Think Ahead this Holiday Season
By Regina Leeds
NABBW’s Organizational Skills Expert

At this time of year most people are trying to keep their heads above water.  The TV airwaves and newspapers are full of ways to celebrate.  What if we did something a bit radical?  What if we looked beyond the holiday and found a few ways to save time, space, energy and money before the clock strikes midnight and it’s 2011? Here are some ideas to get you started.

  1. Chances are good that you store your holiday decorations in the attic, the basement or the garage. As you take them down this year, why not give them the once over before you automatically pack them away?  Are any items ready for the trash? Do you have anything that could be donated?  Would a family member like some of these items to jump-start their collection? By the way, do you know what’s in all those other boxes filling up the area? Now is a great time to do a little housekeeping.
  2. Decorations should be packaged in hard plastic containers and well labeled. Do you have a unit with shelves so that your boxes don’t have to live on the floor? It’s also possible if you must stack your decorations to use containers on wheels.  It’s much easier to pull out a stack of holiday decorations than to have to drag some mystery containers out and wonder what your various categories are in the stack. Cardboard is a feast for critters and breaks down over time.  You’ll find a wonderful assortment of containers at The Container Store, Bed, Bath & Beyond and the Home Depot just to name a few.
  3. Tax season is in the horizon. Why not spend the week between Christmas and New Year getting your receipts in order?  If they are sorted and filed all you have to do is add them up before your tax appointment.  Better yet, create a file system that helps you stay organized all year long.  It takes some time, effort and a few dollars in supplies however it pays endless dividends all year long.  You save time because instead of searching for papers, you know exactly where they are.  And you know the old saying: ‘time is money.’
  4. A solid FICO score has never been more important and one of the key ways to keep it healthy is to pay your bills on time. Create a bill paying system now. Whether you mark on your calendar when a bill needs to be paid, do on line bill paying or have automatic payments set up (or a combination of all), make this one of the habits you cultivate for 2011.  If you look at your mail as you walk in the front door and toss your bills wherever fate dictates, you will find it difficult to stay current. The bills will be there and fall due whether you pay them on time or bury them under the cushions on the couch. Best to pay them and file the receipts for tax time.  Another reason to take time to create a working file system this month.
  5. If you don\’t have a filing system, create one. You are at the head of the class if you already have one. Set aside a few hours to be sure it\’s updated for the New Year.  Too often files become cemeteries rather than active stores of current information. Ask yourself these questions as you peruse your system:
  • Are there items you can toss into the recycle pile?
  • What needs to be shredded?
  • Have you created an area for archival material?
  • Don\’t forget to create tax receipt files for the New Year.  The files for this year\’s tax receipts will soon be put away with all of your other tax back up material.

Check with your tax preparer or tax attorney to see how long they feel you need to save returns and back up material. The laws change and these pros will always be up to date.

  • Take a few minutes before you ring in the New Year to be sure you haven\’t neglected any potential tax deductions.  You\’ll be grateful you did this in March, as you get ready for Tax Day on April 15.  What did I have in mind: union dues, charitable contributions, log the miles you drove for any volunteer work, pay all your medical expenses for the year and contribute to your child\’s college fund. Every year a parent can give $13,000 without paying a gift tax.
  • If you have a newly pregnant member of your family, don\’t forget that one day this little one may want to go to college. Set up a 529 college plan and tell your family you\’d rather make a contribution to that cause than saddle the new mom and dad with overstuffed toys they probably have no place to store.

These touch economic times provide us with an opportunity to teach our children and grandchildren about money and to demonstrate responsible ways to manage it. Chances are as a Boomer; you’re watching your children struggle with their families.  Perhaps in lieu of a cash donation, you might suggest some ways you learned to save in the past when times were tough. Here are some thoughts to get your creative juices flowing:

  • Urge them to organize the house to eliminate clutter because clutter makes it more difficult to think clearly.
  • Be sure they decorate the home together.  If they can\’t afford a tree, suggest they pick up some discarded branches so they have the aroma of pine.
  • Ask everyone to find one object they could sell on E-Bay or Craig\’s List.  Use that \’found money\’ for gifts.  Set a per gift limit and have a contest to see who makes the most creative choice.
  • Be honest with your children about what\’s happening and how you are handling it.  Suggest they be just as honest with their own offspring. A new i Pod or laptop is a great gift.  An even greater one is having your parents treat you like an intelligent being who can handle the truth.  Learning how to make lemonade from the current crop of lemons is a life long skill.  They\’ll have it long after the iPod and laptop are obsolete.

Do you have any unique ways you can save this month before the New Year gets ushered in?  Share them with the rest of the community here.  It’s always exciting to think of a New Year.  The very idea is full of hope and renewal.  The reality however is that the same old/same old will continue its reign unless we consciously put new things into place.  Let’s agree that no matter what age we are, 2011 can indeed be the best year of our lives.

Known as “The Zen Organizer,” New York City native Regina Leeds has brought order to home and work environments across the United States since 1988 when she started her company, Get Organized! by REGINA. Currently based in Los Angeles, her clientele run the gamut from movie stars to business people and housewives. Regina has been named ‘The Best organizer in LA’ by Los Angeles Magazine and  regularly travels throughout the United States to assist her clients.

Regina is the author of several books related to organizing, including “One Year to an Organized Life,” and you can learn more about her on her web site.