January is National Get Organized Month, which makes sense since getting organized ranks as the second most popular resolution after losing weight. Why should you make 2016 your most clutter-free year yet?
Nadine Levy, professional organizer and owner of Management 180 Consulting, says “Spending time in an organized environment is not only aesthetically pleasing, it promotes a sense of calm. When you know what you have, and where you keep it, you will save time and money. Organized finances can give an individual more confidence in where he or she stands financially, which increases the ability to make informed decisions.”
Levy has also seen a new trend in organizing overall. “Instead of focusing on a specific room or closet, many people are approaching the way they are living their life with a more simplistic perspective.” She adds, “They are overly stressed about all of their commitments, deadlines, and where to put the mass accumulation of stuff that they thought they had to have.”
So where do you start when it comes to organizing your life and personal finances? Here are some words of wisdom from professionals to help you achieve a clear mind for the rest of the year.
Understand where you are
It’s a new year, so it’s the perfect time to take a step back and be honest about where you stand with your finances. Use 2016 as a bit of a reset button – did you not budget enough last year? Didn’t save as much as you wanted? You can use tools like Mint to help you stick to those financial resolutions you’ve set AND keep yourself honest and organized when it comes to your money.
Start with what you know
“A busy family knows they have sports and after school commitments during particular times of the year. Put it in a master calendar,” says professional accountability partner, April Welch. “As we start a new year, we all know there are loose ends we need to wrap up to prepare for big moments throughout the year, including tax season and the holidays.” Planning ahead financially for things you already know are coming can give you confidence and help to eliminate chaos.
Practice the “one in, one out” method
When your children get new toys for birthdays or holidays, have them choose an old or broken toy to donate or recycle. Same with clothing or anything you own for that matter. When you buy a new piece of clothing, consider donating an old one that you never wear and keep the donation receipt in your tax folder. To help you weed out unused garments, hang everything in your closet on hangers facing toward you. When you wear an item, return it with the hangers facing away. After a year, all the hangers facing toward you are holding clothes you haven’t worn in over a year. Safe to say, if you have not worn something in a year, it’s time to give it to someone who can use it.
Deal with incoming clutter as soon it enters your home
Identify the place where mail, work papers, or children’s school papers are most likely to land, and set up a “command center” there. File papers you want to keep or need for tax purposes. Put any paper bills in a “to be paid” folder near your computer or with your checkbook and pay them as they come in to eliminate growing piles
Or go green and opt in to paperless billing methods – many bank, credit card and payment services offer free paperless options for you to pay bills, receive statements and more. Opting into these programs not only keeps you organized by eliminating clutter, they also can help with monthly notifications so you won’t ever be late making a payment and can plan ahead.
Set up a system for computer files
“There has been a huge increase in people feeling like they are drowning from their digital footprint. A life event such as misplacing a PDF for a tax write-off is generally the catalyst for the desire to improve,” says Welch. Don’t delay. Organize downloaded files right away! Set up specific folders on your desktop for different priorities and make a point to save files in them once you receive them. Avoid late payments on bills by signing up for Mint Bills where you get due date reminders and pay bills right from the app.
Join an organization challenge
There are many books and online resources that offer step-by-step or weekly guides. My current favorite is the 40 Weeks 1 Whole House Challenge (current task: organize your calendar!). Find the parts of the challenge that apply to your life and practice them all year long. But don’t beat yourself up if it doesn’t work for you, you can always try a different one.
Reach out for help
There’s no shame in hiring a pro to help you conquer organization and creating systems that will work for you.
If hiring a professional is cost prohibitive and not where you can spare your hard earned dollars, Welch suggests enlisting a friend to help. Invite a friend over to keep you company and accountable while you get organized.
The key to having an organized life is sticking with your system once you have it in place.
“Utilizing systems and clearly defined processes saves time, which allows more time to do the things you love,” says Levy.
Kim Tracy Prince is a freelance writer in Los Angeles who lives with a husband, two little boys, and one cat. She is an organization junkie.