Claudia Buck

It’s a new year: Clear the clutter

Last week’s column on professional organizers described tips for decluttering a house or garage. We even included a time-lapse video of how one busy mom in Sacramento, with the help of a paid organizer, re-did her family’s cluttered suburban garage in five hours.

This week, we’re following up with a few additional tips on 2015 organizing. Here’s an excerpt from a conversation with Dawn Cannon, owner of Finely Organized, a professional organizer based in Roseville.

▪ Make a budget. A new year is the perfect time to start a budget or manage money electronically. Use financial software like QuickBooks and start reconciling your receipts or bank statements. You will almost always fail when you try to work backward in time to try and “catch up.” Instead, start fresh. Today is Day One. Go forward with the new system in place for 2015 and let the past go.

▪ Update your address book, or start making your electronic address book in Outlook or other software that will sync to your phone. Just take 15 minutes a few times a week to enter in contacts. Start with close family and friends, and as you connect with people, enter their contact into your phone or software. Include your children’s school or day care, your nail and hair salon and any other business you frequent regularly.

There is really no need for any paper contacts anymore. So many people are afraid to make this transition because they think they have to enter everything in one sitting and they never have five hours to spare. You can break this large task into very small pieces and before you know it, you will have all your contacts electronic.

▪ Learn to sync your phone. Spend a few minutes a day learning how simple it is to sync your phone. I cannot tell you how many clients never sync their phones or upload their pictures from their phone because they don’t know how, and they assume it is very difficult or time-consuming. I am here to tell you it’s not! Most phones are very simple to sync just by plugging your phone into your computer with a USB cord. A prompt will appear asking if you would like to sync, and you click “Yes.” It’s really that easy and takes about two minutes.

▪ Start a filing system. The beginning of the year is the best time to create a new filing system. You can start fresh and only file 2015 paperwork: utility bills, bank and investment statements, medical records, receipts, etc. Make files by categories. Don’t try to go back and file paperwork from previous years.

▪ If you already have a filing system but it has exploded with the last five years of paperwork, purge it. Get all those past years out. Go to the website for retention guidelines and archive what you legally need to keep. Then shred the rest. A shredding company like Red Dog will take care of that in one visit for about $8 per banker box of paper. It’s totally worth it … and, if you work from home, the invoice is a tax write-off.

▪ Organize your electronic photos. Now that you have synced your phone, sort all those photos by date taken and highlight a large chunk of them and rename them with the year first, then the number for the month and then the event. For example: You have sorted your pictures by date and you see there were 100 pictures taken on May 10, your birthday. You know they were all from your birthday party, so you use the shift key to highlight them all (if you have an Apple, the steps will be slightly different), right click, choose “rename” and type in “2014-5-10 My Birthday Party.” By naming them this way, you will always have them in date order even when you organize alphabetically. If you are consistent with your labeling, it will be simple to find them later. Again, you can just start with 2015 pictures. You do not have to try and go back and rename or reorganize old pictures.

▪ Organize your passwords electronically. Get rid of all those Post-it notes, scribbled notes in the back of your datebook and passwords written on an envelope or whatever was handy when you signed up for a website. There are 100 apps that help you store and organize passwords. I happen to use eWallet. I love being able to wirelessly sync to my phone, iPad and PC so all my passwords are at my fingertips at any given moment. It took me about 30 minutes one day to enter all the passwords I had scribbled on notes and used often. Now I add them as I get them, and it takes about 60 seconds. Once you do, the only password you must remember is the password to get into your password folder.

▪ Change the date. If you still write checks, open your checkbook and write the year in the dateline for the next 20 checks. We all forget to change the date and still write 2014 on our checks … then have to try and fix it or even void the check.

▪ Start small. If decluttering a room is too daunting, try just a corner or one tabletop. Clear everything off a surface, then put things back one by one, replacing only the items you genuinely love and use. You will quickly become aware of that line between “decorating tastefully” and “cluttering.”

▪ Letting go. It is nearly impossible to get and stay organized without letting things go. To get started, put yourself in the mindset of giving away. You’ll get tax deductions for everything you donate to a nonprofit or the charity of your choice.

The Salvation Army has a website,, which lists the suggested donation value for appliances, clothing, etc. There also is a great book called “Money For Your Used Clothing” (, that gives you the IRS donation value for almost everything you could donate. The book is $25 but comes with an “audit protection guarantee.” People don’t realize how much they could get in deductions. Here are a few examples from the book: a long-sleeve, casual men’s shirt: $7 good condition, $10 better condition. A twin headboard: $25 good condition; $45 better condition. Floor lamp: $20 good condition; $30 better condition. Always get a receipt when donating for tax-deduction purposes.

Remove the possessions that no longer serve you and become obstacles rather than advantages. Keep in mind that organizing is almost never about your “stuff.” Redefine your relationship with your belongings because physical clutter in your life creates overwhelming and unnecessary stress. Organizing is liberating.

Call The Bee’s Claudia Buck, (916) 321-1968. Read her Personal Finance columns at