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Important Documents: What to Keep and for How Long

You might be surprised how many people have important financial documents scattered all over the house – on the kitchen table, underneath old newspapers, in the hall closet, in the basement. If this describes your financial “filing system”, you may have a tough time keeping tabs on your financial life.

Organization will help you, your advisors… and even your heirs. If you’ve got a meeting scheduled with an accountant, financial consultant, mortgage lender or insurance agent, spare yourself a last-minute scavenger hunt. Take an hour or two to put things in good order. If nothing else, do it for your heirs. When you pass, they will be contending with emotions and won’t want to search through your house for this or that piece of paper. Here is a short list of what you need to keep and why:

Investment statements. Organize them by type: IRA statements, 401(k) statements, mutual fund statements. The annual statements are the ones that really matter; you may decide to forego filing the quarterlies or monthlies. When it comes to your IRA or 401(k), is it wise to retain your Form 8606s (which report nondeductible contributions to traditional IRAs), your Form 5498s (the “Fair Market Value Information” statements that your IRA custodian sends you each May), and your Form 1099-Rs (which report IRA income distributions). In addition, you will want to retain any record of your original investment in a fund or a stock. (This will help you determine capital gains or losses. Your annual statement will show you the dividend or capital gains distribution.)

Bank statements. If you have any fear of being audited, keep the last three years’ worth of them on file. You may question whether the paper trail has to be that long, but under certain circumstances (lawsuit, divorce, past debts) it may be wise to keep more than three years of statements on file.

Credit card statements. These are less necessary to have around than many people think, but you might want to keep any statements detailing tax-related purchases for up to seven years.

Mortgage documents, mortgage statements and HELOC statements. As a rule, keep mortgage statements for the ownership period of the property plus seven years. As for your mortgage documents, you may wish to keep them for the ownership period of the property plus ten years (though your county recorder’s office likely has copies).

Your annual Social Security benefits statement. Keep the most recent one, as it shows your earnings record from the day you started working. Please note, however: if you see an error, you will want to have your W-2 or tax return for the particular year on hand to help Social Security correct it.

Federal and state tax returns. The IRS wants you to hang onto your returns until the period of limitations runs out – that is, the time frame in which you can claim a credit or refund. The standard IRS audit looks at your past three years of federal tax records. So you need to keep three years of federal (and state) tax records on hand, and up to seven years to be really safe. Tax records pertaining to real property or “real assets” should be kept for as long as you own the asset (and for at least seven years after you sell, exchange or liquidate it).3

Payroll statements. What if you own a business or are self-employed? Retain your payroll statements for seven years or longer, just in case the IRS comes knocking.

Employee benefits statements. Does your company issue these to you annually or quarterly? Keep at least the most recent year-end statement on file.

Insurances. Life, disability, health, auto, home… you want the policies on file, and you want policy information on hand for the life of the policy plus three years.

Medical records and health insurance. The consensus says you should keep these documents around for five years after the surgery or the end of treatment. If you think you can claim medical expenses on your federal return, keep them for seven years.

Warranties. You only need them until they expire. When they expire, toss them.

Utility bills. Do you need to keep these around for more than a month? No, you really don’t. Check last month’s statement against this month’s, then get rid of last month’s bill. Plus, most utility information is available online long-term.

One file cabinet may suffice for all of this. You might prefer a few storage boxes, or stack-able units. If this seems like too much paper to file or you want to get very sophisticated, use a scanner to store financial records on your computer. Remember to keep backups. You might want to have the hard copies on file just in case your hard drive and/or your flash drive go awry.

This guest post was written by the family financial advising team at Blough Financial Services. They handle accumulation and wealth management (mutual funds, managed assets, savings), lifestyle preservation (disability, life insurance, long-term care), and retirement savings (pensions, income annuities, social security). Contact them at 724-884-6487 or robert.blough.jr@ceterafs.com

BloughR-2908BloughR-2899Marianne Bio Pic 3

Angie’s List 2013 Super Service Award

December 21, 2013 by camckee in Closets, Downsizing, General, Organizing

I’m thrilled to announce that McKee Closet Organizing and McKee Organizing Services Inc. both won the Angie’s List Super Service Award, reflecting a year of great reviews from our customers. Minimum requirements for eligibility include an “A” as an overall rating. Luckily we have never gotten any review other than an “A” for McKee Organizing Services or McKee Closet Organizing!

“Only about 5% of the companies McKee Organizing/Closet Services competes with in Pittsburgh are able to earn our Super Service Award,” said Angie’s List Founder Angie Hicks. “It’s a mark of consistently great customer service.”

Find out what we can do for you and give us a call today to start your new year off organized and simplified!

It’s Easy Being Green – AND Organized!

Kermit-the-muppets-3206566-1024-768As a professional organizer, I use the word simplify in my daily vocabulary. We’ve all heard the mantra “reduce, reuse, recycle”. But what not everyone recognizes is that ‘simplify’ is just a more palatable synonym for ‘reduce’. I’m, quite frankly, in the business of reducing.  It’s no mistake that ‘reduce’ comes first in the mantra. Our culture often obsesses about the end game, but recycling is actually the last step. The goal is to acquire less, creatively reuse what makes sense and recycle what you can. The good news is there are many resources locally and nationally to help!

 

Reduce

Shop with the idea of ENOUGH in mind.  When you know what ‘enough’ is, your inventory of possessions stays consistent.  Whether it’s in your pantry or your closet, keeping a consistent inventory of items is key to staying organized.  Take this mindset with you to the grocery store and the mall and watch how decision-making changes.  Do I really need this? Where will I put it? And how will I pay for it? Are three questions that change the way things flow into your life. Thinking outside the box is made easy with great alternatives to purchasing new items. Instead of buying a new second car check out a car-share program. Instead of getting a new dress for a one-time event, try renting instead. It is as simple as using your local library or Netflix instead spending a beautiful inside organizing your books and DVDs.

One of the biggest barriers for people who are ready to simplify their lives is the idea that there needs to be infrastructure to accommodate an organized lifestyle. In reality a significant amount of change can be made without any fancy new bins, cubbies or built in storage. This is because everyone has things to get rid of, but many people try to find a place to put them instead. There are simple tricks to identify what is excess. One of my favorites is to hang all of my clothes in the ‘wrong direction’ at the start of a new season, then as I wear items, turn the hanger back to the ‘right direction’ when I hang them again. If by the end of the season I have not worn something, as proven by the hanger position, I get rid of it. You can adapt this trick to work with lots of aspects of your life: books, holiday decorations, cleaning supplies, files, dishes, and sports equipment. This is a way to prove to yourself that it is unused and ready to be let go.

Reuse

It has never been easier to resell, repurpose and reuse items. With eBay, Craigslist and Freecycle at your disposal, and even services that sell your items for you, cashing in on clutter is painless.  Pickups can now be scheduled online for the Vets, Salvation Army and Goodwill. These well-known locations are only the tip of the iceberg.  Sites like Earth911 pull together multiple resources so its one stop shopping to find the best home for your items.  These outlets coupled with the resurgence of the DIY trend, popular on sites like Pinterest and Etsy, make this a great time to give your unwanted stuff new life!

Recycle

It is possible to get stuck if you don’t know what to do with the items that you have already decided to get rid of.  No one wants their home to look like a recycling center because they are paralyzed by all the rules.  A green organizer knows the rules and helps you check with your local municipality to see what can be recycled. They also have resources for collections of special items. Some companies like ours take items to a warehouse where they are delivered to or picked up by proper companies.

Green organizers not only help you decide what to get rid and how to do it responsibly, they set up systems that work as long term solutions. When you want to get organized, think green! Reach out to an expert that can help you in making the right decisions about your stuff, your space, and your planet.

Check out the version published on Angies List: http://www.angieslist.com/articles/get-organized-going-green.htm

Spring Cleaning

We look forward to spring for many reasons; warmer weather, longer days, blooming trees and flowers, spring break, free Rita’s Italian Ice (for those of you Pittsburghers out there)… the list goes on. You might notice that the phenomenon of spring cleaning did not make that list. The human instinct to migrate outdoors to attend to our neglected homesteads as the weather gets warmer gets a bad rap, but as you might imagine, I am a fan of this time of year. I am here to tell you how you can make spring cleaning more fun and less stressful!

Maintenance
Once the snow melts and the ice thaws you might notice some areas of the house that need attention. It can be overwhelming! At my house we created a preventative maintenance schedule so that we can stay on track instead of waiting to address problems until they are hemorrhaging. There are good checklists on House Master if you do not already have one.

Simplifying
Changing seasons offer a great opportunity to downsize. Did not touch your skis all winter? Still have not worn that fur coat or those winter boots that you have been trying to for years? Have the kids become teens and grown out of their sleds or other winter equipment? Use the seasons as a test. If you went all winter without using something, you probably will not use it next winter either! You can apply this to things that are not seasonal. For example, go through your pantry, donate the staples that you never use.

Make it FUN!
I know, I know, you do not think ‘fun’ and ‘spring cleaning’ should be in the same sentence.  I always had the most fun with spring cleaning when my children were younger and always excited to help with projects like painting or gardening because they were also learning along the way. Re-frame spring cleaning as family bonding time instead of chore time. Introduce incentives. My kids participated in everything from dusting races to competitions on who could pull a bigger pile of weeds!

However, if you have an empty nest like I do now, you can still spice up your spring cleaning. If you are tackling the whole house, tuning all of the radios in the house to your favorite station so that you sing along as you take trips up and down the stairs is always nice. It is also satisfying to stick with one room or area until it is finished. The size is more manageable so the satisfaction you get from completing that space reassures you that your punch list is doable.

Ironing in 2013

Ironing in 2013

Monopoly Iron

Monopoly Iron

At the Pittsburgh Home & Garden Show last week, one of the most popular aspects of our booth was the compact ironing board! You can see it this KDKA Pittsburgh Today Live segment. This was partially because it discretely folded up into a drawer and also because some of our visitors unsure what it was. This inspired me to do a little bit of research on ironing.

Turns out that Less than 29.7% of Americans still iron their clothes on a regular basis. This makes sense now that most fabrics have polyester and cotton components. This blend was created to reduce the need to iron and the term ‘permanent press’ was born. This switch towards ironless fabrics was somewhat commemorated by the game, Monopoly, getting rid of their iron token this year. It was a croundsourced decision hosted on facebook. Fans chose to replace the iron with a cat.

I also found a statistic that 40% of Americans who do iron, iron in their underwear. This makes perfect sense. It suggests that ironing is an afterthought and no longer a common household chore. However, most of us still dedicate valuable wall space to an ironing board hanger or mount.

If you are still ironing, why use valuable wall space for an unaesthetic ironing board? Check out some of our ideas for ironing board storage alternatives on Pinterest.

Spicey Organizing

Spicey Organizing

http://www.houzz.com/built-in-spice-rack

http://www.houzz.com/built-in-spice-rack

We often find clients who  have too much spice in there lives!  Oftentimes people want to cook more but are having trouble making time.  They over-buy in case they ever get the opportunity there will not be any barriers, they will have everything they need.  Some people identify providing with having everything they can possibly think of on hand.  It is their way of showing their love.  These people purchase spices (and other items) “just in case”. Others have inventory issues.  Either, they do not know or cannot see what they have.  This is a vicious cycle because spices tend to get lost behind other spices.  No matter what the root of the problem is, keeping spices in an appropriate place and for the right amount of time can make a difference.

Seven Day Challenge
If you want to find out which of your spices are actually active, try this trick.  Turn all your spices upside down and go through a week of your normal cooking habits.  When you use a spice, return it to the cabinet right side up and at the end of the week it will be easy to see what you actually use!  Active spices can go on a more available shelf or in a spice drawer.  A good rule of thumb is to keep the number of active spices to what can fit in the front row of your spice area.

A-B-C Order?
As an professional organizer, I get this comment all the time.  “You are so organized, you probably alphabetize your spices”. Truth be told, I have one shelf that is grab and go for active spices and then another shelf for less used favorites, which are sorted by size and are generally in alphabetical order.  Alphabetizing the spices helps me because often times the labels are covered by other spices but when they are in order I have a better idea of where to reach.  This is not necessarily for everyone but works well when not all of your spices can be fully displayed.

Stadium Seating Please
Keeping things visual is key.  That is why I put all the small jars together, in front of the larger jars.  It’s just easier to see.  My husband measured and cut a small piece of scrap wood so I could elevate the back row and see it better.  I do not recommend any of the shelf extenders that stack spices three deep because I find that I knock items off the shelf when I try to get to the back row. I will admit that I do get joy from buying the same brand when I can so the shelf looks tidy.

Keeping It Fresh
Spices last for a few years before they start to loose their kick, but they will never spoil.  If your spices are on the outs, I buy smaller jars for things I use less of and resist the urge to buy large amounts to save money by thinking of quality first.  Storage of large spice containers can be a problem.  To increase their shelf life, do not store spices directly next to heat because they will lose their freshness faster.

Check out my Pinterest for ideas!

Welcome To 2012!

What is going to make 2012 different? We are always striving to be faster, stronger and bigger, but what does that really look like. One of the most popular resolutions is to get organized and that doesn’t always translate into MORE. Efficiency is a great goal but prioritizing might be a better one. Knowing what is important in your time and stuff will make every day seem easier. That is a gift that only you can give yourself. So, how do you get there? What do you let go of? Here are three strategies that may help you.

Top 10 List

What are the all the things you are involved in? What are your roles? List them all; pick the Top Ten and let go of the rest, even temporarily so you get caught up on the issues that are bothering you. You may be surprised when you miss an activity that had been routine and not important, you might find yourself secretly celebrating. This is a great strategy for getting on track when you are going through a major life transition. Step back and minimize while you get through it!

What is it that only I can do?

Another great tip that really works for entrupenuers is to really write down all the “jobs” you do and then highlight the jobs that only YOU can do. Go one step further and mark those that you actually like to do. For me this has really illuminated all kinds of little things that have kept me from the bigger things. It was easy to let go by finding people to do those very specific jobs that I no longer need to attend to. It is fun to think of the year ahead with out those items on my To Do List.

Know you 3 MIT’s Daily

MIT’s are your Most Important Things. If you could write just 3 MIT’s down for the next day when you are leaving your desk or at the end of each day, and were able to start each day ready to accomplish just those 3 things, I suspect it would be life changing. I know we all have HUGE To Do lists, and making a master list does help get it all down, but I am talking about having a top 3 every day that are non-negotiable! This will take away the feeling of being overwhelmed and will help you know what enough looks like. Knowing this can help you stop just working and working and working until you just “hit the wall”.

So I hope these help you to see your New Year through the lens of doing what is important and knowing what “enough” is. This will bring simplicity and order to your 2012!

Catch Leslie LIVE Monday, December 5th on Pittsburgh Today Live

overshopping image

Reminder! Our very own Leslie McKee will be featured during Pittsburgh Today Live with Kristine Sorensen Monday, December 5th between 9 -10am. Leslie will be discussing over-shopping as it pertains to the holiday, how it effects you daily, and how to deal with it.

Look for tips on how to identify over-shopping habits and watch for information about how to gain control of your shopping habits.

 

WHY IS OVER-SHOPPING A PROBLEM?

  • Our economic growth is dependent upon selling goods to people whose needs are already met!
  • Studies show that the more we acquire after our basic needs are met, the less fulfilling those acquisitions are. Therefore the tendency is to buy more to get the same feeling.
  • Studies show that the more someone believes material things bring true happiness, the more likely that person is to suffer from depression, stress and anxiety. College students report 70% feel being VERY wealthy will mean they will be happy. This sets the stage for widespread discontent.
  • It is proven that too many choices leave us feeling befuddled and over stimulated yet- 5.8 % of US adults are over shoppers. That is 17 million people.
  • 3 out of 5 Americans who carry credits cards carry credit card debt. One half owe more than 6,600 and 13% owe over 25k.
  • Our country is reporting negative personal savings which happened in 1932,1933 during the great depression.

Organization Challenge: In the Closet

We have come across an interesting challenge that we have seen on a few other sites. It’s called The Closet Hanger Challenge! We believe Oprah mentioned this first but we just think it’s such a smart and FUN way to clear out some of the extra!

 

 

Here’s the challenge:

Jan 1st, take no more than 2 minutes and turn all of the hangers in your closet backwards. As you wear the clothing, when you return it to your closet hang the hanger the right way again. Reassess your hangers on June 1st. If there are items still on backwards hangers, it might be time to consider donating that item.

See how easy this is? We hope you come back on June 1st to tell us how you did!

Organizing: The Pantry

 

We have organized the cabinets in the kitchen and under the sink so in keeping with our holiday preparation posts let’s tackle the kitchen pantry next.

TASKS: KITCHEN PANTRY

-Go on a scavenger hunt and remove all expired food and items you just don’t use. If you are uncertain, ask yourself if you will eat it in the next two weeks. If the answer is yes, write it down and make a plan to use it. If the answer is no, consider getting rid of it.

-How far did you have to search to find your food? Unless your kitchen is very small, food outside of the kitchen is usually neglected and takes up valuable space. Try to keep your food where it will be used – inside of the kitchen.

-Get real about what you are actually using. Give up on he liver pâté or death defying hot sauce that came in a gift basket years ago. It is okay to let those items go and use what you love and know.

 

NEW WAY TO THINK

Now that you have gotten rid of the food that expired before the invention of Google, you can enjoy a sigh of relief knowing that you have just made health a priority for you and your family. Further commit by jotting down ways to use the odd ingredients you said you would use in the next two weeks. Still have a lot of good food? It might be time to have an eat down! Often we wait for special occasions to use things. See how much space you can create by making today special! Try to make your next few shopping trips consist of only perishables. Get creative and have fun. Let the family know what you are trying to do and get their ideas! Are there categories that you tend to over-buy, like packaged snacks that come in handy on crazy mornings? Take a minute to really decide what is enough in those categories. Perhaps re-purpose those as snacks that you can bring to soccer practice for the whole team to enjoy.

Take some time to connect to what kind of cook you want to be. Does that picture include farmers’ markets, fresh produce, less processed, less packaged, healthy dinners shared with your family? Interestingly, the pantry in that picture will keep itself organized as you simply replace old and bad items with more fresh items.

The only thing in your way is making this transition a priority. Having a pantry that reflects what you value is a great start.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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