Happy New Year!
If you’re like me, you get excited about a new year because it gives you a fresh start. You have a chance to renovate, revamp, redo or revive your life, your home, your habits. I mean, seriously, we can do that any time of the year, but the New Year just gives us that extra boost to make changes.
If you’ve followed me for a while, you know that my blog used to be called “Minimalist Grandma” because I started it 3 years ago when I was going through this downsizing, minimizing, a mid-life crisis sort of thing. I was in my early 50’s, had several people close to me die in quick succession, almost had a nervous breakdown, quit my job of 18 years, became a grandmother for the first time, and I was going through menopause and all the craziness that goes with all that. When nothing else felt good or right, I found that downsizing, minimizing, decluttering and crying felt good and right. So, being the person I am, I started a blog and documented my journey through that time. I saved my posts and you can go back and read them if you dare. Just click on Minimalism or My Journey in the Category Cloud on the right.
During that time I read a lot of books, blogs, and articles about minimalism, decluttering and organization. I then went through EVERY SINGLE ITEM in my house and either kept it, threw it away, donated it or stored it. I downsized to where I only had what I really wanted and loved. It was a freeing experience. Not to mention that it really helped my husband and me because just 5 short months ago we moved across the country. That downsizing made our move SO much easier! I even vlogged about that experience and you can watch my vlogs on YouTube here.
We are nicely settled in our new home, had our first Christmas here in a new state and all the Christmas decorations are put away (quickly and easily I might add) I now have some time to do what I’ve wanted to do for a while – Help You Declutter and Organize!
I know, I know there are a million books and resources out there and Marie Kondo’s Netflix show just came out and she’s like the guru of this sort of thing. So, why am I even bothering adding my voice to the din? Well, because I want to. And maybe something I can say can help you more than Marie.
So, continue reading this page, I will walk you through about 2 weeks of instruction, advice, and encouragement on how to get your home, your belongings and your life decluttered and organized. I will take you through the process that helped me.
Even though I was eager to downsize, I was, after all, in my 50’s and I had collected a lifetime of things that meant a lot to me. I had grandchildren that I wanted to share family history and memorabilia with – so, my approach to clearing out was a bit more gentle and thoughtful, I think. I took my time, and you can, too. Or you can speed up the process and get ‘er done!
I felt like making “sweeps” through my house gave me time to not have to make rash decisions and gave me time to get adjusted to being without certain items. It helped me get emotionally adjusted to passing on possessions.
I think this plan can work for anyone, no matter the stage of life that you’re in. You might be a bit older, like me and want to stop being your kid’s storage service. Or, you might be a mom with young kids and the chaos is smothering you. No matter your age or stage in life, decluttering is always a good thing.
Getting rid of possessions that suck up your time in care and maintenance, gives you more time to do the things you feel are more important. Downsizing your wardrobe and creating a laundry system also frees your time but also gives you mental relief. You do not know how much emotional and mental distress many of us carry just because our closets, basements, and attics are cluttered and crammed with stuff we don’t even know is there. And what about all those important documents and papers that you don’t even know where they are until you have to spend hours or days hunting them down for those rare times you need them like tax season or when you buy a new house or have to get your driver’s license renewed? I can help you get all of that organized so that you can put it out of your mind.
“We don’t often realize how the hidden clutter bogs us down mentally and emotionally. Even if clutter is not in your eyesight, the knowledge of it is in the back of your mind screaming, “Clean me out!” It’s something you always keep on your mental to-do list.”
I will be creating these posts as quickly as I can. So, if you get ahead of me, just keep working and then check back daily for more help.
God bless you on your journey to peace of mind!
The Plan Overview
If you’re like me, you like to know where you’re going and get an idea of how to get there. That way, if you get distracted you can find your way back to the path. And you should allow yourself to do that, wander off and come back. It can get overwhelming, so don’t beat yourself up if you need to take a few days, weeks or even a month off from this project. Don’t let it kill you, let it free you up!
So, here’s the plan and remember – don’t get overwhelmed! We’re going to take it one step at a time in chewable bite size pieces! And you will only go as fast as you want to. Some steps will take longer than others, so don’t get in a hurry!
- Mentally plan and prepare for the project.
- Control the trash!
- Make 4-5 “sweeps” through the common areas of your home addressing different “layers.” The common areas are: living room, den, kitchen, dining room, guest bathroom, foyer, office, etc.
- Next, you will then focus on specific problem areas and address them, declutter them, organize them and create a system to maintain them. Common problem areas are: the mail, laundry, bathroom, kitchen, home office/important papers, linen closet, storage/memorabilia.
- Then, when you know the system, attack the bedrooms. You can make your bedroom the relaxing retreat you’ve always wanted.
I don’t think there is a one-size-fits-all plan for decluttering and organizing your home and life. You have to address the specific needs that you have. Everyone will be different in how much stuff they want to keep and how much they want to get rid of.
Older people, like me, who are tired of being the storage service for the family may be ready to get rid of it all, buy an RV or tiny house and travel the world.
Young families with multiple kids will need to plan storage more carefully so they can save those clothes and toys to hand down from child to child.
Cooks may want to have a kitchen full of gadgets and someone else may want one plate, one fork, and one knife. You have to determine your needs and the lifestyle you dream of.
So, there’s no judgment here! I’ll give you this basic plan and you make it yours.
The basic rule of thumb for decluttering and organizing your home is:
Everything must have a place. If it doesn’t have a place, it leaves the home.
Prepare & Gather
Like an athlete who rehearses their performance before an event, it’s a good idea to put some thought and planning into the project. Here are some things to think about:
- Define your goal. Picture in your mind what you want your house to look like when you’re finished. If all you can think about is burning down your house and starting from scratch, then get a better attitude and be grateful that you have a house at all! Most of us don’t have the money to buy a new house, remodel, redecorate or buy tons of expensive organizing systems. So adjust your expectations and get realistic.
Instead of trying to expand your space to have room for all your stuff, all you may have to do is have less stuff to fit in the space you already have.
- Get realistic about organizing. Decluttering and organizing are just two parts of a three-part process. After decluttering and organizing, you HAVE TO DEVELOP HABITS TO STAY ORGANIZED. This is where most people drop out. They think just buying that closet organizing system will solve all their problems, but if they don’t fold, hang up and put away their clothes the system is useless.
“Decluttering and organizing alone won’t fix the problem. You have to develop organized and minimalistic habits to make this process work! You have to have a grateful attitude toward what you have.”
- Will everyone in the house be on board for this project? Who is the secret hoarder who will stress out when you start getting rid of stuff? Talk to them. If you can’t win them over, then assure them that they will have their own area (and give them some space) where they can pack rat all they want. You don’t want to divorce or destroy the family over this project! You will just have to ignore their nest and give them space.
“Men are not great or small because of their material possessions. They are great or small because of what they are.” James Cash Penney
- Remember there are only 4 places for STUFF. 1.) In its own place. 2.) Thrown away. 3.) Given away or donated. 4.) In storage. So, think about how you will handle each of these. Where will you throw away items that you no longer want and you can’t donate? Will your trash service pick them up? Will you take them to the dump? Where will you donate your items? Do you need to do a little research? What are their hours of operation? Where will you store items you don’t use regularly but want to keep? Basement, attic, closet?
Gather Items You Will Need
- A pad of paper to make lists and a pen and a sharpie for labeling.
- Regular garbage bags.
- Those big, black heavy duty garbage bags.
- 4+ large cardboard boxes to transport donations and for temporary storage. I bought mine at a storage service, well worth the cost of them.
- A few mailer boxes if you plan to mail donations of DVDs or books.
- Plastic storage bins for storing items in the basement, attic or closets. You need plastic to protect items from water and moisture damage. Trust me on this!
- Printable labels that will stick to plastic bins or label maker.
This might seem trivial but it is VERY important – make sure your plastic bins and labels are all the same size and match and if possible, print your labels. You will not believe how great your storage areas will look when everything looks the same! It will make you so happy you will twirl and sing like Fraulein Maria!
Please remember that you will probably be purchasing other items like organizational containers as we go along. Check out Pinterest if you need inspiration and ideas.
Ok, let’s get started!
Put 2 cardboard boxes by the front door. Label one: “Returns” and label the other one: “Donate.”
The “Return” box is for stuff you need to return to someone or someplace. The “Donate” box is for the items you are going to donate. I eventually put those boxes in my car because I would forget to return and donate, haha!
Do Not, I repeat, Do Not stop to do any deep cleaning as we go through this process. You can do that later.
You will do some “cursory cleaning.” Cursory means “quickly and not thorough.” So, don’t try to clean the shower, tub, or mop floors. Grab some disinfecting wipes, a dust cloth, broom, and vacuum. But that’s all!
The basic rule of thumb for decluttering and organizing your home is:
Everything must have a place. If it doesn’t have a place, it leaves the home.
Get That Trash Under Control!
One of the things you will be doing is throwing stuff away. So, right off the bat, let’s look at your system for dealing with trash. Where do you put the trash as it waits to be picked up? Outside? Do you have enough cans to handle your family’s trash between pickups? If not, BUY MORE CANS!
Do animals get into your trash outside and spread it all over the yard? Does the wind knock the cans over? If so, deal with this problem! Build a trash corral, maybe something like this.
Now, most people have a trash can in their kitchen. Is it big enough? Do your pets get into it and you spend too much time picking up eggs shells and coffee grounds off the floor? Deal with it! You can get a smaller can and put it under the sink or put the trash in a closet in the kitchen. Do whatever you have to do to take care of this waste-of-your-precious-time issue.
Next, make sure that each bathroom and bedroom, office, basement, and the garage has a garbage can of its own. Get the right size liners and have them ready so no one has an excuse to just leave trash around the house.
Then, make sure the garbage goes out on “Garbage Eve” each week. Assign the job to someone in the house. Have the cans, set up a system and get that trash under control!
Ok, now, let’s get sweeping! What I mean by “sweeping” is walking through the rooms of your house rather quickly with a single goal in mind. This first “sweep” is about getting the trash out of the house. However, as you are walking through and making these “sweeps” you will begin to notice each room in more detail.
So, get a regular garbage bag and walk through the common areas of your house and pick up all the trash you see. Literally, trash. The common areas are the living room, den, dining room, kitchen, guest bathroom, office, etc. Save the bedrooms and personal bathrooms for later.
Pick up soda cans, old mail, old magazines, wrappers, anything that is considered trash. As you’re walking through, if you know for sure there are things you need to return or you want to donate, just grab them and put them in the labeled boxes by your front door.
Now, go through the common areas and pick up anything that doesn’t belong in that particular room. Take clothes and shoes back to bedrooms or wherever they go. Pick up toys, dishes, coats, return books to shelves, etc. Put away things left out or not in their place.
If an item doesn’t have a place, put it in a storage bin temporarily until you find it a home or until you decide what to do with it.
When you get to the kitchen, make sure you take the time to clean any dirty dishes or put them in the dishwasher. Make sure counters are clear, not necessarily clean.
Ok, this time, go back through the common areas and do a cursory cleaning. Dust, vacuum or sweep. Don’t clean windows, blinds or mirrors. Just do a light cleaning. Pay attention to how much stuff you have to move out of your way to dust and vacuum.
Does it take a long time to clean your house because you have too much stuff to dust and too much clutter to work around?
If something irritates you and you feel like it’s in the way, put it in a storage bin temporarily until you can decide if it will stay or go.
Quickly vacuum or sweep and notice how quickly you can do it. Do you have to move furniture? Does that irritate you?
Straighten throw pillows, fold up throw blankets. Wipe off kitchen counters. Is that an easy task or do you have too much stuff on the counters? Take mental note.
As you’re doing the cursory cleaning, start making a mental list of things you might want to donate or grab them immediately and put them in the donation box by the front door.
Now, get a little more aggressive about decluttering. Make the fourth sweep through the common areas and start picking up the things that you don’t want any longer, the things that you realize don’t match or fit in the room. Put them in the trash or donation box or if you can’t decide right now, put them in a plastic storage bin temporarily.
If you have some things that perhaps someone gave you and you really don’t love it but are just being kind by keeping it, don’t throw it away, put it in a storage bin and make a decision later.
Our goal is to make each room a place you love to walk into and live in. So, if something causes you irritation, get rid of it!
I’m talking about THINGS. So, if the size or shape of a room bothers you, get over it. If you don’t like your furniture, get rid of it if you can. If you have to live with it until you can afford new furniture, then, well, you just have to. But if you’d rather sit on the floor than look at it one more day, go for it.
Go as crazy as you feel comfortable with.
Dreaming, Sweeping & Listing!
Ok, now that your house is straightened and lightly clean, and rid of a few things, you can look at it for what it is. Next, you’re going to do a little dreaming.
One of the things that you might want to accomplish in this project is clearing your mind of its clutter and having a little peace. So, I want you to write down some things to get them out of your head and onto paper where you can plan to take care of them.
Take your pad of paper and pen and title each page with the name of each common room. Label a page, “Living Room”, another, “Kitchen”, etc.
Now make another “sweep” through each room and list all the things you want to change or do in that room to make it a room you love. If you hate the rug or curtains, write down, “get new curtains” “get a new rug.” Maybe there are repairs that need to be made. Put those on the list. Maybe you need to buy, replace or get rid of furniture, put that on the list.
This is your dream list. You may not have the money or time to buy or do these things right now, but maybe you will one day. So, write it down!
When you have some time to devote to this next part, get a cup of coffee and sit down with your pad of paper and lists. Tear out the lists you made and put them to the side. You are going to remake them. So, title a fresh page with the name of each common room, again. Draw a line vertically down the middle of the page. Label the left column, “Things To Do” and label the right column, “Things To Buy.” You may need a few pages for each room.
Take your original list and separate your ideas into these two categories. For example, let’s say you walk into your living room and the thing that irritates you the most are the broken blinds on the window. You will take your page titled, “Living Room” and write in the left “Things To Do” column – “replace window blinds.” Then ask yourself, “What will I need to buy to do that job?” Then, write, “Buy new blinds for the living room” in the right “Things To Buy” column. Does that make sense?
Another example: Do you want to organize your DVDs in a better way? Then write down, “Organize DVDs” in the “Things To Do” column. Then, think about how you’d like to organize the DVDs. Look on Pinterest. Come up with a cool and attractive way to do it that will make you happy when you look at them. Then on the right side, in the “Things To Buy” column, write down the things you’ll need to buy to make that happen.
What will happen is these lists will help you prioritize and will let you know when you can do these projects. You will see what projects you can take on first based on the time it will take and how much it will cost. You might be able to organize those DVDs with little or no money quickly this weekend. Then, you can tackle the window blinds after payday and then you might just have to put off buying the furniture until next year or after you get your tax returns.
Of course, you will have several rooms screaming for your attention so you will have to decide which room gets to be first. Here’s a suggestion: if you entertain quite often, it will probably make you happier to take care of the rooms that your guests will see.
Think about what your goals are for your house. Do you want a peaceful retreat? Do you want a place to entertain friends? Do you want a place where your family can have fun and spend time together? Keep that goal in mind as you declutter and organize!
Organizing the Problem Areas
Ok, so you’ve got a list of the things you need to do and the things you need to buy to make your home a place you love. You might already feel a little more relieved because all those ideas are out of your head an onto paper. It clears your mind and gives you hope because if it’s on the list it might actually get done!
The lists are probably dictating what areas you can attack first based on time and/or money. And since your list is unique to you, and since I’m not there, I don’t know what you’re planning to attack first. So, I’m going to touch on some common problem areas and give you some ideas as to how to make life easier for you.
But first, here are some things to think about when starting to organize.
- Remember, the 3 steps in making this work is: Declutter, Organize, Maintain. You want to slim down so you don’t have so much stuff to deal with. Organize it neatly. And have a system that you will stick to to keep it organized.
- One thing you can do to help your home feel peaceful is to use the areas in your house as they were intended to be used. Yes, it’s cool to get creative and have multipurpose rooms or spaces, but it can also get confusing. When I got my office out of my bedroom, I could sleep better at night because I didn’t have work staring me in the face when I was trying to fall asleep or stress me out when I was waking up. The coat closet in my foyer became a catch-all for the weirdest things. I had to put coats in my bedroom closet (which cut down on space for my clothes) because the closet was full of sports equipment and car jacks and whatever didn’t have a place. I was ALWAYS moving stuff from one place to another, it drove me crazy! My home was much more peaceful when every space was used for what it was designed for. And if I didn’t have enough room – I’d get rid of stuff to make it fit. Coat closet for coats. Clothes closet for clothes. Linen closet for linens. Garage for tools and sports equipment. Kitchen cabinets for food and dishes. Keep it simple!
- As we grow and change, our needs change, too. So, think about what your life is really like now. Organize your home for your real life now, not the life you wish you had or your house in the future. Maybe you’re working 40 hours plus overtime. Do you really need to keep a bunch of craft supplies for “one day when you have time?” If it’s a way to relax, then keep them and organize them neatly. Are you buying or renting movies and tv shows on Netflix and Amazon? Then maybe it’s time to ditch the DVDs. The same with music CDs. Maybe it’s time to change with the times.
Problem Area 1
I always hated bill paying time because it took me FOREVER! The reason it took forever was that I would dump all the mail in a basket. Then, when I had to pay the bills I had to face that mountain and sort it out! So, here’s what helped me get my mail under control.
I got a tall kitchen garbage can and put it by the desk in our little office area. When I would get the mail from the mailbox, I trained myself to walk to the office area and sort through it IMMEDIATELY! I wouldn’t let a phone call, a kid asking me questions, nothing would stop me. I would stand at the trash can and throw out the junk mail and put the bills in a small basket on the desk along with any other mail like statements that I would file later when I paid bills. Nothing else goes in that bill basket! A couple of minutes and my mail was under control!
Here’s a girly tip: Make your bill paying area attractive so that you’re happy to go there to work. Get a little basket that makes you happy to put the bills in. You think I’m silly? Well, it really helps me!
Problem Area 2
The Laundry. Everyone’s nightmare. I want to tell you about some changes I made to help me get the laundry under control. If you have teenagers, make them do their own laundry. They need to learn. Don’t feel guilty about it and if they don’t do it, well, they won’t have clean clothes to wear. Tough love!
- I cut down on the amount of clothes I own. We can talk about how to do that later, or I suggest reading Marie Kondo’s book, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up. I used her system for downsizing your wardrobe and it really, really helped!
- I made sure I had enough clothes to make it through one week because I did not want to do laundry more than once a week.
- I have an easily accessible dirty clothes hamper. I also have a laundry basket to carry clean clothes from dryer to bedroom to fold and hang.
- I assigned myself a laundry day and I stick to it!
- I make myself take the clothes from the dryer and hang them up or fold them and put them away. DISCIPLINE!
- Because I have ALWAYS had space issues especially no drawers, I hang all my clothes and have baskets on shelves for underwear, socks, etc.
- Girly tip: get all the same color hangers and hang your clothes according to color. Then get matching baskets to make it look organized! Spend the money, it’s worth it!
- I have a different day to wash linens.
- If we travel, the minute we take the suitcases in from the car, I put the dirty clothes in the washer and wash, fold, put them away. Even if I’m exhausted. Otherwise, I’ll have a back up of laundry or nothing to wear.
- With fewer clothes to wash and washing once a week, it’s not a huge chore to get it done. It doesn’t take the whole day or a couple of days like it used to.
- When my kids were little and did their laundry, I washed their clothes separately. That way I didn’t have so much sorting to do.
With laundry, a system you can maintain and stick to is the secret to success!
You can organize your closet and laundry room but if you don’t keep it up, it does you absolutely no good.
Your kids have to be trained to put their clothes in a dirty clothes hamper in their rooms or taken to the laundry room. Or you will have to do it for them. We just can’t get around this training, maintaining and discipline.
Problem Area 3
Ok, there are only about 4 reasons why the bathroom is a problem area.
- The bathroom is nasty.
- People are not hanging up their towels and not taking their clothes out of the bathroom.
- Too many products and/or too much stuff in the bathroom.
- Not enough adequate space for products/and or stuff.
So, let me address these issues.
- You probably can’t clean the bathroom or it takes way too long because of numbers 2, 3, and 4.
- People need to clean up after themselves or they should be required to clean the bathroom.
- If you slim down the number of products each person uses you’ll probably take care of number 4.
Some things you can do to help organize your bathroom:
- Get suction cup shelves for shower and bath products so that you can get the bottles and bars off the side of the tub so you can clean and it will look less cluttered.
- Get rid of some bathroom decor if that makes your bathroom look crowded.
- Make sure you have a big enough trash can. You don’t have to use the tiny ones. Get one with a lid if it helps hide the nasty.
- Use all the same color towels unless you need to assign a color to a person to make them clean up after themselves. “Susie, get your pink towel off the bathroom floor!” Gotcha!
- Make sure you have enough hooks or rods for everyone to hang a damp towel.
- If damp towels are taken out of the bathroom to the bedroom, then have a place to hang it in the bedroom or return it to the bathroom. TRAINING AGAIN!
- Cut down on the products you use.
- Slim down your cosmetics and organize them in an attractive way. Pinterest is your friend!
- Keep the counters clear of items and keep the side of the tub clear of products.
- Don’t try to put laundry hampers in the bathroom, put them in the bedrooms and have everyone take their dirty clothes out of the bathroom unless you have the space.
- Make sure you have extra toilet paper in the bathroom at all times.
The secret to a spa look in your bathroom is making sure everything is white. Have clean counters and little to no decor. Have one spa scented candle.
I’ve lived several lives in my kitchen over the years. When the kids were little, I was the cook. Not because I loved it but because we were broke and cooking was cheaper. Then, I started teaching and my kids were teenagers so we ate out a lot. The car was our dinner table as I drove them to all their activities. As an empty-nester, I didn’t cook a lot because it was just the 2 of us and we had different schedules and it was easier to just grab a sandwich. Now, I have a nice kitchen, I have guests, the kids and grandkids come to visit and I am really enjoying cooking for the first time.
I said all that to say, you have to decide what your needs are in the kitchen. When I got married, I got a lot of nice things to stock my kitchen. Some, well, most of the things I didn’t really like and then my tastes have changed over the years. So, then I had a weird collection of mismatched items. Then, when I wasn’t cooking a lot or had no time, I scaled all my appliances and tools down to give myself more space. (I actually gave away my Kitchen-Aid mixer which I regret to this day!) When we were empty nesters, we could get away with one plate, one bowl, one glass, one cup, and one set of silverware each. That made washing dishes a breeze! Now that I have more people to visit, I’m gathering more dishes (that I like) and more tools in my newfound love of cooking.
Here are a few things to consider:
- Decide what your needs are in the kitchen. Then go through what you have and see if you can minimize the number of tools and gadgets you have.
- If you want a clean, clutter-free kitchen the trick is to have clear, clean countertops. Put everything in cabinets. Whatever you do keep out, make sure it matches, is in white or neutral colors. Don’t have a bunch of stuff hung up on the fridge or stacked on top of the fridge. Get rid of clutter.
- A good way to know what you need/want to keep out is to get EVERYTHING off your counters. Hide everything. Live with it bare and boring for a few days. As you live and work in the kitchen, you’ll see what comes out most often and you can try different decorative accent pieces to see what items make you happy and give you peace.
- Organize your tools for easy access. If you need more cabinet space, hang your pots and knives within easy reach.
- To have a clean kitchen, make sure you store food in an organized way. Organize your pantry, fridge, and freezer. The sure-fire way to draw bugs and mice is to have open packages crammed in a dark pantry.
- Throw out old, stained, scorched pot holders and towels. Then decide on an accent color and buy new pot holders and towels that match. If you’re using kitchen rugs, make them match, too.
- Clutter on the countertops, islands, top of the fridge and too many decorative items in the kitchen is the biggest enemy of a clean, minimalist kitchen.
Home Office/Important Papers
The moment a young adult moves out of their parent’s house, they should leave with a plastic file box to begin their home office. Every adult has important papers they have to keep up with. Every adult should have a file box or file cabinet or file drawer. Every adult should have all the tools they need to pay bills, keep up with due dates and keep all those important papers that you may not need to look at but every few years, but when you need them, you need to know where they are.
MAKE THIS A PRIORITY!
Times are changing, technology is changing and a few years ago I would have said that everyone should create a desk area complete with tape, stapler, paper clips, and highlighters. But today, you can do almost everything you need online and we are practically paperless when it comes to bill paying.
HOWEVER, EVERYONE HAS THOSE IMPORTANT PAPERS THEY NEED TO KEEP!
We still haven’t been able to free ourselves from that quite yet.
So, no matter the stage in life you are you need:
- A lockable fire and waterproof safe.
- A file box, or cabinet, or drawer.
- A shredder
I think the paper/office clutter comes from NOT KNOWING what you need to keep and what you can throw away. I don’t know what you think about Dave Ramsey, the financial guru, but here’s what his website says:
Keep for 1–3 Months
- Utility bills
- Sales receipts for minor purchases
- ATM and bank deposit slips
Keep for 1 Year
- Checkbook ledgers
- Paycheck stubs
- Monthly mortgage statements
- Expired insurance records
Keep for 7 Years
- Bank statements
- W-2 and 1099 forms
- Receipts for tax purposes
- Cancelled checks
- Disability records
- Unemployment income stubs
- Medical bills/claims
- Annual tax returns
- Deeds, mortgages and bills of sale
- Year-end statements for investments
- Legal documents (birth certificates, marriage license, divorce papers, passports)
- Home improvement documentation and receipts
- Receipts for major purchases—for warranty and insurance purposes
- Living wills
- Power of attorney designation
- Medical and burial instructions
- Beneficiary directions
- Real estate certificates
- Automobile titles
- Current insurance policies
- Medical records
- Education records
- Pension plan records
- Retirement plan records
- Paycheck stubs after reconciling with W-2 form
- Expired warranties
- Coupons after expiration date
Next, file each category into a filing cabinet drawer or box. Clearly label what each file contains. Shred any papers that you don’t keep. It may take a little while to go through all your documents, but it’s worth it. Imagine how much less stress you’ll experience thanks to your life becoming more organized!
Ok, even though his website was just updated this new year, I think some of the things on his list are outdated. All my bank statements are online now. And I rarely write a check anymore. And we also have direct deposit and so we don’t have “pay stubs.” But the “Keep Indefinitely” list is spot on except that I don’t have ALL of my annual tax returns. I just keep them 5 years back – but that’s because we haven’t had any big issues, we don’t own our own business, etc.
So, do your own research into your specific situation.
I can tell you from experience that knowing what to keep and what to throw out is life-changing!
If you have kids, make a folder for each child with all their important papers in it: birth certificate, social security card, immunization records, medical records, etc. Then when they move out, put it in their file box and let them go!
Here’s my system:
- I have a small desk with a small FILE DRAWER.
- I keep a manilla folder in my top desk drawer with the current year and “TAXES” written on it. Every receipt for a deduction, every tax statement, anything I will need to pay taxes during the year that I get in the mail or come across, I put in there. Then I don’t have to go searching high and low for those receipts later. If I take a load of donations to Goodwill and they give me a receipt – in the file it goes!
- After I pay my bills online, I print out a receipt as proof that I paid it. After I pay all the monthly bills, I staple them together, mark the month and file them in the folder called “Monthly Bills” (So, maybe you do need a stapler, haha!)
- I have other folders for papers that I might need or for receipts or investment statements. The file is very small.
- I have a PLASTIC BIN for papers that might need to get to during the year. I keep the past year’s bill statements and payment receipts, medical records, the past 5 year’s tax returns, vehicle registrations, etc.
- I have a LOCKED FIRE AND WATERPROOF SAFE to keep all the major important legal papers, deeds, birth certificates, etc.
- I have a SHREDDER right by the desk and I immediately shred anything that has important info or numbers on it.
- Every January, I take 30 minutes or less and I update my files. I move last year’s bill statements and payment receipts to a folder in the plastic bin and adjust the other files to meet my criteria.
- When tax time comes around, I have most of my required documents in the manilla folder and it’s not such a hassle to get it all together.
As you can tell, I’ve have trained myself to keep to my system! I can tell you I am NOT a very disciplined person, but the satisfaction that I get from being able to get this CHORE COMPLETED QUICKLY and move on to things I want to do motivates me to stick with my system.
Bonus Advice: Money & Budgets
I wasn’t planning to talk about money and budgets, but all that talk about bills, taxes, important papers and such got me all fired up about money and budgets!
When we talk about organization and decluttering and making our lives simple we are really admitting that we feel out of control. We feel like our stuff and our schedules are controlling us. It’s uncomfortable and depressing!
Money and budgets is a sore subject with practically everyone on the planet and if you want my opinion, the reason it’s an issue is because most of us were never taught how to handle money and so money handles us.
Go ahead, you can admit it – your parents never sat you down and taught you how to handle money in a healthy way. You probably never took a class that taught you how to budget.
But let me encourage you to face your fear or embarrassment and take a money management or budgeting class. I took a course with some friends of mine and I want you to know that at 55 years old I learned a lot, I was encouraged and freed from some wrong thinking I had about money! I learned that budgets don’t trap or imprison you, they free you! Learn to tell your money what to do instead of your money telling you what to do.
So, there’s a free bonus article, haha!
Ok, quick and to the point, I can tell you what’s wrong with your linen closet – you have stuff in there you don’t use and/or you don’t have what you need.
Ok, I’ll add one more thing – you’re using your linen closet for other random things and you have no place to put your linens.
Oh and one more thing – no one in the world knows how to fold a fitted sheet so that it looks nice on a shelf! Arrrrghh!
First thing: get everything out of the linen closet.
Second thing: get rid of sheets, comforters, and blankets that don’t fit your beds or are old and raggedy. Get rid of towels that are raggedy. Buy new ones if needed.
Third thing: take stock of sheets, blankets, comforters, and pillowcases that you do need for each bed. Put them on your “To Buy” list.
Fourth thing: find a new home for all the random items.
Now, you have some choices to make here…
- You can have one set of bed linens for each bed which will cut down on the number of linens you have, but that means when you wash them, you have to make sure you get them done before bedtime. Or you can have more than one set which means you have to find room to store them.
- If you have room in the bedroom closets, you can store the linens for that bed in each bedroom thereby leaving you more room in the linen closet.
- If you have room in the bathrooms, you can store towels and washcloths in each bathroom for that bathroom thereby making them more accessible and giving you more room in the linen closet.
If you’re like me and you have guests that need to use the air mattress or couch or floor to sleep on, you’ll need those extra linens. Linen space is a precious commodity. So, I opt for keeping only one spare bed linen set in the closet of each bedroom. I store all my towels in the bathrooms. So I have room for the random linens in the linen closet.
I try my best (not always successful) to keep random items (humidifiers, medicine, lightbulbs, and right now candles, why? I don’t know!) out of my linen closet.
- Giant Ziploc bags are great to store sets of sheets: fitted sheet, flat sheet and matching pillowcases. Then you can stack the bagged sets in organizational baskets in the closet.
- Giant Spacesaver bags (the ones where you suck all the air out with a vacuum) are great to store pillows and comforters that you don’t use very often. They really do save space!
- If you choose to use organizational baskets or boxes in the closet, make sure they ALL MATCH! It makes all the difference!
Storage, Heirlooms & Memorabilia
It really bothers me to pay for storage. Sometimes you just have to, though. Like when you inherit some family furniture or you have to move to a smaller place or you’re clearing out and need temporary space to keep stuff until you decide what to do with it. I understand I’ve done it, I just hate it.
I also hate putting stuff in the attic. I have had some bad experiences with mice eating my Christmas ornaments and stuff melting in the heat.
We’ve also had a pipe burst and flood the basement – thank goodness I took my own advice and had important keepsakes in plastic bins.
We’ve never had a garage until now and I’m keeping my eye on that potential hoarding area!
So, I do my very best to keep what I have to store at a minimum!
In my opinion, there are only 3 categories of storage:
- Stuff you use seasonally or periodically and don’t want to look at the rest of the year.
- Heirlooms – stuff you keep to pass on to the family after you die but you don’t want it out in your everyday life.
- Memorabilia – stuff you keep because it means something to you and you can’t bear to part with it but you don’t want it out in your everyday life.
The “stuff I MIGHT use or need one day” is the problem. Ask yourself, “When was the last time I used it?” If you can’t remember, you can probably get rid of it.
A Great Way To Decide What To Throw Out and What To Keep
I am stealing this directly from The Minimalists, Joshua Fields Milburn and Ryan Nicodemus or maybe it was Leo Babauta, it’s been so long I can’t remember. When trying to determine what you need and what you can let go, they suggest bagging up all your belongings and only pull out what you need as you need it. Then after a period of time, a few weeks or months, what’s left in the bag you find you don’t really need.
I bring this up when talking about storage because I think that if you haven’t opened some of those boxes and bags sitting in your attic or basement in years, you probably don’t need it. You may not even remember what’s in them.
You’re probably keeping most of it because you might use it or need it one day. It’s the “might” that get us into trouble. You can’t predict the future and would it really cost you that much if you had to replace it when you did need it? If you can borrow one or replace it cheaply when you actually needed it, then getting rid of the burden of maintenance, storage and care might be worth taking the chance.
If you’re keeping it out of guilt, well, that’s miserable. Who’s going to get upset if you get rid of it? Maybe you should charge them a storage fee.
But before you start to go through it, you need moral support and a plan. When you open the box and get all sentimental you need someone to shut you down and you need to have a plan like – I only keep it if there’s a place for it in the house in my everyday life. Otherwise, you’re just going to tape the box back up, put it back on the shelf and you’ll be in the same cluttered place you’re in now.
Let’s Talk About The Heirlooms
Heirlooms, the stuff you want to pass down to friends and family, needs to be clearly identified and listed in your will along with who it goes to. Then store it carefully unless you are using it every day.
I think heirlooms are best displayed beautifully so that the family can see them in your house and associate the item with memories of you. You need to tell the history and the stories surrounding the items, who they belonged to and how you got them.
An heirloom without the stories just becomes an item and loses most of its value.
Memorabilia is the stuff you’ve collected that remind you of a person, an experience or a time.
Let me give you the bad news about memorabilia – after you die your kids will look through it, laugh, cry, wonder why in the world you kept it and then get rid of it. Your stuff may end up on the shelves of Goodwill. Do you want that? I know this from experience.
I sat with my father-in-law as he was going through his father’s and his wife’s belongings after they passed and he made this profound statement:
“Memorabilia only means something to the person who has the memories attached to it.”
The only reason someone would keep someone else’s memorabilia is that they would feel guilty about getting rid of it. Would you want to do that to your kids?
The hard, cold, fact is: Your Kids Don’t Want Your Stuff!
Keep your memorabilia for yourself. Enjoy it. Look back through it. Display it. Share the memories with your kids and grandkids and when it’s time, let it go.
However, for the stuff you will keep, I would advise that you spend the money and take the time to be sure your memorabilia and heirlooms are properly stored and protected.
**Check out the Bonus Content at the end and I’ll tell you what I did with all my old photos!
The Bedrooms & Personal Bathrooms
I think everyone wants a bedroom and bathroom they can relax in and escape to. You’re not going to get that feeling when you walk into your room and all you can see is work you have to do. You don’t want to see an office in the corner with bills you have to pay. You don’t want to see piles of clothes that need to be washed or put away. You don’t want to know that your closet and under your bed is crammed with boxes and bags of stuff that needs to be organized one day. Bathroom clutter and disorganization just makes you frazzled and frustrated.
Do the hard work to create a relaxing retreat for yourself! Clutter could actually be affecting your sleep!
Bedrooms and personal bathrooms should invite you to relax and rest. So, pay attention to color, texture, pattern, lighting and scents.
Get everything out of this space that doesn’t invite you to relax. Get rid of the busy, distracting clutter.
Choose calming colors, neutrals and pale blues, greens and soft gray. Add soft textures in the bed linens, blankets, and pillows. Don’t have too many bold patterns and make sure your lighting is soft and warm. Get lamps, don’t use the harsh overhead lighting.
If your clothing storage is in your bedroom, get it under control and out of sight.
Make it a weekly habit to clean your bathroom so that you won’t feel that you have to clean it every time you walk in the door.
What about the kid’s bedrooms?
When my kids were little, of course, I cleaned their rooms and organized their toys and clothes. However, when they became older, their room was their domain. I put down rules about cleanliness, but for the most part, it was their job because it was their personal retreat.
Make your bedroom the sanctuary you need. It will be beneficial to your health and happiness to get the rest you need!
Keeping Your House Neat, Clean & Orderly
The basic rule of thumb for decluttering and organizing your home is:
Everything must have a place. If it doesn’t have a place, it leaves the home.
Understanding the difference between “straightening” your house and “cleaning” your house is beneficial.
“Straightening” your house is just picking up the stuff and putting it back where it belongs. And when everything has a place, this makes life so easy!
“Cleaning” your house is getting out the vacuum and mop and actually cleaning.
When you have a decluttered and organized home you can quickly straighten your house in just a few minutes every day. You can do it before you go to bed to wake up to a fresh, new day.
Everyone’s bedrooms are the place for their personal items. They can bring their stuff into the common rooms, but at the end of the day, it goes back to their bedrooms.
One thing I’ve noticed when it comes to cleaning is that many people have too many products. They use a little, keep it, then get a different product so that they end up with a cabinet full of products. I suggest that you find a product that works best for your needs and get rid of the rest. Don’t keep it “just in case you run out.” It’s just cluttering your cleaning cabinet.
The same with brooms, mops, and vacuums. Get a good one that works and get rid of the rest.
I keep cleaning supplies in each bathroom so I don’t have to carry them around the house and it’s always there for a quick clean if needed.
Set up a cleaning schedule that works for you. When you keep to your schedule – whether your bathroom or kitchen floor needs it or not – it will make the job easier and quicker the next time. And you’re house will also be ready for guests anytime.
“Decluttering and organizing alone won’t fix the problem. You have to develop organized and minimalistic habits to make this process work!”
- Train yourself and your family to straighten the house every night before bed. Put everything back in its place. Everyone should be responsible for their own stuff to return it to their rooms. The stuff they borrowed and used from another room should be returned. Start with a fresh, clean slate every morning.
- Dirty dishes washed, counters wiped off every night before bed.
- Don’t let the trash pile up. Keep your date with the garbage man!
- Make your bed every day.
- Don’t leave your bedroom each morning until it’s straight.
- Set up a cleaning schedule that works for you. If you know that you’re not going to have time to do a chore, do it before or quickly after the scheduled time. Stay faithful! When you stay on top of it, it’s not such a difficult, time-consuming chore.
- Periodically “sweep” through your house and check for items that sneak in. Ask yourself, “Does it have a place?” If not, then exchange it for something else or get rid of it. Everything must have a place.
- Before you buy something, ask, “Does it have a place?”
- Keep on top of that mail! Sort, file and throw away as soon as it comes in the house!
- File important papers immediately!
- Cut down on the number of clothes everyone has and don’t buy so many clothes.
- Do laundry once a week. Complete the job: wash, dry, fold, hang, put away.
Bonus Content: Sample Cleaning Schedule
Here’s my cleaning schedule:
I work hard to get everything done during the week so I can have weekends off to be with husband.
Straighten the house every day (you know, put everything in its place every night before bed). Make my bed every day.
Monday – Trash Day! Cans to the curb before 10am. Wash clothes, clean laundry room
Tuesday – Mop and vacuum all floors & dust
Wednesday – Bathrooms, tub, showers, mirrors & wash linens
Thursday – Grocery shop, clean out fridge, freezer, and pantry as I put groceries away.
Friday – Free day!
Saturday – Free day!
Sunday – Garbage Eve. Get all garbage out to the can.
If I get something done ahead of time or double up on a day, then I get another free day!
How I Minimized My Wardrobe
Based on the KonMari Method
I read Marie Kondo’s book and I found her method to be very helpful, though I didn’t follow it exactly. I was so desperate to get my clothes under control that I didn’t cut myself any slack. Here’s what I did:
- I put ALL my clothes on my bed. ALL OF THEM. From every drawer, closet and every place I stashed them.
- I picked up every piece and if I didn’t LOVE it or if it didn’t fit perfectly right now or if there was the slightest thing about it that I didn’t like, I got rid of it. Even if I had just bought it or if it was expensive or whatever. I had to LOVE IT and it had to fit right now and I had to FEEL GOOD in it. That eliminated a lot of clothes because I had safety- net, just-in-case-clothes. I had clothes I saved if I gained weight or lost weight. I had clothes I kept because I loved it but there was no way I’d ever fit in again. But I was tough and got rid of a lot!
- I did the same with accessories, shoes, scarves, underwear, socks, jewelry, purses, everything.
- This is where I strayed from Marie Kondo. I didn’t follow her folding technique. I hung as many clothes as I could because my drawer space was limited.
- What I found was that I had room for ALL my clothes. I didn’t need to pack up or store out of season clothing. I could fit it ALL, for every season, in my closet.
- Here’s where I strayed from Marie, again. I began to put together outfits. I wanted to see how many outfits I could make from the clothes I had left.
- I then filled in the gaps in my wardrobe with pieces I loved. But I didn’t go crazy. and buy a ton. I might have needed a white shirt or black pants to be able to have a week’s worth of outfits between washing.
- I now buy quality items when I have to buy something. I can spend more money on one quality piece because I don’t feel the need to buy bulk, cheap, disposable clothing just to feel like I have something to wear.
- Shopping, packing and cleaning my clothes are so much more enjoyable and easy jobs. It’s less of a chore and I actually love all my clothes which makes me want to take care of them.
It’s worth the effort, believe me!
Bonus Content: What I Did With All My Family Photos & Videos
I have been a photographer since I was a teenager and so photos are very near and dear to my heart! When I began to minimize my possessions, I knew I’d eventually have to deal with my precious photo collection.
After my best friend died and I was helping her sister clean out her house, I found her sister standing in the living room crying and holding photos in her hands saying, “What am I supposed to do with these?”
One day, I was walking through Goodwill and I saw some unnamed family’s photo album. It made me sad to think about my family photos sitting on a shelf in Goodwill with some stranger looking through them not knowing the history or memories connected to those images.
After those experiences, I decided that I had to do something to protect my photos. I knew I wanted my kids to have my photos. Since I have 2 kids, who do I give them to? That’s when I decided to digitize all my photos and my videos.
After checking into prices to have someone to do it and after feeling a little distrustful of handing over my only copies of precious photos and videos to a stranger, I decided to do it myself.
I bought a color photo scanner from Amazon, like the one here. And I got out our old VHS player and bought a VHS Digital Converter like the one here. (Of course, you’ll have to check to see what your computer and VHS player requirements might be.)
And I spent WEEKS transferring all my photos and videos to thumb drives. I also made copies to keep in our fire and waterproof safe.
What happened to all of my original photos and videos you ask? Well, I hate to say it but I still have them in plastic bins! I couldn’t part with them! I’m old school and it’s hard to get rid of them! I will part with them one day. My son keeps saying he wants them, but I’m not sure he really does. I mean, he has the photos on the thumb drive and he can print off his own photos any time.
But I really do feel better knowing my kids have them and they are safe from damage since they are digitized. (and they’re easier to throw up on social media whenever I want to!)