Posts filed under ‘organization’
I maintain a number of lists to keep my life organized. One is a to-do list full of simple actions that need to be completed in the next few days/weeks. Another is the collective buying list that includes a list of coupons and their expiration dates. This ensures those Groupon purchases no longer go to waste.
I also maintain a list called Things to Look Out For. This list includes items like Look for Survey Payout or Keep an Eye out for UPS Package from eBay. There are a lot of things going on in my life in any given day and I have a lot of trouble keeping track of checks, payouts and packages. I write down a description of the item, the amount and the date I expect it to arrive.
This list has paid for itself more times than I can count. Just today I ran down the list and realized that I was still awaiting payment for returned car tags. I shipped them via USPS and received a confirmation of arrival on March 31st, but months passed and a check never arrived in the mail.
If I hadn’t written myself a note I never would’ve thought about those tags or I would’ve thought about them long after the window for receiving a refund was over.
Thanks to that note I spent five minutes on the phone with the Maryland MVA and should expect a $90 check in the mail in the next three to four weeks. I updated my note with today’s date and the expected arrival. If a month passes without a check I’ll be sure to call again.
I’m sure many of you are much more organized and in tune with the items that should or should not be arriving in the mail, but unfortunately I am no longer one of those people. This list helps me keep track and since it’s inception I have recovered over $600. Not too shabby from simply writing down the amount, date and item I expect to receive.
Life is busy. To make it a little less hectic I adhere to the following rules. I hope you find them useful too.
- Write down all those little thoughts floating around in your brain. I use an application on my iPhone, but a pen and paper would do the very same trick. I maintain a number of lists, but I reference my to-do list more than all the others. I write things like: return order to Amazon, check credit card statement, buy trash bags, find a notary and review tax statements. When applicable I add a date to the task and receive a reminder twenty-four hours in advance. Any item that requires action on my part gets written into this list and every time I finish a task I check it off. Doing so ensures that I don’t forget anything important. It also ensures I don’t miss the mundane tasks like stocking laundry detergent downstairs or buying trash bags to hold our garbage.
- Reduce clutter and organize rooms. The easiest way to reduce work around your house is to purge your possessions. Minimalists have this all figured out, but I am not a minimalist. I keep various pots and pans in the kitchen to serve different purposes. I own a blender, juicer, crock pot and waffle maker. The trick for me is finding a place for everything. The appliances all reside on a basement shelf, which leaves room on our kitchen counter for chopping and mixing. Those tools that I use only one time a year, (for some reason the turkey baster comes to mind), reside in a small plastic box that I also keep in the basement. One drawer in my kitchen contains our silverware, the other contains a pizza cutter, ice cream scooper and the utensils I need for flipping, stirring and whisking. That is all. Everything in my house has a place. We have bins for toys and cubbies for hats, scarfs and gloves sorted by owner. In our case: Dad, Mom and Son. When we get home from an outing we put things away immediately. Coats go into the closet, hats into the box, shoes in a special spot on the floor. With that stuff out of sight and out of mind we have much more space to play and when we go back outside we don’t waste time looking for misplaced items.
- Clean out your wallet, purse, briefcase or backpack everyday. Before my son was born I almost never carried a purse. Instead I tucked a very small wallet into my back pocket that contained one credit card, my license, a AAA card and insurance information. These days I carry a much bigger bag full of snacks, toys, stickers and training pants, but every afternoon when we come home from our daily excursions I dump the contents of that bag out onto the table and then put everything away. Garbage is tossed and food is placed back into the fridge. This allows you to start over tomorrow with a clean slate.
- File your receipts. Buy an inexpensive accordion binder. I bought mine from the $1 bin at Target. As you clean out your bags and wallets check for receipts and file them into your binder. Mine is compartmentalized by the stores I most frequently visit: Target, Macy’s, Home Depot, Marshalls, etc. If the description on the receipt looks too vague take a minute and write the details of what you purchased on the back of it. Every few months I weed out the receipts and shred the ones that are over six months old. Receipts for more expensive items like a television are kept longer, since these items often come with one year warranties. If you need to return something to the store you’ll know exactly where to find that receipt.
- Read the magazines that arrive every month. If you subscribe to magazines make certain that you stack them in one location in the house and actually take the time each month to read them. Every time you finish a magazine donate or recycle it. Do not leave it in the house to collect dust. The stack should remain the same size each month as each time a new magazine arrives the old one should be read and discarded. If you find the stack growing larger and larger consider ending your subscription. This probably means that you are paying good money for something you aren’t using.
- Ask to be removed from all catalogs. Email or call the company who sent the catalog and ask to be removed from their mailing list. Make certain to include the details found on the back of the catalog; sometimes a company will not stop solicitations without those special codes. Getting rid of catalogs helps you on multiple fronts. First, you won’t feel tempted to buy things you don’t really need. Second, you will save the environment as less trees are cut down and less fuel is utilized to get those magazines from point A to point B. Third, you won’t have to deal with them in your mail anymore.
- Unsubscribe from all unwanted email. Go through your inbox and click the unsubscribe link for each and every email that you are not interested in. It only takes a second or two to open these, but removing them from your inbox means you don’t have to waste any time at all.
- Open and read your mail every day. This is an easy one. Pick a room in the house and set up a shredder, scanner, trash can and recycle bin. Dump the spam into the recycle bin, this may include circulars, unsolicited mail, (without your name on it), and anything else that you don’t want. Dump envelopes into the recycle bin. Shred all unsolicited credit card offers and anything else that could make it easy for someone to steal your identity or wreak havoc on your credit score. Whatever is left is real mail. Much of this may include bills and bank statements. These documents should be scanned and digitally filed by date. We save all documents as yyyy-mm-dd – description. This ensures that items are sortable and easy to find when needed. Once things are scanned shred the physical documents. Don’t forget to set aside time to pay your bills.
- Create backups of your data. I must admit that my husband has taken over this particular task for our household. The key is to backup everything you can. Family photos, bank statements, medical records, you name it. Make sure everything is backed up so a broken hard drive doesn’t force you to lose everything.
This may seem like a lot of tasks, but after awhile it will become second nature to complete them. With less mail to process, less email to read and less time wasted looking for lost objects you’ll free up a good chunk of time in your day.
For over a year I’ve been on the lookout for a storage solution for my son’s toys. We originally bought a shelving unit with multiple compartments but it was difficult to actually keep the toys corralled on the shelves. It seems a lot of my son’s toys are round and spherical in nature, which led to a bunch of toys falling off the shelf whenever he tried to grab just one.
He’s actually a very careful child, so he learned how to work around this, but when playmates came over toys inevitably crashed onto the ground. I got so frustrated by the shelves that I moved them to another location and began using it for a different purpose.
I tried moving my son’s items into plastic bins and storage drawers, but he wasn’t able to view all of the toys and grew disinterested in digging around to find them.
I searched around the Internet and found the perfect solution. It comes in two versions. One in pastel colors, like the one at the top of this post and one in primary colors as seen below.
The new unit isn’t the most robust thing in the world. It’s made of two pieces of particle board and a bunch of metal rods, but it does serve it’s purpose perfectly. It took me about ten minutes to set it up. My son actually helped me put the unit together and move all of the toys onto the shelves. The shelves are tilted down so my son can easily see everything in side of the bins and the bins can hold all of his balls and other items that were constantly rolling off of the old shelves we used.
Now he can see everything he could possibly want to play with. Whatever doesn’t fit on the shelves will be moved into temporary storage and rotated.
It also makes clean up a breeze. All of the legos fit in one storage bin. My son can take the entire bin off of the shelf, play with the toys and then put everything back in the bin. Everything is self-contained, which I love!
The unit is currently on sale at Amazon for $54.99.
While many people are out shopping the day after Thanksgiving, you can often find me at home, digging through my closets, bookshelves and drawers. The goal is simple: to find better homes for all of my unwanted items and to make room for any new items that might make their way into my home.
Since I can’t get loved ones to stop buying me presents I typically ask for experience related gifts or consumable products like food. While this works more often than not, it’s inevitable that I’ll wind up with a few new things that need space in already crowded closets and drawers.
Every black Friday I perform a major deep clean and try my best to reorganize everything. I know that charities are always on the look out for donated clothes this time of year so I do my best to get things packed up into boxes in anticipation of the holidays.
I start by digging through the back of my closets and drawers and trying on each and every item that I’m just not sure about anymore. Then I move on to the linen closets and sort through sheets, blankets and towels.
Next I take a stab at the overflowing shelves lined with freebies like razors, toothpaste and shampoo. I keep one or two of each item as backups and then bundle the rest up for donation drives in our area. Last year I also provided small baskets filled with these types of products to family members.
Once that’s all wrapped up I typically move on to the gift closet. I take stock of what’s inside and pile up Christmas gifts I purchased throughout the year.
Lastly I clear out the rest of the house. I walk around and remove unwanted magazines, which can also be donated, along with odds and ends that have made their way into the various spaces of my home.
I also look for any items that we haven’t used in awhile. I’m always surprised by the number of things in our home that go unused over time. This includes everything from books to kitchen utensils. Sometimes I just box up items and move them out of the way, other times I try to sell or donate the unwanted items.
It can take a few hours to organize all of the nooks and crannies of my home, but when I’m finished I typically find at least a few boxes worth of items that I no longer want. I always feel a little bit lighter when I clean out the house and I’m happy to send those items off to those in need.
These days decluttering on Thanksgiving Day or the day after is an annual ritual. It feels good to get rid of all that clutter, but it feels even better knowing that it’s helping other people who need it more than we do.
How about you? Do you plan to shop on Black Friday? If not what do you plan to do?
This post was originally published on November 25, 2010.
I’m in the process of organizing my house. Whenever I’m feeling a bit uneasy about life I start looking for piles that need to be sorted and toys that need to be put back on the shelf. It’s an easy way for me to release my nervous energy. I don’t know where this habit stems from, but it makes me feel so much better to look around and see everything in it’s place. I don’t typically feel 100% better once the house is neat and tidy, but I feel more productive than worrying or sitting for hours on end with my thoughts. I also have a hard time thinking straight when things are out of order, so cleaning keeps me busy and then gives me the space to think and breathe. The end product isn’t too shabby either: a house with less clutter and more room to live.
So far I’ve taken two trips to the donation center and plan to take another one this week. My organization quest began this summer when I replaced a bunch of gray storage containers with clear ones. Believe it or not I filled 6 small (32 qt) containers and 6 large (66 qt) containers primarily with hand-me-down clothing and toys for my son! The large boxes cost $6.99 a piece. The small ones cost $5.99 each. The total for all twelve came to $77.88 before tax.
The clothes are all sorted by age and range in size from 0-6 months to size 4. For the most part my son is still wearing size 18-24 months, which means more than half of the boxes contain clothing he won’t wear for at least another year or two. I’m not a big fan of storing things in the basement for two years, but the quality of hand-me-downs could not be beat. I’m holding onto the smaller sizes in the hopes that we might have another child. If we don’t make any progress on that front within the next year then I’ll pass them on to someone else.
I spent almost $80 on new containers, but everything is now organized and easy to see. The hand-me-downs easily saved me hundreds if not thousands of dollars in children’s clothing, so $80 to store it seemed quite reasonable.
Earlier this month I donated all of my mismatching bowls and other kitchen items and replaced them with items that can stack easily in our cabinets. This felt just as crazy as donating perfectly good storage containers just because they weren’t see-through. My husband and I spent an hour in TJ Maxx and walked out with $118 worth of stuff. In that case I spent a measly $6.18 out of pocket. The rest of the money came in the form of gift cards I received for completing surveys.
My last purchase was three sets of skinny hangers. After reorganizing all of the closets in our house I decided to get rid of the funky, mismatching hangers that seemed to take up a ridiculous amount of space on each rod. One final trip to the store and I became the proud owner of three new sets of hangers that provide a world of space in the closets. I purged a bunch of stuff that freed up space, but those skinny hangers really make my life easier. I can see almost everything in closet, (I don’t have much stuff in there anymore), without moving everything back and forth to find what I’m looking for. Each set of hangers cost $9.99. I also bought two sets of pant hangers, which cost a total of $7.98. The grand total for four sets of hangers: $37.95 before tax.
All told I spent $233.83 to reorganize the house. Four sets of hangers, 12 storage containers and countless new stackable bowls and other kitchen items. Thanks to the TJ Maxx gift cards I spent just under $125 (before tax) for all the items.
Did I need new hangers, bowls and storage boxes? Probably not. The items I had in the house were completely functional and to be honest it felt very strange to get rid of things that were perfectly useful. After all a bowl is a bowl, isn’t it?
In this case I fought the urge to keep the items I owned. I passed them on to the donation center and hope that someone else will use them. They serve the needs they were designed for, they just didn’t keep things as organized as I wanted.
Would you spend money to reorganize your house? Do you think replacing functional items is a complete waste of money?
I think it’s extremely important for both spouses to understand the household’s finances. Each spouse should know how to log in to bank accounts, check balances and pay bills. It makes perfect sense for one spouse to be responsible for journaling and paying the bills, but I think both should be responsible for routinely reading the credit card statement and confirming the nature of each charge. This doesn’t have to take all day. For the most part you can skim the business names where items were purchased, match them against the total paid and move on from there.
I also think both spouses should read the mail. Again one can sort the physical letters, weed out the spam and consolidate the bills into a stack on the dining room table, but both should routinely glance at those documents to make certain they know what is owed.
Last week as I was reviewing our bill pay history I noticed that my husband had written a check for $378 to our dentist. We both visited the dentist on the same day back in August and my husband assumed we owed a particular amount above and beyond what insurance covered. When the bill came through the mail he promptly paid it, shredded the actual bill and didn’t give it another thought.
I was away from late August through early September so I never saw this bill come through the mail and was not aware that my husband had paid it until after I reviewed our bill pay history.
I couldn’t understand why we received such a large bill. I thought long and hard about our dental visit and nothing had been out of the ordinary. Neither one of us had any additional work completed like root canals or filling cavities.
Then it dawned on me. This was the first time we’d been to the dentist since our insurance changed in early May. I called the dentist office and found out that they billed our old insurance company, Aetna, instead of our new company, Blue Cross Blue Shield. When Aetna rightfully refused our claim the dentist sent us a bill.
Since dental bills never make much sense and a lot of things are not covered 100% by insurance my husband simply assumed we owed the dentist additional money and promptly paid the bill.
If I had not double checked the billing history for the past two months this error would have gone unnoticed. We would have unnecessarily paid $378 for something that was actually covered in full by insurance!
This is not the first time we’ve encountered errors. Awhile ago my husband inadvertently reversed the numbers in our regularly scheduled bill pay to the credit card company. Had I not noticed the error we would have been struck with unnecessary interest payments.
We’ve also caught unusual charges on our credit card bills. When we encounter a store name we don’t recognize we each make certain to ask each other if they’ve recently shopped there. Once or twice we’ve found fraudulent charges that might have otherwise gone unnoticed.
I’m so glad I noticed the $378 error. That’s way too much money to pay unnecessarily!
Photo Credit: Images Money
Yesterday morning I left my son in the care of my husband and walked off to take a shower. When I emerged from the bathroom the kitchen floor was covered in pots, pans and bowls of varying sizes. I really wish I’d taken a picture of that mess.
“I want to get rid of all of this,” my husband said. There was nothing wrong with the stuff we owned. It was all perfectly functional, but none of the items were stackable. That meant everything was a little topsy turvy in the cabinet and more often than not when you went to grab one thing out of the cupboard you had to move three or four other things out of the way to get to it.
The frugal part of me did not want to donate perfectly good dishes and bowls, but as I looked at my husband’s face I knew I was going to lose this battle. I’ll be honest it seemed crazy to discard all of this stuff in favor of items that could be organized more easily, but before I could blink he had gathered everything up off the floor and bundled it into large, brown paper bags. A few minutes later I loaded everything into our trunk and looked back at a very empty set of cabinets.
Thirty minutes after that we were standing in TJ Maxx attempting to find stackable replacements for everything we’d donated. The entire time I was shaking my head at the thought of needlessly spending money.
I think we scoured the store for about an hour, but we did find matching circular and rectangular pyrex storage containers and stackable ceramic serving dishes with lids. I’m a sucker for pretty containers that can also be used for storage.
With half a cart full of supplies we headed to the checkout and watched the numbers blink until a grand total of $118 flashed on the register screen. (I actually thought the price was quite reasonable for all that we purchased.) As luck would have it I just cashed out a bunch of reward points for completing surveys and used two TJ Maxx gift cards to pay for the majority of our purchase. I only charged $6.18 on my credit card.
Although I didn’t want to spend the money on this stuff I must admit that my cabinets are now filled with beautiful, stackable dishes, bowls and storage containers all neatly arranged.
I actually feel really good opening the cabinet doors and reaching in the cupboard for whatever I need. I’m so glad my husband convinced me to donate the old stuff in favor of new items that help keep things organized. Actually as soon as I washed all the new dishes and placed them in the cabinet I wondered why we didn’t do this years ago.
I think it’s a little crazy to donate perfectly functional items, but I must admit that I LOVE how clean and organized things are now.
Have you ever discarded perfectly functional things in favor of ones that could be organized more easily?
Day three of reorganizing my house led me into the dining room. My house was built in the early 1950s and I live in one of those homes with a floor plan that practically forces you to walk through the dining room to get to the kitchen. I strongly dislike that aspect of our house.
Before my son was born we almost never ate dinner in the dining room. Sometimes we celebrated Christmas Eve in there, but otherwise the room was used as a holding place. Since my son’s arrival we use the dining room a little bit more. My parents and in-laws often eat in there with us, because our tiny kitchen table can only fit three comfortably, but the primary use for that room is to sort mail, place packages waiting to make their way up and down stairs and as a holding spot for the next day’s activities. Winter coats, diaper bags and other odds and ends usually make their way onto the dining room table in preparation for the morning.
As I dug through the platters and fine china in our dining room I couldn’t help but laugh. There was a time when I would wander the aisles at Macy’s dreaming of throwing dinner parties and inviting friends over for cocktails. In all the years we’ve lived in the house we’ve thrown a handful of parties and most of them didn’t involve using more than three or four serving dishes. How many serving platters does one girl need? Last week for my son’s birthday we used the simplest of bowls and served food on paper plates and plastic cups.
While I admire the Martha Stewart’s of the world I’m not the type to throw an elaborate party. I actually get quite nervous before we have people over. Do I have enough food? Will the guests like each other? Can I make rounds with everyone who visits and still have a good time?
As I looked down at the platters and bowls in my china cabinet I realized that many of the things inside of it do not reflect the person I am. I found a large, round silver platter that would be perfect for serving warm appetizers. The plate was huge and as I held it in my hands all I could think was “wow I would have to cook an awful lot of food to fill this platter.” It looked like something that belonged on a buffet platter in 1950.
I’m not getting rid of all of my china or the majority of interestingly shaped platters I bought from Macy’s so long ago, but I am reflecting on the person I thought I wanted to be.
I want to serve food on pretty dishes that aren’t stuffy and old fashioned. I have a few I absolutely love. One looks like a giant leaf and one has beautiful flowers painted in navy and gold. The rest can find more appropriate homes.
I want to keep a special area in my hutch for paper plates. You read that correctly, paper plates, for those occasions when we’ll have twenty people over to celebrate and I don’t want to be stuck in the kitchen for hours after everyone goes home.
I want to live a relaxed life. A life where I’m not afraid that people will scratch the dinnerware. I want a life that says I think about the environment 90% of the time, but sometimes I want to serve food on paper plates to make my life easier.
When things aren’t going quite right in my life I start organizing. I have no idea when this compulsion started, but I must say that creating order around my home is a great way for me to reclaim order in the rest of my life. Yesterday afternoon I started cleaning out the kitchen. While most things are stacked neatly in cabinets a few things have been driving me absolutely mad.
The pantry was the first thing I cleaned. I checked the expiration dates of everything and threw out a couple of items that were hidden in corners and long overdue. Boxes of cake and brownie mix went into the trash along with a few very old cans of soup. Everything else was taken out, dusted off and rearranged. For the record I do not need to purchase crushed tomatoes or chicken stock any time soon.
Next up the candy/cookie/dessert cabinet. This is one of those super slim cabinets that can’t really hold much of anything, yet I had it crammed to the gills with all sorts of half opened boxes of corn starch, baking powder and assorted candies. Not to mention the cupcake holders that have been sitting in there since my son’s first birthday and the cookie cutters that haven’t made an appearance since Christmas. I packed all of that stuff into a plastic container and sent it into the basement. I’ve decided to keep more essential, every-day items upstairs in the kitchen, everything else can be retired to a different location, so it’s out of my sight and out of my hair.
This ultimately means that I’m in for a world of hurt when I decide to clean out the basement, but for now it’s out of the way of every day living, which gives me more room to breathe.
I moved on to the rest of the cabinets. I figured out how to stack things better, group glasses and bowls and get rid of more stuff I don’t use on an ongoing basis. An hour and a half later everything was placed back into the cabinets in a more organized manner.
With the kitchen clean I took a stab at the coat closet. It’s amazing how much stuff is in the closet that is never used. Two large table cloths have been hanging in there, which I probably haven’t used in two years, along with a bunch of coats my son outgrew last year. For the time being I moved the coats and table cloths into a different closet that isn’t in the main hall. With all of them moved out of the way I have plenty of room to hang our coats, scarves and hats this winter.
I’d like our livable spaces to contain as little as possible. If we are wearing two coats each this winter than I don’t want to see more than six coats hanging from the rod in the closet. Everything else needs to get moved elsewhere, otherwise it just gets in the way of living.
I plan to spend the next two weeks or so cleaning out the first two floors of our house. I can spend an hour or two of my son’s nap each day sorting, cleaning and purging. This is the perfect time to clean. I can move the summer clothes downstairs and start moving sweaters and sweatshirts into the closet. I can weed out what fits from what doesn’t and get rid of anything that we just don’t need anymore.
I’m beginning to wonder if my mood sways with the seasons. As the cold weather moves in I want to create a cozy home, full of life, love and void of any clutter.
Photo Credit: Crate and Barrel (because I bought these exact bowls a few months back)
In February I got frustrated with Capital One and gave them the boot. I locked the credit card in our safe and forgot all about it. I didn’t want to close the account, (because we still have a relatively small business credit limit), but I had no plans to use it again for every day purchases.
A few days ago I was cashing out reward points on our new credit card and remembered that the Capital One card also provided rewards. I logged into my account and found a balance of 7,702 points. I could have cashed out the points for a $25 gift card, but noticed that we were 50 points shy of collecting a $50 gift card. If I spent $50 I could cash out all but 2 points in our account.
I weighed the pros and cons of buying something and decided it was worth it to spend $50. In essence I spent $50 in order to get $25 back.
Since I didn’t really need anything I bought myself a $50 Amazon gift card. My husband and I are constantly ordering from there so I knew that I that this was one purchase that would not go to waste. After ordering I logged into bill pay and immediately paid the credit card balance. I wanted to make sure I didn’t forget to pay the bill. I didn’t want to earn $50 and then get hit with $75 worth of interest and late payment fees.
I’m glad I logged back into this account and didn’t leave points sitting in an unused account. Even without the additional purchase I could have cashed in my points for a $25 gift card.
Over the years I’ve gotten better at keeping my financial records in order. Some things are easier to organize than others. It’s easy to set reminders to pay my credit card bills on time. In fact, my husband and I both receive these alerts so if one of us disregards the notice the other one is sure to review the bill pay schedule.
These days I also keep a list of ‘things to look out for’, which includes things like ‘credit for an online return’ and ‘cash back for a given purchase.’ I set the date when I shipped things back or ordered a new product and reach out to companies if a specific amount of time passes without receiving credit. Most of the time this isn’t a problem, but I have recovered a lot of funds that otherwise would have been lost along the way.
Do you have any tips and tricks for making sure you don’t leave money on the table?