That mess on your desk, in your shelves and on the living room table? It’s more than unsightly—it can be expensive! “I once found a check for over $9,000 in a client’s home,” says Arlington, VA-based certified professional organizer C. Lee Cawley, “It was the third one issued her — she had lost it two other times — and it was less than two weeks from expiring.”
Clutter Can Cost You
That mess on your desk, in your shelves and on the living room table? It’s more than unsightly. It can be expensive! “I once found a check for over $9,000 in a client’s home,” says Arlington, VA-based certified professional organizer C. Lee Cawley, “It was the third one issued her — she had lost it two other times — and it was less than two weeks from expiring.”
You miss payments.
Your credit card bill’s due the 15th — or is that the 25th? Your intro offer on cable ends in June — or wait, was that May? According to a Harris Interactive poll, 23% of people say they pay bills late because they lose them—and creditors are a lot less forgiving with a missed date than they used to be.
The fix: If auto-payments aren’t for you, a site like Manilla.com or What Bills? can send you reminders of what’s due when. “No matter how the bills come, via electronics or paper, make paying them part of your routine,” says Cawley. “Every week is too laborious and once a month is too long to wait, so pay them every 1st and 15th of the month or do it every other Friday evening and then treat yourself with a glass of wine. You’ll never have a late bill again.”
You buy clothes you don’t need.
The good news: You got a great pair of black pants off the clearance rack. The bad news: They’re non-returnable and it turns out there are two other look-alike pairs jumbled in the back of your closet.
The fix: Americans own a lot of clothing: On average, we buy more than one piece a week. So keeping track of it is going to take some work. First, go through your closet and dressers and get rid of everything you’ll never wear again. Be merciless! Then, organize your closet so you can see everything quickly, hanging items together by type of garment (pants, shirts, skirts) then color. (In a bigger closet, you can subdivide by, say, short or long sleeve, or skirt length.)
If you have room, try stacking your sweaters and t-shirts on open shelves or cubbies — where you can scan them instantly — instead of putting them in drawers. And to keep it neat, be selective about what you buy. “Only go shopping with a list of what you need, not for recreation,” says Cawley, “and when you get home, apply the ‘one in – one out’ rule ruthlessly.”
You misplace your mail.
Even in this paperless age, some bills only arrive via snail mail—that ticket you got when a traffic camera caught you blowing a red light, say. Or the state’s recalculation of your tax bill.
The fix: Create a mail station near the door where your mail normally comes in. Make sure to put a trash can there, so junk can get tossed immediately, and a shredder for anything that can’t just get thrown out. After that, Cawley suggests setting up five durable, color-coded plastic folders (she likes these) and labeling them ‘To Pay,’ ‘To Do,’ ‘For Taxes,’ ‘Pending’ and ‘To File.’ Unopened envelopes can go into ‘To Do,’ then get fanned out to other folders accordingly. (Bills into ‘To Pay,’ your W2, 1099 forms and tax related donation info into ‘For Taxes,’ etc.)
You forget to turn in rebates.
Tearing that little $50 coupon off the display stand is a great start—but in order to actually get the money back, you have to actually mail it off. By most calculations, fewer than 50% of rebate offers are ever returned.
The fix: Buying online simplifies things, because rebates are applied automatically. But if you’re a brick-and-mortar type, try always keeping a few pre-stamped envelopes by the door closest to your mailbox, so you can address and send off the rebate coupon the moment you get home. Or, Cawley suggests, hang a fluorescent-trimmed envelope in a place it’ll be highly visible (like hanging on a hook on the door to the garage), and keep all your rebates and reimbursements there. Just don’t forget to mail them in.
You lose out on returns.
The goat cheese you bought for tonight’s salad turned out to be a month past its sell-by date—but you can’t return it because you can’t find the little slip proving where you bought it.
The fix: Keep a pouch or pocket in your purse, dedicated solely to receipts. (Cawley likes these.) Once you’ve squared the amount with your statement — and the returns window is closed — throw it out.
You miss out on tax deductions.
Remember that big bag of clothing you took in to Goodwill? No? Well, that’s too bad: It would have given you a nice little write-off on your return. (For which receipts to keep, look here.)
The fix: Trying to remember all your deductions and bits of freelance income in the last few days before taxes are due is likely to cost you. If using a digital money-tracker like Quicken or Mint doesn’t appeal to you, try setting up a file box with hanging files. Throw in receipts, bills and statements as they come in (or, with bills, after you pay them), and then at least you’ll have everything together at tax time.
You pay for medical costs—without having to.
“Health reimbursements seem to be a HUGE problem for my clients,” says Cawley. “I have clients who could claim thousands of dollars a year but the paperwork prevents them from doing it in a timely manner.” In just one example: About 54% of American workers have a flexible savings benefit that helps them pay for health expenditures with pre-tax money. But a fat chunk of that goes unclaimed: In 2010, it was between $150 million and $200 million dollars, according to Mercer Global.
The fix: “I encourage my clients to have a place to put all receipts for health services they need reimbursed. A simple manila envelope would do the trick,” says Cawley. She fills out the basics on a single form, then keeps multiple photocopies — along with a sheet of 30 labels with the claim address — in the same manila envelope. “Then, at least once every two months, I pull everything out and take care of it. All I need to do then is sign and date the form, stuff it and the receipt into the right-sized envelope and smack a label on the front. Off it goes and I can wait for my checks to come!”
You buy too much food.
Americans waste 25% of the food they buy, according to a recent report from the National Resources Defense Council—that’s between $1,365 and $2,275 down the garbage disposal for the average family of four.
The fix: Menu planning will help you avoid overbuying at the store, which is a major culprit in family food waste. Make sure to schedule “leftovers night,” or plan to take food to work for lunch. (This is also a major money-saver.) Then organize your fridge and pantry so like items are together and you can easily see all of them. Hopefully, that’ll keep you from mistakenly buying that third bottle of tabasco sauce at the store. “I love setting up a dedicated left-over area on one fridge shelf, so everyone in the family knows where to look first for a snack,” says Cawley. “I also use Rubbermaid TakeAlongs. They stack nicely and I write the date in a fat dry erase marker on the side so I know just how long that pasta has been lurking in the fridge.”
You seem unproductive.
In a 2011 study by Kelton Research, sponsored by OfficeMax, 53% of respondents said they had negative opinions of co-workers with messy desks, with 4 in 10 adding that they assumed that person must be lacking in other aspects of his or her job. Not the impression you want to give when gunning for that promotion.
The fix: Set aside the last few minutes of your day to clean off your desk. To make this a smaller job, Cawley suggests setting up different-colored folders for each of your projects and filing as you go during the day. “You can only work on one thing at a time right?” she asks. “So that is all that should be on your desk.” Store papers in vertical files—not piles on your desk—and you’ll save valuable surface space. Not only will you make a better impression, but you’ll be more productive in the morning.
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