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Author: Darla PompilioHome Home Office Organizing Uncategorized

Reducing Stress During Coronavirus Chaos

As Professional Organizers, we spend most of our time helping clients declutter and organize their spaces. But, with the events that have been unfolding over the past few weeks with the coronavirus, change has been thrust upon us. Some of us may be annoyed or feel inconvenienced by this change. Others may feel down right scared by all the uncertainty of the situation. Wherever you fall on that spectrum, figuring out how to adjust our daily lives to deal with the new restrictions can be overwhelming or stressful. To support you through this difficult time, we’ve put together some organizing suggestions to help you manage under these new circumstances. 

Essential Supplies

We all want to make sure we have enough food and cleaning products to take care of ourselves and our families while we are being asked to self-quarantine and engage in social distancing. And while we support your need to have enough food; we urge you to think strategically about what you’re bringing into your space. How much milk will your family drink in a 2-week period? How many times will they tolerate eating mac n’ cheese in 2 weeks?

Also think about where you’re going to store the items you bring into your home.  Where will you put the extra 30 rolls of toilet paper? This might be a good time to look through your cabinets and get rid of expired products to make space. If you still don’t have room in your cabinets or pantry, you may need to consider other options, like storing items in another room. That three-shelf bookcase with unread books might be the perfect spot for your extra canned goods.

Work from Home / School at Home

With the steady increase of people testing positive across the country, many of us have been asked to work from home. Many schools have closed, and children are switching to online learning. This can create a challenging situation for parents, especially when everyone may need their own space to take that conference call or listen to their teacher’s online lesson. 

Some are fortunate to have a dedicated office space at home, but what if you don’t have that space and both parents are working from home? What if you have multiple kids who need to complete online schoolwork? What makes the most sense for your family? Can the kids do their school lessons in their bedroom? Can you use your dining room as an office? Do you need to alternate schedules? Can your partner can use the office in the morning, and you use it in the afternoon? Or, they use it today and you use it tomorrow? Will your employer let you work evenings while your partner works during the day so someone can tend to the little ones? If multiple family members need to work in the same room or space, perhaps use headphones or ear buds to reduce background noise.  It may take a bit of trial and error until you find a setup that works for your family, however, a little bit of planning and organizing can go a long way to reducing stressful events throughout your workday.

Author: Darla DeMorrowDocument Management Filing Home Office Organizing Paper Tips Uncategorized

17 Ways to Go Paperless without Scanning

Photo by ron dyar on Unsplash

I’ve been reading articles about the promise of a paperless office my entire life, and for the most part, those articles have just created more paper.

For the first time in modern history, we now have the tools to go completely paperless. But before you go invest in a new gadget and hunker down to scan all of your paper, you can probably do a lot to reduce the amount of paper in your life.

Turn Off Paper Statements

  • The first thing is to turn off any statements for accounts, especially if you aren’t opening them. Bank statements are usually the prime offender. Call your bank or go online to shut off those statements. Check to be sure the bank’s retention practices will meet your needs, and that you can access statements online if you need to.
  • Then turn off any billing statements, especially if you have them on auto-payment arrangements and can check your account online.
  • Check with your medical offices to see if they can eliminate or reduce your paperwork there, too. Most medical offices have PHRs (personal health records) and can email you copies of office visits, tests and prescriptions.

Turn On Auto-Pay

  • If you have some but not all of your bills on auto-payments, turn those on, too. Many institutions will allow you to set a minimum payment amount each month. You can always pay more, if you choose, by making additional online payments.
  • If you are concerned that you’ll either miss a payment or somehow be out of the loop on your accounts, write up a simple list of accounts being paid automatically (either by hand or using a spreadsheet), and check these online the same day you get your paycheck. This adds one piece of paper to your life, but might be exactly what you need to keep it all straight. 
  • Set up folders in your email program to file e-statements. Folders allow you to organize emails into groups for long-term storage, out of your inbox. Rules allow you to automate routine statements to be filed without you having to be the one to do it. If you need help with learning to use folders (or tags in gmail) and rules, search the internet for “how to set up folders on {my email} service.”

Get Off Mailing Lists

  • Contact https://dmachoice.thedma.org/ and https://www.catalogchoice.org/ to opt in or out of paper mailings. They won’t stop all of the mail, but it will stop much of it.
  • Be generous, but be selective, too. Stay off the “sucker lists,” which are lists of people who are likely to respond and donate to charitable appeals. Charity fund raising is big business. The more organizations you donate to, the higher the chance that data mining companies will identify you as an easy target, selling your information to even more charities. Honor your nature to be generous by donating to fewer causes that are important to you, and that have good ratings from  https://www.guidestar.org/. Be selective to stay off the lists that generate even more charity mail in your mailbox.
  • Opt out of unsolicited credit card offers. Many of these are generated by companies data-mining your credit reports. Reduce these unsolicited offers by contacting each of the three main credit bureaus (Equifax, TransUnion and Experian), and requesting that they not allow your data to be accessed for the preapproved offers. The toll-free number for all the national credit reporting agencies is 1 888 5OPTOUT (1 888 567 8688).
  • Under the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA), the Consumer Credit Reporting Companies are permitted to include your name on lists used by creditors or insurers to make firm offers of credit or insurance that are not initiated by you (“Firm Offers”). The FCRA also provides consumers with the right to opt-out of these offers. If you choose to opt-in or opt-out, you can visit www.optoutprescreen.com to make your request online.” (excerpted from Experian.com)
  • Reduce the amount of credit accounts you have. Stick with one main all-purpose credit card and another one for backup. Reduce the urge to sign up for store credit accounts just to get short term offers. Cancel promotional cards as soon as you fulfill the promotion. The more cards and credit accounts you have, the more mail they will generate. 

Utilize Online Information Sources

  • Recycle most manuals for household items. Chances are you don’t need the manual for small items like toasters and coffee makers. You can access manuals you do need online at https://www.manualslib.com/ and http://www.manualsonline.com/. If you can’t find it there, which is rare, you can usually find a manual for an older product at the manufacturer’s website.
  • Support your school’s, church’s and community’s efforts to go paperless. Learn how to use online forms and payment options like e-checks and Paypal. 

Say No to Paper Offered to You

  • Don’t bring home fliers, brochures and free magazines. These rarely get read, and they rarely have information that you can’t find online.
  • Instead of collecting business cards, scan a card on your phone and enable your settings to send information right into your phone’s Contacts app. ScaBizCards and Evernote both can upload details directly to your contacts app.

Reset your Reading Habits

  • Cancel your newspaper and magazines if you never read them. Continue to get your local news by purchasing a digital subscription, and request a daily email of headlines and topics that interest you.
  • Are you really serious about having less paper in your life? Get an e-reader and learn to use it instead of buying and storing books you’ll need briefly. Sure, you love the feel and smell of actual books, but you can have HUNDREDS of great books and magazines in less space than your unread piles are taking on your cluttered nightstand right now.

If you really want to go paperless, start with these steps to have less paper in your life. You’ll find more space in your home. 

Author: Robin StankowskiHome Office Organizing Paper Project Management Time Management Tips

Keeping track of your To-Do’s

Remember the Trapper Keeper days? And the 5-subject notebook? We all used them as students but why don’t we use them today? The concept is still the same, it’s just the subjects have changed.

To-Do’s: Instead of subject, separate your to do’s into broad categories (personal, business, church for example). Use a 3 or 5 subject notebook as your one place to store it all. Create a system to prioritize like highlighting or numbering. Don’t forget about those to do’s that you keep putting off. Mix these in with some of your urgent ones.

Projects vs. To Do’s: There is a difference. Projects are made up of a lot of to do’s. That’s why a project can seem so overwhelming and never gets done. Break up that project and add those to do’s to your list.

Notebook vs. Stickies: Is your desk or computer overrun by sticky notes? Use the divided notebooks to keep track of your to do’s/ideas/projects. Stickies should be used temporarily. Regularly transfer that information to the appropriate section of the notebook.  

There is no one way to keep track of your to do’s. Build upon the systems that are currently working for you. But take it one task at a time and be patient. Conquer a couple each day or set a time limit. And in today’s digital era, sometimes a good old notebook will do just fine. Just be sure that you don’t lose it because you can’t back it up!  

Author: Geri Chark FrankelDigital Apps Document Management Electronic Organizing Home Office Lists Organizing Productivity Project Management Receipts Tips

Quick and Easy Ways to Let Tech Help You

Photo by Oleg Magni on Unsplash

First, let me confess:  I am NOT what you might call an “Early Adopter” when it comes to technology. 

I need to know that an app/program has been around a long time, is secure and is fast and easy to learn and use.

Here are 5 tech tools that meet those requirements. Use them daily to free up mental clutter, to run on time with appointments and projects, and to help you access information quickly.

  1. Alarms on your smartphone: In the morning, as you review your plan/to do list for the day, set an alarm to ring at the point you need to gather yourself in order to leave on time NOT for an appointment time itself. You can add an additional alarm for when you need to be heading out your door.
  2. Calendar app on your smartphone: As you enter an appointment, meeting, occasion, etc., in your calendar, remember to use both alert options as reminders and set them at appropriate intervals.  For example, if the event is a party or birthday, you may want to set the first alert a week before, to allow yourself time to purchase a card and/or gift. The second alert can be for the morning of the event. 
  3. Evernote: Use it to do a brain dump of your things to do; record receipt; store your vital documents, medications list and other medical records, prepare for tax time, file client/business information, tame recipes, organize your clippings from magazines, and journal.  The possibilities are endless. You can keep photos, video, and audio files in it. This program synchs beautifully across your devices so you have this information at your fingertips.
  4. CamScanner (or Scannable): Snap photos of documents, receipts, clippings and other paperwork/labels et. al.  that you can then save as PDF files. You can send these directly into Google Docs, Dropbox, Evernote, a text message and/or an email etc. 
  5. Contacts:  The minute you get a new person’s details, take a moment and set up a contact!  Add key descriptions to help you locate that newbie at a later date. For example, if a friend tells you about the BEST landscaper in the area, after you enter the person’s name and company,  and mobile number and email address, add “Landscaper Recommended by (friend’s name) in the area where you recorded the company’s name. That way you will still be able to get that information should you forget the company’s actual name.  Use Contacts to enter usernames and passwords for accounts. (NOTE: make sure you have a 6-digit lock on your phone, as 4-digit locks are not secure enough.)

You will enjoy the benefits of a calmer daily routine and the ability to access information speedily if you take a little effort to use one or more of these tech tools!

Author: Tiffany BregoviDocument Management Electronic Organizing General Home Office Tax Prep

You Too Can Stay Organized for Tax Season!

It’s that time of year, friends, when one of the only two certain things in life looms large: taxes.

As a kid, April 15 was a holiday in our house. It was the day my accountant mother could breathe again after over 3 long months of helping her clients. I may have learned a thing or two along the way, so I’m happy to share some tips on how to get organized before heading to your accountant’s office, or, if you’re one of those brave souls who tackles the task on your own, before you sit down at the kitchen table amid a sea of paperwork. In either case, the key is starting early… as in January 1 early.

How to Prep to File your Income Taxes

Taxes can get pretty complicated depending on what kind of return you have to file. Do you have a business? Dependents? Itemized deductions? There are already a lot of great sources of information out there about which documents and information you need to gather. Instead, let’s focus on how to move through this year proactively so that when April 2020 rolls around, you won’t be scrambling to find all this documentation.

Start a System

The first thing you should do is have a dedicated folder where you can file any paperwork that you may need come next April.

  • Create folders for:
    • Tax Documents
    • Personal Receipts
  • If you are self-employed, you should create additional folders for:
    • Business Documents
    • Business Receipts

Execute the System

Know which documents you need to keep in each folder and make lists. If you need help with this, your tax preparer should be able to help you create a customized list based on how you file and the specifics of your financial architecture. Otherwise, here’s a great general resource: https://www.rgbrenner.com/resources/what-do-i-bring-to-my-tax-appointment/

Attach these lists to the front of each folder. Cross off items as they go into the folder.
Documents come in all year, so this is a great way to keep yourself informed at a glance. A few notes:

  • Things like property taxes may show up early in the year.
  • Income statements start arriving in the mail or your inbox in January.
  • Some personal receipts worth saving are:
    • Records of cash donations to religious institutions, schools & other charities
    • Records on non-cash charitable donations
    • Unreimbursed job-related expenses (e.g., travel, tools, cell phone charges, uniform cost/cleaning, luggage, services fees, trade journals, meals & entertainment)
    • Job search/moving expenses¹
  • For your business, you’ll want to save receipts for EVERYTHING, such as:
    • Advertising
    • Equipment & supplies
    • Meals & travel
    • Continuing education & professional development
    • Books & research materials
    • Dues & memberships
    • Subscriptions

Maintain the System

Now that you’re filing, try to stay ahead of the record-keeping by doing it monthly. This effort will help both you and your accountant simplify the process come March or April, so you don’t have to scramble to collect all the information and dollar amounts in a last-minute rush.

Pick your poison to start an electronic or written file for keeping records of expenses. I’m a lover of Excel, but some folks prefer Word or even handwritten lists. If you’re in the latter camp, I recommend buying a dedicated ledger book to record line items. Keep separate files for personal and business. Once a month, go through your saved receipts and enter them into your record. Remember to categorize the type of expense for each receipt.

————

As you can see, it’s all about establishing a system that you can easily maintain throughout the year with minimal effort. It’s so easy to get behind with all the personal and professional obligations we balance. If we can stay aligned with the system and find an hour a month to maintain it, then when that April 15 holiday inevitably rolls around again, we can face it head-on with confidence and careful preparation.

¹ https://www.rgbrenner.com/resources/what-do-i-bring-to-my-tax-appointment/

Author: Anna SicalidesClutter Donating Holidays Home Office Organizing Productivity Project Management Storage Time Management Time Management Tips

Post Holiday Thoughts

In between holidays, most of us aren’t working…a great use of some of that free time is to get a little organizational housekeeping out of the way. Here are some great, easy steps you can do to start 2019 off on the right foot!

December 31 is the deadline for getting all of your donations together, whether it be financial or stuff. With the new tax laws in place, try tracking donations using It’s Deductible to easily track what has been donated. If it is stuff you want to donate don’t wait until the 31st. I have seen donation centers unable to accept items toward the very end of the year.

Do you look at your holiday cards every season and have no idea who you need to send them to?

This is the time to update your 2019 Holiday Card List! Document who you sent cards to and who you received them from. Keep a record so that you can just pull out your list next year and start addressing. You can do that on a spreadsheet or if you really want to be ahead of the game, you can make a document for your labels so that all you have to do next year is “edit” and ‘print”, easy peasy.

Do you find old gift cards all over your house? Gather your gift cards together in one place so that you can easily find them. If you have a lot, put them in an envelope and label it with the cards you have.  This will help save you from letting them expire. Use them before the restaurants that you have them for go out of business (this happened to me this year). I made a reservation and the next day they closed, annoying.

Put your Christmas decorations away properly.

Give away any decorations that you haven’t used in a while. Decorating time will be more pleasant next year if you are only dealing with pieces you really love.
Store the things you love in nice containers that reflect their value to you, There are great containers for wrapping paper, ribbons, wreaths, ornaments, dishware, glassware. Check out The Container Store, Amazon and Frontgate for a wide selection, but don’t wait too long they sell out.

Paper Clear Out
One thing my clients do (actually I do it for them) is to pull all of this year’s bills, receipts and other documents out of their files, we separate the tax documents for the accountant and the most of others get tossed/shredded/filed. The result: clean files ready for the New year to begin and all your papers are gathered for your accountant…yes!

Thoughts for the New Year
Take some time for yourself to review this year’s events (use the photos on your phone to quickly do this).
What was great about this year?
What would have made it a better year?
How can you make the New Year better?

And finally….For ribbons, bow, cards and other miscellaneous items try the Organize It All Christmas.
For your special ornaments try Snapware Snap ‘N Stack Square Layer Seasonal Ornament Storage Container
For your LED lights these are great and they stack very well Christmas Light Storage Wheels with Bag
For your Christmas china and wine glasses we suggest Household Essentials Dinner Plate Holiday Storage Chest
Wine Glasses
Saucers
Dessert Plates and Small Bowls