Keep your tax documents organized

1040 FormWhen it comes to clutter, the federal government has all of us beat. The tax code alone is over 60,000 pages and continues to grow by leaps and bounds. I’m not going to even begin to tell you how to do your taxes. There are professionals who, fortunately for us and unfortunately for them, dedicate their lives to filing taxes.

If you are single and have little to report on your taxes other than a W-2, you can easily use e-File. Unfortunately, I don’t have that luxury. If you’re not in that category, you can purchase a program like Turbo Tax, in hard copy or by download, and take the time to do them yourself. Personally, I prefer to use an accountant.

Your tax documents currently should be trickling in from your employers and investments. My wife and I put our tax documents into a marked file folder with a checklist of everything we expect to receive. (Each of our W-2s, our home mortgage interest document, savings interest, etc.) Once we receive all of our documents, we makes photocopies of all of them. The photocopies can be a life saver, the way they were for us a couple years ago when our car was stolen with our tax documents inside of it.

These are just a few tips that may make your tax preparation a little less hectic. Try and get everything in order in a timely manner, and you may just get through another tax season with a little less anxiety.

Book review: One Year to an Organized Life

When Regina Leeds’ publicist contacted me about doing a review of One Year to an Organized Life, I hesitated. I knew that an advanced copy of Peter Walsh’s new book was already in the mail to me to review for the site, and I didn’t want to be overwhelmed with books in such a short period of time. Leeds is a master of home and office organization, however, so I ended up agreeing to read the book.

In hindsight, I’m very glad I decided to read it.

Leeds knows home organization. She has been a professional organizer for more than 20 years, and this book is the most realistic book on organization I have encountered. She is methodical in her presentation, and her book touches on every aspect of a person’s home. The book is broken into 52 weeks of organization activities, grouped into monthly themes (kitchen is January, bedroom is February, etc.), and is based on the idea that sustaining organization doesn’t happen overnight.

That being said, I’m not certain this book is for everyone. She includes monthly touchy-feely personal affirmations that were a bit much for my taste. Additionally, I don’t agree with the need for journaling and creating a “dream board” collage to envision organization goals. The majority of the book, though, is grounded and full of practical advice. Plus, I’m certain there are many readers who will benefit from the journaling and collage making.

Here are my thoughts, in no particular order, on the book:

  • I fear that people may not pick up the book because the title suggests a year-long commitment to getting your life organized. For people already overwhelmed by stuff in their life, the title may seem overwhelming. This perception is a shame because the book can be used as a resource even if the yearly program isn’t followed. Also, her year-long method is exactly how not to be overwhelmed by the process.
  • I like that she makes suggestions for activities that can become chores for children. Her advice is good for helping to teach children how to be responsible for their belongings and to the family.
  • There is a terrific resource section at the end of the book. I am already researching more about these organizations.
  • The month of May has too many rooms/areas assigned to it (attic, basement, garage, guest room, and laundry room) for the average reader. In my experience, these spaces are often the most cluttered areas of a home. If following her system, I would make this a two-month theme.
  • Many of her tips include options for people who rent their homes, which is rare in home organization books. I was glad to see the inclusion of this advice.
  • She acknowledges a lack of caring as a reason for disorganization. Many self-help authors attribute disorganization only to jarring life events, time management problems, etc., and overlook a simple lack of caring as a possible cause. Not only does she say that a general lack of caring can be a cause, she offers advice on how to overcome it.
  • Her advice is filled with concrete examples that show how different people may interpret the same information. The real-world strategies will appeal greatly to pragmatic readers.

My favorite piece of advice comes in the first section of the book. In this dialog, she frankly discusses reasons why you shouldn’t hold onto random items just because you inherited them from someone who has passed away. This piece of writing is also a good sample of her advice-wielding style:

“Consider tossing grandma’s ancient potato peeler. If she were alive today, she’d have a new one. She’d also wonder what the heck was wrong with you for saving that rusty old antique.”

If you’re in the market for a comprehensive, concrete, methodical guide to home organization, Leeds’ book One Year to an Organized Life is an excellent place to start.

Wall-mounting flat screen televisions without the need for a wall or a stand

Along the lines of last week’s post praising the “no wall-mounting necessary” versatility of the new Elfa Freestanding system, I want to discuss similar systems for flat screen televisions.

The first one I found was at Crate and Barrel, which they call the Loop Media Center (pictured) for $600:

“Install your flat screen TV on our clever plasma panel rather than drilling into your walls. Four recessed cubbies along each side hide up to 48 DVDs.”

Target has a similar Platinum Entertainment Center model for a hundred less than the Loop in a blonde veneer.

And, for $1,200 (ouch!), Pottery Barn has the Caleb Flat-Panel TV Stand.

If you’re interested in mounting your flat screen television without the use of a wall or a television stand, then hopefully these options will get your search headed in the right direction.

Workspace of the Week: Brian’s studio office

This week’s Workspace of the Week is Brian’s studio office:

Brian is one of Unclutterer’s programmers, so I was excited when I found his office posted in the flickr workspace pool. You can see in the photo that his small home office is used for much more than just sending e-mail. I particularly love his microphone on the boom swing and the acoustic baffle that has a functional purpose and is also a design element. His Les Paul guitar even acts as artwork when not being played. Brian’s attention to organization allows him to do a lot with this room with very little space.

Want to have your own workspace featured in Workspace of the Week? Submit a picture to the Unclutterer flickr pool. Check it out because we have a nice little community brewing there. Also, don’t forget that workspaces aren’t just desks. If you’re a cook, it’s a kitchen; if you’re a carpenter, it’s your workbench.

Hide away step stool

Pierce Bath ConsoleI received a Pottery Barn Kids catalog in the mail a couple of days ago. I promptly added it to my ever growing list of catalogs that I no longer want using Catalog Choice. As my wife flipped through the unsolicited catalog, she came across an interesting option for a child who needs a step stool to reach the sink.

The Pierce Bath Console adds the step stool as a part of the console so you don’t have to take up space in your bathroom storing one. Obviously, the price on this console is a bit high, but the idea can be implemented into a custom made console that you may take on yourself. Or, look for this option at other retailers if you’re interested.

Unitasker Wednesday: Snowball maker

Snowball MakerWinter is here and this is the best time to head outside for a good old-fashion snowball fight. When you head outside, make sure you have everything you need: gloves, hat, boots, scarf and, of course, your trusty Snowball Maker from Flexible Flyer.

What?!? You don’t have a Snowball Maker? Then how do you make a snowball, with your hands? That isn’t very inventive. The idea of using ones’ hands to construct the perfect snowball is laughable. This contraption will supply you with round snowballs that your enemies will envy. Yes, it may be a bit more cumbersome to make a perfectly sculpted snowball at first, but, with practice, you can keep your ammunition coming at a lightning fast pace.

And, for those of you who need a little help constructing a snow fort for defense, Flexible Flyer also makes a Snow Block Maker. (I actually had one of these growing up and we always tried to make an igloo. It was a futile pursuit.)

**Unitasker Wednesday posts humorously poke fun at the single-use items that manage to find their way into our homes.

A multitasking option for self defense

Mp3 TaserAt the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, many innovations have been unveiled. These innovations range from gigantic flat screen HDTVs to faster micro processors, but nothing says innovation like a MP3 player/taser combo. According to the Los Angeles Times gadget blog Bit Player:

“Today at CES, Taser International introduced the Taser MPH — the first combination hand-held music player and Taser.

The player, which has a 1-GB capacity that can hold about 150 songs, is embedded in a holster that slips on your belt. Feel the need to zap someone and you can unholster the Taser, use the built-in laser pointer to aim, and blam — a couple of darts carrying 50,000 volts hits your victim.”

Finally, now I can walk around my neighborhood with a little less clutter in my pockets and still feel safe while listening to some AC/DC, of course.

Clutter-free scrapbooking

Scrapbooking is a hobby that terrifies me because all of the stuff that accompanies it. Digital scrapbooking expert Gina Maria Myers, however, knows how to create beautiful scrapbooks without a single sticker or sheet of fancy paper. She is owner of the Scrapbooking Resource Center and publishes the blog Pieces & Pixels. We hope you enjoy her guest post that follows:

What’s the most commonly collected item among all demographic groups? Well, it’s not ceramic figurines, I can tell you that. It’s photographs.

So, how do you deal with the clutter of photos? There are several solutions ranging from “don’t take so many” to “sort into photo boxes by century, decade, and year.” My new favorite is just “don’t.” Don’t deal with the physical clutter of photographs, digitize them.

First, it helps if your photos start out in digital format and that can be taken care of by using a digital camera to take all your pictures. If your older photos aren’t already digitized, you can get them batch-scanned through any number of local and online sources. Once your image files are in your possession and thoroughly backed up, I’d store the negatives in an off-site location and dispose of the paper copies (I’d offer them to family first, but I’d definitely get them out of my house.)

If you’re just starting out, now is the time to be the architect of your digital file storage system so you’re not trudging through thousands of images in a couple of years. My own photo archiving system is organized by year and broken down into months with events like vacations broken down further. I keep copies of my photos on two external hard drives and back them up to disks with index prints annually.

Now, you’re probably wondering how I share these photos if I’m no longer making prints. It’s a valid question since we’re all used to shuffling through stacks of photos and passing them around with friends. I scrapbook.

You’re probably shaking your head and thinking: “But scrapbooking involves stacks and stacks of paper, stickers, paper cutters, pens, and a plethora of other crafting supplies that would take forever to list as well as thick, heavy albums that take up precious shelf space.” You’re right. Or, at least, you would be right if I still practiced traditional scrapbooking.

But, I don’t practice cluttered traditional scrapbooking. I make scrapbooks with digital supplies. Online Digital Scrapbooking stores make it possible to buy digitized “paper” and other elements, and I use these to create albums that look just like those I used to make with layers of paper, photos, stickers, brads, and doo-dads.

In the end, I have pages that look textured and dimensional, but, once printed, are only as thick as a single sheet of paper. Even better, these pages can be uploaded to online photo processors and printed in a bound book that takes less than an inch of space on your bookshelves.

If you’ve never given a thought to digital scrapbooking, take a look at this post on how to get started.

Workspace of the Week: My new favorite office

This week’s Workspace of the Week is MaryEarly75’s home office:

I have to be honest with all of you, this may be my favorite office yet. Wow. I stared at it for five minutes before I could even turn and look at something else. The picture says it all.

Want to have your own workspace featured in Workspace of the Week? Submit a picture to the Unclutterer flickr pool. Check it out because we have a nice little community brewing there. Also, don’t forget that workspaces aren’t just desks. If you’re a cook, it’s a kitchen; if you’re a carpenter, it’s your workbench.