How to Use Debit and Credit Cards as an Organizational Tool

credit cards
The mediums that help us spend our money can add much organization to our personal financial world. The ability to track what we spend, see what we’ve spent, and rely on that information to be correct is very valuable and useful. I almost never carry cash and never use cash in my day to day spending. When you and I spend money with bills and coins, there is no way to track what we’ve spent unless we write it down. I don’t know about you but I have better things to do then to write down on a notebook what I’ve bought or open an app on my phone to input something I bought with cash. I’d rather let my banks track my spending and sync up to their systems. They do a fine job on their own and I don’t need to make it more complicated that it needs to be.

First off, be knowledgeable. Figure out which credit cards are open under your social security and which ones you use. If you have no clue, run a credit report and find out. Start from scratch and make sure you close accounts and cards you aren’t using or have ignored over the last few years that have gone dormant. Just because you have several open doesn’t mean they have to remain open. Keep a few open that you use regularly and cancel the rest. Simplifying this list and amount of cards will make it easier for you to track your finances and spending.

After getting rid of all the accounts you don’t need or use, start to track the spending on the cards you have in your wallet. Note: don’t open new credit cards when they’re offered to you in checkout lines. This complicates things and defeats the purpose of simplifying your life financially. I say, less is more, when it comes to credit card and banking accounts. The more accounts you have open the more you have to track, be responsible for, and keep tabs on.

Tracking spending is super simple when you have all your passwords and usernames set up for each financial account you have. That’s the hardest, most annoying task. Once you have them all organized and signed up you can track your spending through computer software or an app on your phone. Software and apps need those usernames and passwords to sync up to. They are very safe and secure and pretty user friendly. Choose whichever one you’re comfortable with. I love Quicken for personal finances and Quickbooks for business finances.

Finally, the organizing comes into play with being strategic in which card you use for certain purchases. This is the step that can keep you very organized with your money. If you give to charities, pick one card to use to make tax time easier. If you own a small business, pick a card to use for business purchases only. If you drive for work, a salesman for example, a gas credit card might make sense. Regardless of your spending situation or lifestyle, categorize and compartmentalize your spending to work for your advantage. When you need to cancel a membership, return something or find specific information about your expenses and spending, it will be easy to pull the information and get the answers you need.

Photo © yekophotostudio / depositphotos

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Garage Organizing Made Simple [Guest Post]


Garage Storage TampaLet’s face it, getting the garage organized is not one of your favorite things on the to-do list. In fact, because of the sheer amount of stuff, most of us put off the task altogether. But cleaning the garage doesn’t have to be a time intensive, horrifying task. Follow these steps to get your garage organized.

  1. Take everything out. Get everything out of your garage to start with a blank canvas. If you’re embarrassed at what the neighbors will think when you have all your belonging on the front lawn, don’t worry. They are more likely to be jealous then judgmental. Once they see an organized garage they’ll want theirs organized as well.
  2. Start off by making piles of things you are going to throw away, keep, and donate. Throw away items and donate them before proceeding to the cleaning and organizing phase.
  3. Save time by enlisting help. If other members of your family have stuff in the garage, don’t waste your time trying to decide what to keep for them, tell them to help you. Divide their stuff up into a separate pile and have them go through it. Tell them where the supplies will go and they have a limited space. Items that will not fit in the designated space should be thrown away.
  4. Deep clean before putting everything back into the garage. It’s a very rare occasion when you have everything out of your garage. Take advantage of this time by cleaning the floors, walls, and shelves in the garage.cabinets Use a power washer and if you’re really looking to make your garage sparkle, add an epoxy floor coating. These flooring options are great because they make cleanup of spills super easy and are slip resistant.
  5. Decide what materials you will need. Do you like when items are up and off the floor? Try shelving. Use items frequently? A hook system would be perfect. Once you start to organize, try to keep only what will fit on your organizing system. This will help you eliminate any extra stuff that may be cluttering your garage.
  6. Get in the habit of putting things back where they came from. This will help you to keep the garage tidy, even after it’s cleaned.
  7. Realize when the job is too big for you. If you have a ton of stuff and don’t know where to begin, even after you’ve read this article, try hiring a professional organizer. They are trained professionals who will help you get rid of your excess stuff in a timely manner. Having lots of experience working with other customers, they can recommend a storage system for you that is made to last and has worked for others.

Author: Stephanie Hanson of Monkey Bar Storage

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Declutter Before Listing the House to Sell

selling a home
Spring is upon us and so begins the moving season in Chicago. Homeowners are putting their homes on the market and want to sell this spring, so the calls have begun to help them declutter before listing. Moving and decluttering go hand in hand. You really can’t do one without the other. If you skip the declutter step, things are worse, more complicated and definitely overwhelming on the other end after you move. Throwing it all in storage isn’t the solution easier. If you’re moving into temporary housing for a period, I could accommodate that one exception. Otherwise, steer clear from dumping boxes and furniture into storage. Once they’re in there, it makes it more difficult and time consuming to get the stuff out later on. Deal with the stuff now and make the most possible decisions in the present.

Moving situations can vary but the approach and philosophy is the same. I get calls from condo owners that are moving after just two years of living somewhere and from home owners that have lived in their home for twenty something years. Both clients have the same questions: Where do I start? What should I do? How does decluttering work? The simple answer is just start getting rid of stuff. The more elaborate answer is making a plan and attack one room at a time. Some clients need to take more steps than others depending on their life stage and situation.

Young Singles and Families– You all have it the easiest. Tackle one room at a time. Get rid of the excess and items you don’t want to bring with. The longer you keep items you haven’t been using, the more you’ll get attached. So take this time to let go of items you really don’t need to drag to your next place. You hopefully haven’t accumulated too much at this point so it should be fairly simple and straight forward. Remember to take note of the size of your furniture. Apartments, condos, and townhomes can have tight stairways, elevators and rooms don’t accommodate large pieces and king size beds. So do your due diligence and measure furniture against the new spaces and rooms. Also be mindful of square footage. If you’re losing a third or half of your space, then really let go of a third or half of your things. If you’re doubling your space or gaining space, I wouldn’t be as hard on you to purge. Still don’t bring needless items with but you’ll have some wiggle room.

Middle Aged Folk- Not only would I give you some of the tips above for younger folk but I’d add for you to get the whole family involved. School age children to help by going through their rooms and clothes as well as basement play spaces or outdoor toys. This is a great time to teach them to think through what they do and do not want to bring with. It’s also a great way to show them how to make things fit and what is realistic and not. Set the example as parents and show them how it’s done. Focus on purging closets, books, common areas, and family spaces. Do you really play all those board games? Read all those books? Wear all those coats? Etc. Take time to go through each area of the home and depending on the size of your next home and what climate you’ll be living in you will know how ruthless you’ll need to be.

Empty Nesters/Retired- I hate to say it but you all have a lot of things to get through and most likely have a lot of leftovers your grown kids have left behind. You may even have started to accumulate things the grandkids use or play with. It’s time to get tough and tell your grown children they need to come get their things. If they don’t by a certain date, the stuff has to get donated. Excess sets of bedroom furniture needs to be scheduled to be donated or sold on Craig’s list. You no longer need four bedroom sets, a pool table, or two living room sets. Instead of being sentimental, look at it as a chance to restart a new chapter in life and redesign your space and life. Making things simpler and consolidated in your life will be freeing and less stuff means less maintenance. You will need to think through what specific services you might need to help you declutter and downsize. It may be a book pickup, an electronic recycling trip, posting several things online to sell, and lots of trips to the local donation place. As you tackle each room gather up what needs to go where. Tag piles and make a trip or errand just once. For example, get the mobile shredding company scheduled after you’ve gone through all the filing cabinets and paperwork, not just the paper on the first floor.

Listing a Relative’s Home that has passed- Here’s where you need a plan. Think through several of these options.

  1. Do you need a dumpster? Schedule a junk hauler?
  2. Did your relative have any collections? Research specific things such as china, stamp, coin, or vintage jewelry places if need be.
  3. Schedule all donation pick-ups. You’ll have a lot so start scheduling them now.
  4. Recycle the appropriate things- hazardous waste, electronics, paint, etc. Start researching the local city or suburb recycling options.
  5. Don’t tackle a whole home alone. There’s way too much work involved. Hire a professional organizing company, college kids, or do this as a family with help from friends.
  6. Pick one day or weekend to let family or distant relatives take what they want from the home. It’s not your job to organize, tag, and deliver items that they want to all your family members.
  7. Don’t just pack everything up and take it home with you. This happens so often and it is the worst idea yet. Sorry I’m being a little tough and too honest, but it makes for even a harder job on the other end and clutters up your family, home and life. Deal with it in the relative’s home once. Don’t bring it all home to your house.
  8. Remember this is a process and doesn’t need to be done in one week. Set a goal, time frame, and be realistic. Breaking your back, increasing your stress level and not allowing time to grieve isn’t a healthy way to process a family member’s home.

Photo © frenta / depositphotos

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10 “Not So Obvious” Organizing Tips for the Kitchen


organized kitchen

  1. If your utensil drawers are too crowded, start counting what you have. The other day we found three ice cream scoopers. Chances are you don’t scoop two different ice-creams at the same exact time. We gained drawer space by keeping just one.
  2. Stop holding onto chipped and cracked dishes. You’re more likely not to reach for these or use them. Just let them go.
  3. Too much bar ware and drink ware taking up room in your china buffet, bar or sidebar? Match up sets. Ditch any stray pieces that are not part of a set and odd or small number sets. For example, if you have a set of eight wine glasses, get rid of the set of three wine glasses that have lost their mates over the years.
  4. Table linens and dishes are often passed down to us by in-laws, grandparents and our mothers. Be picky about what you keep. Just because they passed it onto you doesn’t mean you like the pattern, color or style. Choose to keep something else that is small and takes up less room to remember your family members. Don’t let guilt dictate what you keep.
  5. Store holiday dishes somewhere else. If you are short of space and can move Christmas dishes or special holiday serving platters elsewhere, do it. Pack them up into your current holiday bins in storage or create a shelf or closet somewhere else in the house to store holiday dishes.
  6. Focus on what you prepare and cook often. Think through your cooking and eating lifestyles to help layout your kitchen. If you don’t bake often, baking items should be few, not bought in bulk and not stored front and center. If you pack a lot of lunches, bring lunch prep items and snacks forward in convenient drawers and hip height shelves. If you cook fresh each night, chopping boards, measuring cups and strainers would make sense up close and near the sink.
  7. Yes, spices, tea and vitamins do have expiration dates. They don’t last forever and are last to be checked and discarded in a kitchen. Check these regularly and keep them updated to make space for new ones.
  8. Store heavy things low, and light things high. If space allows, don’t place your crockpot and Kitchen Aid mixer, or heavy serving platters above your head. Switch things around to accommodate retrieving different items.
  9. If you have gathered a lot of things to donate to a local Goodwill, don’t waste time and energy packing up simple glasses or vases. Recycle anything glass that isn’t worth much. It’s more likely to break on the trip over and takes too much time to wrap everything individually.
  10. Don’t store plastic grocery bags under the kitchen sink. They somehow accumulate way too fast and don’t get used up quick enough. Recycle them or store them elsewhere.

Photo © iriana88w / depositphotos

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Coming in and Going out



Most of us could name several life events, holidays and circumstances that flood our homes with more and more stuff. All of these bring more items in: holiday seasons with all the gifts, birthday gifts our family members receive, graduation presents, and a new baby accompanied with a baby shower. In addition, when a loved one passes, we accumulate their items that we can’t part with and when we move in with a boyfriend, girlfriend, or spouse, the amount of things double in one space. I’m sure I’ve missed other examples but these are just a few that show our lives are constantly bringing things in and more and more is coming at us. Our homes start to accumulate and loose space.

The question I beg to ask is: if we know this is how stuff comes in and accumulates what routines and action steps are we taking to get things out? How will we keep the balance and equilibrium with things coming and going?

  1. The first suggestion is obvious; use your garbage cans and recycling bin. They shouldn’t be empty week after week. If they are, there’s a big problem.
  2. Use your local donation center on a regular basis. Get familiar with the local Goodwill or Salvation Army so you can drop things off on the way to and from places that you’re already going. Make it part of your monthly routine so it’s built into your life. Make it easy, not overwhelming.
  3. Keep a box or bag for unwanted items in your laundry room. As clothes pass by that are ruined, old, too small, or stretched out keep adding to the container.
  4. Take inventory of garbage cans in all the bedrooms. Often I find no garbage cans in kid’s rooms. No wonder their rooms are littered with old school paperwork, gum wrappers or empty water bottles. Train everyone in the family to clean up and use garbage cans.
  5. Collect old clothes, shoes and other bedroom clutter in every family member’s respective closet. Once you fill a bag, box or container move the excess out the door into your trunk.
  6. Take note of and be aware of your city or suburbs’ recycling, shredding and toxic waste community days. If they’re hosting electronic recycling or a city wide shredding day, get those dates on the calendar well in advance. Make them a priority. Most cities post these dates on the website’s calendar. If you don’t know the days, check out your city’s website today before spring and summer hits. Most communities hold these days during warmer weather.
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Marriage and Mail

couple holding hands


One of the first things I do while assessing a homeowners’ paper situation and mail processing is to ask the roles each partner plays in the marriage. It’s important for me to know who opens the mail, who processes the mail, how comfortable the couple is opening each other’s personal mail, and how comfortable each spouse is throwing out mail on behalf of the other spouse. It can get very complicated OR be very simple. I can tell a lot about a marriage with how much the spouses trust each other.

The biggest piece of advice I give couples is to allow the person who is naturally more organized and enjoys dealing with paper to take over and have full control. If your weakness is paper processing and bill paying, let your partner do it. Just let it go. That doesn’t mean you need to live in complete darkness about what’s going on with your family’s finances or paperwork, but you can trust your spouse to get it done and get it done right. Focus on your strengths in a different part of your marriage.

The more hands in the pot or the more cooks in the kitchen, the worse off you’ll be. Take time to sit down and discuss with your spouse strengths and weaknesses in this arena and work as a team to problem solve.

Recently I was called in by a wife to work on paperwork, mail and files in the home office. After assessing the situation and spaces where mail was landing, I found out her husband was in charge of all bill paying and filing in the office. She did school correspondence for the kids and kept the family calendar. Soon, my client’s husband arrived home. To my surprise, he didn’t get involved in our organizing and he completely trusted his wife and I to organize every aspect of the home office. We accumulated five bags of recycling and four bags of shredding. The husband sat within an ear shot of us working and not once did he get defensive or anxious. I was so blown away and super impressed, that I had to share this couple’s example with all of you readers. He was getting his part done in the paper process and trusted his wife and I to get the files caught up and cleaned out. We refined her action tasks and her calendar keeping and the couple was off running smoothly again. It was so freeing for them and so refreshing for me to work with them.

I’d encourage spouses to lean on each other to help stay on top of the mail. Allow your spouse to triage your mail and toss as much as possible, only keeping the important stuff. It can take the time off your plate that it takes to sift through mail your spouse could have already tossed on your behalf. Agree to what should be kept and what you’d like to review. If you don’t communicate what mail is important to you and what can be tossed, then absolutely everything has to be kept for both spouses to review. That is super laborious and such a waste of time. Think of your talented spouse as your administrative assistant. He or she can weed out the time wasters and help you focus on the important stuff. When spouses work together and divide roles and tasks, any marriage can work like a well-oiled machine. Say goodbye to the mail and paper piles and hello to more time spent together.

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Arriving on Time

on time

Whether you struggle with arriving on time for work, a doctor’s appointment, a church service or even a date, I thought you might like to know how an organizer thinks. The other day as I was figuring out a busy day and walking through my process to make sure I would be on time for every appointment. It dawned on me that my process might be helpful for you. Different cultures place different values and priorities on being punctual and timeliness so I want to be clear, I’m not writing to convince you to be on time. I want to address the notion that if you’d like to be on time and more punctual, it’s possible.

First step is to notice how long it takes to get certain things done. For example: how long does it take you to make and eat breakfast, walk the dog, take a shower and get ready, pack a lunch, pack a gym bag, check emails, scroll Facebook, get out of work and walk to the train. All of these tasks are common and typical during our days. I know there will always be crises or unusual events that happen. I understand we can’t predict and perform each day perfectly, however I do believe we can get it right eighty percent of the time, if we take the right steps and plan ahead.

Once you take note of the menial tasks that you perform on a daily basis you’re ready to adjust your time frames to be punctual and on time. I figure this all out in my head but if you need to you could write it down.

So here’s an example of how I plan my day. In bed, the night before I’m thinking through all of this to set my alarm. I always start my planning with the time I need to arrive somewhere and work backwards.

  • 9:30am Client Start in a Chicago suburb

Next step is I figure how long it will take me to get there. Let’s say for this example it’s 30 minutes.

  • 8:25/9:00am I know I must leave the house to be on time.

Next step is I figure how long for making my espresso, eating breakfast and packing my lunch

  • I should be in the kitchen by 7:50/8am at the latest.

I know it takes me 45 minutes to shower, dress, dry my hair and do my makeup.

  • My alarm has to go off no later than 7:15….

If I’m ambitious and want to leave time for emails or a quick Facebook check a safe bet would be 7am!

Now let’s go to the end of my day. Again, start with your deadline or time to be punctual.

  1. 6:30pm should be my arrival time. To be on time tonight I have to arrive at that time and traffic will likely be bad.
  2. So I have to leave the gym by 5:45pm
  3. I know want to ride the bike at the gym for 45 minutes and I know it takes me 20 minutes to freshen up and get out of the gym. So I have to climb off the bike at 5:25pm
  4. Which means I have to get on the bike no later than 4:40/4:45pm
  5. So I’m leaving my home office to drive to the gym by 4:30pm.

It may sound super detailed and stressful and too much work, but it doesn’t have to be. It can be very freeing and helpful and once you know how long things take you, you can adjust the time accordingly. If you know you like to shoot the breeze with the people at the gym add in ten minutes. If you need to go through a drive thru for dinner, add in another ten minutes. When we don’t plan ahead and don’t watch the time as we go about our day, that’s what makes us late.

Photo © dorian2013 depositphotos

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Counting Steps While Organizing

counting steps


Part of my job as a professional organizer is paying attention to detail. That detail includes what current organizing systems and steps clients use before I change things or suggest new and different organizing systems. So to start it’s my job to get to know your current patterns and how you organize. Never “clean up” for an organizer. We need to see reality and every day habits.

Counting steps comes into play when I notice too many steps. Let’s talk literal steps and sequential steps in performing a task.

For literal walking steps, take the example of where mail lands versus where your home office is located. Another example would be where you enter the house versus where you hang up your coat, purse, and place your shoes. It is also important to count steps in the habits you’re asking your kids to participate in. If the table they do arts and crafts on is far from their stash of supplies, rethink the location of things. Items and gadgets used most often keep close and easy to access. Tasks and chores you perform daily should be the easiest patterns and include the least amount of steps.

Now consider smaller steps, steps that would be taken to perform a smaller task like filing paper. Here’s the best example to demonstrate this. Pulling open a filing cabinet drawer and dropping in a piece of paper takes two steps. Here’s the alternative with an accordion portable filing pocket. Unlatch the clasp, pry open the pockets, place the paper inside and close the latch. That took four steps. Imagine cutting down several steps on several tasks throughout your day and week. In the end you will be left with simplified living, more time, and ease of maintenance. Always choose the simple route and efficiency will prevail.

Photo © Elmur_ / depositphotos

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How to Organize and Store Your Photos



The good news is that because we are in a digital picture taking era we have less printed photos filling our drawers and cabinets. Now the photo pile up is a computer project. Regardless whether you have photos online, in your computer, stored in the cloud, or still stored in shoeboxes high up in the closet, the same organizing principles still apply.  The work it takes to sort them into categories, purge them and store them as you go forward is still at hand. So consider some of these tips as you begin to tackle organizing your photos.

  • Decide how you will sort and be consistent. You can sort by date, person, family, event, and just about any other category you want to.
  • If they are actual photos sort them into albums or boxes. Archive safe boxes are available if you are concerned about preserving them long term. Any specialty photo store should carry them or shop online.
  • If your photos are digital, organize them in a photo software on your computer. Again sort them by date, event or person. Just highlight and drag groups of photos into different photo folders you set up. I’d recommend creating the folder as you go. Don’t try to guess which folder titles you will want. When you come across your oldest child’s college graduation pictures create the folder then and slide them into it.
  • There are several options to share or drop pictures into online websites to create hardcopy photo books. Gone are the days of photo albums. Now you can create a book that takes up less shelf space. Try Shutterfly or Snapfish. There are other good websites but those are the two most popular.
  • If you’re tired of storing boxes and boxes of old pictures in your closet or attic, ship them off to a scanning company. They will scan them all in and give you a hard drive of all your photos!

Photo © A-R-T-U-Rdepositphotos

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Addressing Contents of a Purse

Woman holding a purse
Recently I was going through a lot of purses while organizing. We decided to go through all the bags and purses during this organizing project and the client and I were dumping the contents of all the purses we came across. After digging into every last pocket of an old diaper bag my hand came across something important. I pulled out a car key probably worth six hundred dollars. The client screamed and said that her husband will love me for finding this and texted him right away the good news. We had found something so expensive and something so difficult to replace. No one had gone through every last pocket of every last bag.

After I found the key I starting noticing the mound of tissue, lip gloss, lipsticks, business cards, coins pens, wrappers, gums and mints that started to form. I was reminded that this happens often and more often than not, clients get overwhelmed. They don’t clean out the purses fully before moving onto the next purse throughout the seasons. When organizing, they want to walk away when they see a zillion little items and pieces coming from the bottom of the purses.

If you’re like most American women, you love purses, have several in your front hall closet or bedroom and are in a hurry to switch to the next purse. What’s left behind is the mess I come across and love to organize. Yes, that’s right I love to organize it because it’s a version of organizing on a small scale and it’s a great example of a how to break down an organizing project.

Two questions I’m frequently asked when I’m sifting through purses.

  1. How does one prevent leaving leftovers at the bottom of a purse?

The simple answer is slow down and be thorough. Take time to switch over a purse properly and clean out the purse you are no longer using for the season. If you tend to switch your purse weekly or pretty frequently, use organizing pouches within your purse for different categories. Then all you have to do is move pouches of items from purse to purse which is way easier. Cocktail parties or special events require special fancy purses. Those parties don’t happen every night or every week so the morning or weekend after the party return the items back to your regular purse, returning the cocktail purse to its’ empty state before putting it away.

  1. How do you face and tackle all the random things when you dump a purse?

 If you have several purses that need to be cleaned out, be thorough. Check every last bag and purse, every last pouch, pocket and zippered pocket. Leave nothing unchecked and create a mound of random things. Create your pile from all the purses instead of doing one purse at a time. This approach will be easier. Once you have your mound of items start doing a quick sort. Don’t get hung up on details and every last bit you come across. Toss the majority of items. Stick to the eighty twenty rule. Toss at least eighty percent. Typically, gum, mints, and makeup are easy to discard because they’re easy to replace. Any eye or face makeup will have too much bacteria that can’t be wiped clean or wiped off. Ditch them. Gather coins into a mug from the kitchen or coin jar. Receipts, business cards and random pieces of paper are worth stressing over. If it was important, you wouldn’t have left it at the bottom of an old purse. Just take a quick glance through things and keep going. In the end, most of it should be in the garbage bag. Depending on what you’re putting away, relocate the stray remnants into your current purse, office or kitchen drawers, bedroom nightstand or linen closet.

Photo © stokkete / depositphotos

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