Why being disorganized costs you money - and what you can do about it
Wednesday, 2 October 2019
Saving money and getting organized are on everyone's to-do list, but it's not always obvious that the two are intertwined.
Professional organizer Julie Morgenstern, author of the bestselling Organizing from the Inside Out, says that when your space, papers, and desk are in disorder, you're basically leaking money from your budget.
There are five main ways being disorganized becomes expensive:
1. Your professional life suffers.
When you misplace an important invitation or haven't prepared properly for a meeting, it's going to hurt your confidence as well as your professional reputation, Morgenstern says. And when you don't follow up on the networking you've done, you're compounding your losses by losing potential income.
Morgenstern says there are three critical steps to take when you meet someone:
- When you get a business card, write down a memory trigger on the back of it immediately, such as "Charlie's boss who asked about Chicago project." If you make a promise, write it down immediately so you don't forget it.
- Immediately schedule the actions you discuss, such as a lunch meeting or a phone date.
- Remember that follow-ups and prep takes time, so bake that into your schedule. Even though a networking lunch may only take an hour, make sure you've allowed time for follow-up actions. For example, if you have a list of conference attendees, you can plan whom you'd like to meet and ask for introductions.
2. You replace items you can't find.
Anything you can't find, you'll pay to replace: tools, clothing, kitchen gear, office supplies—even food.
When it comes to food, if you don't understand what you already have and what you actually need, you'll end up buying too much of the same thing (which will eventually expire) and taking additional trips to the market.
Making a list and sticking to it is essential. "Before you buy anything, you should ask yourself, 'where will I store this? Where in my home is there a place for this, and what will I have to remove to make room for it?'" Morgenstern says.
3. You pay last-minute premium fees.
It pays to plan, because hotel rooms and airline tickets cost more at the last minute. There are emergency situations, of course. "But if you're creating your own last minute-ness where it didn't have to be there, just because you're disorganized, you're going to pay way more," Morgenstern says.
There are ways to avoid these retail "emergencies." If you can't find anything in your closet to wear, or don't have the basics that you'll need for certain occasions, you might have to do some last-minute shopping and buy something at full price. And if you pack correctly for a trip, you won't spend time chasing down the items you've forgotten.
4. You pay late fees and reconnection charges.
There's no added value from paying fees on bills, parking tickets, and anything else that gets overlooked in that pile on your desk. You can also literally leave money on the table if you've misplaced cash, checks, or gift cards.
5. You paying to store stuff.
The Self Storage Association says that Americans spent more than $24 billion on storage units in 2014. Nine percent of them hold keys to a storage unit, and those charges add up: the average rent for a non-climate controlled 10-foot by 10-foot space is $115 per month. Morgenstern says to do the math and take a look at what you're paying, what you're storing, and how much it would cost to buy again when you need it.
Some people also pay extra for real estate just to have a place to put their things—and that's space that could actually be helping you to make money, Morgenstern says. Possibilities include creating a home office, renting a room out on Airbnb or a similar service, or downsizing to save on property taxes, maintenance and mortgage payments. "You could make your home generate revenue, you could maybe move to a smaller place. There's all kinds of ways that we pay in real estate for our disorganization."
Here are her steps to get started in an organization project:
- Do an inventory. Take stock of every single pocket of space, category, or room that feels like it needs to get organized — including your handbag, briefcase, and desk — and then start with the smallest area where you spend the most time so you can have a quick win under your belt.
- Adopt a "kindergarten" model: In a classroom, everything has its place. "You've got 25 five-year-olds that within the first couple weeks of school, no matter how messy that room gets, it is clean at the ring of a bell in, like, three minutes," Morgenstern says. "The beauty of the kindergarten model is that it can be applied to anything, from a whole home or office to just one room or a single drawer. By following this model, you will design your space for easy access and retrieval of any item. The space will be inviting and enjoyable to use and allow you to concentrate on one activity at a time. Your surroundings will give you visual cues as to what there is to do, and when life gets busy and priorities get confused, a glance at your very environment will help keep you focused on who you are and what is important to you," Morgenstern says.
- Realistically estimate time needed for reorganizing, one space at a time. "Most rooms in the home take an average of one to one and a half days to complete," Morgenstern says. "The average one-person office takes two to three days. Some spaces like bathrooms and small closets may take only a few hours, while others such as extremely packed garages or offices may take an extra day or two, but every organizing project is manageable."
- The worst thing you can do is to start a variety of projects, but finish none. "It really makes a difference to complete a project."
- Practice. "Everybody can learn to get organized," she says. The investment in time will result in feeling energized in your cleared space. "You'll pour that energy into very productive activities, both professionally and personally. Everybody benefits. Every part of your life benefits."
- Know when to ask for help. Sometimes it helps to have someone with you—a friend, family member, or professional organizer—come help with the physical moving and mental tediousness that comes with clearing clutter. If you call a professional, keep in mind that they aren't there to shame you; many messier people have come before. "The system you'll develop is based on the way you think and your natural habits, so that you don't have to change who you are to be organized," Morgenstern says.
Interested in hiring a professional organizer? Start your search at the National Association for Professional Organizers, or the Board of Certification for Professional Organizers.
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