Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Organizing Coupons & Gift Cards

Tip of the Week, April 17, 2010

[Note: This week's Tip is an excerpt from The Organized Life Guide to Organizing Papers & Files, my new e-book. Click here for more info on the book.]

Store and manufacturer's coupons can be an effective way of saving money and scoring good deals, but they won't do you much good if you don't have access to them when you're ready to buy, or if you find that the ones you were counting on using have long since expired. The same holds for gift certificates and gift cards: they're not useful if they're stashed away in a drawer.

According to coupon guru Matthew Spillane, "Organizing coupons is critical if you have any intention of actually ever using them." Luckily, he says, it's easy to create a simple, reliable system that will keep your coupons and gift cards at your fingertips when you need them.

Here's what Matt suggests:

  • Use a small expandable file (5x7 is the perfect size) with a snap or elastic closure and divided pockets inside. Label each pocket with a category.
  • Organize your coupons by categories that make sense based on what your household is like and how you shop. Common categories include Dairy, Meat and Poultry, Fruits and Vegetables, Cleaning, Toiletries, Pets, and Frozen Foods. If you regularly use store-specific coupons, you might also create separate categories for them.
  • Sort your gift cards by type: Restaurants, Home Stores, Clothing, Services, and so on.
  • Store your coupon organizer in your car, purse, or bag, or keep it with other items you take with you when you shop (such as reusable grocery bags).
  • Keep your coupon organizer current. Every few weeks, sort through your coupons and gift cards to weed out any that have expired. As you clip coupons or receive gift cards, put them directly into your file.
Like the idea of using coupons but don't want to deal with the paper versions? Matt recommends checking out Cellfire (, which offers coupons you can save digitally to grocery store club cards or access on a mobile device, no clipping or filing required.

Of course, just having coupons isn't enough: to get the most value from them, you need to use them wisely, on products that you normally buy, and ideally in conjunction with store sales. Matt suggests taking the time to review your grocery store's circular each week and making a list of what you need, then matching the coupons you have to the items on your list--all before hitting the store. Says Matt, "My least productive shopping occurs when I go to the store without first using the weekly store circular, creating a list, and matching coupons to the list. I typically know exactly what I want, what store to find it in on any given week, and what coupons I'll use before going into the store."

Even if you're not a coupon master (and yes, they exist!), taking a few simple steps to create an organizing system for your coupons, gift cards, and other money saving vouchers will make it much easier to shop smartly and keep more money in your pocket the next time you hit the store.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Introducing The Organized Life Guide to Organizing Papers & Files

I'm happy to announce the release of my new e-book, The Organized Life Guide to Organizing Papers & Files. Having heard clients, Tip readers, friends, and family members share time and again their frustrations with trying to stay on top of the paper in their life, I decided to create a comprehensive guide that would help them take back control.

The Guide to Organizing Papers & Files is full of tips, guidelines, projects, and worksheets that walk you step-by-step through the processes of weeding out unneeded paper and creating a filing system that will work for you, safely storing your most important documents, dealing with mail and bills, and preventing paper from taking over your desktop, your filing cabinets, your mailbox, and your life.

Grab your copy of the Guide to Organizing Papers & Files anytime during April to save $5. This month is the perfect time to spring clean paper clutter right out of your life; this guide is the perfect companion to help you succeed.

Click here to read more about The Organized Life Guide to Organizing Papers & Files, and to order your copy.

Here's to spending less time battling paper and more time doing what you love.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Avoiding "Someday I Will..." Clutter: Part 4

Tip of the Week, April 4, 2010

Is aspirational or "someday I will..." clutter taking up space in your home--and taking up effort, attention, and energy in your mind? Over the past few weeks, we've looked at 3 different types of this clutter. Here's another kind of aspirational clutter to be on the lookout for.

Type #4: "Someday I will...make amazing home-cooked meals in my well-stocked kitchen" clutter

What it is
Cookware, gadgets, pantry supplies, and specialized foods that are intended to help you create fancy or elaborate meals at home

Why it's frustrating
As with other types of "someday I will..." clutter, cooking and meal prep clutter can be frustrating because it represents money spent, something you may feel like you should be doing (i.e., doing more or different kinds of cooking than you currently do), and a general goal or aspiration that you might not have a specific plan for.

You are certainly not alone if you've ever spent a good chunk of cash on cooking gadgets, special pots and pans, and fancy pantry staples or elaborate ingredients--and have then kept them around, even if you're not using them, because you don't want your money to go to waste. Of course, seeing these reminders of money not well spent often does little more than cause guilt, regret, and frustration.

You're also not alone if you've stocked your kitchen and pantry with special supplies because you feel you should cook more, or should make fancier meals than you currently do. Just as buying expensive exercise gear won't necessarily inspire you to hit the gym, though, simply having cookware and ingredients around won't necessarily inspire you to change how you prepare meals. Unless you have a specific plan for doing different things in the kitchen (I plan to cook dinner at home three times a week, for example, or I plan to try one new recipe from my cookbook collection each weekend), it can be challenging to change.

How to deal with it

Start by honestly assessing the type of meal prep you do and what cookware, gadgets, and ingredients you need for it. If in fact you do regularly cook at home and vary the dishes you prepare, you may indeed want to have on hand supplies and pantry staples that go beyond the basics. But if you tend to stick with cooking a few favorites over and over again, or if you dine out more than you dine at home, chances are that any out-of-the-ordinary tools and ingredients in your kitchen don't really need to be there.

Truly dedicated to changing how you cook? Set some concrete goals--to have a certain number of dinners at home each week, or to invite friends over for brunch once a month, or to branch out and master three new cooking techniques by the summer--and then make sure what's in your kitchen and your pantry supports those goals. I recommend setting statutes of limitations, too: if, for example, you're holding onto a pasta machine because you've set a goal to make homemade pasta twice a month, agree with yourself that you'll pass that gadget along to someone else if, in a few months' time, your pasta making hasn't happened.

Because it can feel depressing and wasteful to pitch unused kitchen items--especially food--think of clearing out your drawers, cupboards, and pantry as a chance to reap value from the money you've spent on these supplies by passing them along to people who will actually use them, rather than leaving them gathering dust and causing you frustration. Have a friend who's an avid cook? Donate your unused gadgets and ingredients to him, perhaps with the agreement that he'll use them to cook you a nice meal or two. Ready to clear out excess pots, pans, and utensils? Shelters and transitional housing facilities often love these supplies, which they use to stock kitchen for their residents.

Give yourself permission to leave behind any aspirations for kitchen wizardry that no longer interest or inspire you, or that just don't feel within reach, and also to leave behind the resultant clutter. You'll wind up with a kitchen that's efficiently stocked and set up the type of cooking you do now.

In next week's Tip: Avoiding "Someday I will...catch up on my magazines/re-read all of those novels/finally tackle 'War and Peace'" clutter.

Tuesday, April 06, 2010

Avoiding "Someday I Will..." Clutter: Part 3

Tip of the Week, March 28, 2010

Over the past few weeks, we've looked at two different kinds of "Someday I will..." clutter--things you're holding on to because you're determined to take that fantastic trip...someday or lose those stubborn 10 pounds...someday. This week, let's consider another type of aspirational clutter.

Type #3: "Someday I will...really get into scrapbooking/knitting/photography/beading" clutter

What it is
Tools, supplies, and gadgets related to creative hobbies and crafts--think special papers and novelties for scrapbooking, skeins of fancy yarn for knitting, interchangeable lenses for photography, and hundreds (or thousands!) of tiny baubles for beading or jewelry making

Why it's frustrating
Crafts-related clutter scores high on the crazy-making scale for a few reasons. First off, chances are that this stuff didn't come cheap, so if you're not using it, it represents money you might feel you've wasted.Next, there can be big stockpiles of guilt lurking behind this type of clutter, especially if you think your crafting and creating intentions would be of benefit to someone else, as in, "Someday I'll create scrapbooks for my kids so that they can look back on what happened in their childhoods" or "Someday I'll take up knitting so I can create special holiday gifts for my friends and family." You might feel even more guilty if you see other people in your life take on these crafts happily and with ease and if you think you should be able to as well.

On a related note, it can be frustrating to acknowledge that you really don't like a craft or creative pursuit once you've tried it, especially if you've invested a good amount of time and/or money in it. Holding on to the stuff related to that pursuit in the hope that someday you'll finally come to see the appeal in it often just makes things worse.

Finally, craft-y clutter is often among the trickiest to contain and keep organized, especially when there are lots of small or irregularly shaped parts involved. It's not unusual for this kind of stuff to lurk in multiple areas throughout the house, which can sometimes make it seem like it's everywhere.

How to deal with it
Before you offload all of the supplies related to a chosen creative pursuit, cut yourself some slack. Even if you don't partake of your craft as often as you might like, if you can honestly say that it is indeed something you do on a fairly regular basis, it may well be worth keeping some (or most) of the stuff that allows you to do it. For example, I have a cousin who loves scrapbooking but finds that there are often weeks (or months) at a time when she can't get to it. At least a few times a year, though, she becomes a scrapbooking machine, so it makes sense for her to keep supplies on hand so she's ready to go when she has the time.

That said, if you've had your camera and lenses, bead collection, bags of yarn, or other creative gear on hand for more than a few months and have not used them--and, moreover, aren't inclined, when you get a bit of spare time, to think, Hey, I'd really like to shoot some photos/bead a necklace/knit a scarf--it might be time to let your non-hobby and its companion supplies go.

Holding on to your creative gear because you spent good money on it? Stashing it in the back of a closet or the bottom of a drawer isn't a way to recoup your investment--and may wind up making you feel guilty or resentful every time you catch a glimpse of those expensive supplies. A far better way to put your already-spent money to use is to pass the stuff along to someone who'll actually enjoy it. Teachers, after-school programs, senior centers, and community groups are often happy to receive donations of craft supplies. In the case of truly expensive gear, you might consider trying to sell it so you'll make a few bucks in the process of getting rid of it.

If you're not yet ready to part with all of your creative clutter, make a deal with yourself: limit yourself to a certain amount of it (say, anything that can be stored in one banker's box) and commit to a date by which you'll either use it or give it away.

Finally, remember that you're under no obligation to enjoy a hobby just because others do. If your friends always seem to be having a ball with scrapbooking but you really have no interest in it, bid your stickers and papers and novelties adieu and work on finding a creative pursuit you actually like. Just remember to give it a test run before investing heavily in supplies and gear to avoid future clutter build-ups.

In next week's Tip: Avoiding "Someday I will...make amazing home-cooked meals in my well stocked kitchen" clutter.