Paper Pile Purge – Post 1 is on the new site!

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Paper Pile Purge – Post 1

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~Erin

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Taxes be done!

Ah, the dreaded tax season. I know just the word ‘taxes’ can make people’s stomach turn into knots and anxiety creep into the forefront. It’s an important task, it can be time consuming, it can help or hurt a financial decision or big purchase you’re planning on. So there is a lot riding on doing them correctly. Right now, taxes are a big focus in blog land, so I won’t go too much into how to do your taxes this year so I don’t repeat too many of my fellow bloggers! However, I have decided to list out my tips and tricks for staying prepared for taxes all year long. Hopefully that way, they won’t be such a burden at the beginning of each year.

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1) Designate a folder for the current year’s tax documents. – This is the first and most important step into staying organized for tax season. I just label mine ‘TAXES’ and anything that comes up tax related goes in the folder. Throughout the year, if you get a receipt for a charitable contribution, a 10-99 or other tax statement from an individual or organization, a copy of a real estate tax statement, etc, put them in this folder so you will have them when you need them. If there is an item I also need to file somewhere else (such as a real estate settlement paper in the real estate folder), I make a copy for the tax folder. There are some things (such as medical records) that I don’t copy throughout the year because there are a lot of papers for some categories. I do this all at once at tax time if I’m itemizing these or another type of document. But for the most part, I try to keep track of things in the ‘tax folder’. This helps in two ways:

-You won’t be searching through endless folders and piles when it comes time to pull all of the necessary papers together.

-You won’t forget about a crucial transaction, deposit, donation etc and miss claiming it on your taxes.

2) Keep tax returns from previous years together and in a safe place.  – The typical statute of limitations for the IRS to audit previous returns is 3 years, which means that you should definitely keep your returns for the previous 3 years. However, several states have longer statutes of limitations so it’s best to check with your state’s guidelines. The S.O.L. also increases to 6 years automatically for you if you fail to report more than 25% of your gross income in a year. There are also recommendations on how long you should keep documents concerning the sale of property, securities, retirement fund rollovers and many other types of documents. It is always good to discuss these kinds of concerns with a CPA or other financial professional if you have detailed questions. Simple Tip Time! My personal preference is to keep documents for 7 years. This covers the Statute of Limitations by the IRS as well as time limits for other misc transactions. The returns only take up about 6″ worth of space in a file cabinet and I know I’m covered.

3) Know the supplies you will need when you start doing your taxes. Here is my list:

-Pen and pad of paper – As I start going through the tax preparation documents, I know I will have questions and will also be making a list of any papers I need to submit. Before I even open my file drawer, I make the list so I know what I’m looking for. That way, I only have to pull the files one time. Our accountant sends a questionnaire so I have that as a guideline when making my list.

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-Post it notes and paperclips – Once I start pulling out documents, I want to be able to keep everything straight. I use the large Post-its to make 3 categories – ‘Documents to send’, ‘our copies’, and ‘originals-no copies sent’.

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There are items which I note in my taxes (such as medical bills), but I don’t actually send in copies of the papers to our CPA. So that is why I have the ‘originals’-no copies sent’ pile. If you are doing your taxes yourself, you probably won’t need the ‘documents to send’ pile. The key here is to keep everything organized and to use a system that works best for you. I use the small post its to separate other misc piles that I might want to keep separate.

-I also pull a blank manila folder out that will hold this year’s return and all related paperwork.

4) It is also a good idea to put a blank piece of paper in the front of your revolving ‘tax folder’. If you think of questions throughout the year, write them down on this paper so you won’t forget them when the next tax time comes around. This is particularly true if you have had an event that is outside your norm, such as the birth of a child, purchase or sale of a property, or atypical charitable or gift contributions.

5) If you file your own taxes, make sure you are up to date on any changes to the tax laws which have occurred in the previous year. There may be an added allowable deduction that could help you out!

I’m no tax expert, but I am a believer that if you have a system for something that is tailored to your individual needs, any project can be made easier and more manageable!

Now it’s time to start preparing your taxes for next year 🙂

~Erin

Mail Station Bliss

I have a love/hate relationship with mail. When it’s under control and I’m neatly stacking opened items into my pay-file-recycle-shred piles, I feel in control and ridiculously accomplished. When it piles up though, I hate mail. I mean loathe mail. And I slink past the growing pile slowly and glare at it like a cat looks at you when it’s in a bad mood. (You know that look).

My sister told me I should do a post on organizing mail the other day after I told her how I got so behind somehow. I had been going through the pile with my two kids in the room and they were literally rolling and burrowing in the pile of creased and sharp edged paper. Totally safe for little kids, right?

So I thought I would share a few tips and also the comfort that even people who pride themselves as ‘organized’ get way behind sometimes when it comes to daily tasks. So first, I present to you my extremely boring mail organizing system:

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This is the top drawer that holds basic office supplies. The basket in the bottom right corner of the photo holds my ‘mail related’ items, such as stamps and a return address label stamp.

IMG_6914This is the right hand side of my desk. You can see a small mail organizer, which has 2 compartments. In the back compartment, I keep mail I still have to deal with, whether it’s a bill to pay, a phone call to be made, or an invitation to one of the many black tie galas I’m invited to (no…not really, mostly just bills).  The middle compartment holds blank envelopes. The front compartment holds several misc items, such as a letter opener and apparently (according to this photo) my cell phone. Weird.

I also have my shredder sitting right next to my desk. I explain my love for my shredder in this post.  And the shredder is sitting on top of my file cabinet. So here is my usual process for going through mail.

-I open everything and separate them into 4 piles: File, Shred, Recycle, and Take Action

-I throw the recyclable item’ s in the recycle bin (conveniently located next to the file cabinet).

-I shred the ‘shred’ items. Or sometimes, if I’m really short on time, I’ll put them in the aptly named ‘To Shred’ folder in the file cabinet. I try not to do this too often though, because then it tends to build up.

-Then I file everything in the ‘file’ pile.

-Then I try to go through all of the action items and pay bills, make calls, etc. If there are things that have to wait, they go into the back compartment of the mail organizer.

Now this is not a perfect system and sometimes I get waaaaay behind. But it’s the best system for me and that’s what it’s all about.

However, here are a few other ideas I’ve found in blog land to inspire you to organize your mail stations.

How cute is this DIY mail station? She took a cardboard box, cut it in half and then covered with an adorable pattern. If you are short on space, using wall storage is always a great idea.

I love this mini workstation. It has everything you could need without being cluttered. The little pops of color would inspire me to keep my desk clear so I could see it!

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This mail system is very similar to mine….except it’s a lot prettier to look at. Maybe someday…..

How do you efficiently go through your mail? Or is it in giant stacks all over the counter? Because we do both at our house 😉

~Erin

 

File Cleanup

It’s September 1st and I can’t believe how quickly the summer has gone by. There are several different things I do throughout the year to keep things running smoothly and one of them is back up my files. I try to do this right around the 1st of every month. I know I’ve posted about this before, but it’s worth a repeat, because it’s a process that should be done often if it is to be valuable! I back up my files on My Passport external hard drive:

I know there are a lot of websites that you can buy subscriptions to that will store your data for you and also create automatic backups. While I love this idea, I have so many pictures, videos, files, etc that it would be kind of pricey for me to pay for the service. I have looked at a lot of different recommended backup sites and many charge by the amount of info you need to store. Sooooo anyways, until I win the lottery, this handy little ‘My Passport’ will do. For my photos, I also do some other things to back them up, which you can read about here.

Another thing I try to do near the beginning of each month is do a quick run through on my documents and photos and have myself a little ‘organize and delete’ party. You have to be diligent and selective with what files you keep or it will get overwhelming, so while I try to keep up with it on a day to day basis, my files still need a good once-over at least once a month.

Here’s one more thing I did yesterday just to save my technological sanity…..I unsubscribed from a lot of email feeds I get (sorry Groupon!). There were several others that were clogging my inbox and giving me a headache so away they went.

Between those three things, I feel a little more clearheaded and more secure that my files are safe in case something happens to my computer.

What else do you do to ensure your files and computers are organized?

~Erin

Let’s get personal

I have always kept my personal files in my bedroom. There are several reasons:

-I felt it was a safe place to keep them away from tiny kiddos.

-I have never had a home office that was  structured to handle both work and personal files

-I didn’t want to put anything else in the office. I think this was because my office wasn’t a pleasant place to be before I started this organization. Who wants to try to work and sort in a cluttered, frustrating environment?

Now, technically none of this made any sense.

-My kids are in my closet a lot more than they are in my office.

-And my home office is definitely big enough to accommodate both work and personal things.

-It doesn’t make sense to have all files in different places. They should all be where the envelopes, pens, stamps, etc.are.

-If I had organized my office a long time ago, it would have been a great place to work and be from the beginning!

-When I kept my personal files in my closet, I would go through the mail in the kitchen, then I would put ‘stuff to file’ on the stairs for when I went to my room. Then I would put other papers in the ‘to shred’ box for when I finally got around to that. Then I would have a ‘to do’ file on my kitchen counter. Way too many steps, right? So incredibly inefficient and very time-consuming.

So as the ‘Great Office Organization’ continues, I have consolidated everything into the office!

Here is a picture of my file box in my bedroom before:

These are not clothes…So why are they in my closet???

Notice the pile of papers on top that I had yet to file. Oh, and the box on top of the papers, which I thought I might use as a ‘to file’ box. Not anymore friends! Time to downsize!

I have moved the files upstairs and put them into a file cabinet. This file cabinet has been my only purchase in the office reorganization and cost less than $40. The bottom half of the cabinet is personal files and the top half will be for my Neaten Your Nest organization business. I already had a file cabinet for my regular work files. Is this all confusing enough for everyone!

So here’s the wrap up.

-I was able to get my files OUT of my closet. I feel the calm coming back to my room already.

-Not only are my personal files upstairs, but all of my office supplies are too. This makes it so easy to go through mail there. I open everything and put it in piles: Recycle, shred, file, pay or take other action. Since I also put my shredder on top of the file cabinet, I can do every single one of those things within minutes. No more boxes, no more piles on the stairs, no more waiting. So, so easy breezy!

Lessons learned:

-When organizing, efficiency is key. Removing steps from a process can save time, money and sanity.

-Sometimes you have to be selective when making purchases for organizing. But it’s important to consider what will make the most impact. Buying one file cabinet helped me consolidate files, save time, it makes going through mail easier, elevates the shredder, and looks nice.

-Organizing something that needs it soooo much can bring a lot of calm to your life. I can’t tell you how much of a difference this change has already made in my life.

Sunday Survey time!

~Erin