March 2005
Vol. 3, No. 3

Tips & Inspiration for Organizing a Simpler Life

“Don’t agonize. Organize.”
–Florynce R. Kennedy, U.S. lawyer and civil rights activist

(Admittedly, this quote is taken out of context, but what great advice, especially now, when tax time is upon us!)

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FEATURE ARTICLE: Organizing tax receipts

If you’re one of the many, many people who have to track down tax records every spring, I have some advice for you. Don’t put it off any longer. Get started today.

Getting tax paperwork together always takes longer than you think. And the closer it gets to April 15, the more stress you’ll have to deal with.

Also, getting started earlier can actually save you money on your taxes because you’ll have more time to find every last deduction. And if you’re getting a refund, you’ll be able to get it that much sooner.

What you need:
– Plastic bin or cardboard box
– File folders
– #10 envelopes (only if you have business expenses)
– Pen
– Lined notebook paper
– Stapler
– Calculator

Step 1. Start by spending 15 minutes a day until you find all the papers you need. Do not allow yourself to get distracted by non-tax-related papers. You are on a mission! Here’s what you need to look for:

– A copy of last year’s tax return
– Income records
+ W-2 forms (wages)
+ 1099 forms (non-employee compensation, interest, dividends and interest)
+ Record of any other income (alimony, disability, foreign)
+ Bank and brokerage statements from stock, bond or other investments
– Real estate records
+ 1098 forms (mortgage interest)
+ Property tax statements
+ Closing statements pertaining to real estate transactions
– Business expenses, if self-employed, including:
+ Home office expenses (rent & utilities)
+ Equipment and supplies
+ All other expenses incurred
+ Mileage logs
+ Record of entertainment
+ Checkbook registers
+ Bank statements
+ Credit card statements
– Receipts for other items that may be tax deductible including:
+ Charitable contributions
+ Childcare expenses
+ Medical expenses
+ Vehicle registration tax
+ Moving expense, if allowable
+ Education expense/student loans
+ Alimony paid
– Any tax notices received from or sent to the IRS or other taxing authorities, including sales tax returns

You may wish to print this list for reference. If some of the items do not apply to your tax situation, cross them off. Collect all the papers you find in a plastic bin or cardboard box.

Step 2. Spend 15 minutes each day sorting through the papers in the box. Create labeled file folders for each of the major categories that apply to you; e.g. income, property expenses, investment statements, bank statements and check receipts, credit card statements and receipts, cash receipts, charitable contributions, medical expenses, miscellaneous deductions. Hint: look at the deductions on last year’s return to see what categories you need. If you have business receipts, organize them in envelopes by category such as office supplies, postage, advertising, meals and entertainment, telephone, and rent.

Step 3. Look at the calendar. Skip to Step 4 if the April 15 deadline is looming large or if your tax preparer usually takes it from here. Otherwise, there’s still a little more organizing you can do to save time and money. Staple a piece of paper to the inside left of the folder. Spend 15 minutes each day until you total up all the receipts and information in each folder.

Step 4. Schedule an appointment with your tax preparer. Or start preparing your return. (Good luck with that).

Step 5. Once your tax return is prepared, create a new file folder labeled 2004 Taxes. Put your copy of the return and all the supporting documentation from into it and file it with your previous year tax returns. Then put all of the folders you emptied into a hanging drawer file or accordion-style file and use them to collect and organize 2005 tax receipts as they come in. So you can skip directly to Step 3 next year!

If you have any questions about what items are deductible, ask your tax preparer or call the IRS tax help line at 800-829-1040.

Next month: ADHD and organizing


March 8 is Organize Your Home Office Day – a good day to work on organizing tax receipts or setting up a filing system for next year’s taxes.

March 27-April 2 is National Cleaning Week. Make a note in your calendar to spring clean one room each day that week.

SURVEY RESULTS: Buying/selling a home

Last month, I asked: “What do you think makes the biggest impact on prospective home buyers when walking into a home for the first time?

As promised, here are the results of that survey:

52% said: Cleanliness 32% said: Scents/odor 4% said: Style of décor 0% said: Furnishings 10% said: Architecture

In a 2003 survey commissioned by The Soap and Detergent Association (SDA – www.cleaning101.com), 1000 Americans were asked the same question I asked you, “What makes the biggest impact when walking into a home for the first time?”

Respondents ranked the property’s cleanliness at the top, with 51% of the vote, followed by scents/ odors (22%), style of décor (13%), furnishings (6%) and the home’s architecture (1%) as to what makes the most positive impact on a potential buyer.

“Home buyers notice clean homes,” said Brian Sansoni, Vice President of Communication for SDA, which examines cleaning habits and behaviors through its National Cleaning Surveys. “During this season of brisk home sales, sellers shouldn’t underestimate the value of a clean, clutter-free home.”

“A home that is thoroughly cleaned will give buyers confidence that you have taken pride in your home,” said top-producing real estate broker and syndicated columnist Dian Hymer, author of House Hunting, The Take-Along Workbook for Home Buyers and Starting Out, The Complete Home Buyers Guide. “The main reason to clean is because buyers will pay more for a house that they feel has been well maintained.”

“Smart sellers will keep clutter under control,” said SDA’s Sansoni. “That way, if an unexpected buyer drops in, the property will be ready to show.”

Clear off the kitchen and bathroom countertops, SDA advises, and sort and store non-essentials in storage containers. Wipe all surfaces clean. In the kitchen, keep out only those appliances that are used every few days.

“Don’t let newspapers and mail pile up,” Sansoni added.
“Sort through them every day; file away what you need and discard what you don’t need. Consider placing a few baskets in strategic locations around the house.
When the real estate agent calls, everyday clutter can be quickly scooped up into the baskets and hidden away. And get into the habit of making a nightly sweep just before bedtime.”

NEW SURVEY: Tax preparation

What is the current status of your 2004 tax return?

a. Already filed my return.
b. Scheduled appointment with tax preparer.
c. Have receipts organized; working on my return.
d. Looking for receipts.
e. Haven’t even begun to look for receipts.
f. Don’t need to file.
g. Plan to file an extension.

TO RESPOND TO THE SURVEY, send an e-mail to editor@unclutter.com with the word “Survey” and your 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.

READERS WRITE: Organizing receipts

I use a bright yellow, plastic 4 x 6 envelope with divided sections. I keep this in my purse for all of my receipts. I am self-employed and am always losing my receipts. This really works for me. The plastic envelope comes in several colors and is $1.63 at WalMart.

–Submitted by Jo Nelle Scurto, Seguin TX

EDITOR’S NOTE: This is such a simple solution for organizing ATM receipts, credit card receipts (divided into business and personal) and receipts for tolls and other business cash expenses. When your bank statement comes, check to see that the ATM receipts have posted correctly and then shred them. When your credit card statement comes, double-check the purchase amounts and then file the receipts needed for tax purposes. When you enter business expenses in your bookkeeping system, enter and then file all business cash expenses along with credit card expenses. If you like to keep non-business receipts for purchases just in case, set up a folder with the label “200X Store Receipts.”

Here’s another reader’s tip to help you organize receipts:

I always fold receipts with the printed side out.
Then with just a glance I can tell if they are of a throw-or-keep status!

–Submitted by Meredith Downing, Scottsdale AZ

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

Do you have a really great organizing tip you would like to share with other readers? Or a question about an organizing challenge you have?

Send an e-mail to editor@unclutter.com with “Readers_Write” in the subject line.

If your question or tip is included in a future issue of this newsletter, I will send you a free autographed copy of my latest book, The One- Minute Organizer Plain & Simple. Check it out at


PLEASE NOTE: I get a lot of questions and it’s impossible for me to respond to them all. Please know that I do read them and do try to answer as many as I can.


Last month, I hopped over to the West Coast for a grand opening of the Lowe’s Home Improvement Store in Huntington Beach. This month, I’m headed for the East Coast.

On March 12, I will be presenting “Dare to Dream” at the Spring Conference of the Washington, DC chapter of the National Association of Professional Organizers. The Conference is open to professional organizers and anyone interested in becoming an organizer. Want more information? Here’s where to go: http://www.dcorganizers.org

At the end of the month, I’ll head back East again to the Mid-Atlantic Home Garden Show in Virginia Beach. I will be presenting Friday, April 1 at 1 p.m. and 3 p.m. and Saturday, April 2 at 2 p.m. and 4 p.m. If you live in the area and would like more information, here’s where to find it: http://www.tbaonline.org Click on Big Home Shows and then on Mid-Atlantic Home & Garden Show.

My latest book, The One-Minute Organizer, has been flying off the shelves thanks to some great publicity in Better Homes & Gardens Simply Perfect Storage magazine and the March issue of Canadian House & Home magazine, which is the Conquer the Clutter Storage issue.

And I just got word that The One-Minute Organizer is now available at K-Mart stores. If you would like a signed copy of any of my books, you can order direct from me: http://www.unclutter.com/books.html Click on the SignedCopy.com logo to have a signed copy sent to you.

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