When professional organizer Stephan Koseian got a call from an older man who wanted his help in sorting through a box of paperwork, he thought it was just business as usual. But the “box” was actually a major appliance-size carton, and the “paperwork” was about 10 years’ worth of correspondence.
“We found his checkbook under the microwave,” said Koseian, owner of Organization Plus, a business that specializes in helping seniors get organized.
“It took two weeks to weed through the initial chaos and monthly follow-up visits to get things straightened out.”
Although this was an extreme case, Koseian said older adults can often use some help organizing.
“Everybody’s drowning in paper,” but seniors are particularly vulnerable, he said. “They’re dealing with medical forms, doctor bills, Social Security and pension records, investment information. And it’s often crucial that they be able to find records when they need them.”
But if your dining room table is collapsing under stacks of junk mail and you can’t remember the last time you saw your life insurance policies, appliance warranties or that shoe box full of tax papers, don’t dump everything into a giant pile and try to sort it all at once.
“If you tackle clutter without a new system in place, you’re just going to end up even more disorganized,” says Jeffrey Mayer, author of Time Management for Dummies (IDG Books, $16.99). “Like any difficult task, getting organized is best broken down into smaller, more manageable parts.”
That new calendar, for example, can contain more than birthdays. Hang it in an accessible spot and use it to list appointments, along with phone numbers, addresses and any necessary directions. (Use self-stick notes for extra writing space.) Be as specific as possible. Writing “doctor visit” won’t help if you can’t remember who’s seeing which physician and when.
If you and your spouse are particularly busy, use different-colored pens to identify individual schedules.
Organize mail by getting in the habit of opening it in the same place every day. Guard against junk-mail pileup; toss it immediately. (You can also eliminate unwanted mail by writing Mail Preference Service, c/o Direct Mail Association, P.O. Box 9008, Farmingdale, NY 11735-9008. Anyone requesting to be taken off mailing lists should include a full name, including any variations you receive mail under, such as Mary Rose Jones, M. R. Jones, Mrs. Jon Jones, etc., and address).
Set up an accordion file and file to-be-paid bills as soon as you open them. Establish a bill-paying station and keep it stocked with envelopes, pens, return-address labels, calculator and stamps. (Go through and write the new year on the first 20 checks in your checkbook. By the time you’ve used them, you’ll be accustomed to writing 1998).
Go through your files and piles a little at a time and throw away any outdated papers. Professional organizers say 60 percent of the paper on your desk and 80 percent of paper stored is never looked at again.
Get a file cabinet or cardboard carton with dividers and set up categories for insurance policies, tax information, banking, credit card statements, mortgage records, medical forms, pensions and Social Security benefits. You also can file product warranties and receipts.
Use different file folders for health, auto and homeowner’s insurance. Separate medical records by specialty.
Make copies of important cards in your wallet - driver’s license, insurance and credit cards. If you lose any, copies make it easier to replace them.
Cross-reference your address book by the name of the person or business and description of services. With this system, you could find Bob’s Snow Removal service under “B” or “S.”
Keep a pad by the phone and make notes before, during, or right after calls to help organize your thoughts, remember any questions you want to ask and keep records of what was said.
“No one likes getting organized; it’s a big job that takes a lot of work,” Mayer said. “But the payoff is a lot less stress in your life once it’s done.”