Friday, March 25, 2011

On Remembering those who pass

We all have these dreams of finding that one thing in our home that is worth thousands and we get to pay off the house and go on the vacation of a lifetime. Unfortunatly that is not what happens for most of us. Ebay and other online resources have plumeted the cash value of previously known "valuables". If you are keeping items because they might be worth something in the future I have a few suggestions for you. This comes from working through my fathers 4 bedroom 3 bath house stuffed of what he thought would be valuables. His intentions were good and I know he wanted me to have a small fortune in what he kept but that just didnt happen.

When we moved from Flower Mound, Texas to a small town outside of Pittsburgh PA I packed up my dads house and my house and brought it all with me. Because of this we eneded up moving what was equivalent of an 8 bedroom 5 bath 3 livingroom 2 kitchen 2 breakfast room 2 dining room 4 car garage and one large outdoor storage builing in one moving van (south hills movers out of Pittsburgh did an AMAZING job). I was not at the house when the moving truck unloaded. I arrived a few weeks later and I almost cried. Our 2+ car garage was literally filled to the top with boxes. Our entire basement was a sea of the same situation. The kids game room also filled and a bedroom upstairs also filled. It was paralizing.

We HAD to get rid of stuff. It just was not an option to keep it all. It took me over 2 years but now I am down to just a small box of stuff I need to go through and keep or get rid of but I have to do some special research for that special project. Learn from my mistakes and dont make them yourself!

I am assuming that the estate has been closed and all chidlren and grandchildren have been financially or physically given what they are granted in the will or even in a verbal agreement with the person who is passed. It weighed heavy on my heart to take care of this for my father as I just wanted to fulfill his last wishes that would make him happy. Please do this for your loved one and dont make it a financial fight or nightmare.

First, what is important to you. If you have lost a loved one I have found that keeping one thing that is very special to me and displaying it in a lovely way or using it in a very special way helps to preserve it and keep my sweet memories of that person precious. I also, for a few relative, have a small box for each of them of personal things I picked up. I have 3 of these boxes (two grandparents and one for my dad) its more of a timepiece and things that drove them. In my gramdmothers I have some letters from her ex-husband in the war, her ID card, a crayon box from when she was little, a little fur piece from a coat and some documents like birth, death, marriage and random general addresses and information, simple things that jess finds interesting and might give her a hint into her past.

Now that you have decided what is really important, and I know this seems backwards but, you can now have a focus.

This next step is the most important. Do not throw out a thing (excluding the trash bag in the kitchen) and call an estate sale specialist or an antique shop dealer in the area. Explain to them that someone you love has passed and you are looking to properly take care of finishing off the rest of the estate. You would like someone to come and take a look. Make sure you get someone with experience in what you have the most of (dishes or books or furniture) you never know what might bring some cash. Someone who is good at this will be more than willing to work with you. An estate sale for some may be the best option. In my dads case it was easier to sell directly to the antique dealer and they hauled it off. A good dealer will also tell you what is trash and who might or might not take the rest.

This is where I did something a little different. As the truck of my dads stuff drove off I decided something in that moment. I needed to give the rest away. The dealers had suggested selling it in a garage sale but I just didnt think it would bless people as much. I am no angel and I dont like thinking I am but I had been through enough and didnt need to linger in that moment of death any longer. It was time to move on. So I did something radical. I started contacting church and city leaders about donating items. I did this in grouped item specific stuff. So, for all the extra model cars my dad had I contacted my church mens ministry and child care. For the extra china and glass stuff I contacted my womens ministry at the get the idea. I listened for those who were in need and offered what I could. In the end my heart felt so much better that I had blessed those who needed it rather than selling it for a few hundred bucks and it took less time than the set up for a garage sale.

I had some small items I did end up taking to a local good will it took me 4 trips and I was done. This all could have been taken care of much easier with an estate sale or not having to move all the items but that was not in Gods plan for my fathers passing. On occation i will find a small item that needs to be tossed, saved or given to someone special but that is few and far between. I now have my special collection of stuff from my dad and his sweet box of memories and important stuff. We look at and through them on occation and enjoy memories. I also, as stated earlier in this blog, have every picture of him ever taken downloaded and double backed up by harddrives so I know my memories will never simply dissapear in a flood fire or due to theft. If there is something that brings great memories but is just to physically large to keep then take a picture or a small peice of it to keep (knob from a drawer or a small cut of fabric). I have done this with several items and I love it. I can simply and easily take it with me in a moving truck and still have the memories of whatever that piece of furniture or what ever brought me.

As a Christian I know that my family has better things to do than worry about what and how I am selling and getting rid of things once they pass. Things are things. They do not go with you to heavan. My father is kneeling at the feet of God and dancing and rejoicing with long lost friends, it would be selfish to think he cares what I do with his stuff here on earth.

Me when I was little.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

photos...your life in pictures

So many of you know the story on my father. We were close. Closer than any father and daughter I know. When I found out his cancer was terminal it rocked my world and I colapsed on the inside. I cried almost nightly but put up a brave front for him and stood strong when he could not. It was my turn to care for his needs and I tried with the best of my mind body and soul to do what I knew best. Then there came a time that he was gone and I was left with a life full of love and care and fantastic memories of my daddy. My father and I both loved to take pictures. So one day i sat down in my livingroom and realized that I had two shelves of photo albums...and I mean full albums. Close to or over 5000 different photos of my life was on those shelves. The funny thing is that I never opened them. Maybe once a year I would open one or two and just look through that portion of my life. So how could I take better care of them and preserve the memories I cherished without it taking up so much space and time (cleaining and orgaizing) in my life. So the project began.

I started scanning, and scanning, and scanning, and scanning. The more I scanned the more pictures I found (i decluttered all closets and drawers and hanging pictures to make sure I got them all). Long story short I ended up with over 6000 pictures that needed to be scanned or digitally organized. I even pulled from parents cameras and computers and photo albums. If I was going to do this I wanted to do this all the way. I had my sweet sweet husband convert all my VCR tapes from my childhood to DVD then download them to my computer. Long story short as much as I can tell, I got rid of close to 6-10 boxes of pictures and videos. They are now stored on my "backups" and my computer. We find ourselves looking through them once a week or so and I organized them by date so I can find a picture I am looking for within a few moments. I can make slideshows in a heartbeat. When we think of a memory of jess we pull up the videos and try to find it but always get stuck laughing about old videos we find of her in the process.

This also allows for one other thing that is very personal. I dont always want to be reminded that my daddy is not a call away. I want to access his pictures when I want to. I want to have it at my fingertips when I want it not because I happen to run across it because I am cleaning out a drawer. I dont need to fall to my knees in tears at any given moment and I wanted a little control over that. So now his pictures are accesable on my terms. I can cry when I want, I can laugh when I want and I can remember when I want but not just at random.

I did keep my favorite 1000 or so in 2 large photo albums and put all large photos that I loved in a scrap book with just some simple scrapbook paper. It took me all of an hour and maybe $120 in supplies (photo albums, a simple scrapbook paper packed 10ct or so from walmart and backup drives but it does not include the scanner I purchased) I love looking through them now and then.

So my tips are as follows for scanning (IN NO PARTICULAR ORDER):
-Places like Wolf camera can scan pics for you as long as they are under 8x10. It may be a great price for those who are limited on time. I know they have some pretty fantastic deals for bulk and I think I probably should have done that instead! Bring your own external drive or memory card and load it directly on to it. FedEx/Kinkos will scan larger items for cheap ($2.00 a scan, for larger items and protraits that might be worth it) if you bring your own memory they can put it on, otherwise be prepared to pay $5 or so for a DVD of what you scanned. Plus the actual cost of scanning.
-Do a little at a time. DO NOT overload yourself, scan them in small stacks.
-Organize all your pictures by date, then subject, then the number in the series then who is in the picture (this is the most consuming part of the entire process) how specific you are is up to you but I am very detailed by nature, you might find just a date works for you.
-Go through ALL of your pictures and memories. I was suprised at where I found pictures that really needed to be put with the photo albums.
-Set aside one time a month for downloading all new media (pics from cameras, facebook(if desired), phones and video
-Backup backup backup did I mention back up. Online or hard drive I dont care just back it up!!!!! I waited for beginning of school to purchase mine and got 2 great deals!
-Throw out all doubles. I ended up getting rid of 1000 or so doubles and the really sad part was I had hauled all those doubles of pics to 4-5 different homes and across the country over the years. We now have around one moving box worth of my favorite pictures and two usb drives that have all the pictures and videos on them.
-Feel free to get rid of all the originals or just put them in nice binded photoalbums/boxes and be done with it. I prefer photo albums that match! Whatever you decide to keep them in lable them. I lable mine numerically starting at 1. You could do dates for major events or whatever just dont have 20 albums with no idea of what is each one
-Use a quility scanner and computer and backup on a daily basis in case of failure by computer or umm operator error
-When it comes to filing them on the computer I made a folder labled Pics and have a file for each season of my life it starts with "ancestry" and ends with "Garrett and forward". This next year I will start making a file by year as we dont expect any large changes in the near future! One day i may change it and make it all by year but right now its an easy way for me to find it.

For those who like to keep hard copies of pics, some tips for you

-Organize in the same order. Date, Event, Number in series then who is in the picture. We all forget names I find it so important for lables to be on every picture for my kids in the future and one day when my memory is not so great I will apriciate this I am sure. If you ever choose to scan them and make them digital then you have done alot of the hard work.
-I write on the back of mine with a fine tip sharpie and let it dry upside down. Dont press to hard it will go through. They might make pens for this but i have not looked.
-I like photo boxes. They are small easy to carry and come with organizing sheets normally. If I ran out of the tabbed papers/dividers provided I would just grab some index cards and make my own. Have fun with it. Make the seperators colorful and dont be bashful about writing alot of information on the cards. Memories connect us with the past so write down as much as you want of the fun you are having or the joy you experienced in that time.
-Be careful with scrapbooking. Simply from a financial standpoint it can be very very very costly without even realizing it. There are lots of great digital scrapbooking resources (shutterfly and many other sites) now for pennies on the dollar to what you would spend in actual supplies. Plus consider that scrapbooking is great if you have the financial resources and time to do it. Most of us though can think of a better way to spend an entire weekend and a few hundred dollars. (side note: I know some people love this and that is fine but reality is that most just dont have the time for it or financial resources, i am not trying to offend but instead be realistic)
-Medium size albums seem to stand up better to the test of time. Large albums with a capacity of 600+ pictures, in the past, have come apart for me.
-ALWAYS ALWAYS make sure your pictures are on acid free paper. If you have old albums (think from childhood) I would consider getting new albums. You just dont want any acid touching sweet memories, it will ruin photos over time. All recent albums I have looked at are acid-free as are all cardstock.

If you are scared to scan pictures and not have the hard copy for kids to look at, I looked at it this way. My children are and will be very technilogically minded. That is what our future children will know and use. I long for my kids to be able to read a real book and enjoy pictures just like i do but it may not be realistic for them to love that as much as I do. So i look at it as a way to share with them my past through the love they will of for technology. I mean, my kid already has a digital camera! Sometimes we have to reach out to them on their level and terms!

As always please feel free to add ideas and suggestions!

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

My first two questions have come in.....first up is Taxes!!!

So, taxes are tricky and I dont claim to know everything about them. I simply hire a CPA to do ours. Mostly I hire a CPA because I am often confused but secondly because we are in a special tax bracket with Nathan being an "ordained minister" I just feel it puts us at extra special status to one day get audited and with the help of a great CPA from dallas I feel we are one step closer to an easy audit should that ever happen. If you need a name for one I would be happy to pass it on.

For my taxes I used to keep the envelope our mortgage came in and keep each months reciept from the 1st to the last day in it. This was everything from groceries to house bills. We are tax exempt on any housing cost from toilet paper to water bills so it was easier to put it all together.

For "normal" people I would suggest simply dividing it by subject instead of month. You might try looking over what basic information and subject "write offs" simple tax programs ask for and make coordinating files. This might look like a file for income, giving at church, medical and child care expenses and other write offs. I often write on the outside of envelopes/files/folders so every month i might write the running total of the specific tax write offs for that month, if you do this on a stickey note it can greatly simplify the process, pull the stickeys off at the end of the year with the info you need and tada you put in all the info and you are finished. I also will highlite the info I need on each page, if I ever need to go back and verify it is uber easy to find. I would also suggest putting the most recent in front instead of in back, if you need to return something or have a question chances are that it wont be a on the last page of information for that year. Lifestyle changes are hard (new babies, homes and cars) and sometimes it takes a couple extra hours to figure it all out.

Dont make it too organized or complicated. The more simple the easier but that will be different for everyone, for expample, we have gone to giving once per year to the church so that we are both on the same page as to what has and has not been given and it makes our year financially very predictable. Do we give outside this time, yes, but our largest chunk is once per year and that means we only have one piece of paper for tax returns from the church, even when we give to mission and such through the year it still only comes to less than a page.

My current trick is to scan every reciept and bill and file it by day paid (groceries) or day recieved (electric and so on). I dont know if it will work but I am going to try it for a year. It takes alot more time, but will be worth it for the lack of receipts flying around in my home! I may have to give more information on this as we go along.

I also highly suggest either keeping a digital copy or a physical copy of your bank statement and credit card statements.

I also for the past few years have kept a list of basic numbers on my computer. This is phone numbers for all my accounts (bank, electricity company and any accounts in general) in case of emergency or I have a question about my account. Its easy to find when I may be buried deep in receipts and confusion.

Also consider buying a secondary back up for all digital copies made. A sweet friend of mine who reads this blog ;) just recently lost basically all of her digital files. Thanks to around $500 and a ton of patients she now has acess to 30% of what she lost. Back ups can cost around $50 and its worth it for the extra protection. You can do online or a physical backup. We chose to go with a backup in a fireproof box here at the house and a backup at a secondary location in case of theft or disaster we have a chance that at least one of the backups is accessable. I also backup once a month just for good measure and this includes all digital pics and informatoin from cameras phones and files!

My dad was audited after his death, I had a ton of paperwork so I sent it all to dallas. They didnt need it all but I never got called back. I think in terms of how much is to much in tax preperation you just cant have enough documentation and maybe it scared them a litte.

Please feel free to post any ideas here. I am lacking in ideas on this one. I kindof gimp along on taxes every time we have to file so I am very open to ideas!!!

Saturday, March 19, 2011

A View From The Outside

This blog is not about my life. Its about how to make your life organized for yourself, its about making it organized so you can live life more simply and a little more easliy than before you read this blog. I have very few things in my life I feel more embarased about than my organization. Its not for everyone and I get that. I often keep my projects quiet because some people think I am over the top when it comes to organization. I often give my donations to friends in quiet because I dont want people to think I am crazy for not having a garage sale. I know that some think I am a little strange for keeping all my receipts scanned and on file on my computer. The list could go on but that is what works for me.

I have found simple joys in serving others through my giving and loving on others through my hyperorganized life and simplified objects.

I remember one morning after some realitives had come to visit we were all talking about how we all slept the night befor. My guest said it was the best night of sleep they had gotten in a couple years. What a joy to have brought a good nights sleep to someone. The hour of work I put into making their stay comfy and adding those extra special touches payed off in that statement. Or when I am able to help a friend out with a wardrobe for a year for their sweet little girl who now has all of jess clothes.

I have been asked why I dont just sell my stuff or why I bother taking the time to keep the clutter out of the house or why I have to clean so much everyday. I do it because the outcome brings simple joys that you would not know unless you try it. I can not explain how it makes me feel nor can I explain why God designs me this way I just know that this is what God put in my heart to give me drive. I must ignore what others think and consider what is precious to me, time spent on a walk with my daughter, coffee with a sweet friend, feeling I am ready to serve at a moments notice or having a movie night with my hubby.

All this to be said but I dont judge others on cleanliness or organization and I would encourage you to do the same. I do fear for those who put themselves in danger with clutter (think hoarding) and those who also dont clean on a regular basis for their health (think mold and mildew). At a minimum I want my friends and family to be safe and able to function in life. If your stuff prevents you from living a full and healthy life then please consider taking some extra steps to create less stress in your life. If you dont want to be hyperorganized, awesome, if you want to be just a little organized, great. It really does not matter to me but I promise a little organization goes a long way! Enjoy the ride!

Finding your personal goals and drives

We all have something that drives us. For some it will be a desire to be organized, for some it will be a parent or friend who pushes them to be better but for me it is the Bible. I desire to show Christ through my actions. When I think about how He lived and what Christ desires for life as a Christian to look like I can not imagine it is his desire for us to be unorganized and in panic mode at all times.

Take for example having a guest over. Lets say you have a guest bedroom that is full of old boxes of memories and a few too many blankets and 5 or 6 bags of clothes that reallly raellllly need to go to good will and a few more boxes of those items that one day you will get around to putting where you want them. When your guests come over how do you feel with them sleeping in that room. What panic did you have to go through to get it at least sleepable? Are the sheets really clean? How did you react to your family while you did your best to make do of the room? How do the guests feel, like they are in the way or a burdon?

Now lets say you have a guest bedroom that is cleaned and uncluttered. I am not saying perfect. Books get misplaced and somehow that sock always ends up under the bed and the dress up outfit your daughter tried on yesterday always seems to make their way in odd places (you get the idea) but in a matter of 5 minutes you can simply clean and change the sheets in the room. Maybe you even have time to get out some fresh towels and place a piece of chocolate next to their bedside table. The room is clutter free leaving the guest room to unpack and take a deep breath after a long drive. So now, how do your guests feel? How did you feel in preparing the room? How did your family benefit from this.

Overall for me the question is, am I treating my guests the way God would want me too? We keep a clean and uncluttered guest bedroom and I believe the answer is yes. My family is not paniced by guests nor does it create havoc (for the most part). Instead, my 5 year old daughter has also found joy in having guests over. She has pride in her home and how she treats it. She understands that when guests come over we need to take an hour or so to make it nice for them. We make beds, make sure the guest basket is filled with goodies and basic needs (first aid kit, small sewing kit, a water bottle and other little things guests might not want to ask for) and add any last minute touches to the room and she, even at a young age, can find the joy that comes from serving someone else. She is learning to put others first by serving them through the simple act of keeping one room clean for those who come to visit. This is just one example of how the drive of Christ in my life directs my home life and my family.

I have one other driving factor in my life. I have ADD. I dont like it. I dont use it as an excuse but instead have had to adapt my life around it. My organization prevents, in every way humanly possible, my ADD overtaking my life. This is how God made me and I can choose to let it rule my life for find a way to work with it. I have to keep a calendar of everything from cleaning to dr. apointments. I have to live simply with little clutter or I get overwhelmed at what I need to do. I have to delete the drama in my life or I have a hard time focusing on the important things in life. Its a choice I have made and it works for me.

This is what drives me, what drives you?

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Resources Resources Resources

Yes thats right resources. If there is one thing that two years of social work taught me its that free resources can be an invaluble help in life. So this is really more of a list of online resources I use on a daily or weekly basis to help organize and run my life. - this website is my most treasured website I use. It can be a little cofusing with all the programs they seem to have running but they work. I did have to modify the cleanine schedule as the suggested 15 minutes of cleaning just does not cut it for my home. I do everything they say plus about 2 hours a day. I have a big home and thats just the reality. I also like to have a clean home...not perfectly picked up but clean. Germs are not my friend so I try to rid them as much as I can. - this is s simple easy to use and free web based schedule and calendar program, sooo easy to use and there is an app for my phone. There is also a linked app for flylady that works pretty well although I am not sure why they are linked, to date I have not seen an interapplication of flylady on cozi, maybe time will tell - this is a web site that pairs up sales with coupons and all you have to do is grab the coupons and go. I get free stuff all the time, in fact, I will be on my way in the morning to get free toothpaste, last week I got free baby wash and this week I got free milk! It is time consuming so be prepared but if you are a stay at home mom like me then it can save you money...a ton of money. We save on average $60.00 a week after buying groceries, newspapers and paying for my subcription to the web site. Its well worth the cost if you have the time! There are some free web sites out there but I have found them less reliable and harder to read - i use this website to see what coupons will come out in the coming week. If I have any that match a sale and I need to buy then I make sure and wait to purchase that item till i have that coupon. This is a little more for the intense saver/coupon buyer but i came upon it from a high school friends website and it works for me

Sometimes I just do random serches for organizing ideas. Often TV show programs and such have great ideas that will be listed on web sites. Search around a little and let me know if you find something you like a website or idea. Lots of fun stuff out much to use it all.