Archive for the ‘Clutter’ Category

The Ultimate Garage Organization Survival Guide

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Editor’s Note: In June we celebrate all things Dad, in celebration of Father’s Day. This month, I’m pleased to share this informative guide to garage organizing written by Trent Skousen, from Golden Gate Garage Storage, a colleague and associate member of the local chapter of my professional association, NAPO (National Association of Organizing and Productivity Professionals). Trent and I share a lot of the same ideas about garage organizing. Read on and make this Summer the one you finally get your garage organized!

When I was a kid, my mom would task the family with giant cleaning days. They were usually before family or friends came to visit, although I suspect some days, she just got the itch to clean up. We would spend all day sorting through the living room, bedrooms, and kitchen to make everything look nice and orderly.

Part of that organizing was removing the clutter from most of the house. Unfortunately, we just dumped most of that extra stuff in the garage. Have too many toys in the bedroom? Throw some in a box in the garage. Too many cleaning supplies under the bathroom sink? Put ‘em in the garage. We did that over and over.

As a result, the garage became so cluttered and packed over time, we couldn’t even park our cars in there. It became so cramped that we lost all motivation to get it organized. The whole project was overwhelming. Finally, my dad persuaded (bribed) my brother and me to take a week of our summer vacation to go in there and sort everything out.

Many homeowners experience something similar happening in their own garages. These spaces look more like an old warehouse than a functional home space. It becomes a dumping ground for everything we don’t want to deal with in the house. How do we end this vicious cycle? With a little conscious effort, an organized and functional garage isn’t as far-fetched as it sounds.

With Father’s Day around the corner, now is a great time to take a look at getting that garage fixed up for Dad. Here is your ultimate survival guide to get you started.

Step 1- Develop a game plan:

Benjamin Franklin said, “By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.” Planning in organization is just as important as doing the organizing itself. Not only does planning give you an idea of what you need to accomplish, it gives you the peace of mind of knowing what you need to do exactly when you need to do it.

Sit down with your team. This can be your family, friends, or organizing professionals. Set a realistic goal that you can shoot for. One example could be to leave nothing left on the garage floor by the time you finish.

After you have your goal, here are some tips about things to include in your plan:

  • Pick a date- You need to get a specific date in mind to start and stick to it. Write it out and tell your family. Make sure that you are set on getting to work and won’t have anything to distract you. Give yourself a reasonable amount of time to complete it. Don’t plan to finish it in a day if you need several weekends.
  • Plan on who will be helping- How many people will be there to help? How much can each person handle? Are there any children helping that need simpler jobs?
  • Figure out costs- If you’re planning on hiring help or buying equipment, you’ll need to set a budget and determine costs ahead of time. Be sure to weigh the cost against the benefit for each item – sometimes paying a little more will save you time, money, and stress in the long run.

Step 2- Cleaning:

Move all of the items in the garage out to the driveway, lawn, or backyard. You won’t be able to do a deep clean without emptying the space first. If you have limited space or weather issues, consider focusing on smaller portions of the garage at a time.

As you move your possessions, it helps to sort them into piles based on their function (i.e. camping gear, gardening equipment, power tools, etc.).

With the empty space, deep clean the garage surfaces, walls, and floors. Start from the ceiling and move toward the floor, so you don’t get things dirty that you already cleaned:

  • Replace any dead light bulbs.
  • Dust off shelves and cabinets.
  • Wipe down any tables or workbenches.
  • Scrub the walls and floorboards to remove scuff marks and blemishes.
  • Sweep and mop the floor.

Having a clean garage will not only make it look nicer, but also make it safer to breathe the air and touch the surfaces inside.

Step 3- Decluttering:

*Note: This step is interchangeable with Step 2. You can do this before, after, or during the cleaning phase. Do what is best for your situation.

Now, you’ll want to start getting rid of anything you don’t need in order to create more space.

Start by systematically going through everything individually. Like I mentioned, it helps to group things together by category (like chemicals, tools, stored personal items), and decide what you still need and what you don’t. If things are broken, old, or you don’t use them anymore, get rid of them first.

After that, take what remains and make a second pass at them. This can be trickier, because now you really have to think about the item and the likelihood you will use in the near future.  Like Lis McKinley, Certified Professional Organizer and owner of LET’S MAKE ROOM always says, “Just because something is useable, doesn’t mean you have to keep it! Almost everything is useable. When you need space, the goal should be looking for reasons to let it go, not finding reasons to keep it.”

If there are items of sentimental value, ask yourselves if you really are happier having it around or if you’ll use it. If not, it’s time to let it go.

Be realistic about what you keep in the garage,” she adds. “It should be things you actually use, such as tools, or things used seasonally such as sports equipment or holiday supplies – but even these things can be curated. Stick with the notion of, do I use it now? Am I likely to use it this year? Would I miss it if it disappeared? If not, give it away where it can be used and appreciated.

Step 4- Reorganize:

At this point, you should have your essential items and a clean garage. It’s time to organize your items in the garage.

Consider using a zoning strategy. Zoning means to group similar items together in storage. This helps you know where everything is and helps you keep track of what you have and makes it easier to find what you need in the future. If you already grouped items together during decluttering, this shouldn’t be too hard.

Another suggestion is to consider using storage systems. This can be as simple as stackable bins, hooks on the wall, and baskets. Other options that really reduce the clutter include shelves, cabinets, and overhead storage racks. Storage systems help get everything off the ground safely. This is especially useful if you have young kids wandering through the area, because you can keep dangerous chemicals or tools hidden out of reach. Plus, it gives you more space to park your car or even include things like workbenches or workout equipment.

Step 5- Continue the process:

Just because your garage is clean and organized doesn’t mean it will stay that way without help. Plan time each week to tidy up, just as you would with the rest of your house. Sweep out debris and make sure things are off the ground and in their proper place. If you buy something new that needs a place, take a few minutes to rearrange everything so that it has a proper place of its own.

Having a nice garage will make your home more functional and enjoyable. With a little planning, organizing can be a fun and rewarding process!

This post was written by Trent Skousen at Golden Gate Garage Storage. He enjoys going to movies and watching basketball with his wife.

3 clutter busters that won’t tax you!

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Life is tough enough!  Easily finding something clean to wear that you love shouldn’t be! Want to do something really good for yourself now that you’ve survived another tax year?  Here are three easy clutter-busting activities that won’t tax you and may end up saving you time and money!

Organize your laundry

Take five minutes and sort that giant pile of overflowing laundry into four stacks:

  1. Whites including white sheets and white towels
  2. Bright colors such as pink, red, purple, yellow, orange or light blue or washable delicates  including anything that has never been washed before,
  3. Dark colors including black, grey, navy or brown.
  4. Heavy items such as blankets.

Contain three of the piles into a laundry sorter, bins or baskets and load the remaining pile in the laundry.  While the first load is washing you can now attend to your clothes.

Organize your clothing drawers

Start by choosing the most overstuffed drawer in your dresser. Empty the contents into a pile on your bed, assuming it’s clear. If it’s covered in clothing include these too. If it’s covered in other items, remove them to a nearby table. You want to start with a clear surface.

  1. Start sorting items like with like. For example: Long sleeve shirts, t-shirts (single color) graphic t-shirts,  sleeveless shirts, knit shirts, button down shirts, etc. If you have items you would never wear but have strong memories or sentimental value, put those in their own pile.
  2. Once sorted, go through each pile, item by item and purge all items you don’t love, have not worn in over a year, are ripped, stained or would require too much work to restore – DO YOU REALLY WANT TO SPEND YOUR PRECIOUS TIME GETTING A STAIN OUT OF AN OLD T-SHIRT?  Put the discarded items in a black trash bag. If you have great quality items you don’t want and still have tags on them, put those in a separate bag labeled “To Sell.” For sentimental items, take a picture of them and let them go or if you must, store them in a bin at the top of your closet with a label that reads: Stored on _____ date.
  3. Check to see if your first load of laundry is ready for the dryer and put the next load in and return to your pile of clothes.
  4. You should now have several piles of clothing you do want. If the drawer you emptied these from is large enough to contain them, without stuffing them in, begin folding or rolling them. I like the folding in thirds method so that items can be terraced together inside your drawer. Any button down blouses or shirts should hang in your closet.
  5. Place folded items inside your drawer, by type and if you like by color. You’ll love the way they look and it will be so easy to find what you need!
  6. Now go back, and check your laundry. Remove the first load from the dryer fill the second load. Fold your dry clothing however you are used to or use the folding in thirds method included above.

Organize your hanging clothing

  1. As above, remove all hanging items from your closet. Include, clothing, scarves, belts, and handbags.
  2. If you have a sturdy portable clothing rack, place the items on the rack.  Otherwise use your bed to sort by color and type.
  3. Again, sort items like with like. For example. Long hang dresses/skirts, pants, jackets, long sleeve blouses, short sleeve blouses, better quality camisoles, large purses, small purses, small clutches, bags, belts and scarves. Resist the urge to purge things at this stage as you may end up tossing something you intended to keep.  It’s also much easier to make a decision about what to edit when you are looking at “like” items.
  4. One by one, purge items as described above. Set aside clothing you prefer to gift to others just don’t contribute to their clutter as a tactic for holding on to things!
  5. Once edited, replace items hanging on wood hangers, cheap store hangers or slippery plastic hangers that take up a lot of real estate in your closet with non-slip, space saving hangers available at many stores.
  6. Store handbags in bins or on upper shelves. Use area below short hanging items for shoes. Space permitting, use bins to store heavier weight sweaters and scarves (as pictured). I recommend using labels for bins, even if they are translucent, to remind you and others what they do and don’t contain.
  7. Finally, return to your laundry to add in your final load in the washer and dryer. Remove folded clothes and return them to their rightful owner. If they are yours, you can now neatly return them to your newly organized drawer and closet.

Now, sit back and admire your work! Tomorrow getting dressed will be a whole lot easier and definitely less stressful than your taxes!

 

 

 

 

Downsize your way to a stress-free move.

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Planning to move this Summer? Don’t pack a box until you read this.

Moving is the perfect opportunity to assess whether or not you need to downsize your home’s contents so that you don’t end up spending the time and money to move, insure and unpack items you don’t really want. There are so many great reasons to downsize. Here are some of my favorites:

  1. You’ll sell your old home faster. An uncluttered home is massively appealing to home buyers. Nowadays, real estate agents won’t even consider listing your home until it’s cleared of all your personal belongings.
  2. It’s safer. The less clutter on surfaces, stairs, floors or near electric or gas appliances, the better. So even if you’re not moving this alone is one great reason to downsize.
  3. You’re the one in charge! You get to decide what stays and what goes and if you give yourself enough time, you won’t be making those decisions under pressure.
  4. You can preserve memories. It’s easier to find the irreplaceable things in your life when you can easily find them.
  5. Less stress. You will feel the peace of mind that comes from living an uncluttered life, surrounded by the people and things you enjoy the most
  6. Save money. The less you move, the less it costs.

What to take, what to sell, what to donate

Not sure what you’ll take with you?  That’s okay, you probably have a lot you don’t want now. Start to downsize well before you move and you get to decide what goes — nobody pressuring you!  Best of all, you won’t make hasty decisions in the days leading up to your move that you may regret later.

If you have items you plan to sell such as good quality furniture, jewelry, luxury brand clothing or valuable artwork, you will first need to determine whether these items are in demand. Check out both local estate sellers and consignment services as well as online estate services that can consign or buy your items outright. One easy way to do this is to send them a few photos. It’s free and you’ll know pretty quickly what they may be worth.  One word of caution, don’t expect the value to equal what you paid for an item or what you “think” it’s worth.  If the item has value, they too will want to make a profit so they will never buy it for what it’s worth from an insurance standpoint.

Want to keep it simple and easy? In the San Francisco Bay Area there are services such as Remoovit.com that will literally take everything you don’t want and haul it away for one flat fee. Anything they can sell, they will and you will get fifty percent of the final sale price. Whatever can not be sold, will be donated or recycled. Remoovit once sold a rusty old “banana seat” bicycle belonging to one of my clients for $1,200. She got half of that which paid for the hauling of everything else!  You pay by the truck load (or fraction thereof). It’s a one-stop service for those who need their homes to be emptied quickly but don’t want to simply give away items that may have market value.

Where do I start?

Not sure where to start? Begin with whatever area of your home you’ve been wanting to tackle but just haven’t had a good enough reason. Now you do. You’re moving and you want to surround yourself with the things that you love and use most. This doesn’t mean everything else goes in the trash. On the contrary, it’s likely you have usable items that somebody else wants (any may even pay for!) including family, friends, neighbors and members of your community.

Set aside one area of your home where you will sort and label as you go. A dining room is a good place for this as it’s less likely you will be entertaining at home in the weeks leading up to your move. Otherwise, pick an area that you occupy less frequently such as a guest room.  Here are some other helpful tools you will need:

  • A folding table or work surface for sorting (if not in your dining room).
  • Supply of large, plastic yard bags for donating soft goods such as clothing, purses, accessories, good quality linens, outerwear. Keep in mind most charities will not accept bed pillows, bedding, or old linens. Old towels may be donated to local animal shelters.
  • Small moving or packing boxes, preferably ones with handles. Use these to donate home decor, small household items, kitchen tools and other hard-edged items.
  • Blue or green painter’s tape to label furniture, framed art work, lamps and other large items you no longer want.
  • A couple of black “sharpie” markers to use with the painter’s tape to label boxes, bags and unwanted items.
  • A glass or bottle of water (you’ll want to stay hydrated as you work!)

If you are lucky to have family nearby, especially strong children or grandchildren, ask them to load items in your car you wish to transport yourself or ask them to take them for you. Otherwise, you can count on the help of the charities that will pick up your items by truck.

Make a list of your preferred charities that accept household goods. Be sure they are available before you move. Many charities book 2-3 weeks in advance.

Don’t forget your local church bazaar, senior center and friends of the library. There may also be a veteran’s group in your area that will pick up your donated goods. Animal shelters and your local veterinarian are always in need of clean, old towels.  Women’s shelters can use your unused, unopened toiletries. (Think of all those unopened hotel shampoos and body lotions you’ve collected over the years.) Local hospice stores, or other charities that operate re-sell or “thrift” stores are a great way to donate.  Not sure where to donate clothing? Ask your local consignment store. They are usually a wealth of information. Lastly you will be grateful for the help of charities that do truck pick up. Not sure which ones serve your area? Do a Google search, “charities that do truck pick up near me.

Helpful Tips for Downsizing

  1. Start early. Don’t wait until a week before you move. Give yourself at least a month or more so you don’t have to make decisions under pressure.
  2. Focus on one room at a time. This way you will see progress and stay motivated.
  3. Don’t buy more!  Now is not the time time to go clothes shopping or re-stock your pantry. Use up what you have.
  4. Segregate your paper. Don’t attempt to “go through” your files until you’ve downsized your other household goods. Instead, contain all your paper files in banker boxes and use the days leading up to the move to determine what you need to keep.
  5. Use painters tape (not sticky notes – they fall off) to label items for donation
  6. Save your back. Use charities that offer truck pick up to take your boxed and bagged items as well as your donated furniture

When to ask for help

  • If you are feeling overwhelmed by the whole process and know you can’t do this alone or are worried you would be overwhelmed by the memories and emotions often associated with large-scale downsizing
  • If you are working full time or traveling a lot and know you could use some help to make the process go faster
  • If you are far away from family or friends and need help with the physical work of sorting and transporting items for you
  • If you have physical limitations or just don’t have the endurance to deal with it yourself.  This is especially true if you are clearing out large storage areas such as basements, garages and storage sheds.

How to downsize your home without losing your mind

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You’ve lived in your home for 25 years or more. Perhaps you raised your kids there. Maybe it was your parents’ home before it was yours. It contains the memories of your life, your children’s lives, your families lives, the life you had with a spouse.

Every item in your home reflects something about you and the people you love most. Now the time has come, by choice or circumstance, to empty your home of all the memories so you can continue to live, more simply, perhaps more frugally, without the burdens home-ownership brings in later life. Now the real work begins.

As a professional organizer specializing in helping people just like you make this transition, I’m here to tell you it can be done. It seems overwhelming, impossible sometimes, but I have never, ever had a client not move on with their lives, as they planned. Is it easy? No. Is it stressful? Yes. There are few things harder in life than moving, except losing a loved one, and in some respects moving can feel just as painful, especially because it’s our memories we are leaving behind, not just our stuff.

This is why it is so, so important to know and constantly remind yourself why you are making this move in the first place.

Are you protecting your financial future?
Are you needing a simpler life?
Do you want to release yourself of the burden of taking care of a home that may be too big for you now?
When all is said and done, how will you know that you got there?

Take a moment and picture yourself done. You’ve moved.

You’re in your new home or your new community. What are you doing? Who are you with? How are you feeling? Are you enjoying the view outside your new home? Are you with family or friends you wanted to be closer to? Are you taking a walk in the neighborhood you knew would make you happy? Are you enjoying a new activity your move has made possible? Whatever the image is, picture it and keep that picture close to your heart.

Get as crystal clear as you can about this picture. You will need it to spur you on to keep moving when the chaos, albeit temporary, of moving is at its height and you find yourself wondering if you’ve done the right thing. I’m here to tell you, to reassure you. You have.

Memories are what make life rich and meaningful but so is living in the present moment. It is often the things or stuff of our lives that trigger those memories. We ask ourselves,”If I get rid of this or that will I lose the memory?” Yes, you may but not necessarily. Life is about creating new memories. If we had to remember everything that happened to us at every moment of our lives, a condition called hyperthymesia,  you would be exhausted from the constant burden of non-stop, uncontrollable, stream of memories.  Essentially you would be unable to live in the present.

When you are downsizing, it’s important to remember your future just as much as your past.

 

 

Garage or junk drawer: Getting it organized is the same process.

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Whenever I meet with a new client I show them how we organize a large space by organizing a small space. This is because it’s the same process,  just on a smaller scale. Often I start with a junk drawer but no matter the size of the space, as long as you are organizing physical items (not paper) the process is the same.

  1. Gather the contents by emptying it onto a flat surface such as a table or bed.  Dust out the drawer if needed.
  2. Sort items by type, such as pens with pens, tools with tools, paper with paper. Don’t throw anything away until you are done. Just focus on sorting. This should take just a few minutes. Don’t skip this step. It’s the most important!
  3. Purge what you don’t use, need or love.  Start with obvious trash and move on from there. Usable items can be donated. Loose bits of paper can be reviewed and recycled or shredded as needed.
  4. Decide what belongs back in the junk drawer or somewhere else in your home.   Wait till you’re done before moving these items into other rooms, otherwise you’ll lose your momentum.
  5. Contain like items with small containers or a a drawer organizer.  This will make it easy to find and return items when you’re done using them.

It’s also important to start with the right tools such as bags or boxes for the items you no longer use, need or love. Want to see how it’s done?

Check out my video.

Office in your bedroom? Don’t lose sleep over it

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Desk as bedside table

How to keep your office organized when it’s is in your bedroom

You are finally in bed after a long day. You cover yourself with a blanket; feel the warm comfort of your pillow beneath your head and the soft, cool sheets against your tired body. You begin to relax into a night of slumber when you are suddenly startled by the pinging sounds of your computer sending notifications about tomorrow’s busy day. You get up and turn down the volume and get back in bed. That’s when you notice the pile of papers strewn across your desk, in varying heights and reminding you of a slew of unfinished tasks, unpaid bills and projects still yet to be started. You shut your light out, hoping in darkness you will forget the site of all that you have left undone. All of a sudden you see the blinking of all your devices in random rhythms, your router, your modem, your phone.  Your room lights up with a blue blinking glow. You cover your face with a pillow and somehow manage to fall into an exhausted sleep.

In general, I don’t think a bedroom is a great place for your office. Your bedroom should be a place of respite, relaxation and most of all sleep. Yet sometimes, there is no choice. Space is at a premium. You share a home or an apartment and there is no other available space to work.

This doesn’t mean you should lose sleep when your office is in your bedroom. Here are some ways you can minimize those distractions without sacrificing your personal productivity.

  • Hide your desk. Space permitting, hide your desk behind a free-standing, decorative folding screen or room divider. You can buy them online or in most home decor stores. When it’s time to leave work, simply pull the screen around your desk.
  • Shut out and shut down. Turn off or block digital noise and distractions. If you can’t hide your electronic equipment, things like your modem, router, or fax/printer behind or under your desk, place a small piece of dark blue painter’s tape over the lights that blink. Painter’s tape will not harm your equipment and can be easily removed or re-placed. This is especially recommended if you use a guest room for your office. You don’t want your guests losing sleep from all the pings and blinking lights.
  • Re-purpose and reposition. If your room is configured for it, why not turn your desk into a combination bedside table-workspace. That way, you are no longer looking at the desk from your bed. You’ll need a lamp on your desk anyway, so why not make it your bedside lamp. You can also leave a little room nearest your bed for a book or notepad, a place to put your reading glasses, a small plant or decorative item, and a clock or device with an alarm.  In other words, all the things you would need nearby while you’re working.
  • Clear the decks. Surfaces are notorious clutter catchers. No matter what size the surface, they have a way of getting covered with things. Just like you have a home, everything in your home should have a home. Take the time each day to survey what you have on your desk or work surface and decide 1) Can I toss it? 2) Does it need to live on my desk? 3) where else could it live in my home?  Then toss it, move it or take it back to where it lives. No more homeless items!
  • Create vertical storage. Install simple bracket or wall-shelves above your desk area for less frequently used items, books, or reference materials. Use decorative boxes in like colors to contain surplus office supplies. Get these all off your desk and on to a shelf to free up space for working, creating and being more productive.
  • Equalize your workspace. Before leaving your desk for bed, take 60 seconds to put loose items in drawers, loose papers in a stack or contain them in a shallow box (e.g. an “in-box”). Review your calendar and most important to-dos for the next day. Then shut off your computer (or put it in “sleep mode”) along with all other unnecessary electronics. You’ll save money on your electric bill and may even get a few more Zs tonight.

 

10 myths you have about organizing your stuff

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Personal and home organizing is a hot topic and almost everyone has an opinion about what works. Here are ten beliefs about organizing that I have heard numerous times in my ten years as a professional organizer and move manager. Ask yourself, have I heard myself think or say any of these? If so, read why I think you’d be better off tossing out these beliefs next time you decide to get organized at home.

Myth #1 If it’s visible I can see it. (Also known as, I will remember I have this if I put it here.)
If everything is visible, nothing is. Your eye doesn’t know where to focus. Picture things in a pile. They might be visible but good luck finding what you need in a hurry. If you find yourself saying, “I will remember it if I just put it here,” in my industry we jokingly refer to that as the FHS system of organizing, as in First Horizontal Space.

Myth #2 Just touch the paper once.
I’ve heard clients repeat this back to me dozens of times but it never made sense to me, especially for paper that is prompting you to do something – such as pay a bill – or paper that is likely you will look at again – such as your credit card bill. The only paper I can see looking at once is the paper you toss (or shred) like your junk mail.

Myth #3 It will just take me a day to get organized
Unless you make a living as a professional organizer, I would never recommend you spend an entire day on an organizing project unless you have a lot of energy! Organizing is both a physical and mental task. Spending eight hours sorting, purging, assigning homes to items, then containing them in a way that makes sense, not to mention shopping for the right organizing products and labeling them, is a lot or work!  Most of my clients consistently underestimate the time it takes to organize a space.  Organizing a room includes not just what you can see, but what you can’t see (hidden on shelves, in cabinets and drawers). If you are motivated to get organized, pick a day and time frame when you are feeling normally energetic or when you do other types of household tasks. Don’t spend more than 3-4 hours working. Do you really want to spend your precious days off organizing your garage if what you really want to do is tend to your garden, take a walk with your dog or have brunch with a friend? One more tip: Never use your vacation time to get organized if you don’t have to.

Myth #4 Containers, bins and labels will get me organized
That of course is what many stores carrying organizing products and systems will want you to believe. Don’t get me wrong, many of these products are great and I would be the first to recommend a good storage bin to a client when it calls for one. Just buying products and having them collect dust in your home will never get you more organized. Plan on using them for a specific set of items that you have already sorted through and decided to keep because you use them.

Myth #5 Organized people are dull
Dull no. Passionate, creative, caring, quirky, friendly, obsessive (sometimes). If you like your “messy” side and have no reason to be “tidy” then embrace that part of yourself if it doesn’t cause pain for you or your loved ones.  That being said, I’ve always believed that when you create more physical space in your life, it gives you the room to focus on or discover what truly gives you joy.

Myth #6 I am hopeless when it comes to getting organized
The messages we give ourselves often manifest as reality. But just because you don’t have the expertise, skill, “mindset” or intention to get organized doesn’t mean you can’t be me more organized. I understand not everyone is cut out to be better at something they wish they were. No amount of effort will ever turn me into a marathon runner but I did once complete a marathon-walk.  It took months of training every weekend, motivation and a plan. If you want to learn to be better organized, you can do it

Myth #7 I just need time to do some filing
Several years ago, I started a new personal productivity service for my clients who were struggling with too much paper.
I was inspired to do this after I heard so many of them say that the answer to their paper piles was filing. It’s not!  The answer to your paper piles is less paper! But knowing what paper to keep, how and why, and having a simple system for organizing and managing new paper as it comes in to your life, does work.  Learn more about my personal productivity service here.

Myth #8 I just need more storage space
The famous comedian, George Carlin, had a great routine about why people buy homes (as a “place to put their stuff.”)  Check it out here for a good laugh: https://youtu.be/MvgN5gCuLac.  While storage or lack thereof may be a contributing factor to your disorganization, buying or building shelves will not make the clutter go away. It will just “contain” it. But buying shelving just to contain your “stuff” is like, as Mr. Carlin said, like buying a house just to have a place to put your stuff.

Myth #9 Live minimally
While I love to watch the shows about Tiny Houses, not everyone is cut out to live in a 200 square foot home. I know I’m not! When I was in college, I had a boyfriend who literally had one knife, one fork, and one spoon. At dinner we used to playfully compete for who got the fork at dinner! It may have seemed romantic at the time, but you don’t have to live this minimally to enjoy your life. There is a grey area in between. When it comes to deciding what you really need, I prefer to use the word “curate” as it implies keeping only what supports you. Curate comes from the Latin word Cur or care. Thus we keep what we care about and anything left that is still useful, finds new life in the care of someone else. Living in a consumer and technological culture has made that very difficult. Sadly there is so much I see that can’t be re-used or recycled. Choose carefully what you bring into your life. Everytime you are tempted to buy something new, consider that the day may come when you will want to part with it. Will it be usable or trash?

Myth #10 Having a place for everything I own will make me more organized.
Having a home for what you use, love and need is important but having a home for your stuff alone does not make you more organized. It won’t help you, for example, if you have used your space so efficiently that every square inch of your home contains things that you’ve never used, exist in quantities that exceed what you need or you are keeping for sentimental reasons that never honor the person who gave them to you. What’s the point of holding on to your grandmother’s china if you never use it! In her day, she probably kept it as an heirloom for you and chances are she used it because in her day, China was part of her lifestyle the way mugs and plates we own are part of ours. If you are keeping something for sentimental reasons, use it to bring back memories otherwise release it for someone else to enjoy. Just keep in mind, to someone else it’s just a plate and saucer.

Gift your favorite “Dad” an organized garage

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Cartoon Garage OrganizingHas your husband, father or grandfather been meaning to organize the garage but just hasn’t had the time or the energy?  Do you want to do something special for him this Father’s Day?  Why not give him the gift of organization?

Garages are the last stand for what you own. If lucky, your car(s) share the space with everything you don’t have space for inside your home: old furniture, appliances, memorabilia, old tax records, never-hung art work, a ton of tools and gardening equipment not to mention Aunt Sadie’s light-up weather vane – the one she gave your Dad for Christmas eight years ago and he hates but is afraid she will ask about it when she visits (which she never does).

If your favorite “Dad” would much rather use the garage as a man cave, dreams about using it to actually park his car or you harbor a secret hope to turn it into a home gym, now is the perfect time to get the job done!

Cluttered garages (as well as attics, basements and sheds) are a tolerable problem until, the day you need to find something, find room for other things or worst of all decide to sell your home or have to move!

Selling a home is the number one reason people call me when they need to get their garage downsized.  Unfortunately many people wait until it’s too late and end up making decisions that cost them dearly in the long run. Here are a few irreversible mistakes I’ve seen:

  • They paid movers thousands of dollars to transport items across country they never used again such as old refrigerators and furniture and then paid again to have them hauled
  • In a rush to move out they accidentally tossed out boxes containing valuable first edition books and other collectibles
  • They tried to do it alone and ended up having to undergo back surgery
  • One woman told me she was ashamed of what her in-laws would say if they saw her garage when they came to visit from out of town

Even if you are in excellent physical and mental condition, organizing and decluttering a garage can be very taxing on your body. Add to that, it’s time consuming to do it alone and takes away from things you’d much rather be doing! If you can no longer put off organizing your garage, here are some tips to get you started:

  1. Decide what your goal is. Do you want enough room to park one or more cars? Storage for specific items? Areas for a tool bench, exercising or other hobby?
  2. Determine if you have safe access.  Observe whether or not there is safe access from the front to the back of the garage. If there is no access, or access is limited, consider getting or hiring help. You may need to create a pathway just enough to be able to observe and assess what your garage is storing.
  3. Survey the garage carefully and with no judgment. Look at the contents in your garage and start noting down the categories of items you can see. For example: Old furniture, rugs, appliances, gardening equipment, boxes, art work, storage.  Mark next to each category or item whether or not you plan to keep, sell/donate or want to “go through” before deciding.
  4. Don’t start with paper. If you are on a tight deadline because of an impending move, defer going through boxes or file drawers of paper. This is because sorting through paper is extremely time and labor-intensive. You are better off just consolidating all the paper in banker boxes. This is especially true if you believe you have important documents or vital records mixed in with other types of recyclable paper, memorabilia or photographs.
  5. Do a rough sort of boxes. If you have time and the room, do a rough sort of your boxes into categories such as “sentiments and memorabilia,” “china/glassware,” “books and magazines,” “photos and slides,” “confidential records,”  “miscellaneous papers” that require further sorting.
  6. Stop providing storage for your adult children.  This is an area to stand firm. If your adult children are old enough to have apartments or homes of their own, they are old enough to take on their own stuff and memories. Give them a reasonable deadline, and send a reminder half way through. Let them know if they don’t make arrangements to remove their items by a certain day, then you have the right to disburse or dispose of their stuff as you see fit.
  7. Consider hauling. If you know you don’t need to “go through” items to decide whether or not to keep, sell/donate or toss them, you may be able to simply call a licensed hauler or junk removal company. Point to what you don’t want and ask them to take it away.   Keep in mind haulers are not organizers and they are not responsible for protecting you against fraud or identity theft and they won’t be able to give you the time to decide on individual items. They will only take what they can easily access. They will charge based on how much volume you have. In other words, how much of their truck your stuff takes up. This can run from a few hundred dollars up to thousands for more than one truck load. Get a couple of estimates. Most haulers will take the stuff away at the estimate if you agree with the cost.
  8. Investigate charities in your area that do truck pick ups. Examples include local hospice organizations, church affiliated groups, local non-profits that hold large annual “White Elephant” sales or have brick and mortar shops, Salvation Army, Habitat for Humanity, and even haulers or estate clearout services that will consign items for you. Do a Google search for “charities that do truck pick up near me.”
  9. Don’t wait, until it’s too late, to have your garage organized. Summers are often the busiest times for professional organizers, haulers and movers. Get estimates now and schedule your garage clear-out at least 2-3 weeks ahead of your preferred dates. Clients of mine thought they could do it themselves to save money and then a week before their move realized they couldn’t. Don’t make this mistake!
  10. Hire a professional organizer to do it all for you. The only thing you do is decide what you want to keep and you can do this without lifting a finger or god-forbid, breaking your back!

 

 

 

 

 

Give Mom what she really wants! Less paper clutter, more family time

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Mother_and_Daughter

This year, why not give your Mom what she really wants for Mother’s day.

More time to spend with her family, and less time to feel overwhelmed by her clutter, especially all that paper!

Here’s what you can do:  Suggest to Mom that you’d like to give her the gift of organization so she can feel more in control of her life and less stressed by all the paper clutter in her home.  You can help her yourself or better yet, hire a Certified Professional Organizer, who can quickly identify and sort all it all.  Once sorted, you can purge what’s no longer needed and contain what’s left either in labeled paper or digital files according to your mother’s preference and ability.

If you decide to do this yourself, make it a time not just to plow through those piles but also to share the memories with Mom.  Whatever you do though, don’t chastise Mom for keeping everything. No one was born with an “organizing gene” and the rules around paper have changed considerably since she was young, especially now that we are in a digital age though she may not be.

Most of what we keep, as much as 80% according to several studies, we never refer to again. Old bills, especially utility bills, make up the bulk of what I’ve seen the most of when helping my clients tame their paper piles.

I’ve seen floors literally buckle under the weight of boxes upon boxes of retained paper.

Even if all the paper in these boxes were accidentally tossed the chances of needing anything in them is statistically small. That being said, there is always a chance that those boxes contain confidential information so to protect your Mom’s identity I recommend you arrange to have it picked up by a residential document destruction company in your area.

Shredding these papers protects your Mom from others using her confidential information fraudulently.  If you chose to to this yourself, be especially mindful when you are tossing documents containing the following:

  • Social Security Number (in full)
  • Credit Card Account Number (in full)
  • Driver’s License Number (in full)
  • Medical Record Number (in full)
  • Account Number (in full)

In recent years the practice of including full account numbers has changed to protect individual identities but that has not always been the case. If your Mom has kept documents for more than 10-15 years, it’s possible some contain this type of confidential information.  Note however, documents that contain just a name, address and phone number are part of public record (remember old phone books?) and nothing can be done with this information alone so it’s safe to recycle these.

To get started, you will need a cardboard or plastic box labeled “SHRED”  to contain documents for destruction. You will also need a supply of paper bags or boxes labeled “RECYCLE”  and a smaller receptacle for “TRASH” such as the plastic that contains magazines and other junk mail.  Lastly, you will also need a work surface. If table space is scarce, use a folding table or large ironing board if available. Use a “sharpie” for labeling if needed.

These record retention and destruction recommendations are general best practices and not intended to replace the advice for you or your Mother’s specific situation, especially if she is ill, disabled, or in dispute with the IRS.  In these cases, consult with your tax preparer or another legal professional.

SORT

To get you started, start with whatever loose paper is most visible on surfaces, tables, desks or the floor. Open all mail and sort all items, including individual files and documents into the following 5 categories:

  1. Financial
  2. Medical
  3. Legal
  4. Home
  5. Personal

Financial includes: old and unpaid bills, store receipts paid in cash (if you are tracking your mother’s cash expenditures), bank statements, investment statements, tax returns, pension documents, social security information

Medical includes: Medical history, prescription records, explanations of benefits, prescription receipts,  and health insurance and/or Medicare documents specific to your Mom

Legal includes: Life insurance policies, veteran records, estate planning documents such as wills, trusts, power of attorney, health proxies or living wills, birth, adoption, marriage and death certificates

Home includes: Property insurance records such as home and auto, mortgage records including records of satisfied mortgages, appliance warrenties

Personal includes: Educational and work history, cards, letters and other correspondence, general reference such as “project” or “idea” files.  Binders that contain old training material, photographs,  professional or published papers written or contributed to by your Mom and anything of a personal nature that could not be replaced if lost.

PURGE

As you do this you can toss the following: empty mailing envelopes, obvious junk mail, expired coupons, store receipts paid by by credit or debit card and old user guides or warranty information for products or appliances no longer owned.  Keeping a focus on sorting will make purging later go that much faster.

Next purge (shred or recycle) the following from each of the five piles:

  • Financial: Old paid bills, store receipts for low value items, checks from closed accounts, investment statements except current month or quarter, tax returns from more than seven years ago. ATM receipts – unless tracking cash withdrawals
  • Medical: Outdated medical information, explanations of benefits, receipts for prescriptions paid by insurance, any documents not specific to your Mom such as marketing and general information
  • Legal: Cancelled life insurance policies, cancelled or expired contracts
  • Home: Cancelled insurance policies, repair records for cars no longer owned, mortgage bills already paid, any reference material not referred to in over a year or that can easily be found elsewhere or online. Anything printed off the internet.
  • Personal: Any personal reference material that has not been referred to in over a year (such as old recipes, remodel ideas, maps, wellness or hobby information, old magazines, binders containing old training material, greeting cards signed by unknown people, out-dated resumes, any document that can be easily found online.  Children’s school records and drawings if not displayed. Take a digital photo instead. Personal papers such as these will most likely take up the bulk of your Mom’s paper files.

KEEP and CONTAIN (either file or scan)  

Use this as a guide for setting up your paper or or electronic file system

FINANCIAL RECORDS

  • Tax returns and current tax information including receipts used for deductions for future tax returns
  • Bank statements and investment statements by account name and last 4 digits of account number – most recent three months unless your Mom will be applying for assistance under Medicaid or MediCal. In this case she will need the last 5 years of bank statements.
  • Credit card statements by account name and last 4 digits of account number – last three months only
  • Life insurance by policy name – keep while active
  • Social security account information
  • Pension documents

MEDICAL RECORDS

  • Records of health history, prescriptions taken and major conditions
  • Lists of physicians, specialists and other providers seen or consulted with
  • Insurance/Medicare/MediCaid account information

LEGAL RECORDS

  • Estate planning documents (birth, adoption, marriage, death certificates)
  • Heath proxies, power of attorney documents
  • Veteran records
  • Records of satisfied contracts or any current contracts

HOME RECORDS

  • Mortgage documents for current home
  • Records of recently paid household bills (less than one year) – if possible, set up auto pay and have bills issued paperlessly via email.
  • Records of property insurance (home, auto, other assets)
  • Warranties, appraisals or certificates for high value items (value greater than $100 per pound)

PERSONAL RECORDS

  • School transcripts/Official records such as diplomas
  • Records of work history (most current)
  • Cards, letters and other correspondence if it has historical or resale value (emotional value is optional)
  • Professional, written or published work if it has historic importance to the general public or a particular industry for archiving purposes
  • Anything that could not be easily replaced with strong emotional value

TO-DO or ACTION Paper

Finally, identify any documents that require some kind of ACTION or to-dos that your mother feels are worth her time such as bills to be paid, forms to be filled out, greeting cards to be mailed, or items she wants to discuss with another professional. Put these items in a separate mail sorter on her desk or workspace, keeping the bills separate from everything else. Don’t put anything here that needs to be filed or contained. Any retained magazines should be placed where your Mom likes to read them.  Once she is done with these items they can be filed, contained or tossed as needed.

After you spend a few hours helping her, then take her out for lunch or dinner so you can both relax and enjoy some quality time together, knowing that you’ve made some room in your lives for what matters most.

 

 

What it takes to make make money selling your unwanted stuff

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Store selling vintage items

 

 

When you’re downsizing your home in preparation for moving, the first question you may ask yourself is, “Can I make some money on the stuff I already own?”

Much of what you own and no longer want can probably be donated as long as it’s still usable but if it pains you to donate items to charity because of the time, money and energy you spent acquiring them in the first place, here are some questions that can help break your paralysis around the dilemma of sell or donate?

Is it valuable?  

Sometimes the easiest way to find out is to do a little internet research on sites that sell similar items to see if any have sold recently and for how much? Be careful to check sold listings not just items for sale.  If there is a glut of similar items on the site, chances are they are waning in popularity.  You can check online auction sites such as e-bay, Etsy, Amazon or Shopify.  Another option is to get a formal appraisal but since this often is fee-based, consider it for items that you know have high value such as fine jewelry, furs or collectible art but not sure how much.

Is it an antique?

Just because something is old, does not mean it necessarily has value. Value is determined by how much a particular item demands in the marketplace now. Just because you love it, or your parents spent a fortune on it, doesn’t mean it has value in today’s market. One notable category for this is antique furniture, unless it was manufactured in the 1950’s and 1960’s. Mid-century modern furniture is particularly popular for the millennial generation of new buyers, those in their twenties and thirties now or those born in the twenty years after 1980.  Consider the fact that today’s young couples probably have no interest in either your grandmother’s china (unless it’s microwave and dishwasher safe), that early-19th century loveseat you bought at auction or those fabulous matching suits you wore during your career in the 80s and 90s.

Is it in excellent condition?

If it’s worn,  torn, stained, faded, damaged, needs more than a minor repair to make it functional or has a strange odor, chances are it won’t sell. But it could still be donated. Consider that oversized sectional sofa you have that’s just a few years old.  If the fabric looks new and it’s free of damage, it still probably won’t be easy to sell unless you do so through a community sale site such as on Craigslist or NextDoor and even then you should expect to get no more than 15%-20% of your original cost. (Remember someone also has to pay to have it transported out of your home.)

Is it a collectible item? 

Now here is the good news.  Vintage items such as art, jewelry, toys, used sporting goods, clothing and even some vintage office supplies are in demand now. Recently a client of mine was getting rid of an old banana-seat bicycle she’d kept.  Despite some metal rust and obvious wear, she was able to sell that bike for about $1,000!

Vintage is the new antique!

There are stores popping up all over now that carry a wide range of unique items that look like they were taken from a barn or a small town general store. Things like signage, county fair items, old store fixtures, barber shop poles and library card catalog drawers are finding buyers who feel nostalgic but don’t want their homes to resemble their grandparent’s homes.

If it’s clothing, is it less than 2 years old or more than 40 years old and in very good to excellent condition?

Resale of gently used designer and brand name clothing and accessories has become a big business. Sites like Thred Up and The Real Real have tapped into this market and so have brick and mortar consignment and thrift shops. But what if you have a basement or closet overstuffed with clothing you don’t want anymore that is more than two years old and maybe not quite “vintage?”  In general, consignment businesses are looking for items they know their customers want now! Don’t even think about bringing in that designer linen blouse if it’s still early spring.  Also, you probably won’t find a buyer for those unopened bags of clothes you ordered from online sites, unless they are designer brands, not just popular labels. If it’s a luxury item, such as a fur coat, you may be better off donating it as long as you have an appraisal or receipt that can testify to its current value.

Do I have time to do the legwork of selling?

This, more than any of the other five questions, should be the one you consider first. I left it for last because most people don’t even consider the value of their time when it comes to selling their household goods.  Also, if you are planning to move in less than a month, your selling ship has probably sailed. Y0u have much more urgent things to attend to especially if you are moving into a smaller home. Selling takes time. Time to research the value of your items to price them; Time to photograph or transport items (either by car or by mail) to buying-sites; Time to respond to inquiries or be available to show prospective buyers your items if you plan to sell them locally. When your move is imminent — that is in less than 30 days — time is not what you have an abundance of and you need that time to plan your move, hire your movers,  downsize what you can, pack, settle your accounts, plan your travel, meet with realtors, bankers, loan officers, etc.  If you have the time, then use it wisely. If not consider hiring a professional organizer or move manager to help.

Focus on the items that you know have value – think vintage collectibles or luxury items that would appeal to someone who is looking for what you have.

Donate it!

If you decide to donate, don’t let finding the perfect recipient for each item get in the way of your generosity. Find charities that you can drop off items to easily and do a internet search for charities that do truck pick ups nearby of furniture or larger quantities of donated items.  Keep in mind that charities that do truck pick ups, like Salvation Army, may need as much as 3-4 weeks notice. They also have the discretion to refuse your items if they are not in usable condition. Be sure to have a Plan B if this happens such as arranging for a hauler or recycler who will dispose of your items responsibly.

In short, if you are moving or selling your home, and want to minimize your stress,  try not to let the small decisions get in the way of the big ones!