Two years ago, my husband and I decided it was time for a master bedroom makeover. We searched high and low, near and far for bedding we both loved, and found some. It sat in its protective zippered plastic container for, well, nearly two years.

Last October we shopped for bedroom furniture. Ours was nearly 43 years old, well loved, but also well worn. Oh, and what better time to replace our 20-year-old mattress.

The process of readying the room for the new furniture was a multi-phased one:

  • Empty all the dresser and nightstand drawers, jewelry boxes, and under-the-bed storage; review contents, sort into “keep” and “let go” piles. This was fairly eye opening, even for two organized people.
  • Find a new home for the old furniture. Discount Diva helped us locate an appreciative recipient and we hired movers to get it there.
  • Clear out any remaining items that would eventually return to the new room.
  • Choose a paint color. Hooboy, not as easy as you’d think! After bringing home 743 paint chip samples and finding NOTHING that worked, we took a pillow sham to Home Depot and they matched the blue. Victory! Oh, except we had them make it 30% lighter. Then 50% lighter. Then 70% lighter. NOW it was perfect.
  • Have Old Fashioned House Painting repair and prepare the walls and paint everything in the master bedroom and bathroom. What a great job they did!
  • Hire ChemDry to clean the carpet, which turned out super.
  • Schedule Raymour and Flanigan to deliver and set up the furniture. Those fellows worked hard; our bedroom is upstairs and around a corner, and our pieces were heavy!

What’s my point in sharing this story?

Having a logical, logistical plan in place helped ensure this would be a fairly smooth-flowing event with a successful outcome. Oh, there were some bumps along the way, but I share more about those in this personal blog post.

Completely clearing the room and then being mindful and purposeful about what we brought back in helped us create a space we truly love, and will love for many, many years to come.

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New bedroom

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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It’s a fact: clutter can be overwhelming. buried in papers

Whether it’s a four-day pile of unopened mail or years of accumulated papers, there comes a point when tackling it becomes daunting.

Maybe it’s the hall closet filled with linens you no longer use. Perhaps the spare bed is overflowing with unworn clothes and you can’t muster the energy to separate what fits and is flattering from what’s outdated or no longer appropriate for your lifestyle.

Here’s the thing. The longer you wait for the perfect time or enough time to tackle the entire clutter project, the longer it’s going to build and build and nothing will get done and trust me when I tell you: clutter’s negative energy can affect you mentally, emotionally and physically. It can damage relationships, sometimes tearing families apart.

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 is not hopeless.

Stop looking at the big intimidating clutter picture and start breaking it down into manageable bits. Clutter’s ability to overwhelm diminishes when you chip away and begin to see progress. Remember that fable of the tortoise and the hare? Slow and steady can win the race.

Instead of thinking, “I need ten hours to open and process the mail,” try this: “Each day I will open and process today’s mail PLUS ten pieces from the backlog piles.”

If there are papers everywhere, gather ‘em up. Fill a bin or two or ten. Start sorting into broad categories: Shred/Recycle/Toss/File/Pay/To Do and dig in. Put on some music that will calm or energize you and focus for a set period of time. Make it a game: see how much you can accomplish in 15 minutes and do a little more tomorrow. Instead of just watching a sitcom, use that as a timer and sort a bin of papers. TV AND progress – win-win!

Don’t focus on the roomful of clothing. Get up 15 minutes early and try on three  items in the pile. Decide if you want to keep, sell or donate, then move on with your day. Wash, rinse, repeat.

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

Ok, that’s a blog post for another day so I’ll leave you with this “What About Bob” movie clip that I reference with clients all the time:

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buried-in-papers_thumb.jpgIt’s a fact: clutter can be overwhelming.

Whether it’s a four-day pile of unopened mail or many years of paper piles, there comes a point when the idea of tackling it becomes daunting.

Maybe it’s just the spare closet filled with clothes you may or may not wear, or perhaps the entire guest bedroom is overflowing with clothes and you can’t muster the energy to separate what fits and is flattering from what’s outdated or no longer appropriate for your lifestyle.

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 can affect you mentally, emotionally, and physically. It can damage relationships, sometimes tearing families apart.

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.

Ready? Stop looking at the big intimidating clutter picture and start breaking that clutter project down into manageable bits. Clutter’s ability to overwhelm you diminishes when you begin to chip away and see progress. Remember that fable about the tortoise and the hare? It’s true: Slow and steady can win the race.

Instead of thinking, “I need four hours to open and process my 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 will calm or energize you and focus for a set period of time. Make it a game: 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 in the bin. TV AND progress – win-win!

Don’t focus on the roomful of clothing. How about getting up 15 minutes earlier each morning to try on three or four items in that room. Decide if it’s keep, sell, or donate and then move on with your day. Wash, rinse, repeat.

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

Wait, that’s a blog post for another day. I’ll leave you with this “What About Bob” movie clip. I discuss this concept with clients all the time:

Baby steps. Go ahead, get started. And remember: It’s not hopeless.

Sometimes I read tips by the upper echelon of organizers (you know, the ones Oprah made famous, or who’ve written best-selling books) and I think, “Hmm. That doesn’t seem very practical to me.”

Just because “So-And-So” says it’s a great idea doesn’t automatically make it the right  solution for you. There are no cookie-cutter answers – at least there shouldn’t be. What works for one person might not work for another, and a good organizer should be able to help figure out a solution for you based on your needs, your style, and your stuff.

A recent tip in an online newsletter suggested this way for dealing with receipts:

To organize receipts, a simple, low-tech solution is to use two bankers’ spikes. Get in the habit of cleaning receipts out of your wallet or purse daily. Place receipts on one of the spikes as they come in. When one spike is full, start the other. If you haven’t needed any of the receipts by the time you fill up the second spike, throw out everything on the first spike.

First of all, I would never recommend banker’s spikes in a household with small children or pets. Those things could be lethal in the wrong hands!

Secondly, not all receipts are created equal. Receipts for consumables that cannot be returned? I get rid of them once I’ve verified that the right amount showed up on my credit card. It’s not like I can return the gas I put in my tank or get a refund on the pizza from last month, right? BUT. What about the receipt for patio furniture that has a 10-year warranty? Just because I might not need it by the time the second spike is full doesn’t mean that I won’t need it three years from now if a leg falls off my table.

Do you want to rifle through all your receipts when reconciling one credit card statement – you do reconcile your credit card statement, don’t you? – or would it be helpful to separate them by each credit or debit card used?

I’m also not a big fan of this oft-repeated tip about kitchen utensils: expandable utensil drawer

Not sure what you use and what you don’t in your kitchen? Here is a tried and true way to find out. Empty the contents of your kitchen utensils drawer into a cardboard box. For one month, put a utensil back into the drawer only if you take it out of the box to use it. If it’s still in the box after four weeks—you don’t need it. Pass it on to charity.

What about my turkey baster? Or the whisk I use for hollandaise sauce? I don’t use those things monthly or even quarterly – but I use them. I think a more practical way to thin down your utensil drawer is to sort “like with like.” Once you realize that you have seven spatulas, you might decide that you can whittle it down to four. If you’re an avid baker, you may need more measuring spoon sets than I do – one set is plenty for me.

Go ahead and read those tips, but if they don’t seem logical or practical, no matter who’s offering the advice, maybe “Because I said so…” isn’t a good enough reason to incorporate it into your daily routine.