For freelance writer and editor Rebecca Landwehr Olgeirson, moving into a new, larger house in Park Hill this past December was a good thing. The mess that came with it was not.
The plan was for the new basement to function as a rec room for Olgeirson's 6-year-old son and 13-year-old stepdaughter. But instead it's filled with boxes of miscellany -- report cards, school crafts, household bills, immunization forms, notes and clips from Olgeirson's freelance work, receipts she's saving for tax purposes. More crates are in the garage.
For Olgeirson, the mess is becoming unmanageable. Bills are getting lost in the shuffle. She's nervous about the idea of a freak basement flood destroying everything. "I probably should think about inventorying stuff for insurance purposes," she says. "And I think somebody needs to tell me to throw away stuff."
Even for those who don't have a home business, dealing with the detritus of daily life can be difficult. How do you best inventory everything in case of an emergency? How do you handle the influx of paperwork so everything functions smoothly? What should you keep for tax and other purposes, and what's best thrown away?
Angela Cody-Rouget, founder of the Colorado-based Major Mom home-organizing company, understands Olgeirson's distress. "Being disorganized majorly impacts you and everyone around you in four huge ways: your time, your money, your health and your safety," she says. She recommends turning to the sort of logical processes and systems often reserved for business management. The results can improve your financial -- and emotional -- bottom line.
Inventory now, worry less later. Carole Walker, executive director of the Rocky Mountain Insurance Information Association, knows it's a hassle to create an inventory of home belongings. But the catastrophic wildfires last year hammered home the importance of keeping an inventory for insurance purposes. Insurance companies, after all, don't just hand over a blank check if your belongings are destroyed -- they want to see proof of loss. "Coming out the wildfires in Colorado, it's one of the top things we hear from people who lost homes in the fires," says Walker. "'I wish I had documented. I wish I had known.' And going through it after the fact can get overwhelming."
"If you close your eyes, can you imagine everything in your home?" asks Walker. If not, it's time to inventory.
Triage the influx. Another key process, says Cody-Rouget, is to "stop the inflow of stuff into your home." Sign up for "do not mail" junk-mail registries and ease up on unnecessary magazines. Once you've narrowed down the flood of incoming paperwork, create a triage system to organize what's left. Cody-Rouget, a retired Air Force major, calls this the "command, control and communications center" — a space where each family member has their own mail basket, plus other containers with labels like "To read," "To pay," and "To file." That way, vital financial items won't get lost in the flood.
Parsing the paperwork. With tax season coming to a close soon, Cody-Rouget says now is the perfect time to figure out what papers to keep for the IRS -- and what is ready to be thrown away. Businesses, for example, need a seven-year backlog of relevant bank statements, credit-card bills and large-purchase receipts, not to mention utility statements if you're claiming a deduction for home-office use. Personal-finance records, though, are different: The IRS has only a three-year window to audit those, and Colorado has four years.
Separating trash from treasures. The hardest step of all might be de-cluttering items with emotional value. For the boxes of inherited antiques gathering dust in the attic, Cody-Rouget boils the issue down to a simple question: "Would you want these things in a place of honor in your home, or just keep them in their boxes?" If it's the latter, why not photograph each item before getting rid of it. Then compile the images in a photo album.
If money is important, consign or post the items on Craigslist or eBay, says Cody-Rouget. But keep in mind the time and hassle involved. Sometimes it's easier to donate the belongings and take the tax deduction, especially with charities such as Cerebral Palsy of Colorado and ARC Thrift Stores offering pickup services.
Olgeirson, for one, is excited about a new, more managerial approach to home clutter. "It will be good to get it under control," she says, adding with a laugh, "When it's done, my life is going to be perfect, right?"