Winter - Spring 2015

Timely Tips You Can Use Now!


Happy New Year!

Organize Your Financial Life

Disaster Prep

Organizing for the Long Haul

Resolutions. Is This the Right Time?

Get Real!

Internet Special!

Happy New Year. It's the time for a fresh start, especially when it comes to organizing your home. Here are a couple ideas.

  • Organize your home. The holidays have passed. The decorations are put away and Spring is just around the corner. What better time to organize your home? Newspaper ads and stores are full of organizing products. Some of these are great, some not so great. Here is a bit of free advice to home owners trying to get a handle on organizing their stuff: Make sure you know how you want to store and retrieve your stuff. Don't get trapped into buying lots of storage containers that won't do the job for you in the long run!
  • Organize That Garage! Winter. Not really the time most people think about organizing the garage. But typically, after the holidays, the garage is in a mess. Here are some ideas.
  • What Do You Want the Garage to Be? Recently I was speaking to a potential new client over the phone. She said her family's garage was totally out of control. As we talked, she described the mess: boxes never unpacked from the move two years before; children's sports equipment tossed all over; extra furniture overflowing from the house; donations waiting to be dropped off at a charity; tools and gardening equipment that was there, "somewhere" but never found when needed. I assured her that this was a very typical situation for many families. Further into the conversation, I asked "What do you want the garage to be?" I anticipated that she wanted to have good storage solutions and to be able to park two cars into the garage. She surprised me when she said that her family wanted to use the garage as an exercise room! This conversation taught me a valuable lesson: always ask the obvious question because the answer may be unexpected.
  • Garages Morph. Because real estate prices are relatively high in the Bay Area, many families are under housed compared to similar families in other parts of the country. A move to a larger home might not be financially possible for many Bay Area families. Adding on to the current home might be an alternative, but often lots are small and there is physically no way to add on to the existing home. I'm finding that many homeowners are looking to the garage for extra space of a temporary nature. In my practice I've seen the following set ups in garages: home offices, exercise rooms, teen hang outs, adult hang outs, and areas for "clean" hobbies. I like to distinguish between "clean" hobbies, such as scrapbooking or sewing, that would more typically be found inside the home if space were available and standard garage-based hobbies, such as woodworking, when working with clients. Of course, turning the garage into permanent living space, such as an extra bedroom, is best left to a professional contractor who can do the work according to local building codes and address issues such as power, HVAC, natural light, and safety.
  • The First Decision When Organizing the Garage. Let's assume you want the garage to serve the traditional role. The key to a successful garage organization is to be ruthless in deciding what to get rid of. When organizing the garage, most folks fall down in one area: they tend to keep too many "just in case" things. You need to ask yourself how much stress you're willing to put up with EVERY day due to the disorganized garage. When you keep lots of "just in case" items, your way of living TODAY is affected. You need to decide what's more important: having a quantity of items you may or may not ever use in the future or having the peace of mind every day that comes with a well organized garage. Another very typical scenario I see is paper overflowing into the garage. Why? I think many people just can't face going through their papers, so they box things up and store them in the garage. They rarely look through these papers unless an item is desperately needed. Then it's a stressful, and often fruitless, search through dusty, disorganized and stuffed boxes. My suggestion? Bite the bullet and go through your paperwork whether it's in the garage or stuffed inside the house! Aim to toss about 60-80% of it. Do you REALLY need the copies of the 1987 PG&E bills? Do you need your old college essays? Do you need maps for London, circa 1976? If you can't face this work on your own, just give me a call. I work with lots of clients doing paper sorts. I'll bring my folding tables, you bring the water or iced tea, and we'll just plug through the whole lot until the job is done. When we're done, you'll know what papers you have and you'll know how to find them quickly if you need them.
  • Planning for a Successful Garage Reorganization. Set yourself up for success by planning in advance how you'll get rid of things. Do you need to arrange for a dumpster from the local waste disposal company? Will you need to borrow or rent a vehicle to drop items at a local charity or the dump or the household hazardous waste drop site for your county? Or do you need to call for a charity pick up at your home? Do you know what items they will accept or decline? Do you plan to itemize all these deductions for taxes? How will you value them? Do you have a old vehicle, boat, or trailer you want to donate? Which charity would you like to see receive these proceeds?
  • The Basics. Almost all professional organizers will suggest that you get as much as you can out of the garage. Once you've emptied out as much as you can, the next step is to make a conscious decision on which items to return. Remember, be ruthless! For the things going back, install handy hanging racks and shelves to keep as much as possible off the floor. Many of my clients are using the garage cabinets with doors. This makes for a clean and neat look. If you've got a stack of stuff to donate, it's always a good time to make charitable donations. Don't wait until the end of the year because many charities receive so much in Decembe that they actually run out of room! Get a head start on your deductions for the 2015 tax year. Not sure how much to deduct for your items? You can check out classified ads/Craigslist for the larger items or search on Ebay and in thrift shops for similar items. Even better, go to the "It's Deductible" web site and download free software that will give you deduction suggestions for thousands of typical donations. Check it out at . Another helpful website for valuation is The Salvation Army at .
  • Should You Have a Garage Sale? This is a tough call and winter weather adds another concern. It's a lot of work, but can net you extra money. Many of my clients point out huge piles of stuff in their garage, saying "That's for the garage sale." When I ask how long the stuff has been there, often they'll respond that it's been a year or more. Realistically, your hard work in organizing the garage will only pay off if you can have your garage sale within a few days of clearing out the garage. Otherwise, the stack of stuff for the sale sitting in the garage week after week is an open invitation for the garage to quickly become disorganized again. Also, your stuff can get damaged or deteriorate while sitting in the garage. It's sometimes better to just let the items go to charity and move on. Do you know of an upcoming charity garage sale in your town? Lots of schools and children's sports teams organize them. Think of these events as a way to gently let go of your things while still benefiting the people and activities in your own community. Or you can look to E-bay (, consignment shops or Craig's List ( for ways to sell your more valuable items.


Organize Your Financial Life! We are heading into another tax season. Afterwards, did you vow that next year would be more organized? You can be well-prepared for all those yearly tasks. Now is the perfect time to take stock of your financial life and set up systems so April 2016 won't sneak up on you.

Get a jump start on your future financials. I recommend using a financial software package if you want to get more control over your financial life. It's always a good time to start using one of the packages such as Quicken, the most widely used financial application for households. Sure, you might not have a full year's data for 2015 if you get a late start, but that just means you'll have lots of time to set up your tracking categories, load in your investments, and start using the checking account balancing functions. You'll wonder how you got along without it once you make the commitment to use it consistently. Tax time will be so easy because almost all your data will be recorded already. And there is no better way to meet your future financial goals than knowing exactly where all your money is going today.


Disaster Preparation: You Know You Need To Do This! We've seen several disasters worldwide with huge impacts to local populations. Did you make a vow to finally create your own disaster preparation plan? Did you do it? If not, there is no time like the present take the steps you need to do to develop your own disaster preparation plan. The safety and security of your family could depend on this. Let me help you with the details and you'll sleep better knowing it's done. Earthquake kits are available at Your Safety Place in Livermore. Costco has some great pre-made emergency kits too. Or I can help you put together a custom emergency kit just for you. And, in case you need some motivation, check out the USGS (US Geological Survey) website where you can generate probability maps for earthquake activity for your Zip code.


Organizing for the Long Haul. I'd also encourage each of you to develop organizing strategies that will serve you now and throughout your life. Here are some thoughts.

  • Clothes. Get a friend or professional organizer to help you with this task if you can't face it alone. As you look through your closet, ask yourself honesty: Do I wear this? Do I like this? If not, why am I keeping it? Does the cost, time, and effort of storing it outweigh the benefit of a nice deduction now? As you look at all your clothes, what does the collection say about you? (Examples: Can't pass up a bargain? Living in 1980? Unrealistic expectations about future weight loss?) Most people have more clothes than they need. Look at the things you wear all the time. Why do you? Chances are it's because they make you look good, feel good, and feel confident. And that's the lesson for buying new things in the future. Less really is more.
  • Filing systems. I'm often asked to help set up filing systems. But the first question I ask the client is "what do you want to accomplish by having a retrieval system?" The focus SHOULD be on how you will pull documents out of the file, NOT how they are put into the filing system. Some clients envision elaborate color-coded and cross-indexed systems. I certainly can do these, but the more essential issue is "why are you saving these papers?" Research has shown that 80% of filed paperwork NEVER gets looked at again. I once had a client who had a sizeable collection of travel and vacation articles that had been growing for over 25 years. When I asked her how often she needed these files, she admitted that she never used them. If she and her husband wanted to take a trip, she immediately accessed the internet and within minutes had up to date information about any location in the world they wanted to visit. She was able to release on the travel file and regain several inches of file space. So before you spend countless hours setting up a filing system, ask yourself why you want to save the paper, how often you'll look at it, and what the worst outcome would be if you didn't have the paperwork.
  • Clutter. The trouble with clutter is that it becomes invisible to us. This is another good time to enroll a tactful friend or professional organizer because, chances are, you can't see the clutter! Does this mean you need to toss or donate everything? Absolutely not! On the other hand, that doesn't mean that you have to display all your worldly goods either. If you truly love and cherish your things, learn to store some away and rotate them over time. Not only will your home be less cluttered, but you'll enjoy your items that much more when you truly are able to see them again. And--added bonus--it will be much easier to keep up a regular house cleaning routine.


Resolutions. Yes many people make New Years resolutions. And then feel bad when they're not able to keep them more than a week or two. Here are a few ideas for resolutions that are easy to keep. And remember, any time is the right time to make a resolution.

  • Clutter. I will declutter one room, closet, or cupboard in my home each month
  • Financials. I will make a list of all the family assets and liabilities.
  • Time Management. I will set up a calendar system that works for me and my family.
  • Disaster Preparation. By the end of <<specify a month>> I will make a list of the major tasks I need to do for my disaster preparation plan. By the end of <<specify 2 months later >> I will complete all these tasks.


Get Real! And what if you have difficultly with your efforts at change? Here are a few ideas.

  • Be kind to yourself
  • Realize that change is difficult
  • Realize that you can't change everything overnight
  • Realize that your first attempt might not work and that another approach might be needed.
  • Realize that you haven't failed unless you TOTALLY give up
  • Realize that it's OK to ask for help
  • Realize that help can come from many sources. You don't have to do it all and you don't have to do it alone!


© Organizer to the Rescue, 2003 All Rights Reserved Last Updated January 1, 2015