calendars and planning software is being created faster than we can learn them, and wireless devices allow us to carry a miniscule version in our pockets. While the electronic versions have a learning curve to them, their numerous options make them versatile and powerful. For those getting adjusted to the digital age, most wireless planners have the ability to sync with computers. The electronic planners also allow you to make a printed version in almost any format giving you lots of paper copy options in sizes and styles. For newbies to the digital age, the ability to input information with the computer and then create a printed copy is a reasonable way to make the transition.

To get the most out of our day, planners are a necessity. My favorite is a week at glance with each day divided into quarter or half hours. This can be printed or filled in at the beginning of each week. Not only does it allow us to block out the time for already scheduled appointments and activities, but it makes us aware of the uncommitted time. It is in those spaces that we can schedule tasks for those long term and short term goals.

Once we see open spaces in our days, we are able to fit in simple tasks like sorting the sock drawer, folding the laundry, taking a much needed nap, or reading the next chapter in a book. Or we can schedule tasks related to larger goals such as applying online for a college course, ordering plants for the fall garden, or planning a holiday celebration. Many times we fail to achieve those larger goals because we do not break them down into manageable tasks that we can fit into a daily schedule.

Regardless of the type of planner we use, learning to effectively manage our schedules will help us get the most out of every day. If you would like more information about time management or using planners, contact me through my website: www.orderlyplaces.com