Expert Interview with Ellen Delap on Getting Organized for Mint

If you think getting organized is only for Type A, Martha Stewart sorts, then maybe you haven't heard the biggest perk of attacking that mountain of paperwork and deploying your label maker: unearthing lost funds.

"My clients and I always find money when we are organizing!" says Ellen Delap, certified professional organizer and family manager coach.

Whether it's gift cards, checks, or cash (she once found $15,000 for one client), Ellen says it's exhilarating when the process of getting organized results in long-forgotten assets.

"That is a real paycheck for organizing!"

For more than 10 years, Ellen has helped clients organize their homes, offices, and daily lives. Here she discusses the common reasons our lives get so cluttered and what we can do about it, as well as offers tips on getting our financial house in order. Read on:

Tell us about your professional background...how did you get into professional organizing?

In 2000, I started reading articles about the National Association of Professional Organizers and their members. I am a former teacher and loved the idea of making a difference every day with clients. I also loved the idea of teaching organizing as a skill. I started my business in 2000, became an ADD and Chronic Disorganization specialist through the Institute for Challenging Disorganization, and then earned the title of Certified Professional Organizer.

What are the most common frustrations or problems your clients come to you with?

Paper is the most frustrating challenge for my clients. We all have too many papers coming into our home and offices. It can be completely overwhelming knowing what to keep, how long to keep it, finding a system that works for you, and following up on maintenance routinely. Other areas of concern revolve around time management, such as being productive and efficient, and space management, such as organizing in your home or office.

What do you think are the underlying issues for people who are chronically disorganized?

There are many underlying issues of chronic disorganization. The definition of chronic disorganization is "having a past history of disorganization in which self-help efforts to change have failed, an undermining of current quality of life due to disorganization, and the expectation of future disorganization." For some, it is growing up in disorder and not learning skills related to organizing. For some, it is executive function issues that make planning, initiating, completing, or decision-making difficult.

Chronic disorganization can be triggered by intense grief, loss, and life situations. To learn more about chronic disorganization, visit the Institute for Challenging Disorganization.

What are some of the intangible or unexpected benefits of getting organized?

The intangible benefits of getting organized are confidence and time management. When you can find things when you need them, when you get ready easily in the morning, when you are less anxious about completing your projects on time, you are more confident and feel a sense of positivity and security. Not having to look for items, arriving on time at work, and spending time productively on tasks help you stand out at work. This confidence translates to improved sense of self and self-assurance. In our world, being an organized person gives you more credibility and makes you a leader.

How do you coach your clients on organizing their finances - both digitally and on paper?

Finances are an important part of an organized life. I coach clients on both systems and routines for their finances. A system is the framework for how a client sets up the physical parts of their finances. It is how they get the bill and where it is stored after. It is where and how they keep their investment statements either in a file cabinet or digitally. The routine is the process involved in the financial matter, such as bill paying, deposits into accounts, or managing an account. A good routine incorporates weekly and annual maintenance such as culling out documents and archiving them. Most importantly, everyone's system and routines need to be a personalized solution for what works for them.

I am a big believer in the "power of one." Having one place to review and connect to finances makes for good organization. Mint.com is one of the first steps I suggest for clients. Information is often spread out, and Mint.com helps clients see a consolidated picture of their finances. The categories help clients understand where they are spending their money. It is the first step in good financial decision-making.

How long do you recommend your clients hold on to their financial paperwork?

Every situation is a little different. I refer my clients to their personal tax accountants and lawyers. There is a general rule of thumb that most tax preparation documents are retained for seven years. Most non-tax documents can be retained for one to three years. Tax documentation and legal documents such as home purchase and closing statements are kept forever.

How can getting organized save people money?

Organizing saves you money in many ways. There are no late fees on payments. You don't need to buy additional supplies you already have. You submit medical reimbursements on time to your flexible spending account. It's easy to find receipts to make returns to stores. You are less stressed, so fewer doctor visits. The list is endless.

What are your favorite tools for getting organized?

A label maker is a practical tool for every type of organizing. At home it can be used in the pantry and on files. At work it can be used for your desk or storage area. A label maker helps everyone at home and work know where an item is stored and can be easily returned. Notebooks, hanging files, or a scanner are great tools for paper management. Setting up a system for easy access to financial papers makes it easy to stay organized.

What about your favorite digital tools?

  • Evernote is a great tool for managing life. It can be set up on your smartphone and computer with a "notebook" to keep lists and other information of all types.
     
  • Your bank and investment apps are tools for everyday finances. You can look up information easily.
     
  • Mint.com consolidates all your financial records into one manageable location.
     
  • FileThis automatically collects, files, tags, and organizes your online documents, bills, and statements in an easy-to-use digital filing cabinet.

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