My client Maxine died suddenly. She and I were in the midst of an organizing project. We were sorting through hundreds of documents in a filing cabinet. “So many of them are obsolete and many are in digital form now,” Maxine observed. “It’s time for purge.” Too big a project to finish in just one organizing session, we set up a second session for the next week. “She had a massive coronary,” Maxine’s sister Elena told me when I called to confirm our session. I was stunned. “Let me know if there is anything I can do,” I told Elena.
Two months later the family was still settling Maxine’s estate and I got a call from Elena who Maxine appointed as her Executor. “I thought I sent a death certificate to all her banks but I just found out there’s this web account at Voya. For the past two months, money has been transferring out of that account to pay Maxine’s cell phone bill and her cable bill. It’s like a ghost account. No statements, no emails…it’s not a lot of money, but I’m having a heck of a time turning off the payments!” Elena exclaimed.
Maxine’s death got me thinking about what I could do to help my clients better prepare for ‘information afterlife’. Information afterlife is the phrase I use to describe information and transactions that seem to live on after we die. And then there is all that login information to access accounts and assets that we have to leave behind for our family to settle our estates.
Let me give you an example.
Professor Elizabeth Mathews was my college professor back in the 1970s in the newly emerging field of environmental science. I always admired Professor Mathew’s organization skills as well as her enthusiasm for saving the planet. Assignments were made well in advance. Our papers were graded quickly. We always knew when the exams were. When I visited Professor Mathew at the hospital after she had a stroke, I was not surprised to learn she had a power-of-attorney in place, her brother Joe. “I’m happy to take care of things while Elizabeth is incapacitated,” Joe told me over a hospital cafeteria cup of coffee. “Thing is, I can’t find her paperwork. There are no bills in the mailbox and no statements in the house.” Elizabeth had gone green. As a devout environmentalist, that was no surprise to me. “Well that’s fine for the trees,” Joe said, “but she’s getting emails reminding her to make her car payment. I click on the link to their website but I don’t know her password so I can’t get in. I spent half a day just trying to find their phone number.” Poor Joe. Not only is he worried about Elizabeth’s health, but now he’s concerned about her finances.
The terms of service agreements regarding who can access bank accounts, cell phone companies, and all other businesses are very well-intentioned. They are designed to protect their customers against fraud and identity theft and to protect their privacy rights. But the digital age cries out for reform so that the family of a deceased, executors, attorneys, powers of attorney, and others involved in the disposition of estates can do their job. Reform is slow is coming but it is coming via the courts and state legislatures. Meanwhile, you can take action on your own behalf with a Digital Estate Plan (DEP). A Digital Estate Plan identifies ‘invisible’, digital assets that may be part of your estate such as web-only accounts. It also provides login information to appropriate authorized individuals to access your digital assets and accounts.
To get you started, click here for a free checklist for developing a Digital Estate Plan. Stay tuned for the Create Your Digital Estate Plan ebook! Please be advised that I am not an accountant, attorney, estate planner, or a financial professional of any kind. I am a professional organizer and legally unqualified to advise you about the particulars of your estate. Please consult with your accountant, lawyer, estate planner, or other professionals involved in the disposition of your estate about developing your Digital Estate Plan.
Copyright 2015 Judith Kolberg
The word resolve comes from the Latin verb solvere which means to loosen or to dissolve. In modern terms, we’ve stretched this definition to mean taking on a big or tough project and little by little “dissolving” it. Resolve also has a second meaning: to make clear and unambiguous, to bring to conclusion. Here the emphasis is on focusing in on the exact outcome you want. Taking both meanings together, you can craft some pretty potent resolutions.
Let’s say you want to get organized. Focus in on exactly what you mean by get organized. Maybe it’s to dig out of a complex, disorganized physical mess. Maybe you want to develop regular, long-term habits and routines that keep you on top of things. Or perhaps your resolution is to become a better time manager. Focus first; then dissolve it, break it down: Square foot by square foot, habit by habit and daily plan by daily plan.
Realize that many resolutions require behavioral changes over time. Such changes always work best when you get some help. Find a supportive, non-judgmental family member or friend to help you with your resolve, or consider hiring a professional organizer or an organizing coach at www.napo.net.
Resolving to Get Rid of Your Stuff
High on the list of New Year’s resolutions is getting rid of excess stuff. For many disorganized people, this is not as easy as it sounds. Some people lack information about the many options available for getting rid of stuff. Others just can’t seem to get the logistics to line up including finding the time, applying the effort, or preparing stuff to go. Most, I think, get stuck on the decision-making process itself.
I developed a set of Get Rid of Your Stuff flashcards. Because they are colorful, graphic and tactile (as well as informative) the flashcards give disorganized folks a simple tool for making what I call “de-acquisition” decisions. “The flashcards helped me learn all the different ways to get rid of stuff,” my client said. “Donations, eBay, CraigsList, consignments, yard sales, giving things away for free to family or strangers – the list goes on and on.”
Professional organizers use them out in the field to help sort stuff, improve decision making, discuss de-acquisition options, and plan the logistics. But the flashcards are designed for anybody who wants to reduce clutter. They make excellent gifts and can be ordered at www.squallpress.net.
Resolving to Plan Your Digital Estate
Recently, I addressed the American Association of Daily Money Managers (AADMM). My AADMM colleagues report that estate planning is high up on their clients’ resolution lists. I’m not a money manager, accountant, tax or financial professional of any kind, so it’s not my role to give you specific advice about your estate. But I would like to tell you a story by way of introducing you to digital estate planning.
My client Maxine died suddenly. I was helping organize her digital and tangible documents. Maxine’s executor notified the banks and other financial institutions of her death. But there were passwords and user codes and security questions to answer to access Maxine’s accounts that took weeks of hard work to untangle. And just when the family thought the estate was well on its way being settled, digital assets emerged. There was a web-only checking account Maxine had in the cloud with no paper trail and a PayPal account without any hardcopy statements.
We all have tangible and digital assets and information. I read about a guy who owned a “digital sword” he purchased for $17,000 to play high-stakes, international video games and legally it was considered an estate asset. I’d like to suggest in 2015, that you:
- Create a password-protected document (like an Excel spreadsheet) of your login information so your executor and family can settle your account with less fuss and muss. In addition to your online accounts, consider “invisible” (web-only) accounts like Emigrant Direct and Voya and other places money might stowed, like PayPal accounts.
- Next, inventory your digital assets and list how to gain access to them. Include the aforementioned accounts plus Bitcoins, royalties you may have coming in from the sale of eBooks on Kindle and Nook, seller’s accounts you might have with eBay, digital swords – you’d be surprised how many assets you have when you sit down and think about it. Even your domain name might have value to your estate. Find out at sedo.com.
- Consider the Excel spreadsheet or other document you create a part of your final documents. Lock it down with a password, disclosed only to your executor, of at least 15 mixed characters and numbers. Keep a hardcopy with your Will. Download it to a flash drive and hand it to your executor. Keep a copy for yourself on a flash drive and consider not having a copy on your hard drive at all. Some folks also like to store a copy in the cloud at www.legacylocker or www.finaldeparture.com.
Excerpt from the Washington Post
We’ve all heard the conventional wisdom for better managing our time and organizing our professional and personal lives. Don’t try to multitask. Turn the email and Facebook alerts off to help stay focused. Make separate to-do lists for tasks that require a few minutes, a few hours and long-term planning.
But what’s grounded in real evidence and what’s not? In his new book The Organized Mind, Daniel Levitin — a McGill University professor of psychology and behavioral neuroscience — explores how having a basic understanding of the way the brain works can help us think about organizing our homes, our businesses, our time and even our schools in an age of information overload.
Click here to read the interview with Levitin about why multi-tasking never works, what images of good leaders’ brains actually look like, and why email and Twitter are so incredibly addicting.
Listen to the recording “Reining In Information Turn-on” to learn more about the latest science on how information turns us on and causes us to want to seek out even more, and strategies for determining when enough is enough, and how to use new stopping points.
We are wirelessly tethered 24/7 to family, friends, fans, co-workers, customers, clients, vendors, suppliers, and perfect and imperfect strangers. The line between work-life and home-life is getting more and more blurry. Listen to the recording “Coping with Endless Connectivity” and learn how to formulate a Family Technology Policy to balance your digital and non-digital life.
In the Era of Endless information in which we live, our information has an “afterlife”: it goes on without us! We all have a website, Facebook pages, online accounts, and other digital assets. The recording, “Information Afterlife and Digital Estate Planning” teaches you how to manage your digital assets to protect your information and pass on your digital assets in the event of your demise.
In “We Are All Time Managers”, you’ll learn new time management skills appropriate to the digital age like how to ‘triage’ your commitments, projects and to-dos.
The recordings are perfect for parents, educators, psychologists, professional organizers, and business coaches. You can purchase each teleclass recording individually or the entire series at a discount.
My client, Ann client calls her husband Joe “an information junkie.” Ann needed a new car and Joe was eager to help her find one. He researched consumer reports. Joe asked his online friends, fans and followers what they thought of particular vehicles. He watched Youtube videos of the cars in action and set up Google alerts. Joe amassed an enormous amount of information. Ann says “Joe keeps thinking there is just a little bit more information out there to find and we’ll know exactly which car to buy.” He’s right. There is a little bit more information, in fact, there is no end to the information that can be found to answer a question, solve a problem, make a point or satisfy a curiosity. The problem for Ann is that Joe’s “help” delays her car purchase. “He doesn’t know how to stop”, Ann says.
And as if endless information were not enough, it turns out that Joe is turned-on by information. What do I mean? Information turn-on is like gambling. My mother loves to gamble. On her 91st birthday, we went to Harrah’s Cherokee casino. They play a sound track of coins tumbling out of the machines: ca-ching, ca-ching, ca-ching. Just the sound of money plopping out entices Mom to sit at that machine. She’s hooked. When a person gambles, the brain releases dopamine, a neurochemical that the brain loves like your tongue likes sugar. Turns out that the tendency to pursue new information has a similar effect. The ping of a text or bing of an incoming email can light up parts of the brain once thought only to be ignited by drugs, sex and gambling.
If you don’t know when to stop or tend to fall into the black hole of the Internet, here are some tips for you:
Tips for Information Junkies
- Learn how to search more efficiently. Go to www.google.com/insidesearch/tipstricks/basics.html to brush up.
- Your social network will be full of opinions so limit this kind of input.
- Choose two or three professional sources and/or experts (who are not paid for their opinion.)
- Make your search well-rounded and then STOP. Well-rounded might include several live experts, up to three authoritative blogs or podcasts, and a few choice YouTube videos plus your Internet search.
- Set a time limit for your research/search.
And remember, since there is no end to the amount of information, points of view, perspectives, arguments, “facts” and claims you can gather from others, at some point, you need to draw your own conclusion, formulate an opinion, or make a decision. These are great stopping points.
A professional organizer can help you organize your search, set goals, and manage your time. You can find one at www.napo.net .
If you cannot stop, are neglecting your time with your live family and friends, or have a high dose of perfectionism, consult a professional counselor.
“If we’re too tipped to the side of fun in life and we neglect our work commitments, that is a kind of imbalance that can cause all sorts of stress such as unpaid bills, debt, not seeing things through, or a reputation for being unreliable. On the other hand, if we work ourselves to death and don’t tip things over to the fun, relaxing, recreating side of life, we can likewise be unhappy and stressed. So balance is important. I tend to take a long view on balance. For instance, when I’m writing a book, I can sacrifice friends, family, and fun because I can see the light at the end of the tunnel. So my life can be terrifically unbalanced in favor of work, but I know it’s only temporary. When I travel, I hardly do any work. I’m fine with knowing projects await me after I’m done goofing off. Try to be as proactive as you can about when you will deliberately unbalance your life in favor of work or leisure. And take a long view – life will balance out over the longer term. And oh yea, keep that light at the end of the tunnel nice and bright!”
Judith Kolberg – Award-winning Professional Organizer & Humble Thought-Leader
Excerpt from http://theothersideoforganized.com
Judith Kolberg’s Keynote Address
to the Japanese Association of Life Organizers (JALO), 2013 Annual Conference
In 1970, a manufacturer of panty hose decided to lower production costs. They made panty hose “One Size Fits All.” They determined what they thought was “the average” size of women’s legs. Women who were larger sizes were assured the nylon would stretch to fit and women who were smaller were told it would shrink to fit them. What do you think happened? Women abandoned “One Size Fits All” in droves and the manufacturers returned to offering panty hose is various sizes.
Categorizing Is Not “One Size Fits All”
Even our most fundamental organizing principles are not “One Size Fits All.” We assume, for instance, that all people categorize the same. Categories make it possible for us to put like-things together, a building block for sorting things, knowing where they are and retrieving them, and for organizing just about everything.
Parents teach children at an early age that their toys go here and their clothes go there and it is not a good idea to mix your toothbrush in with the soap dish. When they get older the categories get more precise. Legos go here, stuffed animals go there, and dolls go over here. In grade school an exercise called What Does Not Belong shows a picture of a bird, a shoe, a dog, and a cat. Most children realize the category is “animals” and they circle the shoe because it is the only non-animal and does not belong.
But one size does not fit all.
Click here to download the complete speech.
Happy New Year and more importantly, Happy National Get Organized month!
For many people, ‘getting organized’ and ‘happy’ in the same sentence is a contradiction in terms. Brother International Corporation’s (BIC) recent study on personal organizing indicates that it can yield a sense of accomplishment, a feeling of calm and relaxation, and even—dare we say it—’happiness.’ Still people avoid it. My advice?
- Write down a small, achievable organizing goal.
- Don’t go it alone. Bring a (non-judgmental) friend or family member in for support.
- Know when you need a pro.
- Wait for a tipping point.
Click here to view the the complete Filehead newsletter.
The Institute for Challenging Disorganization (ICD), in partnership with Catherine Roster, Ph.D., Associate Professor at University of New Mexico and Dr. Joseph Ferrari, Distinguished Professor at DePaul University, is conducting a study to learn how clutter impacts a person’s psychological sense of “home.” Psychological home refers to self-identity as it is aided through a person’s use of personal dwelling spaces in the place one calls “home,” as well as public use and association with nearby spaces that aid one’s self-identity through access to culture, people, or things that connect a person with their surroundings.
If you wish to participate, click here to take the survey.