Taxes be done!

Ah, the dreaded tax season. I know just the word ‘taxes’ can make people’s stomach turn into knots and anxiety creep into the forefront. It’s an important task, it can be time consuming, it can help or hurt a financial decision or big purchase you’re planning on. So there is a lot riding on doing them correctly. Right now, taxes are a big focus in blog land, so I won’t go too much into how to do your taxes this year so I don’t repeat too many of my fellow bloggers! However, I have decided to list out my tips and tricks for staying prepared for taxes all year long. Hopefully that way, they won’t be such a burden at the beginning of each year.

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1) Designate a folder for the current year’s tax documents. – This is the first and most important step into staying organized for tax season. I just label mine ‘TAXES’ and anything that comes up tax related goes in the folder. Throughout the year, if you get a receipt for a charitable contribution, a 10-99 or other tax statement from an individual or organization, a copy of a real estate tax statement, etc, put them in this folder so you will have them when you need them. If there is an item I also need to file somewhere else (such as a real estate settlement paper in the real estate folder), I make a copy for the tax folder. There are some things (such as medical records) that I don’t copy throughout the year because there are a lot of papers for some categories. I do this all at once at tax time if I’m itemizing these or another type of document. But for the most part, I try to keep track of things in the ‘tax folder’. This helps in two ways:

-You won’t be searching through endless folders and piles when it comes time to pull all of the necessary papers together.

-You won’t forget about a crucial transaction, deposit, donation etc and miss claiming it on your taxes.

2) Keep tax returns from previous years together and in a safe place.  – The typical statute of limitations for the IRS to audit previous returns is 3 years, which means that you should definitely keep your returns for the previous 3 years. However, several states have longer statutes of limitations so it’s best to check with your state’s guidelines. The S.O.L. also increases to 6 years automatically for you if you fail to report more than 25% of your gross income in a year. There are also recommendations on how long you should keep documents concerning the sale of property, securities, retirement fund rollovers and many other types of documents. It is always good to discuss these kinds of concerns with a CPA or other financial professional if you have detailed questions. Simple Tip Time! My personal preference is to keep documents for 7 years. This covers the Statute of Limitations by the IRS as well as time limits for other misc transactions. The returns only take up about 6″ worth of space in a file cabinet and I know I’m covered.

3) Know the supplies you will need when you start doing your taxes. Here is my list:

-Pen and pad of paper – As I start going through the tax preparation documents, I know I will have questions and will also be making a list of any papers I need to submit. Before I even open my file drawer, I make the list so I know what I’m looking for. That way, I only have to pull the files one time. Our accountant sends a questionnaire so I have that as a guideline when making my list.

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-Post it notes and paperclips – Once I start pulling out documents, I want to be able to keep everything straight. I use the large Post-its to make 3 categories – ‘Documents to send’, ‘our copies’, and ‘originals-no copies sent’.

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There are items which I note in my taxes (such as medical bills), but I don’t actually send in copies of the papers to our CPA. So that is why I have the ‘originals’-no copies sent’ pile. If you are doing your taxes yourself, you probably won’t need the ‘documents to send’ pile. The key here is to keep everything organized and to use a system that works best for you. I use the small post its to separate other misc piles that I might want to keep separate.

-I also pull a blank manila folder out that will hold this year’s return and all related paperwork.

4) It is also a good idea to put a blank piece of paper in the front of your revolving ‘tax folder’. If you think of questions throughout the year, write them down on this paper so you won’t forget them when the next tax time comes around. This is particularly true if you have had an event that is outside your norm, such as the birth of a child, purchase or sale of a property, or atypical charitable or gift contributions.

5) If you file your own taxes, make sure you are up to date on any changes to the tax laws which have occurred in the previous year. There may be an added allowable deduction that could help you out!

I’m no tax expert, but I am a believer that if you have a system for something that is tailored to your individual needs, any project can be made easier and more manageable!

Now it’s time to start preparing your taxes for next year :)

~Erin

Mail Station Bliss

I have a love/hate relationship with mail. When it’s under control and I’m neatly stacking opened items into my pay-file-recycle-shred piles, I feel in control and ridiculously accomplished. When it piles up though, I hate mail. I mean loathe mail. And I slink past the growing pile slowly and glare at it like a cat looks at you when it’s in a bad mood. (You know that look).

My sister told me I should do a post on organizing mail the other day after I told her how I got so behind somehow. I had been going through the pile with my two kids in the room and they were literally rolling and burrowing in the pile of creased and sharp edged paper. Totally safe for little kids, right?

So I thought I would share a few tips and also the comfort that even people who pride themselves as ‘organized’ get way behind sometimes when it comes to daily tasks. So first, I present to you my extremely boring mail organizing system:

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This is the top drawer that holds basic office supplies. The basket in the bottom right corner of the photo holds my ‘mail related’ items, such as stamps and a return address label stamp.

IMG_6914This is the right hand side of my desk. You can see a small mail organizer, which has 2 compartments. In the back compartment, I keep mail I still have to deal with, whether it’s a bill to pay, a phone call to be made, or an invitation to one of the many black tie galas I’m invited to (no…not really, mostly just bills).  The middle compartment holds blank envelopes. The front compartment holds several misc items, such as a letter opener and apparently (according to this photo) my cell phone. Weird.

I also have my shredder sitting right next to my desk. I explain my love for my shredder in this post.  And the shredder is sitting on top of my file cabinet. So here is my usual process for going through mail.

-I open everything and separate them into 4 piles: File, Shred, Recycle, and Take Action

-I throw the recyclable item’ s in the recycle bin (conveniently located next to the file cabinet).

-I shred the ‘shred’ items. Or sometimes, if I’m really short on time, I’ll put them in the aptly named ‘To Shred’ folder in the file cabinet. I try not to do this too often though, because then it tends to build up.

-Then I file everything in the ‘file’ pile.

-Then I try to go through all of the action items and pay bills, make calls, etc. If there are things that have to wait, they go into the back compartment of the mail organizer.

Now this is not a perfect system and sometimes I get waaaaay behind. But it’s the best system for me and that’s what it’s all about.

However, here are a few other ideas I’ve found in blog land to inspire you to organize your mail stations.

How cute is this DIY mail station? She took a cardboard box, cut it in half and then covered with an adorable pattern. If you are short on space, using wall storage is always a great idea.

I love this mini workstation. It has everything you could need without being cluttered. The little pops of color would inspire me to keep my desk clear so I could see it!

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This mail system is very similar to mine….except it’s a lot prettier to look at. Maybe someday…..

How do you efficiently go through your mail? Or is it in giant stacks all over the counter? Because we do both at our house ;)

~Erin

 

Cute Valentine’s Craft and Art Organizing Tips!

When I was helping my mother-in-law clean out the Playroom Closet in her house, we came across the cutest little Valentine’s craft called the ‘Lovebug.’ Here is the one we found:

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I actually have no idea if this was made by my husband or if it was one of his siblings, but I loved the idea. Soooo…I stole it for my own kids.

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It’s so simple and we already had all of the supplies, so that made it even better! Just a Popsicle stick, construction paper, pipe cleaners and crayons. Easy!

I am constantly trying to find new ways to store and organize photos and art projects so that they don’t take over my house. I do have a scrapbook for the kids crafts, but since Evan started preschool a couple of weeks ago, I know the sheer volume of felt, crayon drawings and tissue paper animals will soon overwhelm me.

I take pictures of the kid’s crafts whether I decide to keep the actual craft or not. That way I always have a record of them. For my husband’s birthday last week, I gave him a framed collage print of my favorite of Evan’s art from 2012. Here is what it looks like:

Evan's Art - 2012We are going to do a new one every year for both of the kids. When the frames get to be too much, we will just put the 8″ x 10″ prints in a photo album. And of course, I will always have the files on my computer too.

I love to have some of the actual crafts, so I will keep on doing my scrapbook for my favorite pieces. However, I try to keep the paper in our house to a minimum, so I’m hopping on board the technology train to help me wrangle in some of the paper clutter. Scanning, JPEGs, and collage prints are some of my very favorite ways to preserve memories.

How do you preserve your family’s memories but also contain the paper clutter?

~Erin

 

Thanksgiving Wrap Up

It was a wonderful Thanksgiving at our house. We stayed at home and it was just the 4 of us. It was calm and relaxing and full of fun and food. I wanted to give a little wrap up of the holiday and list some things that made it easier, as holidays have a tendency to be stressful.

First we had our Thanksgiving crafts, which we did over the last week and a half. There was, of course, the Cardboard Turkey Game:

We also did a leaf wreath, which we made out of aspen leaves from the yard and a paper plate with the center cut out.

Then I printed an acorn coloring page that I downloaded and Evan colored it and added some stickers.

I always take pictures of the kid’s crafts. That way I have them all on my computer in case something happens to the actual crafts. It’s also great because I am able to print or scrapbook the photos of items I don’t keep. Is it horrible that the turkey box is already on it’s way to turkey box heaven in the recycle bin? At least I have great photos and now I’m not stuck keeping a bunch of things I don’t need to keep.

The evening before Thanksgiving, I did as much prep as possible. I seasoned the turkey, peeled the potatoes, and made a casserole. I also set out the dishes, utensils and dry ingredients I would need for all of the other dishes along with a copy of each recipe. The prepping was great because it meant I didn’t have to do ANYTHING on Thanksgiving day until after noon when I put the turkey in the oven. Awesome.

We ate a light lunch, including a Turkey themed PBJ for Evan (inspired by Pinterest here):


Mine wasn’t picture perfect like all the ones I saw on Pinterest, but Evan loved it, so who cares? :)

It was actually a very relaxing day. And even though it was just the 4 of us at our house celebrating, we still made enough food to last until New Years.  :)

And of course I put together my Thanksgiving folder to help keep all of my Thanksgiving inspiration in one place. I made a folder for Halloween (which you can see here) and I loved it so much, I decided to do one for every major holiday.

So I started by making title pages for each category, such as Thanksgiving dinner, appetizers, crafts, decorations, etc.

I found inspiration on blogs, Pinterest, websites, magazines and our already established traditions. I printed photos of crafts I wanted to try, coloring pages for the kids,

recipes that looked good, and decorations I thought were pretty.

I also included the recipes that I have used for years on Thanksgiving. That way, I don’t have to dig them out of another cookbook because they are all in the Turkey Trot Folder!

Another thing I did was print a page with directions for cooking the turkey. I realized that I did not want to spend another year trying to read the directions while trying to avoid touching the raw turkey wrapper they are printed on. (Sidenote….My Thanksgiving tip is to take off the wrapper around the turkey while it is completely in the sink. On Wednesday night, I cut a small slit in the wrapper and expected to gently pull it off as I held it over the sink. You know how you try to gently open a bag of chips and then the bag explodes and chips go everywhere? Well, that happened to me. Except it wasn’t chip crumbs…it was raw turkey juice….everywhere.)

Anyways! So now I have a great resource for all my Thanksgiving projects. I plan on adding to it every year as I find new inspiration and try new recipes. You can find many of the ideas I put in the folder on my Thanksgiving Pinterest Board. I hope you had a great Thanksgiving. Now on to Christmas!

~Erin

 

 

 

Trick or Treat Neat

I am so excited to be participating in a new collaborative blog post project called Collectively Creative. This project was designed by Kelly over at Cobwebs, Cupcakes and Crayons. The concept is for various blogs to write about the same general topic on the same day. However, the individual posts will vary widely in their actual subject matter.

This month’s topic is, appropriately, Halloween!

I have always loved Halloween and I spent days and days racking my brain to come up with a way to combine Halloween and organizing. I present to you….. (dramatic pause)……

The Trick or ‘Neat’ Halloween Ideas Folder!!! (I’m picturing wild applause and unrelenting anticipation from my readers)

This handy folder is going to contain all of my Halloween ideas, inspirations and reminders for many (Full) moons to come.

Here’s the basic setup:

-I have made sections for various categories, such as crafts and food.

-I have made a title page for each section.

-I have used clear plastic sheet protectors for everything and I have left extra empty protectors at the back of the folder for when I add to this next year.

-I plan to keep this book in the plastic bin with all of my Halloween decorations.

So let’s get this crazy holiday organized! I’ll break it down by section:

~Craft Ideas

-Kids Crafts – I found some kid’s Halloween craft ideas online and I printed them several to a page. They are just photos (no instructions) because they are fairly simple concepts and I can figure out what to do just from the photos. I plan on adding new ideas each year, but it will be a great reference for craft night with the kids or Halloween parties.

-Coloring Pages – I like to search online for free coloring book pages for various holidays and themes. I usually try to find new ones, but I decided it would be good to have a stack of pre-printed ones that I could just copy if I wanted to. I have about a dozen coloring pages printed and I actually printed them 2 on a page. I do this because I like having a half-page coloring sheet. That way, I can put it on a piece of construction paper as a `background if I want to and they are also easier to store or hang on the fridge because they take up less room. I am going to copy a bunch of these for a little Halloween get together we are having next week so I am already using them!

I also took the ghost from my coloring page section, cut it out on black felt and then Evan and I covered it with cotton balls to make a 3-D ghost. I put a copy of the coloring page as well as a photo of Evan’s finished ghost in the binder so that I would remember this idea. It was fun, quick and cheap!

-Adult Crafts – This section is more for me. :) I found a few ideas for some Halloween decorations (such as twine covered mini pumpkins) and put them in here. There was one project (Mod Podge Halloween Blocks) that I wanted to have the exact process on hand for, so I printed the instructions and put them in this section as well.

~Food

-Food Presentation – This section is for clever ways to present your food on and around Halloween, such as salsa or dip in a carved out pumpkin or ‘googly eyes’ on plastic cups.

You can also see that there are several places where I just wrote a couple notes next to the photos.

-Appetizers – This is for Halloween themed pre-dinner dishes such as a pumpkin made of carrot sticks.

-Desserts and Treats – Now this is the section that Halloween is made for. There are so many creative and cute treats that looks like pumpkins, spiders, ghosts and more. Besides, you’re supposed to have treats at Halloween right? There are a million Halloween dessert ideas out there, so at some point this section may need its’ own binder!

~Decorations

-General Decoration Ideas – This section is going to include photos of our decorations as well as inspiration photos for future decorations.

-Party Decoration Ideas – This will be photos of our party set ups or inspiration set ups for future parties.

~Photos

-Previous Kid’s costumes – I wanted a cute way to display photos of the kids’ costumes from previous years, so I am going to laminate them and hang them on a string (like a photo garland). I really like the idea of being able to see these every year, especially Evan’s second Halloween when he was a spider and he had these long fabric spider arms dragging on the ground as he learned to Trick or Treat. Since I don’t want the photos to get bent in storage, I am putting them in the Halloween folder so they stay flat. Look for photos  of this project later this week!

Tip Alert!!!!

-I created the cover and section labels on powerpoint using fonts I found at Font Space. I just recently started using this site. There are lots of font download sites, but this one is great so far. There are literally thousands of free fonts to choose from, it is easy to search by category and they even have fonts that contain different borders, pictures and embellishments. It’s FANTASTIC! I did some searches for reviews on the site and saw a lot of great things. So while I can’t officially promote this because I haven’t had a ton of experience with it, it has served me well so far and I completely recommend it. Some of these fonts will soon be making appearances on my labels at home.

-I also reorganized my Halloween pins in my Pinterest folders. I have general Boards for Food, Desserts, Crafts/ DIY, and Holidays (check me out on Pinterest here). However, I realized that I had Halloween related items on all of those boards, which is incredibly inefficient. Knowing me, I would be looking through the Holidays board on November 1st and see an awesome Halloween idea. So I made a separate board for just Halloween items, which you can see here. Most of these pictures were actually printed and put into the book, but the Pinterest board allows me to share it with others, which I love.

So I’ve got my book to reference and add to for future Halloweens. I have also decided to do this same type of thing for every major holiday. It’s the project that keeps on giving! :)

Now here’s the fun part. Check out all of the links below to see who else is participating in the Halloween edition of Collectively Creative! These are great blogs year round so make sure to keep tabs on their tips, recipes and ideas.

Also, make sure to keep an eye out for next month’s edition of Collectively Creative. Again, thanks so much to Kelly over at Cobwebs, Cupcakes and Crayons for allowing me to be a part of this!
~Erin

File Cleanup

It’s September 1st and I can’t believe how quickly the summer has gone by. There are several different things I do throughout the year to keep things running smoothly and one of them is back up my files. I try to do this right around the 1st of every month. I know I’ve posted about this before, but it’s worth a repeat, because it’s a process that should be done often if it is to be valuable! I back up my files on My Passport external hard drive:

I know there are a lot of websites that you can buy subscriptions to that will store your data for you and also create automatic backups. While I love this idea, I have so many pictures, videos, files, etc that it would be kind of pricey for me to pay for the service. I have looked at a lot of different recommended backup sites and many charge by the amount of info you need to store. Sooooo anyways, until I win the lottery, this handy little ‘My Passport’ will do. For my photos, I also do some other things to back them up, which you can read about here.

Another thing I try to do near the beginning of each month is do a quick run through on my documents and photos and have myself a little ‘organize and delete’ party. You have to be diligent and selective with what files you keep or it will get overwhelming, so while I try to keep up with it on a day to day basis, my files still need a good once-over at least once a month.

Here’s one more thing I did yesterday just to save my technological sanity…..I unsubscribed from a lot of email feeds I get (sorry Groupon!). There were several others that were clogging my inbox and giving me a headache so away they went.

Between those three things, I feel a little more clearheaded and more secure that my files are safe in case something happens to my computer.

What else do you do to ensure your files and computers are organized?

~Erin

Introducing ‘Things I Love Thursdays’

There are so many things that I love: people, food, gadgets, places, the list goes on and on. However, when it comes to Neatening the Nest, there are some that make a bigger impact than others. To start off the Things I Love series, I present to you:

Ode to My Shredder:

Oh shredder, gadget of plastic and razor sharp teeth!

How you simplify my life, how you clean off my desk!

Ok, I can’t continue with the Shakespearean feel for more than 2 lines with a straight face. But I do love my shredder. It is one investment that has made itself worthwhile again and again. Now it doesn’t actually save me money in the strictest sense, but it saves my peace of mind. And it could save me money if it helps to prevent people from stealing my identity.

Now data varies on how many identity thefts actually occur per year, but it’s no secret that there are a lot and the number is growing. While you can’t prevent every piece of personal information from falling into the wrong hands, it’s important to do what you can. That means keeping certain info out of your trash can, such as social security numbers, credit card #s and passwords. The way I do that is through shredding them.

Several shredder tips:

1) My number 1 tip is to get a cross cut shredder. This mean that the paper is not just cut into vertical strips, but it is also cut horizontally. That makes papers exponentially harder to put back together.

2) Get a decent shredder. It doesn’t have to be top of the line, but if you plan on using it, you should get one that will work hard for you. My shredder will do 6 pages at a time and I have had it for about 7 years. It’s still going strong!

3) Shred the obvious stuff (like items with your social and credit card #s). However, consider some of the other items that might not be so obvious. I shred every credit card offer I get. Though the only information they have on them is my name, the thought of someone using one of these applications to open an account in my name is enough to freak me out. I also shred old utility bills and anything else that has identifying information. I probably go overboard, but I don’t care. I have a shredder and I’m using it!

4) Keep it where you will use it. If you keep your shredder in the bottom of the closet, chances are you won’t be shredding as often as you should. If you have kept up with my posts this week, you will notice that I just moved my shredder from the office floor to the top of a file cabinet. I now can shred things the instant I realize they aren’t needed and they are out of my life and mind forever! Yeah!

Trust me, this is a worthwhile investment that can actually save you a lot of hassle in the long run. Happy Shredding!

~Erin

Let’s get personal

I have always kept my personal files in my bedroom. There are several reasons:

-I felt it was a safe place to keep them away from tiny kiddos.

-I have never had a home office that was  structured to handle both work and personal files

-I didn’t want to put anything else in the office. I think this was because my office wasn’t a pleasant place to be before I started this organization. Who wants to try to work and sort in a cluttered, frustrating environment?

Now, technically none of this made any sense.

-My kids are in my closet a lot more than they are in my office.

-And my home office is definitely big enough to accommodate both work and personal things.

-It doesn’t make sense to have all files in different places. They should all be where the envelopes, pens, stamps, etc.are.

-If I had organized my office a long time ago, it would have been a great place to work and be from the beginning!

-When I kept my personal files in my closet, I would go through the mail in the kitchen, then I would put ‘stuff to file’ on the stairs for when I went to my room. Then I would put other papers in the ‘to shred’ box for when I finally got around to that. Then I would have a ‘to do’ file on my kitchen counter. Way too many steps, right? So incredibly inefficient and very time-consuming.

So as the ‘Great Office Organization’ continues, I have consolidated everything into the office!

Here is a picture of my file box in my bedroom before:

These are not clothes…So why are they in my closet???

Notice the pile of papers on top that I had yet to file. Oh, and the box on top of the papers, which I thought I might use as a ‘to file’ box. Not anymore friends! Time to downsize!

I have moved the files upstairs and put them into a file cabinet. This file cabinet has been my only purchase in the office reorganization and cost less than $40. The bottom half of the cabinet is personal files and the top half will be for my Neaten Your Nest organization business. I already had a file cabinet for my regular work files. Is this all confusing enough for everyone!

So here’s the wrap up.

-I was able to get my files OUT of my closet. I feel the calm coming back to my room already.

-Not only are my personal files upstairs, but all of my office supplies are too. This makes it so easy to go through mail there. I open everything and put it in piles: Recycle, shred, file, pay or take other action. Since I also put my shredder on top of the file cabinet, I can do every single one of those things within minutes. No more boxes, no more piles on the stairs, no more waiting. So, so easy breezy!

Lessons learned:

-When organizing, efficiency is key. Removing steps from a process can save time, money and sanity.

-Sometimes you have to be selective when making purchases for organizing. But it’s important to consider what will make the most impact. Buying one file cabinet helped me consolidate files, save time, it makes going through mail easier, elevates the shredder, and looks nice.

-Organizing something that needs it soooo much can bring a lot of calm to your life. I can’t tell you how much of a difference this change has already made in my life.

Sunday Survey time!

~Erin