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Wednesday, December 26, 2012

New Year's Organizing Tips & Tricks

I want to thank all of my readers, first of all, for making this year such a wonderful one for me. It's been a privilege to write for you, hear from you & learn from you. Each day when I look at how many people have read my posts & see the countries galore that you all hail from, I'm just astounded. Writing this blog is honestly one of the most rewarding things I've ever done in my life & I owe that all to you guys! I sincerely hope that this blog has given you some tips for getting a little bit more organized over this past year. I look forward to continuing my work on this blog & am always thinking of what I can pass on to my wonderful readers each day as I go about my work.

Here I'm going to present some tips for utilizing this time of year to your advantage. In some parts of the world it's the dead of winter, while in others it's summertime. I know certain people reside in an area where it's always tropical, too. Regardless, I think that most of us feel a tug this time of year to start fresh. I'm not going to tell you that this is the year you'd better start exercising or anything like that. I think having goals & plans for the future is a happier way to live but I'm definitely not here to add more onto your already-heavy plate. What I have to share really doesn't have a whole lot to do with meeting long-term goals, not in a repetitive way, that is. I'm going to list some annual things that are on my own New Year's Day list.

1) View & print the credit report from all three major agencies, including my credit scores. It's free to review the credit score from one agency, but you will have to pay for the credit scores from the additional two. It's not very costly & can be worth the nominal cost if you intend to buy a big purchase in the coming year. Debates continue over whether or not looking at this information lowers your score slightly (as does anyone viewing the score, such as a creditor). But my guess is that the drop would be pretty minimal & being able to see your reports/scores is really the most important thing to keep in mind. Many people avoid viewing these because of fear, but there are often errors on your reports (usually against your favor) & therefore they should be reviewed regardless of your fears. Assuming you're an adult, it's just something you have to face. It may alert you to fraudulent activity going on, as well- something you might never catch if you don't keep an eye on the report. I used to work for a bank & often what I'd see in a fraud investigation was that a family member or close friend was stealing a person's name & Social Security number for their personal use. Please don't think that only strangers (or even mostly strangers) are stealing this type of information. Without viewing these reports, you may never know what's going on. The official website to view this at is:

www.annualcreditreport.com (This is NOT to be confused with the website freecreditreport.com, which is frequently advertised on TV, but has had problems with entities such as the Better Business Bureau. I have never used that site & have nothing bad to say about them personally, but using the correct website ensures you won't be charged hidden fees or have other problems an "unofficial" site can present.)

2) Take down holiday decorations. Some people love to leave certain items up for longer throughout the winter season. Depending upon when a fresh tree or wreath is bought, it may be good for awhile longer. If it/they are dried out, though, it's best to toss them or they'll become a fire hazard. I put away my Christmas decorations on New Year's Day but I do leave up a few that are really just winter-themed & aren't specific to Christmas. Come March, though, the winter decorations get put away until early December. It's entirely up to you whether you want to use New Year's Day for this purpose each year. Many times I chose to do this activity that day because my company demanded mandatory overtime throughout January. I knew that day off would be my last one for awhile where I was totally free to do an "extra" chore like this. New Year's Day is often a slow day & so it serves the purpose well to do some winter de-cluttering & cleaning, especially after a busy holiday season. Working people often don't have another holiday off until Labor Day in May. Just set up a schedule that works for you, if your home is decorated for the season.

3) Take down the previous year's calendars from around the house. Go through the calendars & save any pages that might be needed- important info may include when your child's immunizations were done, when prescriptions last got filled, when you were off of work on FMLA or short-term leave, when people passed away, etc. Calendars are of course meant to serve as a record of your life's time & should be reviewed once more if they were written on at all before being thrown out. This is a good time to go through last year's calendar & take from it any new birthdays, anniversaries or other important new events which need to be added to repeat online or paper calendars. Some people save their whole calendar because they need to refer back to it periodically or out of sentimentality. I prefer to transfer important info written on my previous year's paper calendar into a digital format (such as Google calendar) & then toss the old paper calendar out. As long as it's not clutter to you (be honest with yourself here), keep it but put it in your filing cabinet or another place where it can be easily accessed. Don't save the whole calendar if you really just need a page or to from it for reference on a particular issue. Make sure you black out any private identifying information such as a Social Security number with a permanent marker, if applicable, before tossing out the calendar.

4) If you own a desktop computer with a large hard drive, this is a good time to clean it, getting as much dust & debris out as possible. Start the new year with a cleaner computer & you'll reduce a fire hazard as well as possibly speed up your PC performance a bit. It's also a good way to reduce the household dust if you suffer from allergies and/or asthma. Be sure to wear rubber-soled shoes, remove any metal jewelry & eyeglasses (if possible) from yourself & unplug the computer completely (along with any components attached by cord or USB) to prevent electric shocks from occurring. You might want to wear a nose/mouth mask if your PC is especially dusty or dirty inside. The last time I cleaned mine, my lungs & nose got quite a bit of dust in them. Yuck! Remove the cover off of your hard drive & clean it with compressed air + cleaning cloths. In most computers this process requires no tools. If you don't have canned air on hand, then use a dusting attachment on a vacuum wand- but use a gentle touch. It's better to carefully dust by hand if your vacuum has a ton of suction to it. While your hard drive is opened up, this is a great time to install additional RAM in order to give your computer a speed & memory boost. RAM cards are generally quite inexpensive & can add years to the life of your PC, so don't ignore doing this. Your desk & surrounding area will probably be pretty dusty after doing this, too, so be prepared to polish your desk & vacuum the floor after performing this chore. If it's been awhile, run Disk Cleanup, Disk Defragmenter & any other computer cleaning programs that you have available. Remove excess photos, music, documents & software from your PC. Take time to clean your keyboard, mouse & any other computer accessories that you can, too. Clean your computer screen if you can, as well. It's not exactly a fun way to spend time but it really makes a huge difference in the way your computer looks, feels & performs.

5) If it appeals to you, set a writing journal, daily devotional or a copy of the Holy Bible by your bedside table for yourself. If you've set a goal to read or write every day, putting a book or a pretty journal is a nice way to start the new year out right. There are also many free Bible-reading plans to subscribe to, if this interests you. A quick Google search should yield a variety of interesting programs in this regard.

6) Print out, hole-punch & put a portable calendar in your control journal for the coming year. I just used a pre-printed calendar gained from a Google search & printed out one myself. I set my printing preference to print on both sides of each page & therefore only added six sheets of paper to my control journal. Don't add something which contains a lot of bulk or doesn't appeal to your style of recording items. I highly recommend printing out or buying a portable calendar that has some writing room in each day's little space or it won't serve much good. While nothing beats using a great wall calendar & online calendar, having a portable calendar like this is great for when you're on the run but need to record an important event. (I do have a calendar on my cell phone but have found it faster to just write something in my paper calendar quickly.) Alternately, you can just use a Palm Pilot or cell phone calendar. The technology itself is not important- just provide yourself with a format that's available while you're out & about for recording items on a calendar. Here's the free one I printed out:

http://www.waterproofpaper.com/printable-calendar/2013-printable-calendar.pdf

7) Write in the new two-digit year (ex. 2013.../13) on every check left in your checkbook. This easy step will prevent costly & annoying errors that occur due to writing in last year's date incorrectly on your checks. Make sure everyone in your household & all who have checks in your business (as applicable) do the same thing.

8) Start your new year out right by cleaning out your fridge, freezer, pantry, dried herb & spice collection. All those half-used bottles of salad dressing on the fridge door that for some strange reason you can't remember when you last used them, meat hiding in the back of the freezer that was purchased during the Carter Presidency & pantry items you bought with good intentions but never opened before the expiration date need to get tossed. If the spice or herb has little to no fragrance, toss it & replace it the next time you go to the store. If you haven't already done so, buy some white adhesive labels, a dark black pen & start labeling/dating any leftovers, items you put up into the freezer, bottled herbs & spices. I highly recommend, when you open a container of mayo or salad dressing, that you stick a label on it & put the date opened  on that label. Just because open items have an expiration date doesn't mean it's okay to use them up until that date unless they'd stayed unopened. There are various websites on the market which will tell you product-by-product how long you can keep something once opened, whether it's frozen, refrigerated or a pantry item. For me, I allow two days max on cooked leftovers- meat, potatoes, vegetables, etc. Some people allow up to four days, but I'm not taking any chances.

9) Get a haircut, perm and/or haircoloring session done to brighten up your looks, if it's something you've ignored in the hustle & bustle of the previous holiday season. Perking up your looks via this or any other salon services can be a huge depression lifter in the cold, dreary, short days of winter, too.

10) Go through your nail polish, makeup & toiltetries, tossing what's expired or just no longer appealing to you. It's okay to admit a product just wasn't right for you- just toss it if you don't know anyone who wants the product or it wouldn't be safe to share it due to the potential for spreading infections (like an eye shadow- just toss that if it's not for you after trying it, if it couldn't be returned to the store).

You can set a repeating annual reminder in your online calendar to perform these tasks every New Years Day. That way you'll never have to worry about forgetting important goals of your own, above & beyong anything that I've listed here.

Have a wonderful, organized new year,
Liz 

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