February 2004
Vol. 2, No. 2

Tips & Inspiration for Organizing a Simpler Life

“Organizing is what you do before you do something  so that when you do it, it’s not all mixed up.”

–Christopher Robin in Winnie the Pooh by A.A. Milne

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February is Archive Your Files Month. Yup. It’s an official national holiday.

Here’s a month-long opportunity to get your filing system in order. You might think you need to buy more filing cabinets when all you really need to do is free up space by archiving old files.

Files that should be archived include any files with paperwork that you want or need to save, but may never need to look at it again. Tax files and completed work or project folders are good candidates for archived files.

Remove archived files to a more remote storage space like an upper shelf of a closet, or in your attic, dry basement or garage. It’s helpful to store these files in same size boxes than can be neatly stacked.

Look for sturdy white cardboard file boxes with lids that you can buy in any office supplies store. These boxes are designed with a rim around the inside for storing hanging folders. You can buy a 3-pack for under $6.00. Be sure to label each box; e.g., TAX RETURNS 1990-1999.

For complete and current guidelines for keeping tax-related paperwork, refer to IRS Publication 552 “Recordkeeping for Individuals” at http://www.irs.gov/pub/irs-pdf/p552.pdf

You can archive virtually, too! And guess what? There’s an organizing holiday to help you jumpstart that project. February 9 is National Clean Out Your Computer Day.

* Schedule some time to clean out your computer – 10 minutes each day for a week or 30 minutes on two consecutive days might just do the trick.

* Start by deleting files you no longer need to save. Go through each folder, one document at a time.

* Use sub-folders within folders to organize files. If you don’t know how to do this, take a few minutes to learn. It will make it much easier to find files in the future.

* Archive old files to a disk or CD for long-term storage. Don’t print these documents out or you’ll just add to the paper pile-up and create more work for yourself. Be sure to label each disk or CD with the contents.

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It’s that time of year when you’ll receive privacy forms (now required by law) with your credit card, bank, and stock statements.

To reduce junk mail and telemarketing calls, complete and return them or call the toll-free number provided. This will significantly reduce the amount of junk calls and mail you receive.


In the last issue, I asked “What are you most likely to do with ‘stuff’ you’ve decided you don’t need anymore?”

As promised, here are the results of that survey:

13% said: Have a garage sale
61% said: Donate to charity
3% said: Take to a consignment shop
3% said: Throw in garbage or recycling bin
8% said: Leave in boxes or bags or piles somewhere
3% said: Nothing
11% said: Other

It warms my heart to learn that so many of my readers donate their abundance to charity.

Donating is much simpler and easier than having a garage sale. And it feels good to know that you unwanted stuff will get put to good use.

Plus, if you itemize on your tax return, you can deduct non-cash donations and save money on your taxes. According to IRS statistics, each year more than 20 million taxpayers who itemize on their income taxes deduct non-cash charitable donations.

To document your donation, make a list of the items you donated and their respective values. Be sure to get a receipt from the charity.

Note that “value” is not the price you paid, but whatever that item would sell for at a thrift store. See the Product Review below for help in valuing your donations.

NEW SURVEY: Underbed storage

Do you use the space under your bed as a storage space? If yes, what items do you store there?

a. Linens
b. Gift wrap
c. Paper goods
d. Canned and boxed food stuffs
e. Board games and toys
f. Craft or sewing projects
g. Workout equipment
h. Luggage
i. Photos
j. Other (please list)

TO RESPOND TO THE SURVEY, Please DO NOT REPLY to this message. Send an e-mail to editor@unclutter.com with the words “February Survey” and your letter answer in the subject line. Feel free to include comments in the body of your e-mail. I really enjoy reading them.

I will share the results of this survey in the next issue.

PRODUCT REVIEW: ItsDeductible Software

According to IRS publications, it is our legal right to deduct the “fair market value” of non-cash donations. But these publications do not provide a valuation guide. They simply suggest that thrift store prices may be an “indication” of fair-market-value. This leaves the taxpayer with two options – survey thrift store prices or make a conservative guess.

ItsDeductible, from the makers of TurboTax, offers an easy solution to this problem. It determines and assigns the accurate fair market value to thousands of commonly donated items for you maximizing your charitable deductions. This easy-to-use program includes valuations for clothing, toys, household items, sporting goods, games, appliances, and more.

ItsDeductible software retails for $19.95 and comes with a guarantee that you will save at least $300 on your taxes or you can return the product for a full refund of your purchase price (excluding shipping and handling). For more information, log onto http://www.ItsDeductible.com.

READERS ASK: About garage sale alternatives

Where do I find professional garage sale holders or someone who can sell my GOOD items for the best price? I can donate gently used, worn or out of style items to charity but what about the good china that I no longer use, crystal vases, etc? Thank you.

–Submitted by Patty Chan, Sacramento CA (where garage sales aren’t allowed)

Look for an upscale consignment shop that sells home furnishings. They generally give you 40% of whatever they sell an item for which is probably better than you could get a garage sale.

If you don’t mind getting calls and making appointments with prospective buyers, you might consider placing a classified ad in your local newspaper or community newsletter listing some of the items you wish to sell, along with your asking price.

Finally, have you considered selling those items on eBay instead? There’s a book called eBay for Dummies where you could learn how to sell items on eBay. If the items are valuable, it may be worth your while to invest the time required.

ENTER TO WIN an autographed copy of my most recent book!

Do you have a question about uncluttering or organizing? Or a really great organizing tip that you would like to share with other readers? Send an e-mail to editor@unclutter.com with “Readers_Write” in the subject line. (Please DO NOT REPLY to this message.)

I try to answer all questions and, if your question or tip is used in a future issue of this newsletter, I will send you a free autographed copy of my latest book, Organizing Plain & Simple. Check it out at http://www.unclutter.com/books.html.

SHAMELESS PROMOTION: Speaking of speaking

If you belong to an organization that is looking for speakers, please let me know. I enjoy speaking about organizing as much as I enjoy writing about it. And organizing is one of those topics that appeals to a wide range of audiences. I can also tailor a workshop to a specific group or need.

“We highly recommend Donna Smallin as a workshop presenter or speaker at your next function. She is an excellent example of what a presenter should be. We were delighted both with her professionalism and the content of her workshop. Her presentation was extremely helpful, as well as entertaining.”
–Janet Miller, State Convention Chair
Utah Business & Professional Women

That’s it for this month. Until next month, keep it simple.