Friday, April 3, 2009

March, Week Three: Create a Plan

In Week Three, Leeds recommends "speed elimination" again. I'm definitely a fan of this technique, and I have used it off and on through this program. In the study, I've used this technique more on a group basis: for example, speed elimination of books, or of children's CD-ROMs, or junk on the floor.

Specifically, Leeds recommends focusing on the following in speed elimination:
  • Old magazines and newspapers. Mike has a habit of collecting old magazine and newspaper articles...I have to grant it to him that he is quite good about filing them away in three-ring binders. But I do wonder how often he goes back to refer to them? I'm more likely to clip recipes or home improvement ideas.
  • Flyers and catalogs for sales that have expired. Not a problem for us. We are fervent, regular recyclers of that kind of thing.
  • Old bank statements and bills. We could probably weed out more of these--Mike generally keeps track of our household files and stays on top of these.
  • Invitations for events that have passed, expired coupons, warranties for items long gone, junk mail...
  • Photo holiday cards. Now this is an area for consideration. Not just photo holiday cards, but cards in general. We are a card-giving family, both in our nuclear family and extended family, and we tend to keep most of the cards we receive. They are piled up in bags and bags. We don't keep every single card...but we keep many. Perhaps we need to develop some kind of rules to determine which ones to discard.
Then she moves onto paper organizing tools...Leeds says that file systems need to be cleaned out periodically, for example every one to three years. Here are some of the specific recommendations she makes that we can apply to our lives in this household:
  • Get a paper tray to hold the open package of printer paper (will look neater)...
  • Use plastic boxes to store files (roaches and rats love cardboard)...believe me, if we have rats, my paper files will be the least of my concerns!! But we do love those plastic storage boxes and use them for lots of things.
  • Use a label maker to label files--makes them more readable and they look neater.
  • Use drawer liners and organizers in the office as well as the kitchen.
  • Assess the furniture and supplies in your home office--is your desk adequate and big enough? Is the chair comfortable? For us, we have two desks--one for the computer, and one for the other CRAP!! Honestly, my goal is to clear off the second desk and organize things so it could actually be used for writing! :) And to keep it clean.

Leeds also includes a text box about identity theft and recommends several useful steps to prevent this:

  • Protect your accounts with passwords that would be difficult to guess. Change your passwords every 6 months. (I'm very guilty of not doing this!!! I have to change my password regularly for work use--I should use that as a prompter to change my internet passwords as well!)
  • Never carry your social security card with you, give it to strangers over the phone, or have it printed on your checks. If a company wants to use the SSN for identification, ask to use another form of identification. (We just had to give copies of our SSNs for our refinancing...made me nervous to do even that!)
  • Get your free credit report each year to check your credit. (
  • If you are a victim of identity theft, write to each credit bureau and freeze your accounts. Include a copy of your police report, and alert all your credit card companies and financial institutions.
  • Do not sign the back of your credit card. Instead, write photo ID required.
  • Check the activity on your credit card accounts every week.
  • Make liberal use of a shredder.
We have not been victims of identity theft, but twice in the past five years we have had close calls. The first was when JC Penney called us to tell us that a former employee had used our credit card # to purchase a $500 gift card. (We had used our credit card at the JC Penney photo studio.) By the time JC Penney contacted us, they had dealt with the issue (and fired the employee).

Then a few months ago we gave a check to a charity that provides cleaning drinking water in Africa. The person who was going to deposit the checks left them in his car, and they were stolen. We called our credit union to ask them to hold the check, and they informed us that the safe procedure was to close out our checking account. What a pain in the neck it was, and very distressing considering the fact that it resulted from a charitable donation. What was this person thinking? (Or not...)

We pay so many of our bills by automatic withdrawal, plus my paycheck and expense checks are deposited directly into our account, so there was no end to the number of companies and organizations we had to contact, on top of opening a new account, getting new checks, and getting new debit cards (with a new pin #, after we'd had our same one for over 10 years!). I can only imagine the pain and distress that identity theft causes, after we had this small taste of the hassles involved.

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