It’s not what you think…I don’t have an “organized” garden, nor do I have organized spreadsheets listing all the perennials, the kazillion varieties of hosta, or even the annuals I need to buy… annually. Gardening is a passion of mine that I approach more with emotion and instinct than organization.

BUT! (yes, that’s a big “but,” not to be confused with a “big butt.”) I do approach the process of tending our gardens the same way I encourage my clients to tackle large organizing projects – using BABY STEPS. Yep, baby steps.

When Mother Nature finally delivered Spring weather to us, there was much for a gardener to do: rake, gather winter’s abandoned trash, weed, edge, thin certain plants, as well as some general examining and pondering. If I were to look at that as one giant task, I’d feel completely overwhelmed. Instead, I mentally separate our garden beds into sixteen sections. By breaking things down into sixteen parts and then sub-categorizing each part into tasks, it becomes much less intimidating. I tackle tasks based on my available time as well as the mood I’m in. See? Not particularly organized, but certainly more doable.

My husband and I are homebodies for sure. We enjoy eating dinner on the patio or relaxing in the hammock, cooled by a gentle breeze.  We work to entice birds such as hummingbirds, orioles, and catbirds to visit the feeders and flowers. We’ve even got two raised beds filled (this year) with kale, a variety of salad greens, basil, three kinds of peppers, tomatoes, and snap peas. Gardening isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, but it sure is mine.

If you’d like to learn more about my “baby step” approach to tackling otherwise overwhelming projects, you can check out this blog post.

An even dozen – that’s how many senior moves Home Solutions has handled for clients so far this year. This includes services such as creating a floor plan, hiring movers, packing, overseeing the moves, unpacking and settling things in the new space, as well as packing items for shipping to family members living out of state. It also includes handling the disposal of hazardous waste materials and outdated or unused medications, delivering boxes of papers for shredding, and taking loads of items to donation sites. All in a day’s work for Home Solutions.

In addition to handling these projects and other organizing and decluttering jobs, one stands out as more personal than any other. In March, I moved my mom into assisted living. This was a difficult, but necessary decision expedited by Mom’s declining memory issues and her inability to continue living independently and safely in her own home. The plan had been to begin the process slowly in the spring. But you know what they say about the best laid plans…

On February 7th, I visited the site I felt would be the best fit for Mom, and I was right. It had everything she’d need, and it was less than five minutes from my front door. On February 13th, I took Mom to tour the site. On March 5th, I moved her in. In the meantime, she and I sorted through personal belongings, and after trying on clothes that no longer fit, we shopped for a new wardrobe. I purchased furniture and other necessities for her new, downsized space.

Once she moved out of her home, there were carloads of items donated, bag loads of trash disposed of, and boxes of contents for family members, as well as photos and photo albums moved to our house for future sorting. Once that was done, I set up, cleaned, and priced the remaining contents for a small estate sale. The house was emptied and sold in a month’s time.

The biggest reason I was able to accomplish so much in such a short period of time was because I faithfully wore the hat of a senior move manager throughout the process. I heeded my own advice and put blinders on so as not to become overwhelmed looking at the big picture, or distracted by too many tasks at once. Instead, I focused on taking daily steps – baby steps – towards the finish line.

I’m happy to report that Mom is quite content and happy in her new place. She’s always been a very social person and hadn’t realized how isolated she’d become at home, despite having friends and activities in her life. She’s eating much healthier now, three “home-cooked” healthy meals every day. Her medications are managed for her, no more mixups or missed doses. She goes to exercise class each day, attends movie night, participates in the daily social circles, and even played Wii bowling last week!

This was not an easy decision, nor one we, as a family, entered into lightly. My out-of-town brothers were very involved in and supportive of my efforts throughout the transition.

If you’re wondering if it’s time to “have the talk” with a loved one, here are some suggestions:

  • Take a peek “behind the scenes” at home, looking in closets, cupboards, and drawers:
    • Are clothes kept clean and somewhat tidy?
    • Is there expired food in the freezer, refrigerator, or pantry?
    • Are medications up to date and being taken as prescribed?
    • Is the daily mail being opened and processed?
  • Talk to friends and neighbors about their observations. I was surprised at the number of people from her community who attended the estate sale and expressed relief to know she’d moved to assisted living.
  • What’s the status of finances? Many seniors are taken advantage of by charities seeking multiple donations per year; observe the number of return address labels, free notepads and calendars lying around.

Sometimes, a family member is emotionally and physically able to participate in the downsizing process. Other times it’s too overwhelming and I recommend getting them situated in their new space before dealing with the house and its contents.

If it’s time to tackle the task of moving a loved one to independent or assisted senior living, you don’t have to put your own life on hold and do it yourself. Visit www.nasmm.org and enter your zip code to find help in your area. Senior Move Managers are skilled and experienced with all aspects of the job, and hiring one can be a real lifesaver.

 

Benjamin Franklin wrote, “In this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.” Given those two choices, wouldn’t you rather discuss the IRS? Sure you would.

There’s nothing I can say that will make this fun or exciting, (as in, “Yay! I get to file my TAXES now!”) but I can offer suggestions to make the process a little less stressful.

Gathering the necessary documents should not feel like a scavenger hunt. Take action NOW to streamline the process once and for all.

You need a file folder. Label it: Current Year Tax Records. Voila! You’re done. Now, every time you get a donation receipt, a 1099-Div or a W-2, you have a place to put it. If your documentation is more than a standard folder can hold, get an accordion pleated one that expands to 3″ or 5″.

The same goes for documents you get electronically. Put them into an email file labeled, “Tax Documents”  or if you use Gmail, slap a “Tax Documents” label on them and hit “archive” and they’ll be there waiting patiently when you need them.

If you get a blank receipt for items you give to charity, make note of what you donated while it’s fresh in your mind. I wouldn’t remember what I donated on August 3rd if I didn’t list it right away.

I’m sorry, but it really is this simple. Hey, don’t roll your eyes at me, I’m the voice of experience! I prepare a tax return for me and hubby, and that return includes income property. I also prepare returns for each of our grown kiddos as well as for my elderly mom. On top of that, I must gather the appropriate paperwork so my accountant can prepare my corporate tax return.

If this system didn’t work, I’d be running around like that proverbial chicken with its head cut off. Instead, all returns will be filed before the end of March.

If you have your taxes professionally done, don’t be that person every accountant hates to see coming with your over-stuffed shoe box full of random pieces of crinkled, crumpled papers. As an added bonus, eliminate that hot mess and it might reduce the preparation fees. Nothing warms an accountant’s heart like an organized pile of tax prep papers; as a former accountant, you can trust me on that.

We’ve all had clutter creep into our lives at one point or another. Sometimes it can overwhelm us. Fear not; I bring you tidings of great joy – well, maybe not of great joy, but of hope. No matter how big your clutter issue is, it’s not hopeless.

It might be a month of unopened mail or many years of paper piles, and there comes a point when the idea of tackling it becomes daunting.

Maybe there’s a closet of clothes you may or may not wear or a spare bedroom overflowing with excess clothes, and you can’t muster the energy to separate what fits and is flattering from what’s outdated or no longer appropriate.

Here’s the thing. The longer you wait for the “perfect” time or “enough” time to tackle the entire clutter project – whatever it may be – the longer it’s going to build and build and nothing will get done and trust me when I tell you: clutter has negative energy that affects you mentally, emotionally, and physically. It can damage relationships and sometimes tears families apart.

Instead of making a vague New Year’s resolution to “get more organized” or “tackle all the clutter,” try this: start the year by breaking down those big clutter projects into specific, smaller, manageable projects. Clutter’s ability to overwhelm you diminishes when you chip away and make progress. Remember that fable about the tortoise and the hare? It’s true: Slow and steady can win the race.

Instead of negatively thinking, “I’ll never find the four hours I need to open and process my backlog of mail,” try this: “Each day I will open and process today’s mail PLUS ten pieces from that big ol’ pile.”

If there are paper piles everywhere, gather ‘em up. Fill a bin or two or ten. Start with broad categories:  Shred/Recycle/Toss/File/Pay/To Do and dig in. Put on some music that calms or energizes you and focus for a set period of time. See how much you can accomplish in 15 minutes and try to break your record by doing a little more tomorrow. Instead of just watching your favorite TV show, use that as a timer and sort papers. TV AND progress – win-win!

Don’t focus on the entire closet or roomful of clothing. Get up 15 minutes earlier each morning to try on three or four items. Decide if it’s keep, sell, or donate, then move on with your day. Wash, rinse, repeat.

If it’s a hodgepodge of clutter, choose a category and gather “like with like” – all wrapping paper, all books, all seasonal decor, all toys, all garbage – whatever it is, gather it up and attack that clutter one category at a time. Where should those books live? You can’t put something away if it doesn’t have a home…

By incorporating some of these suggestions into your daily routine rather than making vague, doomed-to-fail resolutions, you’ll be creating new habits that will serve you well in the long run and help keep clutter under control.

Sometimes a downsizing or senior move management job goes so well —all the moving parts coming together like a well-oiled machine—it’s as though I have a sparkly wand that gets waved in the air and *poof* magic happens!

I’m not a magician; I don’t even play one on TV! It’s my job as a professional organizer to see the big picture, formulate a plan, break a project down into manageable components, and help my clients move forward, whether it’s to a new place or to simplify life in their current home.

It helps that in addition to an awesome employee, I have amassed a multitude of vendors and service providers I can call upon who have the same high-level work ethic as I do.

Often I must explain to a client, “It’s taken 30 years to gather all this “stuff,” it’s not going to disappear overnight. If you want to downsize, we have to address the accumulation efficiently, methodically and purposefully in order to get you where you want to be within a designated time frame.”

That’s why I tell people it’s never too soon to start the downsizing process, even if there are no plans to move in the immediate future. Most homes have multiple junk drawers, a few over-stuffed closets, and basements or attics filled with “postponed decisions.” The sooner you begin, the more time you’ll have to make informed decisions about what to keep, sell, donate, or toss.

If you’d like help for yourself or a loved one, a professional organizer is just a phone call away. You can find one by visiting NAPO, the National Association of Productivity and Organizing Professionals. Scroll down the page and simply pop in your zip code, choose a mile radius, and voila! Just like magic, you’ll get a list of NAPO members in your area.

If you’re ready, don’t delay, start today!

Sometimes, we’re our own worst enemies. Maybe not intentionally, but still, it happens. We set a common goal like one of these:

  1. “I’m going to lose weight.” 
  2. “I have to save money.”
  3. “It’s time to get organized.”

But before we know it, *poof* the goal falls by the wayside, and we don’t understand why.

Maybe it’s because our goal was kinda wishy-washy, not very realistic, or without a finish line.

The concept of S.M.A.R.T. goals was originally geared towards business management, but it can be applied to everyday life issues just as effectively. As you can see in the graphic, the acronym stands for:

SPECIFIC ~ MEASURABLE ~ ACHIEVABLE ~ REALISTIC ~ TIMELY 

When you apply this to goal #1, rather than saying, “I’m going to lose weight.” a SMART goal could look more like this: “I’m going to lose 10 pounds by October 1st.” It’s specific, it’s measurable, it’s achievable, it’s realistic, and it has an end date. You can then formulate a plan for achieving your SMART goal such as taking a 30-minute walk twice a day.

Goal #2, “I have to save money!” is pretty vague. Are you saving for a new pair of shoes or a new car? How much money will you need, and when do you want it by? Without those details, it’s nearly impossible to formulate an executable plan. Once you figure that out, you decide what money-saving actions can you take. Maybe you’ll make coffee at home and skip the drive-through brew every day.

“I need to get organized!” What exactly does that mean? Is your closet floor covered by a mountainous heap of clothes? Is your kitchen table buried under piles of unopened mail? Could you find a battery or a paperclip if your life depended on it? (← hey, MacGyver could, so can you!) You can make measurable progress by setting SMART goals for yourself.

For example, make a decision about five articles of clothing in that pile on the floor every day after work until the pile is gone, and hang or fold whatever you’re keeping. If you don’t have enough hangers, get some. If you need a dresser, set a SMART goal for obtaining one.

In order to tackle paper piles, you need to systematically chip away at the mail. “I’m going to open and process today’s mail AND take care of ten pieces of the backlog every day.” Start putting junk mail in the recycle bin immediately instead of setting it down in the pile.

You can turn a junk drawer into your “go-to” drawer in about 15 minutes: dump everything out, toss the trash, and use a drawer organizer to sort the “keep” stuff into “like with like” categories.

Positive wording is more motivating, so add a smiley-face phrase as the carrot to dangle when creating your SMART goals:

  • “When I lose ten pounds, my clothes will fit more comfortably!” 
  • “I am looking forward to buying a car next spring when I’ve got the down payment!”
  • “My morning routine will be easier when my clothes closet is organized!”

Being organized isn’t an issue for me, although I recently overhauled my office space to make things flow better.

As for money management, the former accountant in me deals with the finances pretty effectively and efficiently.

But the weight loss issue? Houston, we have a problem. At my annual physical last week, some blood work numbers weren’t good. My doctor threw down the gauntlet: I have six months to make an improvement, which can be accomplished through better diet and exercise. Do I want to deal with it? Ah, no – not really. BUT. Do I want to be healthier? You betcha – for a lot of reasons, and for lots of people in my life.

That’s not to say it’s going to be easy, but by setting SMART goals, I hope to address the problems before they get worse. Here’s a link to an interesting article from Harvard Health about making lifestyle changes. It’s not that we don’t know WHAT we need to do, it’s finding our way to the right HOW, and navigating around our sabotaging habits. Wish me luck, and stay tuned…

If you’d like to get future blog posts delivered straight to your inbox, sign up for my newsletter titled, “Organized Thoughts.

Clutter-clearing garage sale season is upon us! Before you commit, ask yourself this one important question, and be honest:

Garage Sale Success

Garage Sale Success

Do I have enough to sell to make it worth my time and effort, or should I just donate the stuff and be done with it?

If you decide to proceed, go through the house looking for items to sell. Pick an area where you can gather everything that’s “gotta go” and encourage other family members to add to the pile.

Here are my top ten tips for running a successful garage sale:

  1. Get  a few neighbors to join in. People are more likely to come if they can hit a handful of sales in a row.
  2. Advertise in your local paper, on Craigslist and facebook. People scan listings and plan their routes, so make sure they’ll find your sale. If you have big-ticket or unique items, include photos in your online ads. 
  3. Signs should be big, easy to read, and neatly written. Quality signs signal a quality sale – half the success is in your marketing and advertising. And remember, people need to be able to read your signs from a moving vehicle!
  4. Price everything, and price it to sell. It doesn’t matter if you paid $10 and it’s practically new; if you’re not using it, the main goal is to get rid of it, not to recoup your cost. Use the computer to research prices.
  5. Display items on tables; hang clothing on a rack/clothesline. People don’t like to stoop to the ground or rummage through messy piles of stuff.
  6. Put “like with like” so people looking for tools will readily find them, books are all together, holiday decorations are easy to see. Creating a pleasant shopping experience translates into more sales.
  7. It pays to clean things. A damp microfiber cloth works miracles on dusty glassware, dishes, and decor items.
  8. Be willing to haggle. If you know you want $25 for something, either mark it, “Price Firm” or mark it $29 so you can come down and still get what you want. BUT! It’s also ok to say “no” to a ridiculous offer. I’ve told people I’d rather donate something than sell it for what they’re offering.
  9. Make sure to have plenty of change on hand. I recommend $75 broken down like this: $27 in ones, $25 in fives, $20 in tens, plus $3 in quarters. That should be enough to get you started. People will offer you a $20 bill for a $1 purchase.
  10. Have a check-out table and keep small, easy-to-steal items near you on that table. I’m sorry to say, sometimes people help themselves to things that are easy to pocket or highly desirable, such as collectibles, jewelry or video games.

After the sale:

  • Schedule a charity pickup for leftovers the day after your sale. Promise yourself the stuff is NOT going back in the house. It’s time; let it go. However:
  • Relist leftover big-ticket items on Craigslist if you want to take another shot at selling.  Here’s a link to a post I wrote about the good, the bad, and the ugly side of Craigslist.

If you can, schedule your sale to coincide with another event in your neighborhood such as a festival, garden walk, or real estate open house. Anything that attracts people is a good thing when you’re having a garage sale.

The more effort you put into it, the more you’ll get out of it. Make it a fun experience for people – offer treats, have some lively music playing, mix and mingle and even if it’s not true, act like you’re having fun! People are more likely to buy from someone with a smile than from Grumpy McGrump.

Are you ready? April 18th is right around the corner and for most of us, that’s the deadline for filing our 2017 tax returns. There’s nothing I can say to make the process conceptually exciting (as in, “Yay! I get to file my TAXES now!”) but I can offer some suggestions to make the process a little less stressful.

If gathering the necessary documents felt like a scavenger hunt this year, take action NOW to streamline the process for next year.

You need a hanging file folder for each return you need to prepare. Label it: Current Year Tax Records. Voila! You’re done. Now, every time you get a donation receipt, a 1099-Div, or a W-2, you have a place to drop it. If your documentation is more than a standard folder can hold, get an accordion pleated one that expands to 3″ or 5″.

The same goes for documents you get electronically. Put them into an email file labeled, “Tax Documents”  or if you use Gmail, slap a “Tax Documents” label on them and hit “archive” and they’ll be there waiting patiently when you need them.

If you get a blank donation receipt for items you drop off at a local site, make note of what you donated while it’s fresh in your mind. I would never remember what I got rid of a year ago on August 3rd if I didn’t list it right away.

I’m sorry, but yes, it really is this simple. Hey, don’t roll your eyes at me, I’m the voice of experience! I prepare a tax return for me and hubby, and that return includes income property. I also prepare returns for each of our grown kiddos as well as for my elderly mom. On top of that, I must gather the appropriate paperwork for the accountant to prepare my corporate tax return.

If this system didn’t work, I’d be running around like that proverbial chicken with its head cut off. Instead, all returns were filed by the middle of March.

It doesn’t matter if you do your own taxes or have them done for you. However, if you use a professional, don’t be that person every accountant hates to see coming with your over-stuffed shoe box full of random bits of scrumpled papers. Eliminate that hot mess and you might save money on preparation fees, too!

 

My clients hear that question all the time.

When they complain about the backpacks plopped in the middle of the kitchen floor, or the car keys that can’t be found when needed, or the pile of missing mail from two days ago…whether its backpacks, keys, or the incoming mail – whatever it is – I ask, “Where should that item live? Where is its home? We know where it doesn’t belong – where does it belong?”

This question is usually met with an eerie silence. That’s the problem in a nutshell, folks: you can’t put something away if it doesn’t have a home.

Keys on hooks

So: establishing a home is step one. The right spot should be logical, practical, and doable. Your child can’t slide a backpack into a cubby that’s four feet above her head, and it doesn’t make sense to walk through three rooms of the house to put away your car keys. Remember: logical, practical, and doable.

Step two is developing the habit of actually putting the item where it belongs, and that takes time.

Have faith – we humans are smart cookies. We can be trained to establish new routines so that, over time, hanging keys on a hook by the door will become a habit. Teach your child that the backpack goes on a reachable peg every day when she comes in from school. Put the incoming mail in that one designated spot so you can find it when you’re ready to process it, and in a matter of weeks, maybe even days, some common daily frustrations will actually be eliminated by answering that one simple question: Where should it live?

iStock tall stack of papers

Stacked Files

I work with many clients setting up filing systems and sorting through years and years (and YEARS!) of accumulated papers. The question I’m asked most often is, “How long should I keep paper stuff?”

As a former accountant, I’m comfortable answering. I add this disclaimer, however: when in doubt, seek advice from your tax preparer or financial advisor.

I recommend shredding documents you get rid of in these common categories:

Utility bills: Unless you take a home office deduction, there is no reason on God’s green earth to keep these. You can access your history online. I’ve automated utility bills so I get ZERO in the mail. The only papers in my “utility bills” folder is a bill from each provider with our account number and their emergency contact information.

Bank statements & credit card statements: In theory, you get your statements, you reconcile their numbers with yours and… that’s it. You don’t need to keep the statements.  Pull copies of tax-related cancelled checks and pop them in your “tax return info” folder.

Investment statements: It helps to understand why you keep the ones you keep so you can better understand why it’s ok to get rid of the rest.

Certain investment data is necessary for preparing a tax return. BUT. You only need the annual statement that summarizes investments you bought or sold, interest and dividends you earned, along with details of any contributions or withdrawals to/from IRA accounts that are reportable on your tax return.

Therefore, you can shred monthly or quarterly statements from investment accounts when the new ones arrive.

Keep statements that show purchase details until you sell an investment; you’ll need purchase cost and sale price to calculate a capital gain or loss on your taxes. If your investments have been with the same firm, they’ll have that historical data. If you change firms, give them purchase information for any investments you’re transferring so they have it for future reference.

If the concept of shredding any of these on a monthly basis is too far outside your comfort zone, try keeping one year’s worth and then shred.

Consider signing up for electronic statements for any of the categories I’ve mentioned. (resist the temptation to print or you’re right back where you started!)  You can still file e-statements in an electronic folder, but it significantly cuts down on the daily flow of paper into your life, and who wouldn’t love that?

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