Getting your paperwork in order; creating easy-to-maintain systems; de-cluttering; consolidating and downsizing and transitioning into the different stages of your life are all integral parts of the big picture. The simple act of paring down and taking control of all the “stuff” in your life before it takes control of you can and will help you achieve peace of mind.

A year ago, I met a woman who, upon seeing the name of my company on my business card, exclaimed, “I don’t need a professional organizer; my closets are neat.” Protect yourself and prepare for the worst.

While it’s true many professional organizers concentrate solely on decluttering and tidying closets, kitchens, garages and pantries; some, like myself, have taken the profession to the next level by helping clients organize and simplify their lives—and not just their closets.

Create a detailed spreadsheet listing every single account (i.e.: utilities, airlines, banks, insurance, investments, Medicare, doctors, computers, software and online shopping sites, etc.) you do business with. The spreadsheet should include account numbers, URL and email addresses, telephone numbers, passwords, user names and security questions, as well as notations as to which method of auto-pay, if applicable, each account is linked to. Put this master list somewhere safe and make sure at least one family member knows where you keep it.

God forbid your credit card be compromised, or there be any other sort of emergency, having a detailed and up-to-date “Accounts & Passwords” list on hand will be a lifesaver—for you and your family.

Organize your files. I recently helped my mother, who is fairly organized, put her files and paperwork in order by setting up an super easy “hardcopy” filing system, which included putting all of her monthly, quarterly and annual bills on auto-pay, as well as setting-up a “tickler file.”

If your children offer to help, it’s because they love you and not because they don’t think you can do it yourself. I always tell my clients: If you’re sick, you call a doctor. If you need legal advice, you call a lawyer. If you need tax advice, find an accountant. And if you need help getting organized and simplifying your life, hire a licensed and insured professional organizer.

Organize your life. The greatest gift you can give your children is to put your life in order, including: organizing and decluttering paperwork, old photos and memorabilia, and clearing out off-site storage units as well as the attic. When the unavoidable happens, your family will have enough on their minds. Having your life in order will be a godsend to your children during their time of sadness.

If you don’t want your kids to fight over who gets what when you’re gone, get organized now by sorting through all the “stuff” and putting your wishes in writing! Sticking a Post-it Note on a painting or piece of jewelry is not the answer. Remember, just because something is in writing doesn’t mean you can’t change your mind at a later date by changing the codicil; just be sure to get the list notarized anytime you make a change.

Tips for Success

The most important reason to get your life in order is to give yourself the time to enjoy life to the fullest. The sense of accomplishment and calm you’ll experience once the process is complete will make you wonder why you waited so long. Following is a list of items, which everyone, no matter how young or old, no matter if you’re married, single, divorced or widowed, should have:

  1. Passwords/usernames list
  2. List of all accounts (ex: utilities, investments, insurance, etc.), including contact names, telephone numbers, email addresses, URL addresses and account numbers
  3. Auto-pay list
  4. List of safety deposit boxes, safes and off-site storage units (with location of keys and/or combination numbers)
  5. Last Will & Testament and Trust(s)
  6. Up-to-date Durable Power of Attorney & Medical Directive
  7. Letter with burial and post-burial instructions, including funeral/memorial plans
  8. Detailed description of all valuables, including a notarized letter with clear instructions describing how you want your possessions distributed
  9. List of contacts to call in case of an emergency, including doctors, lawyers, accountants, financial planners, friends and family members

Finally, as my father used to say, surround yourself with a team of professionals—lawyer, accountant and financial advisor—who you trust and respect, and who respect you in return. That way, when the inevitable occurs, you’ll have a team in place to help you through the tough times.