Uncomplicate your computer

Our digital devices are working overtime right now helping us with work, school, information, and entertainment. But when was the last time we showed them a little maintenance love?

Last year I contemplated getting a new desktop computer. Yes, I am one of the few that doesn’t have a laptop. Given my line of work, I don’t need a laptop to perform my regular organizing tasks and I prefer the larger screen on my desk. 

I seriously considered buying a new computer because 1. mine was 8 years old and 2.  running sooooo slowly. It would take too much time to switch screens, open windows, or even save a file. 

But before I took the plunge to spend $$ on a new system, I checked with my friend, Chris Strickland to see if he could help.

Chris owns CleverGreen Technology which is like a help desk for personal computer users. You can check out his website for more of his wizardry capabilities. Long story short, he fixed my computers issues quickly and efficiently with some additional RAM and attention.

So when a client recently reached out to me seeking advice on computer clean up and organization, I reached out to Chris. 

He provided me with some excellent ideas and tips that you can do at home to help #uncomplicate your computer. 

Here are Chris’s expert tips tips for you to uncomplicate your computer so it keeps working well:

1.     Know where your files are saved

  • Identify a central file/folder location that’s easy to find – iCloud, OneDrive, Google Drive
  • Give you folders names that make sense and are searchable
    • Example: Finances -> 2020 -> January; 
    • Example: Family -> Vacations -> 2020 -> Location

2.       Use tools like Malwarebytes to detect malicious software on your computers

  • The free version works for most people and gives you the ability to scan when you feel like something’s amiss

3.       Keep your devices clean

  • Clean your mobile phones and tablets
  • Don’t spray anything directly on your technology’s surface
  • Use a microfiber cloth
  • Don’t use aerosol sprays, bleaches or abrasives
  • Don’t over-wipe it could damage the finish of your screen

4.       Make sure you have enough internet speeds to accommodate new ways of working and schooling

  • 70Mbps download speed is a good threshold to aim for. If you have less than 70MBps, you may run into spinning wheels or screen choppiness
  • Call your provider to check your service level
  • Use speedtest.net to test the WiFi around your home – either the website or mobile app

One last tip that I will give since I ❤️ decluttering:

  • Delete any files you no longer need. One way is to go to Finder and sort your files by Date Last Opened. Only Delete files, spreadsheets, and documents. Leave any file that you don’t know its “Kind” alone.

Uncomplicating kids’ papers

So everyone is probably a bit stir crazy at this point of #stayathome (is it day 14 or 414?) so I want to offer support and keep you busy. This week’s #uncomplicate will definitely take you longer than 5 minutes but I think that’s the point now. You’ve probably cleaned your junk drawer 8 times already and need something else to focus on.🤣

This week’s uncomplicate is courtesy of A LOT of messages I’ve received requesting help. The typical tidal wave of kids’ papers that parents have to process is usually overwhelming. 

Since kids are home and not bringing home papers, NOW is the perfect time to set up a system to manage these more efficiently in the future. Because you will have kids going back to school. Eventually. And the papers will start coming back.

Uncomplicate your kids papers

I’m talking about the daily papers that typically come home every day, covering your kitchen table, mudroom, desk, and living room. Some need to be read and trashed. Some are homework, worksheets, or school work for you to see progress. And some require your attention and response.
  1. Get an inbox for each child. This could be something that sits on a counter or is attached to the wall. 
  2. Put the inbox close to where these papers come in to your home. It might be on your kitchen desk or wall near the back door. Every home will have its own landing spot. 
  3. Put your child’s papers in their own bin. Label it with his or her name. Later, each child can put his own papers in there. As they get older, there will be fewer papers to process but it’s great for them to know where their stuff is.
  4. Now that the papers have a home, you’ve got to set aside time to go through them.
  5. Anything that requires your attention or signature needs daily action. Add any important event dates or appointments to your calendar immediately. 
  6. Once a week, at least, go through any remaining homework, school work, and art. Put a To Do on your calendar as a reminder. Be judicious in what you keep. You can’t save everything!
  7. Assignments that they’ve written about themselves or something that interests them is good to keep. Art that shows their personality is also worth keeping. Also, save some samples of their handwriting from each year. It’s fun to see it mature as they do.

This week: I want you to create a landing spot for your kids’ papers.

  • Get a pretty basket or bin to be the landing spot for your kids’  incoming papers. Think rectangle, open top, no taller than 3″ high. I like these to be flat and open on top so you can add to it easily
  • Here are links to some solution ideas you can order. 
  • FOR DIGITAL information, create a folder in your inbox called *Child’s Name* School Notifications. You can have a separate folder for each child and school.
  • Move relevant emails to the folder once you read them so you can find them later. Delete when you no longer need,
  • Add future events and appointments to your calendar immediately. Add them to your paper and digital calendars if you use both.
  • Make a weekly date with yourself to go through your kids’ inbox(es) and process it fully. Call it a “School Papers date” on your calendar with a weekly repeat.
  • Don’t be afraid to throw papers away.

Uncomplicate your desk

Welcome to my least liked day of the year:  Daylight Savings Day. Losing an hour of sleep just makes me crazy. I know it’s minor but a fun fact about me is that I loathe losing time…..and sleep!

Here’s a heads up for this week:  Tuesday is National Organize Your Home Office Day so I’m going to help you get ready for the festivities early.

I always get questions about organizing home offices because it’s a relatively new concept. It’s not like we grew up watching our parents work out of their home offices. 

Correctly setting up and organizing a home office is hard because home is supposed to be relaxing, easy going, and calm. We don’t want to think about strategies, deadlines, rules, and expense reports in the same place we binge on Netflix, raise families, and share meals with loved ones.

The reality is more of us work from home  today, at least some of the time, and ALL of us need some kind of office to pay bills, go through the mail, and file important papers. 

Where do you get started on uncomplicating your office? At the top: the top of your desk

Understand that any horizontal space can become a clutter magnet. Your desk quite easily becomes the home of “I don’t know what to do with it so I’ll deal with it later but I don’t want to forget about it.” Sound familiar? 

Today is the day to make those decisions and finally #uncomplicateyourdesk

  1. Pick the easy stuff first and throw away any obvious trash on your desk: dirty tissues, papers you no longer need, receipts that you don’t need, etc.
  2. Remove everything that doesn’t belong in the room / area. These would be your coffee cups, extra sweater, kids’ lacrosse gear, Amazon shipment that isn’t office supplies, etc. 
  3. Next, group the remaining contents by category which will be unique for everyone. Some examples are:
    * work related
    * bills to pay
    * papers to file
    * pictures to put away
    * sentimental cards to save

    Notice that the last 3-4 categories are “things that need to be put away and thus not stored on the desk top”
    Ultimately, you are going to have to designate a home for these items. It might be a pretty box or basket for sentimental cards and photos; a file folder for home or car related papers & bills.
    ***I’m putting together a workbook on uncomplicating & organizing your papers at home. Stay tuned!***
     
  4. The only things that should be on your desk at this point are things that you need there because you are actively working on it and things that you really want there because it makes you happy, like flowers or pictures. 
  5. If you’re not actively working on something, off to its home it goes!


 This week: I want you to organize your desk top. Follow the steps above to get the top cleared off. Going forward, follow these guidelines to keep it that way!

  • Adopt a clear desk policy for your desk at home. This means that you put everything away on your desk before you shut down for the end of the day. 
  • Get a pretty basket or bin to (temporarily) store your papers to be filed. Think rectangle, open top, no taller than 3″ high.
  • Take advantage of any vertical space and keep the papers that you are actively working on within easy reach with a desktop file sorter like this one, or this one in gold or rose gold, or this fancy acrylic one.
  • Set aside 5 minutes each day this week to work on some aspect of your desk: filing papers, putting away things that don’t belong there
  • To help you out, I’ve attached a copy of my Organized Office Essentials Checklist to help with your office organization.

Depending on the state of your desk, there will be a lot to do but once you get a system in place, it will be a cinch and you’ll breathe much easier. 😁

Photo by Canva

Organizing Kids’ Papers

Oh, the rushing tide of papers that comes in with your child every afternoon as they come home from school! From permission slips to homework to worksheets, how do I keep it all organized? You need a system, quick, for the incoming and outgoing, but you also need a way to store the papers you want to keep. Here you go!

I’ve written about organizing Kids’ Artwork so if you’re looking for those tips, click here.

For the papers that come in but need to go out, set up an inbox for each child. This can be a cardboard box or basket but it needs to be large enough to hold the paper without them folding over or falling out. I like to use an inbox from an office supply store that is designed for the work environment. Select one in your child’s favorite color and put their name on it.

You also need a system for storing the paperwork that you want actually want to keep. Some examples are:

      • report cards
      • progress reports
      • samples of school work (emphasis on the word “sample“)
      • certificates of activity participation
      • school play, dance, or concert programs
      • important letters and cards from confirmation or kindergarten graduation
      • class photos
      • team photos
      • mentions in newspapers

For all of this I recommend getting a plastic file box with a lid (the one pictured here is from the Container Store or you can get it off of Amazon by clicking here) for each child. Get a different color of hanging files for each child’s box. Create labels for each school year/ grade and put them in the box. As these papers come in and you want to keep them, file them in the appropriate year. As your child grows you’ll be able to give them this responsiblity and eventually the whole box.

Click the photos below to see what I’ve used.

organized kids paper childs paperwork

THE PERFECT FILE BIN FOR EACH CHILD’S PAPERS

THESE HANGING FILES ARE GREAT QUALITY & COME IN LOTS OF COLORS

Just so you know….

          • there is no set rule for what you should keep
          • you’re not a bad parent if you throw some things away
          • not everything is a treasure worth keeping

Happy organizing!

How to Organize Kids’ Artwork

How do I organize my kid’s artwork?

What do I keep?

What can I throw away?

These are questions I’ve been asked almost on a weekly basis because it seems like every day kids bring home a new masterpiece to show you. Multiply that by 12 years of school and for just 1 child, you’re going to be overflowing in construction paper, string, flat wooden sticks, and macaroni portraits.

YOU CAN’T KEEP EVERYTHING

You can’t keep everything or even half of it. You’re not supposed to. Artwork from childhood should be enjoyed and displayed and fawned over. But as new pieces come in, you need to practice “out with the old, in with the new.”

You also have to curate and prioritize because you can’t keep it all. No 18 or 22 year old wants to have boxes of work that they created passed on to them. Keep the good pieces, the ones that have meaning, the ones that were special to them or special to you.

When new work is brought home, ask  your child about it so they can explain its significance. If it means nothing to them or they aren’t interested in art, it should make the editing process easier.

What you do decide to keep, make sure you date it on the back. Trust me, you won’t remember when it was created and neither will your child.

Here are some ideas on ways to display your kids’ artwork:

  • Tack it on a bulletin board in a mudroom, kitchen, playroom, or other room with some wall space.
  • Display it on the refrigerator. Classic.
  • Invest in inexpensive frames that you can slide out the old work and put in new.
  • Hang a line in a hallway or on a blank wall and use clothespins to display pieces. Show that you admire their handiwork and creativity.
  • Include their 3-D sculptures in your home decor. You can even designate a shelf for displaying these types of pieces.

When new work comes in, let your child be part of the editing process. It’s important that they see that you can’t keep everything and you have to prioritize.

My best suggestion is to take pictures of their work throughout the school year. Jot down a note on the back of the piece if there is anything significant about the piece like it was their favorite or they especially loved creating it and why. Taking pictures of the pieces helps to preserve the memory of it without needing to rent out a storage unit to keep them all.

At the end of the school year, review the pictures, select the best ones, and create a photo book for the year. You can use Shutterfly, iPhoto, Mixbook, Snapfish and I’m sure there are other options.

In addition to photos of artwork, I suggest including the following images to make a more complete documentation of their year.

  1. Sample of their handwriting
  2. Pictures of them holding pieces
  3. Pieces that they love
  4. Pictures of 3-D Art
  5. Pictures of the artwork on display in your home

As a part time artist and someone who used in innundate my parents with work not only from school but also from afternoon art classes, I know that you don’t really want a catalog of everything ever created to weigh you down as an adult.

I’ve had to cull through my own pieces from college and have gradually edited out what wasn’t truly wonderful or significant. The pieces that I loved, I have framed and I do have on display in my home. You can’t keep everything, nor should you. If everything is a treasure, nothing is.

Happy organizing!

Mail Management Made Easier

mail management tips

One of the biggest challenges I hear from clients and on social media is how to manage mail. Even though most of what’s in our mailbox is junk, it comes everyday and deposits more and more on our already lengthy to-do list.

While we all thought paper was going away 20 years ago, it is here to stay and has a much stronger effect on our well being that we realize. If we don’t deal with it in a timely manner, we can face late charges, fines, fees, in addition to a mountain of papers cluttering our home.

To manage your mail most effectively you need to set up a system for storing and processing it quickly and easily Here are my tips to make it easier on you so you can go do something fun!

  1. First and foremost: do not bring junk mail in your home! Go through it if you can before you bring it in the door and throw away any junk. Drop it in the recycle bin so you don’t have to process it again.
  2. Get a pretty basket or bin that you can use to put the mail when it comes in your home. It should be large enough to hold magazines and large envelopes so get something that’s at least 10” x 14” but no taller than 4”. The larger it is the more stuff will get dumped in there.
  3. Open mail as soon as you can. It’s good to separate the bills and important financial statements from the personal and toss any unnecessary paperwork like extra envelopes or fillers. 
  4. Designate a location and time for paying bills. The location should be close to where you will actually pay the bill so that might be your desk where your computer and/or checkbook and stamps are. Once you pay the bill, file the statement in the appropriate folder (see #6).
  5. Process personal mail as soon as you can. Put social occasions and appointments on your calendar. I like to keep the invitation and personal letters for a while on a bulletin board but it’s not necessary. 
  6. Set up a filing system for the bills and mail that you want and need to keep.* Life is much easier when you can just drop the statements or letter in a labeled, open top hanging file. The more actions you have to complete to put papers away (such as pulling out boxes, opening lids, lifting papers out, etc) the less likely it is to be completed. 

Overall, it’s best to minimize the amount of unwanted mail you receive so that there is less to process. To take yourself off of credit card and insurance offer lists, go to optoutprescreen.com and register your address to opt out of receiving credit or insurance offers. For catalogs, call the company’s Customer Service department directly and ask to be taken off their list.

While people aren’t sending as many personal letters these days (hey, let’s bring that back!) we certainly do have more papers coming in to our mailbox than our parents did. Take a few minutes to set up a system and you’ll spend less time dealing with it later when you’d rather be doing something fun or productive!

Happy organizing!

*If you’re not on the list already, go to Neatsmart.com to get your copy of my Paperwork to Keep resource which tells you how long to keep important papers like bank statements or financial documents.

 

How to Organize Receipts

Do you feel like everywhere you turn, you’ve got paper receipts staring at you? You see them in your pocket, purse, wallet, car seat, bedside table, kitchen counter, etc. It’s like they are breeding and following you. It can be so overwhelming trying to figure out which ones to keep, which ones to toss, or should I be shredding them?

 

To free you from the feeling of being overwhelmed and anxious about paper receipts, I’ve put together a guide for what to do with the different types. You can relax knowing you’re keeping the good ones and discarding the ones you no longer need.

 

This guide is for personal spending only. If you are deducting expenses for business purposes you will need to keep and track those more specifically.

Receipt Type What to do
Grocery store, gas station, fast food, service receipts Track and toss.
Restaurant It is a good idea to verify restaurant receipts with your credit card statement to make sure tips are added correctly. The receipts can be tossed as soon as they are posted online or in your statement.

 

Clothing If you didn’t try the clothing on and there’s a chance it doesn’t fit or you might return it, keep the receipt in the bag. Try on the item and make a decision about keeping or returning pronto. If you are keeping toss the receipt. Items to be returned should be put in the bag with the receipt and taken to your car. Do not delay with this dangerous practice. It’s too easy to let time pass and not be able to return the item.

 

Gifts Request a gift receipt from the store and include it with the gift. You can toss your receipt.

 

Appliances (small) Test out the appliance such as a coffee maker, humidifier, hair dryer, to see if you’re satisfied with how it works. Keep the box and receipt for 30 days. If it’s a keeper, toss box and receipt. If you’re returning it, you have everything together to process the return.

 

Appliances (large) For appliances like dishwashers and washing machines, you’ll want to track when & where you purchased it and how much you paid. The ink will fade from the paper that most registers use so it’s a good idea to make a paper copy of the receipt and keep it with the warranty information. Should something happen, the manufacturer will ask you when and where you purchased it. If there is a replacement cost, you’ll know how much you paid.

 

Furniture & decor High dollar items that are an investment in your home should be tracked in case there is a warranty associated.

 

Medical care Keep receipts while confirming that insurance has covered the appropriate portion. If you’re treating a chronic or serious accident or illness, it is good to keep those receipts and paperwork together. Annual checkup receipts can be tossed once verified and paid.

 

Jewelry, Antiques, Cars Keep these receipts forever in your file drawer or container. You will need them for proving value in case of loss or sale.

 

Home Repairs & Renovations While not required, it is a good practice to keep these receipts because they usually include descriptions of the work performed. If you have repeat problems or want the same company back in your home, you have a detailed list of the services performed and when. You may also need to have this information for warranty issues.

 

Click the link here to get a copy of What to do with receipts to print out for your home use.

Happy organizing!

Organizing Papers Post Tax Season

Aren’t you glad April 15th is OVER? There is no less dreaded time than tax season for most of us yet surely there are ways we can make it easier and less painful? Can’t we cut down on the stress of tracking receipts and other financial paperwork?

You betcha! It just takes a little prep now to have a happier tax season next year.

First, once you’ve filed your current year’s taxes, get a large envelope (9″ x 12″) and put all tax relevant documents in it. This means any receipt that was evidence of a deduction, your copy of your 1099s or W-2s, investment statement receipts (1099-DIV), ad valorem copies, etc. Any itemization (receipt, document, etc.) mentioned in your tax return needs to go in this envelope along with your signed copy.

Next, on the outside of this envelope, label it in marker, “Taxes ____” and whatever the year. This envelope should go to storage that is out of the way and not taking up valuable real estate because you shouldn’t need to access it anytime soon.

I recommend having a file box or drawer that is just for taxes so that you keep them all together.

You need to keep copies of your taxes for 7 years. The IRS can audit your returns up to 7 years ago so hang on to these. They would like to see receipts in case of an audit so make sure you keep copies of them, hence the envelope. For complicated taxes with lots of documentation, get a few envelopes. Another option is to get small accordion files to store them in. It’s better to keep this paperwork in a closed container so it doesn’t get lost or mixed up with other papers.

Now you can clean out any receipts from last year that you thought might be used for taxes. If you didn’t need them for taxes, you probably don’t need them now.

The exceptions to this could be but aren’t limited to:

  • receipts for ongoing or complex medical treatment
  • receipts for expensive furniture or home repairs
  • receipts for purchase of car, boat, motorcycle or other vehicle
  • receipts for purchase of appliances such as dishwasher, HVAC, or washing machine. Write the purchase date and location on the inside of warranty information for these large purchases because the paper receipts will fade.

Lastly, create a home for future incoming tax related receipts. I use a file folder at the front of my cabinet labeled “Tax Receipts” so that it’s easy to drop papers in there as necessary. Make it easy for yourself and get something that doesn’t require a lot of effort to access such as an open box or container or file as opposed to a lidded box on a high shelf.

The goal is to have a home for this documentation so that you can retrieve it if necessary. Knowing what you have and where it goes is 50% of being organized. The other 50% is actually putting things where they belong.

Happy organizing!

p.s. Here’s the fine print: I am not a CPA nor an attorney or tax adviser in any capacity. I am an organizer who likes saving time and energy by not having to look for things. Please consult a CPA or other financial adviser for specific questions you have about what to keep or toss.

How should I store sentimental cards & letters?

Memorabilia Storage

Valentine’s Day means a lot of cards sent and received and how wonderful is that? It’s great to express love and affection by sending a sweet card but people can get overwhelmed with what to do with them once the holiday has passed.

How should I store sentimental cards and letters?

I recommend a memorabilia box for eactly these things: cards and letters from loved ones that you want to keep.

It doesn’t have to be fancy, but a box large enough to hold what you have and room for more. I like to use a box with a lid or top in this case to keep the cards and letter from getting dusty. You may want to have multiple boxes: one for your honey and one for family. Whatever works for you but have a place designated for cards and letters from your loved ones so you know where they go when you get them.

However, you DO need to be judicious on what you are saving. A hand written card is much more meaningful than a card with just a signature. Evaluate if you REALLY want to hang on to something before putting it in the box.

Happy organizing!

Do you want the best office ever?

best office

I’ve set up and organized a few offices lately so I feel like I’ve been thinking a lot about the various supplies necessary to get best filing system set up in your home office. The goal that I’ve been helping people achieve is having an office where it is easy to find papers, supplies like staplers and scissors, and having a pleasant and calm space to work. Continue reading