Winter Weather: Time to organize!

In much of Iowa, our recent winter weeks have held lots of days suitable only for staying indoors. We’ve canceled or postponed many plans, and some of our dogs have missed lots of walks because some days were just too cold or windy.

So what can we do with those snow days?  I have an idea!
No, it’s not binge-watching your favorite shows or movies, nor does it involve baking. You don’t need ME to suggest those!

My idea is less recreational, but much more valuable in the long term: go through your files!

Cleaning and organizing files is a task we tend to procrastinate. But in an emergency, and even in many non-emergency situations, we sure would like to turn to our files and immediately put our hands on the document(s) we need. When need arises, we’ll be glad we invested some time in getting organized.

Here’s the good news: it’s a task that can be broken up into small doses.

  • If you already have a filing system, you can just go through one or two files a day, to pull out old materials that are no longer needed, and make sure the most current information is in front.
  • If you do not have a filing system in place, start with a small stack of papers from wherever you’ve been storing them. Create file folders or envelopes for each category of papers you run across. For example, if the first paper you come to is about your car insurance, then create a car insurance file. Perhaps the next item will be college transcript – if so, create an education file.

Well-organized files have three characteristics:  1) they are clearly labeled; 2) the newest and most important information is in front; and 3) out-of-date and unimportant documents are removed. Determining what is important can be a challenge. Some tips for starters: 

  • Insurance – keep the most recent summary of coverage (declarations page). In addition, keep the full policy booklet if you have one, and any updates you receive about coverage details.
  • Mutual fund accounts – keep your quarterly statements until the year-end statement arrives; that should include all activity for the year, so you can discard the quarterly statements. Keep all year-end statements, with the most recent in front. Keep the most recent prospectus. There is no need to keep annual reports.
  • Monthly bills – once you get the next statement showing that your payment was received, you can safely discard the previous statement, unless you need it for tax purposes.
  • Warranties and purchase records for warrantied items – keep as long as you own the item. Keep the purchase information longer if the item affects your taxes.
  • Taxes – after six years, they can be discarded.

Personally, my biggest filing problem is old folders with labels that have fallen off – I need to go through and re-label files. Which filing task most needs your attention?

Barb Wollan

Barb Wollan

Barb Wollan's goal as a Family Finance program specialist with Iowa State University Extension and Outreach is to help people use their money according to THEIR priorities. She provides information and tools, and then encourages folks to focus on what they control: their own decisions about what to do with the money they have.

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Too Many Clothes…

There are just two basic ways to deal with clothing clutter:  1) get rid of it, or 2) organize it. Most people need to do some of both when it comes to their closets.

Decide What to Get Rid Of

Prepare by arming yourself with three large containers plus a laundry basket, using a 3-container variation of the Clear the Clutter Strategy. Designate one bag or box to hold items for each of these means of disposal:

  • Garbage
  • Give away/donate
  • Yard sale or resale/consignment shop (Note: If you are not planning to sell anything, you’ll only need two containers.)

Items that belong to someone else or in other rooms should go in the laundry basket. For example, you  might discover a pair of your child’s socks mixed in with your stuff.

Sorting. Place like items together. Group items by type and then by color. For example, gather all your pants or trousers. Then group them by color.  Examine and try on each piece of clothing, then make a decision: keep it or not? If not, place it in one of the containers.

Organizing. What about the clothes that you are keeping?  Put them back in your closet or drawer—but be strategic.  You may want to leave out only clothing that is in season. You can reduce the clutter in your bedroom closet by storing out-of-season clothes in a box or another closet. When you switch your clothing at the change of the season, it is a perfect time to sort through and dispose of clothing that you no longer want.

Special Situations. If you have clothing of different sizes that you feel you must keep, you may wish to minimize clutter by storing them separately; keep only those items in the size you are currently wearing in the most accessible drawers or sections of your closet. Items that are worn infrequently, such as special-occasion clothing, can also be placed in a separate closet in order to keep your regular closet better organized.

Preventing Non-useful Purchases.  Make a list of clothing items that you need and carry it on your smart phone. Refer to it when you are shopping, to help you focus on purchasing planned items rather than spontaneous choices that may not match other items in your wardrobe.

Susan Taylor

Susan Taylor

Resources are important whether you are looking to rent your first apartment, pay your bills, buy your first home or send your child to college. There are many ways to save money to reach your goals, and hopefully ISU Money Tip$ will be one of them. I enjoy traveling, needlework and am a novice gardener.

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