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Cleaning up with Marie Kondo

It’s almost the end of another year. (How does time fly so darned fast?!) If you’re anything like me, the looming New Year means it’s time to get your act together, make resolutions, and do what you need for a fresh start to 2016. Of course, the usual culprits come to mind— diet and fitness, clean out my refrigerator, and get that bag of stuff to Goodwill. But this year it goes deeper for me. The time is ripe for some bigger changes.

Yesterday, when I let my mind start to go there, I was instantly overwhelmed. My brain was cluttered with 50 things I’d love to accomplish now to make some real changes in my life by January. And with all those ideas bombarding me, I felt immediately weighed down and…stuck.

As I tried to figure out a way to move forward, I remembered a fantastic article I read in The Atlantic—an interview with David Allen, an organizational guru and the author of the best-seller Getting Things Done: the Art of Stress-Free Productivity. Allen has been speaking and coaching on the topic of “getting things done” for years, and his insights and methods are a game changer for anyone who, like me, feels plagued by too many tasks and is desperately seeking more time to do it all.

One of Allen’s most important steps to getting unstuck is to get things out of your head and down on paper. He suggests that by simply writing down the long list of items that are floating around in your mental to-do list, you can free up your mind to start to organize your tasks and accomplish your goals. My friend Linda—a high achiever who I’m guessing, has at least two million ideas and tasks in her head at any given moment—told me she keeps a small notebook with her everywhere she goes. Why? To write stuff down and get it out of her head. (Others use their smart phones). Whether she got the idea from David Allen or not, it works for her.

Another tool Allen recommends is to have a physical “in-basket” for all the stuff you have to handle—one place to deposit all the myriad things that come into your already cluttered space until it’s time to focus on them. When I read this, a light bulb went off in my head. At my office, I have an in-basket, and it works perfectly. But my home is another story. Without a personal in-basket, it seems that every flat surface is a virtual in-basket. A letter from my sister is on the side table (I should have replied last week). A half-scribbled grocery list is on the kitchen counter that begs a trip to the store, right next to a coupon for that new restaurant I want to try, and the empty battery package to remind me to add that to my list. And then there’s the invitation to that great speaker series I’d love to attend…over there on the coffee table. The list goes on.

David Allen isn’t alone in his mission to help the overwhelmed (like me!) get it together. A year ago everyone was buzzing about the new book The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing by Marie Kondo. Twelve months have gone by since it hit the bestseller list, and the buzz has only escalated. Every time I turn around, someone tells me their story of how using Kondo’s KonMari Method has changed their lives. In truth, I already own the book—it’s sitting on the table with the letter from my sister—but the type is so darned small it’s a chore to read it! Plus, I know deep down that reading it will give me even more things to add to my to-do list. In the introduction (at least I’ve gotten that far!), Kondo writes, “when you put your house in order, you put your affairs and your past in order too.” What a lovely thought. I guess I have some homework to do.

There are just a few short weeks before January 1, and my mission is to take both David Allen and Marie Kondo’s advice and start to simplify my life. I’m going to begin writing things down to create “mind space” by clearing all that messiness out of my head. I’m going to set up an in-basket at home to get some control over the tasks that do require action. And I’m going to take a closer look at the KonMari Method to begin to get organized. I’ll start with organizing my things…hopefully “my affairs, and my past” will follow. One can only hope.

Of course, as a financial advisor, I see financial organizing as an absolute must on any year-end to-do list. Be sure these items are a top priority in the next few weeks so you have them completed by December 31. Other money-related tasks can go into that new in-basket to handle when the time is right in 2016.

  • Establish Keogh or Solo 401k plan
  • Make 401(k) contributions
  • Sell stock to realize gains/losses
  • Take Required Minimum Distributions (RMDs)
  • Pay expenses for tax deductions
  • Make tax-deductible gifts to charities
  • Make annual tax-free gifts

Need help with the details before the December 31 deadline? Let’s schedule a meeting ASAP to be sure you’re on the best footing with your money as we head into 2016. I’m always here to help.