Inexpensive Ways to Get Organized

If you can’t afford the luxury of a professional crew of organizers and designers to organize your clutter and maximize your space, that doesn’t mean you have to keep living in chaos. Those of us on a budget still have plenty of options for getting organized. All you need to get started is some time and $30 (or maybe even less).

First, decide what area you want to focus on. If your home is in decent shape, you may feel comfortable focusing on your home as a whole. If every square foot is a disaster zone, pick a small area to start with, like the entryway or a bedroom.

Here are some techniques you can implement and inexpensive items you can buy to start getting organized. (Try buying them at a dollar store to get more bang for your buck.)

Trash bags: It’s difficult to get organized when you have too much stuff. Take two trash bags (or boxes) and fill one with items to donate and one with items to throw away. Don’t stop until you’ve filled both—the impact will be significant.

Ziplock bags: Ziplock bags are great for grouping small, like items together. For example, if you were organizing your desk drawer, you would put pens in one bag, pencils in another, highlighters in third bag, paperclips in a fourth, and so on until every category of item has its own bag.

You may have a drawer full of bags when you’re done, and it may not be as pretty as a plastic organizer tray, but it will be a lot easier to find what you’re looking for when everything is grouped together in manageable bunches than when it’s all tangled together in one big heap.

GladWare containers: I use these inexpensive plastic containers (or their store-brand equivalent) to organize toiletry items in my bathroom and linen closet. I like to buy the 64 ounce size because it holds a lot of medium-sized items, like travel toiletries, bars of soap, razors, or air-freshener refills. If you also have a lot of smaller items to organize, like lipsticks, buy some smaller containers.

Of course, these containers aren’t just helpful in the bathroom. You can use them in the garage to sort hardware (screws in one container, nails in another), in the office to sort supplies, in the kitchen to sort all those packets of ketchup and disposable silverware packets you’re hanging on to, or anywhere else you have lots of small items that need decluttering.

Clear, one-quart containers: I’ve found these for $1 at Target. Larger than GladWare containers, they’re good for sorting and neatly storing items like video game controllers, computer software disks, small computer accessories, and stamps and envelopes. It’s important to buy clear ones so you can easily see what’s inside and find what you need after you put it away. If your organization system doesn’t make things easy for you, you won’t stick with it.

Accordion folder with multiple file slots: I use this to sort my mail so it doesn’t end up in an ugly, overwhelming heap on my dining room table. Each day when the mail comes, I quickly go through it and sort it into four categories: recycle, shred, file, and deal with later. Then I put each pile into one of the slots in my accordion folder.

Some people may prefer to get rid of the recycle and shred stuff immediately, but I find this method easier to stick with because it takes less time. And having all the “deal with” stuff in one place means I can sit down for an hour once a week and knock out a bunch of things at once, reducing the amount of time I spend dealing with bills and other annoyances.

You don’t have to use a folder like this just for mail — you can use the same system in any room you’re organizing where you need to go through lots of papers.

File boxes: You may not be able to afford (or find space for) an entire filing cabinet, but you can pick up a plastic file box and some hanging file folders for about $20. Use this to store your important documents, like tax records, bank statements, and health records. Put new documents in a “to be filed” folder at the front of the box as you receive them, then make it a point to file them in their respective folders once a month.

If you’re not sure where to put something, just make a new folder for it – it’s easy to put things away as long as you have a place for them. This system takes very little time to maintain.

Hangers: It’s easy to end up with a messy closet, but it’s a simple problem to fix. You probably won’t need to lay out any cash for this one, either. First, decide which items you wear often enough that they merit taking up the limited space in your closet. Put each item on a hanger, then sort the items into piles on your bed by category – tank tops, short-sleeved shirts, long-sleeved shirts, sweaters, jeans, work shirts, and work pants, for example.

Then, hang up each pile in an order that’s logical to you. Put the items you wear most in the part of your closet that’s easiest to access. For all the clothes that you decided don’t need to hang in the closet, get rid of them if you’re comfortable with that, but if not, fold them up and store them in boxes. While getting rid of things can be an important step toward getting more organized, I think some organizing gurus place too much emphasis on this step, making it difficult for people who like to hang on to their stuff to get organized. If you find that you don’t miss the stuff you’ve put in boxes, you can always get rid of it later.

If you want to take your closet organization to the next level, hang everything with the hanger backwards. Then, after you’ve worn an item (and washed it), hang it back up the regular way. This allows you to see which clothes you’re actually wearing and which you aren’t. (I got this tip from Nate Berkus on an episode of Oprah.)

You’re probably busy and stressed out enough with the activities of your daily life — why make it worse by continuing to live in a space where it’s hard to find what you need when you need it, where piles of stuff make things feel even more chaotic? Just a few hours and these inexpensive items can make a big difference, and you can even do it with music or the TV on to make it less of a chore.

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Photo by jm3

Post by Amy Fontinelle

15 Things that Make Flying Coach Bearable

Baby boomers remember a time when airline travel was a luxury and a reason to dress up. But these days, does anyone look forward to flying? Passenger complaints have been increasing along with consumer activism and lobbying congress, but the myriad annoyances involved in taking a commercial flight aren’t expected to get better in the forseeable future.

Until the system has been overhauled, here are some things you can bring on board that will help make your flight as pleasant as possible, whether everything goes according to schedule or you get stuck on the tarmac for seven hours.


1. Medication. If you take any prescription medications regularly, make sure they’re in your carry-on, especially if taking your medication on time is critical to your health. You also might consider bringing any nonprescription medications that could ease your flight, like ibuprofen for a headache, Dramamine for motion sicknesss, or pseudoephedrine for stopped-up ears.


2. Headphones. You can go all-out and purchase some noise-canceling headphones from Bose for $300, or you can try one of the many knockoffs that start as low as $30. These over-the-ear headphones can add unwanted bulk to your limited carryon luggage, though, so you might consider some noise-reducing earphones instead like Shure’s E2C headphones, which go into your ears like earplugs and create a seal to block out sound (they make your breathing and eating sound very loud, but it’s better than enduring crying babies or those constant, unnecessary in-flight announcements).


3. Snacks. If you can mange the space, you might want to bring as much as 24 hours’ worth of food with you in case there isn’t any available to buy during a delay. Dense, high-calorie foods like protein bars, nuts, and dried fruit are good options that will provide you with filling nutrition for minimal space. They’ll also save you money if you normally buy the tiny, overpried snacks sold on board.


4. Water. Flights are notoriously dehydrating, and those tiny cups from the beverage cart won’t quench your thirst. Bring your own water bottle, the larger the better. You can still take it through security as long as it’s empty, and then you can fill it up at the water fountain before boarding your plane. Then, you can enjoy the luxury of taking a sip whenever you’re thirsty instead of whenever you’re fortunate enough to have a beverage cart pass by.


5. Toothbrush. This small, lightweight item can go a long way towards making you feel refreshed during a long flight or delay.


6. Travel blanket and pillow. We’d all like to think that the pillows and blankets provided by airlines (when they’re actually available) are clean, but there’s no way to know for sure that your blanket doesn’t contain a previous passenger’s drool. Plus, the pillows are too small and the blankets are always staticky. Instead, bring your own travel pillow ($10-$30) and blanket (compact silk sleep sacks are surprisingly warm and can be had for $20-$30) to stay comfortable and warm on a cold flight. Also, putting a small pillow behind your back on the plane can make your seat a lot more comfortable, and both items will be indispensable if you get stranded in an airport overnight.


7. Plenty of warm clothing. Who knows why some flights are warm and stuffy while others seem to let in the freezing air from outside the plane, but since you never know what you’ll get stuck with, it’s always a good idea to dress in layers. Relatively small items like legwarmers and hats can add a lot of warmth for not much carry-on space.


8. iPod video. Though certainly not in the budget-saving category, for some people the best way to lose track of time and their surroundings on a flight is to watch TV shows or movies. Since not all flights offer in-flight shows (or ones that you’d actually want to watch), bringing your own entertainment is the way to go. The battery won’t last long with constant video watching, however, so make sure to purchase a portable charger like the i-Turbo (which provides about 25 minutes of viewing time per AA battery).


9. Podcasts and audiobooks. Another great benefit to bringing an iPod video on the plane with you is that you can also pass the time (or lull yourself to sleep) with podcasts and audiobooks. The podcasts, at least, can be free.


10. Laptop. If you have the space and aren’t skittish about your computer getting stolen or damaged during your trip, consider bringing your laptop on your next trip. You’ll have multiple activities at your fingertips to distract you during the flight. Depending on the length of your flight and what you’re planning on doing, you might want to get an extra battery and a privacy screen.


11. Portable DVD player. If you’d like something that has a larger screen than an iPod, but that isn’t as cumbersome (or as expensive) as a laptop, a portable DVD player might be a good idea. If you find a good deal, you can get one for under $100. (Unfortunately, the battery life on these isn’t any better than the battery life on your laptop, and extra batteries are expensive, so on long flights, you’ll need more than just a portable DVD player to stay entertained.)


12. White noise/relaxation tracks. If you really just want some silence, the closest thing you’ll get when surrounded by 200 other people is a white noise or relaxation track ($10). You can buy these as downloads to simplify the process of getting them onto your MP3 player, or if you’re still operating from a tape deck or CD player, just buy a tape or CD.


13. Icy Hot patches and/or pain medication. Sitting in a cramped space for such a long time and carrying around heavy luggage can take a toll on anyone, but especially people with pre-existing pain issues. Icy Hot patches don’t smell as strong as pain-relieving rubs, allowing you to sooth your pain without overly irritating the people sitting around you. They also don’t count toward your carryon liquid allowance.


14. Earplugs. If you don’t have noise-reducing headphones or don’t want to spend the money on them, earplugs are a small, lightweight, and inexpensive alternative. If you want to make some friends on the flight, bring extra pairs to hand out to your neighbors when the babies start crying.


15. Eyeshade. You never know if the person next to you will want to leave their reading light on during the entire flight when you were planning to get some sleep. Bring a thick eyeshade that really blocks out light and you’ll be able to rest regardless of the time of day or the activities of your neighbors.


Whether you bring all of these items or just a few, you’re bound to have a better flight with them than without.

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Photo by Rainer Ebert

Post by Amy Fontinelle

Getting Married: A Losing Financial Proposition?

I hate to say it, but one reason I am hesitant to get married at this point in my life is because of the financial implications. I think about the financial implications of everything I do, so it follows that I would be no different when it comes to the decision of marriage--which is one of the biggest financial decisions you'll ever make.

Unless you have so much money that you don't need to think about the financial implications of your decisions (which probably isn't the case if you're reading this article), you should consider these potential financial disadvantages of marriage before you get hitched.

1. How much will the act of getting married cost us? The cost of joining in holy matrimony can be as low as the fee for a marriage license or as high as the sky. If you have well-to-do parents who are paying for your wedding, cost may not be an issue for you. If you want to have a wedding and are planning to pay for the wedding yourself, however, it may be difficult to do so for under $5,000. In my opinion, there are many better things a young, newlywed couple could do with even $5,000 than throw a large party, let alone $10,000 or $25,000. Even if the funds for your wedding are coming from parents, consider what they could do for you with that money instead of throwing a wedding--like provide a down payment for a house, or start a college fund for your future children (if that's in your plans). The flip side is that the only other occasion in your life when you're likely to get everyone you like and love together under one roof is at your funeral, so it might be worth spending a few bucks for this occasion. No, you can't put a price on memories--but you don't have to put a price you can't afford on them, either.
2. How will getting married affect our income tax liability?Depending on your combined incomes and the details of your individual tax situations, getting married can either reduce your combined tax bill or increase it. There is no blanket marriage penalty or marriage reward when it comes to income taxes. If money is tight and getting married means you're going to owe another $1,000 a year in income tax, maybe you're better off postponing the official husband and wife thing and saving that $1,000 a year until your incomes rise enough or your expenses decrease enough that it becomes less significant to you.

3. If one partner is self-employed and the other is an employee, how will getting married affect the self-employed partner's medical benefits? The income tax code infuriatingly takes away the ability to claim health insurance premiums as a tax writeoff for the self employed once you are married if you are eligible to participate in a spouse's program. This means that either your health insurance premiums effectively increase by your marginal tax rate, or you have to go with your spouse's group policy (a change which comes with enough implications for a separate article).
4. Do I trust my potential future spouse with my money? If you don't, well, you probably shouldn't be getting married until the situation improves or you find a more reliable partner. Getting married will increase your spouse's access to your money on all levels. A spouse who is dishonest, a spendthrift, has a gambling problem, is irresponsible, or who refuses to become informed about basic money management is going to affect your financial situation whether he knows your PIN or not.
There are, of course, more aspects of the decision to get married than the financial ones, as any long-term couple who doesn't have the right to marry will attest, but I think that many people, blinded by love and convention, do not consider the financial aspects of marriage at all until after the fact. At the very least, people should be aware that there are financial implications to the decision and make a consious choice of whether to factor finances into their decision to get married, even if they ultimately decide that factors like religious beliefs or emotion are more important.

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Photo by whoALSE

Post by Amy Fontinelle