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Author: Vali HeistClutter Donating General Home Organizing

Making A Difference

I went to see The Lorax with my niece and we really enjoyed the movie, including dancing to the song at the end of the movie after everyone had left! The environmental theme revolved around saving the trees so I told my niece that I would take her to IHOP for pancakes since they are offering free tree seeds as a promo for The Lorax. I’m hoping that Universal Studios keeps with the green theme of the movie and doesn’t decide to flood the market with Lorax theme-based stuff: toys, plush animals, games, etc. However, there’s probably not much chance of that happening.

The main theme of the story however revolved around the word ‘UNLESS’. The Lorax said, “UNLESS someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not.” At my previous employer, there were a lot of built-in opportunities to “care a whole awful lot” such as volunteering, raising funds for various charities, and hold clothing and food drives. It felt like we were making a difference in the lives of people on an almost daily basis. Now that I have my own business, I look for ways to volunteer in my own community.

My former college roommate and I spent one Saturday morning with our fellow alumni from Shippensburg University volunteering at the Reading Berks Food Bank. We packaged boxes for elderly clients of the food bank. A few months ago I spent a morning working with volunteers from Habitat for Humanity by laying a floor in one of the offices at the Blind Association in Reading. I had never laid a floor before so that was really fun!

If you are cleaning out the kitchen and pantry, donate your unexpired dry goods and canned food to the food banks in your area. If you are cleaning out the bathroom and linen closet of toiletries, make-up, linens, and personal products, donate your excess personal items to emergency shelters, women’s shelters, elderly organizations or any other agency that could use your unneeded items. Go to the website for the agencies in your area and find their wish lists for the most needed items.

Author: Ellen FayeChallenging Disorganization General Goal Setting Organizing Procrastination Productivity Project Management Time Management

Finding it Hard to Get Started on That Project?

Everyone procrastinates sometimes.  It only becomes problematic when procrastination is the norm.  Reasons for procrastination include perfectionism, overwhelm, over-analysis, and lack of planning.  What can you do when you have a project that needs to get done?

Clear the Decks:

  • Plan ahead and get your routine and critical tasks taken care of.
  • Schedule time to work on your project.  Be sure you plan enough time to get a fair amount of the project work done. Starting and stopping is hard; it takes a lot of discipline and wastes a lot of time and energy.

Make a Plan:

  • Write down the steps of the project on Post-its – one step per Post-it.
  • Put the post-it’s in a logical order.
  • You now have a plan.

Make it Fun:

  • It’s ok to alternate fun parts with more tedious ones.
  • You don’t have to start at the beginning either – if the first step is too hard or too boring, start on another part of the project.

Get Ready:

  • Pull all related material together (start this a week or two early), when you sit down to work, you’ll have your materials at hand.

Get Set:

  • When it’s time to get down to work, do what you can to minimize interruptions:
    • close out your email and Facebook
    • Forward your phone to voicemail
    • Clear the clutter off your desk
    • Close your office door.

Go:

  • Jump in and do it:
    • Know that as hard as it is to start it’s worse if you don’t get the project done or miss your deadline.
    • Don’t worry about perfection, if you never get started, you’ll never get finished.
Author: Naomi CookCloset Clothing Consignment Donating General Home Organizing Wardrobe Management

Use it or Lose it!

Ok, we’ve all heard that we should keep our bodies active in order to lose weight.  We’ve also heard that we should keep our brains stimulated so we can keep our minds sharp and therefore, remember where we left our keys!  But how does “use it or lose it” relate to clothes?  Well, I will tell you now!

Clothes are tied to sentiment, self expression and comfort, so it’s no wonder why closets can become overloaded.  Sentiment, for clothing we wore at meaningful events in our lives and also times when we were a couple sizes smaller!  Self expression, for clothing we buy to show off our different sides.  And comfort, for those days you just can’t deal with constricting buttons and zippers!  Often though, these items don’t fall into your everyday wardrobe.  Did you know that there is actually a statistic created for that?  You wear 20 percent of your clothes 80 percent of the time.  So what can you do with that 80 percent that is rarely worn?  Here are some options:

1)     Consign …for formal gowns or cocktail dresses (yes, those bridesmaid dresses too!) that you don’t know if and when you will wear again.  Interview some consignment shops and let someone else appreciate and enjoy them for their special occasions!

2)     Host a clothing swap…for friends that have been eyeing items in your closet.  Beware of taking in more than you have put out and aim to use those items in your day to day 20 percent.

3)     Donate…if there are items that you know you will never wear again (maybe they’ve fallen on the floor and got pushed to the far corner!), or haven’t worn in a year.  Give them a gentle wash and bring them to your favorite charity collection site.

But maybe you’re not wearing some clothes because they are missing buttons, have ripped seams or you are just plain tired of them.  Here are some options for these dilemmas:

1)      Head to a tailor…for items with the quality to last and take them in to repair seams.  If you are missing a button, look to the stash of buttons that come with the shirts you buy – that’s what they are there for!  I store all mine in a small decorative box.

2)     Head to a low cost retailer…for items that you’re bored with.  Look for accessories like belts and broaches that can enliven and refresh what you own.  You can follow the color trends without having to buy clothes.  Plus accessories are much smaller and easier to store!

3)     Head to an art center…for shirts that have faded or just can’t be fixed.  They make great smocks for kids!

Now, with all that done, how is your closet looking?  Have you gotten to 70/30?  60/40?

Take it one day at a time and know you are not alone!  Strive to make your closet a place that you can enjoy going to, filled with items that make you happy, are flattering, and reflect your personality.  Then go out into the world, smile, and know that you look fabulous!

Author: Kelly GalfandClutter General

“March Madness” and Your Next Best Play for Decluttering

You don’t have to be a sports fan to learn a new move or two from the NCAA basketball tournament.  This single-elimination collegiate competition held every spring is informally known as March Madness. Various rounds of the tournament have distinctive names: Sweet 16, Elite 8 and Final 4.

Accept this March Madness Challenge: mimic the tournament’s elimination process to decide what deserves a place in your life.  Think, as you cull your collection, “What’s worthy of living on my trophy shelf?”  Over the course of the next three weeks, cut any bench warmers – objects that hog space, collect dust and detract from the rest of the team.

Just as athletes work toward goals and milestones like personal bests, make your decluttering goals concrete.  For example, trim 16 items of clothing so that your clothes don’t spill over into a second closet.  Or, contain your collection of figurines to 8 that fit neatly in a cabinet.  And maybe, find the 4 essential cookbooks for your kitchen shelf.

The hardest lesson March Madness teaches is “one and done.”  The Final 4 teams play two games over three days to determine the one national champion.  Culling collections down to a single winner is unrealistic, but selecting winners based on proven criteria is a good play.  Choose from a laundry list of categories: books, clothes, vases, kids’ artwork, pantry items, electronics, just to name a few, and let these Elite 8 questions be the driving force behind refining your best team.

1. Do you use it?

2. Do you love it?

A yes to either, “Do you use it?” or “Do you love it?” garners objects a guaranteed spot on the team!

3. Has it expired?

Yes to this and it’s a definite cut from the team: food, medicine, fashion or electronics.

4. Does it fit?

5. Is it flattering?

The questions, “Does it fit?” and “Is it flattering?” though suited to clothing, are not exclusive to wardrobes.  These questions ask if things fit your lifestyle.  Sometimes entire collections represent an old hobby that is irrelevant to our current interests.  Consider how much of what you own is an honest reflection of you and the life you want to live.  If something doesn’t fit for any reason… let it go.

6. Could you easily replace it?

7. Is it still valuable to you?

8. Is it easy to maintain?

Surplus supplies can rob us of space, energy and disposable income.

Don’t stockpile if you are maxing out on space.

Sentimental items are not easily replaced and are harder to part with. When paring down nostalgic items ask yourself which piece best represents that time in your life, or best reflects that personal accomplishment.

Don’t forget to simplify.  Fewer working parts, lower maintenance costs, and a smaller footprint can be a savings on several levels.

Take your time.  Give yourself an entire month to accomplish your goal. Each week, make your ‘team cuts.’  Try out the feeling of having less on your shelf, less in your collection and less on your mind.

In the end YOU will be the winner.  The March Madness basketball tournament ends on Monday April 2.  Plan ahead for your personal victory and set a date for the end of your March Madness Challenge.  Don’t throw in the towel if the tournament ends while you’re still deciding what to keep.  Decisions take time, but if you don’t declutter on a regular basis, your organizing muscles won’t be at peak performance.  Practice will perfect your skills.

Author: Sue FrostFamily General Home Organizing

I’m Ready to Get Organized – Let’s Start with HIS Stuff

Why is organizing so much easier when you start with someone else’s belongings?

Clients often call looking for help with several projects within their home.  As I ask questions to determine their priorities and a starting point, occasionally the client will volunteer a child’s room or their husband’s “man cave.”  I agree that we can start wherever she prefers; however, my experience tells me these choices are, um, typically the least productive.

Here’s why:

1)  It’s natural to choose another person’s area because the client (the person who called to hire me) has fewer emotional attachments to the other family member’s belongings.  Deciding to let someone else’s things go is so much quicker and easier.  Isn’t it?  Trust me when I tell you this surprise won’t be received well.

2)  Next, other members of the family may not have called in the Organizer and may not yet buy into the idea of purging and organizing.  If the client starts with his or her own belongings and shows tangible results (a beautiful, organized room or two), trust is established, and volunteers start to line up.

I’ve been welcomed into many homes and, sometimes, I can actually feel the trepidation of the innocent by-standers (husbands, life partners, and children.)  These are the people who nodded “yes” to the theory of getting organized, and a few days later, find themselves, slack-jawed, being introduced to a genuine Professional Organizer standing in their living room armed with bags for “lettings things go,” “donations,” and a box for things to “to sell.”

The by-standers may openly admit to a fear that their possessions will be the first to go (good instincts).  Some ask if I’ll put their belongings on the front lawn “like they do on TV.”  Once they learn that public humiliation isn’t part of my process, the handwringing often stops, but they still follow me around keeping a watchful eye.   And, that’s okay.  In all honesty, if the tables were turned, I would need some assurances, too.

In every home, belongings get co-mingled.  Therefore, as we move through a room, methodically organizing each area, anything that doesn’t belong to the client, and seems out of place, we put in an “ask” pile.  Later, the owner of the “ask” pile decides to keep, donate, or toss those items.  All “keepers” need to be assigned home.  The best way to select a home for each item is to store it where you use it.

You might be thinking, “Building trust is great, but where should I start?”  Excellent question!  Here’s the short answer.

The way to decide where to start is to choose the area that gives you the most “pain.”  Let’s say the person making the call is a woman.  Her “pain” might refer to the discomfort of getting dressed and going out in the morning.  Is her closet full of things that don’t fit anymore?  Is the floor littered with stray shoes? Does the space feel claustrophobic?  Are there more pieces of clothing that don’t fit than do fit?  That’s enough to make anyone feel depressed before reaching the breakfast table in the morning.  If so, this is the place to start.

If everyone is late getting off to school and work because the kitchen isn’t efficient or meal planning doesn’t work, planning is needed in this area.

If you’re disorganization costs you time and money in the office, this is where organization will change your life from day one.

If you choose the space that causes you the most “pain,” organization will provide the most relief.  Once you learn some tricks of the trade, you’ll be inspired to make every facet of your life work like a well-oiled machine.

Author: Suzanne KuhnDocument Management Paper Special Needs

How Long Should I Keep Explanations of Benefits from Medicare and Health Insurance Companies?

As an organizer of medical and financial records for seniors and others affected by age, illness and disability, I get this question a lot.  A person with multiple medical conditions can quickly acquire cartons of paperwork from Medicare, doctors’ offices, and health insurance companies.

It’s helpful to start with what medical EOBs prove:

  • The services the doctor, hospital, or other healthcare entity has provided.
  • The amount the doctor, hospital, or other healthcare provider has billed for those services.
  • The amount the medical insurance company and/or Medicare have paid.
  • The amount for which you, the patient or insurance subscriber, are responsible.

So, medical EOBs can be useful for:

  • Creating (or re-creating) a health history for yourself or someone under your care.
  • Documenting billing errors – or even fraud.
  • Ensuring that you are receiving the full insurance benefits to which you are entitled.
  • Proving that you’ve met your annual deductible, if your health insurance policy has one.
  • Demonstrating what you have paid if you take the medical expense deduction on your annual IRS 1040 Schedule A.

Obviously, keeping medical EOBs is worthwhile for some period of time.  What to do with it all and how long to keep these records will vary with your personal situation.  Here are two sets of guidelines for medical EOB retention periods and good practices – one for people in normal health and one for people with chronic, debilitating or terminal health conditions:

Normal Health

1.  Keep medical EOBs in a file for one year.  As the bills and EOBs for a medical service come in, match related items together, and address any discrepancies you detect.  Examples might include double billing or your health insurance company overlooking the fact that you have met your deductible.

2.  If, at the end of the year, you find you have paid enough in medical bills to qualify for the medical tax deduction, file the medical EOBs with your tax documentation, and keep for seven years.

3.  If you do not qualify for the medical tax deduction, and the medical bills have been paid in full by you and all providers, and you are no longer doctoring for the condition, you can safely shred last year’s crop of medical EOBs while you’re wrapping up your taxes.

4.  If some bills are still outstanding or the patient is still receiving treatment, keep the related EOBs for another year, and repeat the process.

Serious Health Condition

1.  Keep a current file close at hand for this year’s medical EOBs.  As the bills and EOBs for a medical service come in, match related items together, and address any discrepancies you detect.

2.  At the end of the year, store all of these records in date order, keeping items you’ve matched up together, in a less prominent place.  You could use a file cabinet in another room or a cardboard file box in a dry, mildew-free storage area.  If you claimed the medical tax deduction, put a note in your tax records cross-referencing these health files.

3.  Keep these medical records according to this timeline:

a.  For five years after the serious health condition has cleared up.

b.  For seven years if you’ve claimed the medical deduction.

c.  Indefinitely, if the patient is chronically ill.

d.  Until the executor informs you that the estate is completely wrapped up, if the patient has passed away.

In both of the above situations, you can keep the medical records on paper or scanned onto a computer based on your preference.  If you keep paper files, keep them out of areas where they can get wet, e.g., a basement floor.   If you go the electronic route, be sure to back up your data reliably.

One final note:  Don’t panic if you need one or more medical EOBs or haven’t kept them according to the above guidelines.  All health insurers, including Medicare, can replace an EOB, because they store them electronically.