Organize Yourself for Tax Season with These Helpful Tips

rawpixel-570908-unsplashWhen was the last time you heard someone say, “I’d rather clean toilets than do my taxes!” I totally get it.  It is one of the least pleasant things anyone has to do, but that’s just it: YOU HAVE TO DO IT. So instead of making it the task that you put off and put off and put off until it becomes herculean and utterly terrifying, why not start now, two months before taxes are due, and plan it out.  This way you can spend the next week or two strategizing and then gathering the documents you will need in order to complete your tax returns, either on your own, or with the help of a tax professional.

Although I am not a CPA, I have spent many years having to work on taxes and I have found that even as they have gotten more complicated, following my timeline and checklist has helped me, and subsequently my tax professional, complete what would otherwise be a confusing and difficult task. Here are some of my tips: 

Set up a tax calendar  

Give yourself a start date and a due date for your material submission to either your accountant, your tax prep company, or for yourself.  And give each ample time. Waiting to hand everything over to the accountant on April 13th is just going to lead to mistakes. Yes, you may get an extension, but that won’t get you out of having to make a payment if it’s due so give your preparer and yourself at least a deadline of 4 weeks.  They have other clients too, and first come first served.

Put together a tax package

It doesn’t have to be fancy but it should include: wage statements(W2s), investment reports(1099s, K1s, and other like documents), which should have been coming in the USPS in the past few weeks and will keep coming over the next week or so.  By law, investment firms are required to get out their end of year statements to clients by February 15, 2019, which is getting a bit late, but be on the lookout. Also, the envelopes will alert you and say TAX INFORMATION DO NOT DISCARD.

Gather deduction documents (receipts, charitable donations, medical)

If you can take deductions this is where the work comes in.  You will need to keep the receipts and detailed lists if you have made charitable donations over the past year.  There are categories for cash donations, and then those for in kind, such as clothing, furniture or automobiles. You need to be very thorough with your details.

Medical deductions are another area, but with the new tax laws it is very important to check with a tax professional.  As of this year you can still list your medical expenses in terms of levels of income. You will need to keep receipts from doctors visits, and from prescriptions.

Organize business expenses

Now the part that I always dread before I begin but once I list the categories it becomes a breeze:  business expenses. Obviously, this applies to you if you have a business or a side gig. You want to list your expenses in ways that would seem clear to you, your tax preparer and obviously to someone who is going to ultimately review your return so be thorough but also be realistic.  Think about the business you own and then determine if the things you spend money on for the business are reasonable like, supplies, advertising, mileage, meals, travel, and make sure you have receipts and documentation to back up everything. Each person’s business is different, so whereas Kim Kardashian writes off a million dollars a year in cosmetics, I don’t think I’ll be doing that this year (besides, I’m the one who you hire to purge all that stuff, remember?). 

After you’ve gathered as much material as you can, present it to your tax professional. Or if you can handle this job yourself, more power to you, fill in the forms. 

Just remember, if this gets done in an organized and timely manner, you walk away with a sense of relief that you got what seemed like a daunting job done in plenty of time. Now you can enjoy the spring.

And if you if you have questions or need help before you call a tax pro call The Organizer at (202)253-9619 for an hour or two prep work. It’s ok to ask for help and absolutely worth the piece of mind. 

What happens after the #Kondo purge?

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You survived the Kondo-ing of your possessions and it’s the first day of the second month of the new year.  If you live in the Midwest or the Northeast, you are wondering, why on earth did I get rid of my favorite heavy sweater?  I am freezing! Not to say, I told you so, but…

The Marie Kondo Method, although it is appealing, is a fad.  And like all fads (the Keto diet, platform shoes, bright blue eyeshadow, ice showers) it is popular in the here and now and it works for some of us and not for others.

Don’t get me wrong. We all have too much stuff!  I will say this again. We all have too much stuff. But there are more efficient ways to live with and consume a great deal less, without feeling like we are being deprived or like our possessions are overwhelming us and our space.  

Every time I look at an Instagram photo I am struck by mega closets that house a hundred pairs of shoes, sixty bags, sweaters galore, not to mention pants, dresses, jackets, hats, etc., in numbers fit for Kate and Meghan.  Seriously! No one, and I mean NO ONE needs that much stuff! The Real Housewives of Sillyville are just that, SILLY! And rather disgusting! OK. You can send me whatever hate mail you wish, but again, what kind of values are we encouraging? Teaching our kids to buy, own, to covet is sending the wrong message.  And it’s fiscally and environmentally irresponsible. At the beginning of the year we should be figuring out how to save money, save the environment, give back to the planet and to those less fortunate (without overwhelming thrift stores and charitable organizations so they are forced to dump the excess into landfills), and that in itself should absolutely “spark joy.”  And yes, if you need new underwear and socks because you have holes in them, by all means, go out and buy a few pairs, but recycle the old ones or use them for rags around the house.

I think we can all approach life after decluttering with a little more mindfulness and consume a little more consciously.  When shopping, consuming, and purging, think of these tips as you go along:

  • Use what you have first.  You will be amazed at the items of clothing, household goods, art supplies, furniture and storage equipment that actually is in wonderful shape and fits.  
  • Borrow the things you need to use infrequently.  I don’t know about you, but I haven’t needed a fish poacher terribly often, and my neighbor actually has one and is happy to let me borrow it when I am in need for a party.  Same goes for that evening gown I will only ever wear once in my life. If I can borrow from a friend, perfect. If not there are companies like Rent the Runway which will let you rent a frock for a few days without a long-term commitment).
  • Swap for items you use regularly.  I need something that you have more often than not, and vice versa.  Let’s swap. Take good care of said items and then swap back.
  • Thrift for items you use seasonally.  Other than Christmas cards, which can be used for art projects when they have been used, there are loads of seasonal items that people unload in thrift stores that you can buy cheaply which will work for all of your holidays, and if you care for them, can be thrifted again for someone else’s thrift purchase.
  • Make the things that nourish you.  Here we get into food, health care, beauty care and a whole bevy of goodies.  My daughter just made me the most delicious body cream and it was as good as anything I would have spent tons on in a department store.  The same goes for baked goods, candles, oils, etc.
  • Finally, buy the things that are left.  There are going to be things that you just can’t find in a thrift store, or borrowed from someone else, or made from scratch, and that is ok.  But you will find that your spending will have decreased dramatically, your spending will have become more thoughtful and each purchase will have significance, and meaning.  Each item will spark joy.

Have we gone Kondo overboard?

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Source: @simplyzero_

Don’t get me wrong.  I love Marie Kondo. I had both of her books before most people did and I actually read them, cover to cover.  I even critiqued them, and I agreed with most of what she wrote. I still don’t agree with her philosophy of how you store socks, but that is for another post, on another day.

But, I think everyone has gone a bit KONDO nuts!  Sorry folks, but you have. Throwing out your socks and underwear because they no longer spark joy?  Going commando and barefoot when it’s 20 below is just plain dangerous and crazy to boot. Besides, thrift shops are overrun with stuff that people are getting rid of by the bag and boxfuls since watching her show Tidying Up With Marie Kondo.  There is no more room in the thrift stores, a lot of second hand shops are also overrun, and because of the economic situation right now people are not spending money and things are getting dumped in landfills. What started out as a great idea to declutter is becoming an environmental nightmare!

I feel very strongly about downsizing, giving away and repurposing, but I think you need to do this with a little bit more forethought.  It means taking time to figure out who and where these items are going. Is there someone specific who can actually use and wants the items and somewhere specific he or she can find them?

Maybe you have a friend or family member who can use these used items.  For instance, used baby clothes can be given to a friend or relative who is having or has just had a baby. And if you have children’s clothing and you have gone through the sizes with your own kids why not pass them down to a relative, friend, neighbor or a charitable organization that can make wonderful use of them?  Or what about a clothing swap? A friend may be trying to get rid of something that you have been searching for and this is a perfect way that each of you gets what you want without having to make a financial outlay or to add to the stuff issue. Have the conversation beforehand with your intended recipient and everyone will end up with a gift.  You with more space, and the one receiving with something really useful and needed.

Old Prom dresses and tuxes can be given to organizations that donate to kids who cannot afford but would like to participate in such a special event.  A wonderful organization that started in Florida but now has chapters all over the US is Becca’s Closet. It not only takes used prom dresses and tuxes but it also has expanded to provide funding for educational scholarships for students.  Go on the site to read about the amazing young woman who started it all.

There are also organizations around the country that will take used books, cds, videos, and records.  One place that comes to mind is Books for America. They take your items and then resell for a very low price and the profits go to libraries across the country.

If you are determined to make some cash while finding joy on your journey, make sure that you connect with a resale company that wants gently used items and is ready to buy your clothing, jewelry, furniture, household items.  That way you know that the items will get sold and won’t go to waste.

There are a number of second hand clothing and jewelry/accessory stores available all around the US, as well as stores that specialize in entertainment like records, books, art, furniture, etc, BUT you must take the time to do some online research.  Get reviews of their work with clients and how they pay and respond to clients. That way you know how your items will be treated and whether you will actually get something for that old brooch of Grandma’s. If you have valuable jewelry, Circa is a very reputable company to work with but they are very picky in what they will take so be prepared.   High end clothing, shoes and accessories can be sold at the Real Real, clothes that may not have designer labels but will still fetch a return can be placed on sites like Poshmark, Net-a-Porter, and JJs House.

Furniture can be listed on Craigslist, Etsy, Ebay, Route 66, and local furniture resale shops in your area.  Just be careful when listing on Craigslist about safety issues when offering pick up options. A company that will come and literally inventory everything that you would like to sell in your home for a fee, put it in an auction format, and then pay you for what is sold is called MaxSold.  At the end of the day, you clear out what you don’t want, and if you are proactive you actually make money from the transaction. They have an online video that explains the process and they have received a lot of good reviews from people who have used their services.

If you need help with any of this sorting and planning you can always call or email us at the Organizer and we will be happy to help you on the phone, online or in person sort through your items for donating, selling but we will remind you to keep your socks on.  It’s cold out there. 

 

The Resolution Snag

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Ah, the best laid plans.  Well, you wonder why the title of my blog is The Organizer’s Lament?  I am lamenting today. It is almost three weeks into the first month of 2019 and I have royally blown my resolutions!  Now to be fair, I have had pneumonia since January 7th, after returning from a lovely, albeit quick visit to Chicago, and I have been sick as a dog( Why are dogs used for that example, I wonder?) ever since.

Today was the first day that I actually took a shower by myself, left my house, and drove in my car, and went to clients, and functioned(while intermittently hacking and being exhausted, although I am no longer contagious) and ate food that wasn’t broth or tea.  I watched a lot of Netflix over the past 11 days, because frankly, I couldn’t focus my eyes well enough to read a book, a magazine, or my emails, and I really didn’t care. I didn’t work out so that resolution was put on hold. I didn’t Marie Kondo my own closets, so I didn’t get bags ready to give to the charities I had in mind for the beginning of the year.  I didn’t go into my office so I didn’t look at my mail, so I didn’t do any end of year filing until yesterday when I felt like I had enough energy to spend a little bit of time and then again today but I can’t make myself insane because I still get tired after about two hours so it’s going to be a few more days before I have to sit down and work on expenses for taxes.

My hair looks like a mop, my nails are all different shapes and lengths, my skin and lips are chapped and broken out, I haven’t made my appointments for the eye doctor, the gyno, the dentist, or set up my glassblowing classes yet, and in fact because I have been sick all of the intro classes are full so I just have to sign up for the beginners classes and take a leap of faith.  I have only two weeks to read my book group book( and I am a slow reader), and I have a small pile of paper on my office floor that I have to clean up and deal with over the next few days, and I hope that there are no bills that are overdue. But, on the positive side…

I lost seven pounds because I couldn’t eat.  I wouldn’t recommend this as a diet but I lost my taste for carbs and sweets and most red meat.  Go figure. I didn’t spend money, except for a few small things, including a new car battery, which I discovered I needed this morning when I tried to start my car to no avail.  I signed myself up for one flower arranging class for next week, because my glass blowing intro class wasn’t available and I thought, why not? I set up more advertising updates for my business this afternoon when I returned from a client so that I was up to date for the next six months, because that was the only productive thing I could still do at the end of the first workday.  I updated both my desk calendar( which I have mentioned before, which is the size of a wall, but which serves me very well because I can see everything that takes place both professionally and personally) and my filofax( yes I am an old school kinda gal, and there is no right or wrong kind of calendar….just keep one!) and I paid any and all bills both online and paper. And finally, after getting my 2018 tax folder started, I started laundry, and stripped my daughter’s bed, since she just went back to school this morning.  I am obviously feeling better. Not perfect, but better.

So I’m getting a bit of a late start on the resolutions, and I revised the list somewhat.  But I refuse to beat myself up. I fell off the horse, the wagon, the block, whatever. I’m just going to get back on.  And that is my point. My January looked so promising. I had a list of resolutions that weren’t ridiculous but were doable and I couldn’t keep on them, for no fault but the stars.  I wasn’t happy about it but what was I supposed to do? There are a myriad of reasons why we get sidetracked, and yes it can be our fault, or it can be because of something or things beyond our control.  So be it. That saying “Today is the first day of the rest of your life,” may make you want to gag or punch me, but IT IS TRUE. Call or text or email me if you need to commiserate or need any kind of help with those resolutions, to define or refine them in any way.  We still have 11 months and 14 days. Stay warm.

The Organizer offers digital and in-person coaching to help you declutter, organize, prioritize, and spend more time doing what you love. Contact me at (202)253-9619 or claudia@taskier.net.

Making and Keeping Resolutions in 2019

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I resolve to sit on my bum and watch movies all day long.  I resolve to eat chocolate and not get fat. I resolve to let the laundry sit in the hamper until it overflows.  I resolve to…..not resolve to do any of the above silliness, although eating chocolate and not getting fat is really appealing.  Oh well, let’s get back to reality.

Resolutions are the essence of the new year beginnings.  We all sit down and pledge to exercise more, and read more, and learn a new skill, and make our beds every day, and save more and spend less, and not lose our cool as often, and on and on and on. The intentions are real, but the goals are often difficult and sometimes impossible to achieve. This leads to disappointment in ourselves, in others, backsliding, blaming and a host of other unnecessary issues:  we have once again failed. But what if we could avoid all of those disappointing feelings and set ourselves up for success?

Well, let’s start with simpler resolutions.  Easier goals. A smaller TO-DO list. I often tell clients that a list comprised of only two or three things will provide more success in terms of goal completion and resolution achievement.  I think if you create a current week to-do list (consisting of two or three items which will rotate out when completed), a future month to-do list (a few of these items can be added slowly to the current list), and a long term (yearly) goal list, those big, scary resolutions and goals become easier to tackle and actualize and less likely to be ditched by January’s end.  

A well known time management expert, Dave Crenshaw, says that actually you should throw out the TO DO list all-together, and use a Calendar List.  After thinking about this a bit, I think it makes a lot of sense. If you have a list that has start and finish dates, you know exactly how much time you have to get a specific chore completed.  That doesn’t mean you have to throw away your long-term goal list that I mentioned above, but time-blocking your tasks in your calendar allows you to break those big goals down into smaller chunks and gives you concrete deadlines to complete or achieve them by.  

If you go get a calendar today before the new year, whether it be a large desk calendar, a journal calendar, or even an online Google or iCalendar, you can start putting in important events in advance (i.e. doctors’ and dentists’ appointments, birthdates, dinner, lunch or playdates (both adult and kid), haircut appointments, school assignment due dates). You can see where I am going with this. With these items on the calendar now, before the new year, you can start off the new year without the stress and overwhelming feelings often realized around forgotten (important!) events.

Now getting back to how to be realistic in prioritizing what should be on this list!  I don’t think climbing Mt. Everest should come before getting all of the bathrooms cleaned and the laundry done. Just sayin’. But that is not to say that you shouldn’t pick a few BIG yearly goals like traveling to somewhere new or trying a sport that has always seemed beyond your ability.  These are the areas that, in the long term, help us grow and mold into the people we want to be and often, get ditched in favor of the daily grind tasks that keep life moving. To make sure I stick to these, I break them down by the quarter. Ninety day chunks of time are a lot easier to manage than one, big 365-day chunk. Ask yourself what benchmarks you want to hit for your goal within the next 90 days and make sure they’re S.M.A.R.T. (specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and timely)! Once you have those benchmarks you can then start tasking out the things you’ll need to do on a daily and weekly basis to make sure you hit them. 

After you’ve broken down and planned out your BIG goals for the year, it’s time to fill the calendar with those daily, necessary chores that keep us and our lives moving forward. When filling in these time blocks ask yourself: What are the things that need to get done this week? What are the things that need to get done today? House care? Finances? Exercise? Groceries? There will be some things on the daily to-do list that must happen each day or are time sensitive, so they start the list. Chores that don’t have time restrictions but should get done in a timely fashion can be added in after.

After all of this, you might be sitting here wondering whether or not this woman (me!) does anything fun at all.  And I will let you in on a little secret: because I keep a calendar, and a LONG TERM journal, I resolved this year to start taking Glass Blowing classes which start in January, and take up French lessons again.  I also went back to Pilates and am working online with a trainer. I also promised myself that even though I see clients four days a week, I would make sure that I exercised each of those days before I saw clients, and on the days I wasn’t with clients I would see friends, and indulge in one of my favorite things, going to movies.  Today is a day off from clients, so the short list comes out: laundry, bills, cleaners, return to Pottery Barn, update my TO DO monthly file in my office, and starting to tackle my closet. And yes, I was at Pilates bright an early this morning and it was on the calendar.

Happy organized 2019! 

And remember, if you can’t do it on your own, don’t be afraid to hire someone to help you. The Organizer offers digital and in-person coaching to help you declutter, organize, prioritize, and spend more time doing what you love. Contact me at (202)253-9619 or claudia@taskier.net.