Getting Your Finances Organized

posted Apr 5, 2012, 12:06 PM by Kristin Mastromarino Vander Wiede

The slower economy has forced everyone to make different choices. Most of you should have filed your taxes by now, and for some that can be a harsh reality check. I have witnessed my clients at all economic levels having a greater awareness of what they are spending and scaling back. Never has there been a more important time to implement a budget that can help you really understand what you are spending on a weekly, monthly or yearly basis.

While I am not a financial advisor, I do have some organizing tips to share to get you started. If you find the process difficult to navigate or find yourself needing more detailed advise on managing your money, strongly suggest meeting with a Certified Financial Planner™ to work out a specific plan to help you spend and save your money wisely. Starting with the following actions will better prepare you for a professional assessment as well as help you focus and proactively deal with your finances.

First, you must understand how and when you spend your money. If you are one of those people who never open their bank or credit card statements when they come in the mail, you could be doing yourself a great disservice. Not only can you miss how much you are really spending on a monthly basis, but you can also miss important mistakes on your statements that can be costing you money. Even worse, you won’t be aware of identity theft, should it happen to you. Enrolling online can be an easy way to monitor your spending and your accounts.

For two weeks keep a notepad with you and mark down every penny your are spending and on what. It might be surprising to see how much you spend buying bottles of water on the road or something as small as a pack of gum. Do you really know how much you spend on gas each week? Or, when is the last time you added up all of the money you spend on groceries and food.

When you are done with this exercise, take the time to categorize your spending. Whether you use a computer spreadsheet or a handwritten chart. If you are more techie I highly recommend using software such as Quicken, Microsoft Money or to help you manage your accounts and see the big picture.

For a free budgeting template go to my website and click on Tips/Downloads. There you will find a variety of free organizational templates/downloads.

Kristin & The Organized Lifestyle Team

What is Your Block to Getting Organized?

posted Mar 8, 2012, 7:46 PM by Kristin Mastromarino Vander Wiede

People often don’t make the link that their clutter can be blocking them from future opportunities.  Whether it is mental clutter or physical clutter overtaking your mind and space, you may be too tired, too fogged or too stressed to make your real priorities and dreams come true.  

My Feng Shui colleague Krista Polinsky of Soul Intent often says that too much clutter in your attic can block your future, while too much clutter in your basement can represent you holding on to your past.  I love the symbolism in that statement.  If you tend to cling to possessions from past relationships, deceased relatives or just plain procrastinate making decisions by throwing them into a space, you are not giving yourself the room and the emotional clarity that you need to start a new wave of your life.  

If you are constantly burdened by the “stuff” that you never get to in your closets, your office and other areas of your home, you may be wasting time and energy on the same habits that have you running on a hamster wheel that never stops.

Nine times out of ten, when I first walk into a home to do an assessment, the owner walks into each room and spews a list of tasks they know that need to accomplish to get organized.  They can always identify the furniture they no longer want, but haven’t felt like coordinating to remove from their home.  They usually point out the piles of papers that they know probably just need to be shredded, but remain in multiple locations engulfing their space.  That’s when I ask what is your block?  What is preventing you from moving forward on this project?

Often I hear the same excuses.  “I don’t have the time to go through it all.”  “I hate dealing with paperwork.”  “I don’t want my mother’s set of dishes, but I can’t just give them away, it was a part of her.”  “I believe the desk is worth money, but I don’t know how to sell it.”  Well I have answers for all of these excuses!

1.  If you don’t have the time, schedule it.  If you don’t put it on a calendar and hold yourself accountable to get it done you will always put it last on the list.  You don’t have to do everything in one day.  Commit to one night a week after work every month to go through one box and you will be doing far more than just letting it sit there.

2.  If you hate dealing with paperwork, find someone who doesn’t.  There are plenty of teenagers looking for extra money who can sort receipts and file for you for a very cheap rate.  If you are getting too much paper delivered, consider getting off mailing lists, receiving your bills online or simplifying how many categories you have to parse your papers into to get them filed.  Sometimes a 13-pocket expandable file folder labeled by month will be enough to capture your monthly paperwork.

3.  If you don’t want a relative’s possessions, but you are attached to the memory, take a picture of it and find someone in the family who will love it just as much as your relative did.  If a family member is not an option, give it to a friend.  Making that connection will make you feel much more gratified than staring at the box taking up room in your home.

4.  Believing something is valuable, and it actually being sell-able are two different stories.  If you think something is valuable in your home, first do the research.  Look it up on Ebay, take a picture to a furniture consigner or antique dealer.  Just because someone in the family believed it was worth something because it is old doesn’t necessarily translate into dollars.   If you do find it has value, make the commitment to sell it or honor it the way it should be properly displayed in your home.   There are many resources out there to help you make it happen.  Again, you need to make the time to get it done.

If you find yourself burdened by excuses, you need to ask yourself why you are really stopping yourself from getting it done? If you need help find it, if you need time decide what you can give up to get it done.  Take the risk to deal with it and I promise you will begin to reignite your creativity, your motivation and your opportunities for new projects, career moves and relationships.

Kristin Mastromarino is a Professional Organizer and owner of Livable Solutions Professional Organizing ( and The Organized Lifestyle Store (  You can e-mail her your questions at

How Clutter Affects Our Relationships

posted Feb 1, 2012, 5:23 PM by Kristin Mastromarino Vander Wiede

How to deal with a loved one who is not “following the program” or who is very messy is one of the most common questions I hear as I speak to clients and field questions about organizing at my workshops.  I often tell people that an anecdote from my own household.  My husband could care less if the surfaces of our house are dusty or our floors are dirty.  It barely phases him, but if I don’t load the dishwasher efficiently or stack the same size forks and spoons together in our silverware divider it irks him beyond belief.  Even though I am a professional organizer, there are certain areas of my life I don’t feel like sweating the small details, but I realize they are important to him, so we have had to find ways to compromise or pick up extra slack in the areas we care about more.  

For some families the issues are greater and the compromises harder to make.  That’s why I will share my five tips for dealing with relationship conflicts over clutter.

1. Talk about each others definitions of organization.  Often you may be operating on a completely different definition of what it means to be organized.  Ask anyone and they will define it slightly differently every time.  If each of you don’t outline your expectations of how to keep an organized home you can continue to have the same arguments over demands that are not clear to the other person.  You may discover that your family member could care less about being organized at all.  They may also process items more visually than logically.  Once you all understand each others expectations it is easier to find ways to help each other rather than argue with each other.

2. Find areas you can compromise.  I have been called in over and over again by parents to get their teenagers rooms in order.  Often the teen is resistant and embarrassed to have me in their space.  I often explain to the parents that I am going to be no good to either party involved if the teenager doesn’t want the help or have a problem with they way they are keeping their room.  Sometimes the compromise is to just close the door.  In other cases it may be agreeing on one goal to achieve regularly rather than maintaining a system that is more for the parent than for the child. This brings me to the next tip.

3. Make the system easy to follow for the person who cares more.  Unfortunately, in many cases it is the person who is more bothered by the disorder that loses out.  In order for them to have the perfection they desire they will have to maintain the order themselves.  You can’t force someone who is extremely creative and visual and likes to pile to use a file system because you think logically and linearly.  However, if you can get that person to put papers to file in a tray and you file the papers each month for them in your simple system you can work together to maintain the order you may crave.  However, you cannot get angry at the person who hates using files being unable to file with you.

4.  Bring in an outside mediator.  Sometimes it just is not productive for family members to organize together.  Often I have been called in by family members to be the mediator and they are usually impressed at how much better their family members accomplish with an outside person.  That’s because other family members tend to judge, reprimand and have impatience with the person who may have trouble making decisions and sorting through the items on their own.  An outside person can often show the empathy and patience in a non-bias way that a family member cannot.

5.  Seek the help of a qualified therapist if there are greater hoarding concerns.  Often the real troubles between family members are sparked by a person living in the house who is hoarding.  Hoarding is a serious issue that can lead to blocked rooms, dangerous paths and emotional duress.  Often a hoarder has a larger attachment to objects and papers than the average person.  So much so that anxiety and strong emotions can build when forced by a family a member to address their issues.  The family will continue to fight and threaten the hoarder to no avail until that person pursues help with a therapist.  Hoarding is much more than just a disorganization problem and sneaking behind their back to eliminate clutter can be very detrimental.  For more information on hoarding visit the Institute for Challenging Disorganization at www.

For more information on this topic, you can also join me for a free workshop on “How Clutter Affects Relationships,” at The Organized Lifestyle Store, 725 Boston Post Road (Second Floor), Guilford, CT on February 20, 2012 at 6:00pm.  Call to register at 203-458-7674 or e-mail

Kristin Mastromarino is a Professional Organizer and owner of Livable Solutions Professional Organizing ( and The Organized Lifestyle Store (  You can e-mail her your questions at

3 Habits to Break in the New Year

posted Dec 20, 2011, 8:31 AM by Kristin Mastromarino Vander Wiede

There are many statistics on how long it takes to break a habit.  Whether you look at the length of time it will take or the number of repetitions, the point is that creating a habit is a commitment that takes time.  Often, good organization hinges on breaking thought patterns and physical habits that have a root tied within us.

In an effort to inspire you this New Year, here are three common habits that must be broken to give you more free time, save you money and keep you in control of what enters and exits your home.

1.  Stop procrastinating the mail.  So many of my clients have plenty of money in the bank, yet, they are bordering on getting their power shut off or retaining constant late fees, all for the fact that they throw their mail in a pile on the counter, by the door, or in a bag to hide from the company coming at 5:00.  As a result they lose track of dealing with the bills and important tasks.  New habit to try this year:  Throw away your junk mail immediately, open each bill and place them in one spot to review on a set day once or twice a month.

2.  Shopping the sales.  Often I see clients rushing out to stores every time they get a coupon in the mail or there is some “incredible” end of the season sale going on. Sometimes they shop out of boredom or the constant need for something new. They have no real need for anything at the store, but don’t want to miss a bargain.  What is the result?  A house full of shopping bags unopened, tags still on, being stored for when the items might be needed.  As tempting as it is to get a deal, when you have no reason to stock up, you are building an expensive and time consuming sorting and donating project for the future.  New habit to try this year:  Only buy an item on sale if you need it or have a need to use it within the next two months.  Otherwise, avoid the stores all together unless you have a specific purchase in mind.

3.  Putting items in bags or boxes when company comes.  Much like the mail habit I discussed earlier, I frequently see clients shoving items in a shopping bag or box to deal with later so they can make their house presentable for a guest.  Nine times out of ten, those items stay in the box or bag thrown in a basement, laundry room or closet until the accumulation is so great that they must do something about it to use the space. Again, you are setting yourself up for a time consuming sorting project of objects that probably have no significance in your home.  New habit to try this year:  Sort the items around your house to their proper home. If they aren’t important enough to place in a specific area, or don’t seem to fit a category,  they probably aren’t important enough to take up space in a box in your closet either.

Attacking these top three challenges this New Year could save you time, money and your sanity!

Kristin Mastromarino is a Professional Organizer and owner of Livable Solutions Professional Organizing ( and The Organized Lifestyle Store (  Send your questions to her at

5 Creative Ways to Use A Binder

posted Nov 29, 2011, 10:34 AM by Kristin Mastromarino Vander Wiede

Binders are one of the most useful organization tools for paperwork gathering and sorting, however, some hesitate to use them because hole-punching can be a difficult step to get the paper to its final home.  The benefits of using a binder can be great if you are looking for an alternative storage method to organizing papers into a file or want to create a customized workbook for keeping up with projects, school paperwork or more.

One of my favorite brands of Binders is Bindertek.  If you have never checked out their products you are going to love the durability, versatile colors, quality, and look.  Some of my favorite features are the large reusable label tabs on the side of the binder as well as the unique locking mechanism to hold papers securely while allowing them to slide around the rings easily.  I also love the binder that actually looks like a book spine.  If you want your office to be organized but have a more decorated feel, these are a great option.  You can check out their binders online at

I thought I would highlight five creative ways that you can use a binder to rethink the utility of this simple but versatile organizing tool.

1.  Tickler File System:  Use a binder with pocket  folders for a daily sorter of paperwork you must take action on.  Using a binder will also allow you to take your important papers on the road with you where ever you need to work.

2.  Filing Source:  Binders are a great alternative to filing in file folders.  If you don’t like opening a drawer and putting papers away or only have room for a shelf in your office, binders are a great alternative for keeping paperwork like insurance policies, investment statements, bank statements etc.  Use different colors for different categories to make filing even easier.

3.  Memory Keeper:  Binders can be a wonderful way to make a quick scrapbook of memories.  Using some clear binder inserts you can quickly display and protect cards, drawings, important letters etc.  Label them by year and create a simplified presentation display.

4.  Craft Organizer:  Binders can also be a great resource for storing sewing, knitting, and quilting patterns, etc.  Use clear sleeves to place booklets, extra copies of favorite patterns to share or pieces of your project.  Creating a quick book to flip through helps you to quickly see your options and keep everything safely stored.

5.  Idea Book:  Use a binder to gather all of those sheets of paper you rip out of magazines, pictures you save for decorating ideas, or items you want to buy in the future.  Use tabbed binder dividers to create categories for your different interests.  Clean it out periodically to prevent it from growing to full by filtering out items you are not likely to follow through on.

The sky is the limit when it comes to how you use a binder.  Consider using one next time you are unsure how to organize your paper.

Kristin Mastromarino is a professional organizer and owner of Livable Solutions Professional Organizing ( and The Organized Lifestyle Store (  You can e-mail her your organizing questions at

Letting Go of Paper

posted Nov 7, 2011, 5:49 AM by Kristin Mastromarino Vander Wiede

Having many interests and hobbies can lead to the overwhelming desire to collect and catalog paperwork.  I often observe a fear of letting go of facts, information sheets, articles that one hasn’t had a chance to read and ideas, recipes and other inspirations that the person never has time to go back to and follow through on.  In an effort to keep the paperwork, they often devise complex systems to catalog it that become so overwhelming to follow in its intricacies that they end up with piles of information they can neither access easily nor remember they even have.  Suddenly the paper takes up space in their home and fails to provide any utility in their lives.  But letting go of it is an option they will not face for fear of losing something valuable or useful.

Here are five ways that you can help establish the boundaries you need to keep a reasonable amount of paperwork and find more joy out of your resources.

1.  Cut down on magazine subscriptions and e-mail newsletters.  If the information is not coming to your door, you won’t be compelled to keep it.  While there is a wealth of information to be gained from professional journals and magazines, it is a difficult goal to set for yourself to get through so many each month.  If you find you are 2 months or more behind on the majority of your subscriptions or that you are deleting e-mail newsletters more then reading them, it is time to unsubscribe and take the pressure off.

2.  Pick the interests that are the highest priority to you and commit to them.  I personally love doing crafts in my spare time and would do as many as I could if I had the time.  But I know that I don’t, so I committed wholeheartedly to one, knitting.  With any hobby or interest, it is easy to want to know about everything and try it all, but if you can focus in on the ones that are most important to you it is much easier to identify which information is worth saving and what is not.   You must be ruthless in your decisions or you will continue to fall into the same pattern of filling more drawers, file cabinets and flat surfaces.

3.  Keep your storage system simple.  When filing paperwork be careful about making too many categories.  I often see people making their filing systems so complicated and detailed they can’t remember where they put something.  Try to keep you categories general, like Travel, Boating, Photography, etc.  If you must make sub-folders to find information, make those general too.  When you start labeling folders by the title of the articles you are filing, you may find that filing is arduous and ineffective.

4. Schedule time to read and file.  Often if we don’t make the time filing and reading, they will be the last tasks we would ever choose to do.  I tell my clients to schedule tasks they often procrastinate.  It is also a good lesson in understanding the reality of your schedule.  If you can’t find time on your schedule to sit and read a magazine, you will have a better understanding of how many pieces of paper you should be holding on to.  It can be freeing when you can just say, “I don’t have time,  I can let this go.”

5. Take a computer class.   For those who are uncomfortable with the computer, taking a class may help you find away to harness information without filling up your house.  The advantages of using a computer for information gathering are numerous if you can avoid the temptation to continue hitting print to save paperwork.  Being open-minded to this technology can open new doors.  Check your local newspapers, adult-ed and community college listings to find a class that can help you feel more comfortable storing information on the computer.

Kristin Mastromarino is a professional organizer and owner of Livable Solutions Professional Organizing ( and The Organized Lifestyle online retail store (  You can e-mail her your questions at

Tips for Moving to London

posted Aug 9, 2011, 9:12 AM by Kristin Mastromarino Vander Wiede

Moving to a foreign country is probably one of the most difficult organizing challenges that you can face, especially when you are in a time crunch to get there before the school year begins. Since this is to be a temporary move for you and your family, packing the essentials is the priority.  Below, find some areas of your families life to focus on as you prepare for the move.:

1.  FAMILY FILING SYSTEM:  Your family filing system.  This will be key to keeping track of your important documents like passports, visas, social security cards etc..  Wendy, I know you file everything electronically, so a back up of your electronic records is important.  Be sure to have a scanner and a computer at your new location so you can continue to retain the most essential documents for your family.  Scanning essential family recipes, entering important phone numbers and other data into your electronic database will allow you to pack less and have quick access to important information at home.

2.  BANKING:  Setting up your banking accounts and ensuring ease of access to your money while you are abroad is important.  Remember anything can be replaced or re-bought that you forget to ship or pack,  but without easy access to foreign currency, credit cards and cash it will be much harder to get what you need quickly.

3.  CARETAKER FOR CT HOME:  Having a person that you trust to maintain your current residence while your gone is important.  Create a list of current household service vendors, make copies of keys, list important family contacts as well as a schedule of maintenance for the caretaker to follow throughout the year to take the burden off of you while you are gone.

4.  PREPPING YOUR NEW LIVING SPACE:  Surely you have a location picked out by now for your family to reside while you are abroad.  Understand the amenities that the new home will provide, what storage space you will have, what activities and resources and retailers are near by.  This will help you be more educated about what you will actually need to pack for the new location.  

5. CLOTHING:  Clothing for a family of six can be more expensive to replace if your are not smart about packing for the seasons.  Research weather conditions for London year round and decide what year round essentials will make up each family members wardrobe.  Also consider whether sporting equipment for the kids will be necessary at their new school, or if skiiing and snowsuit apparel will be a necessary item for your families planned activities while abroad.  Anything you can leave behind that will be non-essential will save money and space.

Also, I wanted to add a link to a blog devoted to preparing for a move to London.  Hopefully you will find some other great ideas at this site.

Kristin Mastromarino is a professional organizer and the owner of Livable Solutions Professional Organizing and The Organized Lifestyle online retail store.  E-mail her your organizing questions at

A Crazy American Mom Moves Her Family to London

posted Aug 9, 2011, 8:48 AM by Kristin Mastromarino Vander Wiede

All my married life we had considered a move. We discussed moving to California. We discussed moving to Texas. We even discussed moving to Fairfield County. My husband deserves an award. He has been traveling the globe in an effort to keep his family happy and keep me close to my family. Now it is time for us to support him, so we made a family decision to temporary relocate to London so he doesn’t have to travel and can focus on building the company he is with.

True to my personality, we decided this last week…with  school starting on August 21st. This  leaves me about 15 days to get the kids enrolled in a school that follows the American curriculum, find a house, get someone situated in my home to watch the pets, get Visa’s, tie up any loose ends, FIND and return library books, banking, bill paying, returns, cancel subscriptions, and last but not least pack. Am I nervous? Hell yeah. I told me husband this morning that my anxiety is sitting in the back of my throat. Am I excited? YES!!! This is an adventure and I need to treat it that way.

One of my decisions is whether to pack comfortable provisions or just decide to take the basics. I know what life is like with possessions. They own me, I don’t own them. I know what life is like to clean multiple rooms, weed garden, vac pools, and run all the families activities. I was thinking about living in an apartment, taking minimal things, and making an attempt to live simply. Now that to me is an adventure. Going to unknown places, meeting strange faces, and doing things that I would never consider here at home.

Each day I will give you a quick update as to my progress and whether or not I can pull this off.  I will let you know how it feels to live simply. I will take you to my first English pub and I will share the ups and downs to living abroad.  I will also reach out to  Professional Organizer, Kristin Mastromarino, @  for her advice on how to handle this move. Stay posted and if anyone has any tips on living in England, I would love to hear from you!

Tips for Organizing Your Recipes

posted Jul 19, 2011, 7:35 AM by Kristin Mastromarino Vander Wiede

Organizing and collecting recipes can be a full time job for those who love to cook.  When you have a love for food and a desire to constantly try new dishes, the piles of cookbooks, cut out recipes, boxes, binders and folders can get so overwhelming that finding a recipe becomes a chore.

I find that my clients are relying more and more on the Internet to create their meals than their cookbook collections.  With so much free information and websites that will find recipes based on the ingredients you have on hand, it is much faster and takes up a lot less room in your kitchen.

Here are some quick ideas for managing your recipes:

1.  Create one binder, folder or box for your most treasured recipes.  Be very discriminating about what recipes make it in this place.  If you love the recipe keep it, if it was easily forgettable then it shouldn’t make the cut.

2.  Consider scanning your recipes into your computer.  You can keep an electronic database of all your favorite dishes and quickly search them without having to waste time categorizing them in files or binders.

3.  One of my favorite things to do is plan my meals around recipes in my monthly magazines.  For instance, each month I pick the recipes I want to try in Real Simple,  plan my grocery lists and schedule when I want to cook them.  When the month is done I throw out the magazine and try the recipes in the next issue.  It keeps my menu changing, takes the thinking out of meal planning and requires no storage, sorting or searching when I am planning a meal.

4.  Photocopy your favorite recipes out of your cookbooks and get rid of the book.  Many of us hang on to a cookbook because there are a few recipes that we like.  Then we take up valuable real estate on our shelves or kitchen cabinets.  If it is not a go to cookbook it shouldn’t be in our kitchen.

5.  One of my friends once told me that she found typing in the search terms “the best _______ recipe,” every time she wanted to make a specific dish got her incredible recipes and she found herself never looking at her cookbooks anymore.  Relying on the Internet is a great way to cook almost any meal.

Lastly, I want to leave you with a list of my favorite links for meal planning:  Visit my site and download my free grocery list and menu planning templates under the tips and downloads link.  A great site for searching delicious recipes and finding meals based on ingredients.  They also have a great Ap that is available for the IPad, IPhone, Android and other electronic devices. :  Another site similar to Epicurious. There are great meal planning tools, quick and easy dinners and Aps available to help you meal plan.

Kristin Mastromarino is a Professional Organizer with Livable Solutions Professional Organizing (  and the owner of The Organized Lifestyle online retail store (  Send organizing questions to her at

How do I organize my recipes?

posted Jul 19, 2011, 7:06 AM by Kristin Mastromarino Vander Wiede

Summer means drinking long, tall strawberry daiquiris by the pool, hanging out with close friends into long hours of the day, and barbecuing with herbs and sauces. I find myself going over my recipes again and again, wondering what I should cook next. Will it be barbecue pork ribs, beans, fresh fruit salads, burgers, chicken cooked in packets with vegetables, steaks, or stuffed potatoes wrapped in foil, and cooked on the grill? It means the best fruits, and the freshest vegetables, and I want to take make each and every recipe before this short season comes to an end.



Some people collect trinkets. I collect recipes. Clipping away at all my magazines, I am stimulated by the colors and the creativity of each page. In the past, I would place them into laminated pouches and store them in three ring binders by category, i.e.; appetizers, breakfast foods, barbecue, dessert, meats, vegetables, salads, etc. In each binder lives a recipe collection composed of those I love, in addition to those I think I will love once I’ve tried them. When I open the book, I am entertained by an array of pictures that help me to visualize each enticing meal.


Recently, I started cutting out the recipes and filing them into a folder that I use in my weekly meal planning. It takes less time, and seems to make more sense. At the same time, I am starting to sort through years of collected material in my binders to question whether or not I will ever manage to make these new recipes. As a result, I now have enough recipes to wallpaper my entire kitchen.


This is a perfect project to get input from our friend the professional organizer, Kristin Mastromarino. Kristin, what is the most efficient way to organize all the recipes that have been passed down and treasured as well as those new ones I’ve clipped? Cooking for a family of six is hard enough never mind having to go through files to organize first. Should I sit down one time to meal plan for the entire week? Should I go back to my old-fashioned recipe box?  I would love to hear your thoughts.

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