ARB, CPO? Yes, please. (Or, what I did in May!)

Although I’ve been out of academia for a full decade (!) the nerd within me will never stop being curious about everything. I love learning! And figuring out how things tick is a favorite hobby of mine, to be certain.

I joined the National Association of Professional Organizers and have begun the process of applying for my Certified Professional Organizer certification. I find that it really goes hand-in-hand with the work I do with insurance; often I’ll meet with clients in their homes or their offices and they’ll be embarrassed about the clutter (which, please take my word for it, actually does always look worse to you!) and I’ll mention that I do organizing work professionally. I’ll offer (gently) to make suggestions as we interact. Most clients are thrilled to learn a few tricks, and many are eager to retain me for assistance either with a specific project or on an as-needed basis. (I also hear “no thank you” loud and clear; I am not interested in giving tips to people who aren’t interested – how insulting and annoying would that be?!) I’m completely up-front about everything with my clients, both for organizing and insurance. Transparency makes my relationships, personal and professional, strong and meaningful.

In May, I worked to complete NAPO’s basic coursework, and I am now officially a professional member. I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed PO-101: Fundamental Organizing and Productivity Principles. I’ll admit, I was a bit skeptical at first – I’ve been incorporating organizing techniques and productivity refinement lessons into my professional work for over a decade! – but then I learned that my instructor would be Deb Stanley, whose organizing work is super interesting, and I walked away thinking about the concepts behind my organizing work in a fresh, new way. My next required course, PO-102: Fundamental Organizing and Productivity Skills, was led by Perri Kersh, whose website inspired me to develop case studies for each of my clients, was also terrific! My favorite of the classes thus far, though, was PO-103: Ethics for Professional Organizers and Productivity Specialists, led by Margaret Lukens. I was totally blown away by scenarios I never imagined could happen, some from Ms. Lukens’ own experience. I feel more equipped now to meet new clients, having given thought to myriad issues which face my colleagues daily.

I’m still working towards my Certified Professional Organizer designation, which requires further classes as well as documentation of my projects. I’ve completed PO-206: Project Management for Professional Organizers and  PO-207: Client Intake Interviews, both which will count towards the special Residential Organizing Specialist track, which I think makes sense given the nature of my current clientele.

Please let me know if you’re interested in working together!

#FixItBlitz: the top desk drawer

Although I used this tag on my very first post here on AudreyBeerman.com, I’ll explain it here: #FixItBlitz is what I call that beautiful moment when I can jump into a situation, take five minutes (or similar superfast period), and make a positive change for a client. (Or friend or family member or myself!)

I met with one of my clients in his midtown Manhattan office to discuss plans for his lower Manhattan apartment. His assistant came in to ask for a receipt and as he struggled to find it I was surprised to see that the best real estate in town – his top desk drawer – was such a disaster. I asked him if he could leave me and the drawer alone and go to the bathroom or to grab a soda. He paused and seemed to consider putting up a fight and then smiled, thanked me, and closed the door behind him. (Because he knew.) 

BEFORE:

See the photo for yourself! My client’s top drawer was just overflowing (and sometimes not actually closing, I later learned ::cringe::) with actual really useful stuff and totally useless junk co-mingled. Not the best way to be painfully efficient, as is required of my busy client!

AFTER: 

  1. Basic organization tips we can adopt in many places: Like items are grouped together. Frequently needed items are moved to the front, and infrequently needed items are moved to the back. (Except the staples. My client jokingly made a fuss about keeping them in front! Clients always have the final say, I reassured him!)
  2. The nature of #FixItBlitz means supplies aren’t always available, and more crucially, many clients come to me and simply cannot or will not invest in organizational products. A little MacGuyver action keeps me sharp, folks! I’m up to the challenge! In this case, instead of buying a proper drawer organizer, for instance, I cut the top off of the cardboard safety pin box so it became more convenient.
  3. Don’t be afraid to throw stuff out. That lone birthday candle? That impressive but unnecessary collection of rubber bands? Yeah, I was not crying as those were staring up at me from the trash can, and neither will you! Recycle, reuse, donate, sell – and throw away when necessary. Mental clutter matters, and the weight of holding onto something that isn’t working just drags us down.
  4. My client now has an envelope on his desk, adjacent to his outbox, which is clearly marked for receipts. He showed it to his assistant, who gave me a knowing smile, and she retrieved the first receipt out of there. It’s hard to get people to change their behaviors, but now he knows that putting a receipt in that envelope instead of just throwing it in his top desk drawer will save him time and effort later, so he’ll do it. We didn’t try to break a habit; we upgraded his routine!

In other good news, we found $12.30 in change! Told him he could treat for a cab back to Grand Central.

#FixItBlitz – NYJL neighborhood project

My New York Junior League (NYJL) provisional class was divided into small groups to make presentations about neighborhoods in NYC. My group of four fantastic ladies got the Upper East Side (UES), which gave us “home court advantage” (NYJL HQ is on 80th between Park and Lex) and lots of great ideas! Since our class meetings on weeknight evenings, I immediately thought “we should bring snacks” – and then the idea of a fun goodie bag came to mind!

Thanks to an epic dress-buying experience in November (ironically for NYJL’s Fall Fete!) I had a terrific contact at Bloomingdale’s. She put me in touch with their in-house PR office and 20 iconic “little brown bags” were set aside for me. Some shimmery silver tissue paper gave them a polished look, and gave my group the perfect base for our neighborhood project!

My groupmates and I each contributed various items to the bag, from restaurant matchbooks to perfume samples, all from the UES. Superfun! I got delicious chocolate-covered strawberry candy bars from Dylan’s Candy Bar (which were about 75% discounted since it was the day after Valentine’s!) and then created a map with some of our favorite UES locales. I used a traditional map and then instead of typing a list, used my own handwriting to give it a personal, upbeat feel. My handwriting looks like a font. 

Decisions! Decisions!

When my client, a prominent Big Law attorney, approached me regarding the perfect gift for his father-in-law, I was psyched. Much like myself, he’s very creative, and I knew he’d be a terrific brainstorming partner! (Plus, gift projects are usually a lot of fun – it’s always a treat to get to make someone else super happy!) Most people wouldn’t immediately associate gifting as as an activity falling under the rubric of organizing services, but because it’s so easy these days to send generic (albeit wonderful!) presents, when clients want to deliver something truly outstanding, we design gifts together.

My involvement, start-to-finish:

  1. Learn about the gift recipient In this case, the gift recipient is a retired judge celebrating his eightieth (!) birthday.
  2. Learn what the client wants to express with this gift My client wanted something meaningful, not just “nice” (aka expensive) – this is a common sentiment, especially in NYC! We chose to pay deference to his age and impressive career while including a burst of love from his family.
  3. Design the best gift ever I outlined my plan, for me to compile all of the judge’s published decisions into a bound volume, with a dedication page from his family. I assisted the family in keeping the book professional, but in adding this warm personal touch to demonstrate the magnitude of the moment.
  4. Figure out logistics We had a generous budget in terms of cash, but a very small budget in terms of time – just two weeks. Using my worldwide connections – in this case, reaching out to my friends in academia and relying on a midwest press I used while in graduate school – I retained an exceptional vendor to handle the printing. As my client wished to be very involved, I presented a detailed list of specifications for his review, enabling him to offer his thoughts on our chosen paper (weight, shade, size), ink, cover (embossing, variety of leather), etc. I was flattered to discover that my client loved my first-round picks!
  5. Make it happen I used the gold standard legal research tool to access all sixty-five (!) published decisions, and then – with painstaking attention to detail – groomed each page to look elegant. Each decision is neat, polished, and easy to read. Perfect for a judge to look back over an impressive career! I drafted a table of contents presenting the decisions in chronological order, and within decisions from the same dates I further organized the cases into alphabetical order. (OCD is my specialty!) I worked with the family to draft a warm but not mushy dedication. I had extensive communication with the printer – including a significant design revision following a test-run! – and had the materials submitted prior to the needed deadline.
  6. Enjoy the finished project I delivered the completed volumes to my client several days ahead of schedule along with my itemized invoice. I am proud to report that the project fell squarely in the middle of the projected range for hours and at the 75% mark of the range for expenses. I track this information so I can deliver more accurate estimates to my clients. To date, we have never gone over budget!
  7. Follow up I was ecstatic to learn that the judge was truly touched by the gift, and my client was very pleased with the results. I forward to creating with this client again!

I ace efficiency.

The greatest gift technology has brought to us is being able to knock off major chores from our cell phones, aka while on the train or on the toilet, either way time well spent. Thanks to the Subscribe & Save, Prime, and Smile programs at Amazon, I am able to spend less time anticipating my needs, consistently have what I need in stock or en route, avoid overstocking or placing duplicate orders, save 20% on products I use most, and donate to a cause which matters to me with every dollar spent. Impressive, right?

Peep the sexy and excellent Subscribe and Save store. Since I have Prime, I get 20% off diapers (!) which itself pays for annual Prime membership in savings. I also have several automatic subscriptions, timed based on usage, so I have never run out of toilet paper, toothpaste, olive oil, or Chocolate Sea Salt Rx Bars, which are my go-to snack as I enjoy another round of Whole 30 fun. If you can’t find items you want on a regular basis, just do the math; I subscribe to a three-pack of hair clips to arrive every six months at $4 a package, but adding that subscription saved me $9 one month, so it certainly paid off!

Finally, instead of going to http://www.amazon.com, I go to smile.amazon.com, and log into my account through the charity I’ve chosen via Amazon Smile. It’s not gazillions of dollars – .5% of purchase price – but considering how much I shop on Amazon, it adds up. And every shekel counts right? Free money for a cause that matters. (BTW, if you are looking for a cause to support via Amazon Smile, might I suggest Southern Poverty Law Center?)

Clutter detox in the high school basement!

While in graduate school I worked in a number of wonderful schools in various capacities. Sometimes I lectured on sex in the book of Genesis. Sometimes I lead workshops on gendered language in the Qu’ran. And this one time, I was retained to organize an entire storage vault including a decade of paper files.

I’m flexible!

BEFORE:

A large portion of my assignment was, for sure, a massive de-cluttering project; a considerable amount of what was being stored was not going to be staying. I had to order a dumpster to accommodate the trash, and I sent out bags for donation to various local charities as well.

Paper clutter could not be solved, however, without preventing the creation of additional paper clutter; as I organized the files, I also took note of the best means of identifying and grouping them, and developed an appropriate file retention system to be used by educators and administrators going forward. It would no longer be acceptable to bring a file box of report cards to the basement and put it on a table and go back to what you were doing; now there were requirements, and signatures, and specific locations for everything.  Access to the room was now restricted, which would both ensure the safe return of items being removed and guarantee accountability for the duration of their absence. Considering the registrar’s staff was currently struggling to find crucial student records in a sea of clutter and the drama club was re-buying backdrops for the third time, the end of years of neglect meant an organized space and substantial waste reduction.

Supplies from experiential education programs had been left out, and since there was no formal give-and-take or inventory protocol in place, often materials were repurchased due to people simply not knowing they were already in the school’s possession. Other items had to be thrown away because improper storage actually caused damage; for instance, disposable cookware and serving pieces from an overnight trip were not put away, so they were hard to inventory or pack for the next outing. Clutter is not just aesthetically daunting; clutter means we can’t access what we need easily (or at all), and thus clutter causes waste.

Strangely there was a lot of beautiful beautiful student artwork and sentimental pieces of the young school’s history in the storage room – but sadly they were literally thrown in the mix alongside suitcases for use by staff for student trips! One way I beautified the space – which would encourage those using it to be respectful of maintaining the lack of clutter – was to hang up the artwork. The room instantly had a warmth to it. Added bonus.

AFTER:

Files are now stored properly, in an intuitive manner which is compliant with state and federal regulations; a detailed report regarding how to maintain these files was presented to administrators for incorporation into their plans. Leadership was thrilled to hear my suggestions on ways to maintain an important balance between ease of access and confidentiality.

Plastic bins already owned by the school were used, but I also used sturdy cardboard boxes, clearly labeled and put away purposefully. Maintenance staff members were called in to assist in storing larger, heavier equipment requiring only occasional use, at a higher level, thus freeing up substantial space for more frequently needed items. A workspace was created adjacent to storage space to encourage proper packing of supplies to enable future use.

FOLLOW UP:

Several years later this storage room is still infinitely more functional than it had been thanks to my organizational intervention. The administrative staff still uses the systems I implemented to assist new staff members in understanding the importance of keeping the space organized and empowering them to find ways to do so which work best for them.

 

#ProTip: Keep your beneficiaries up to date!

TL,DR: Make sure your beneficiary form is always current; if you get divorced and your ex is still listed as the beneficiary, s/he will get the proceeds, despite what your will says or if the divorce was disastrous, etc. 

Your life insurance contract is just that – a contract. It’s a legally binding document which is designed to be paid out exactly as it is written. The beneficiary of the life insurance policy is the person who will get the proceeds of the policy. You will name your beneficiary on your application, and confirm it when you receive your policy. To change your beneficiary, in most instances, you need only complete a short form which is usually available online. Sounds easy, right?

Except, sometimes devastatingly, it does not always work out that way. Many times, people either forget to update their beneficiary when a life change occurs, or simply assume their will will control. Both do nothing to alter the listed beneficiary. So, if you take out a life insurance policy when you are married to your first spouse, and then go through the most horrible divorce in the history of all time, but you forget to take his name off as the beneficiary of your life insurance policy, when you pass away, the insurance company will send him a check and not your beloved second spouse. Forget that since the divorce you’ve gotten re-married, and have two children, and God bless them! three grandchildren who are just delicious! You lived a full and excellent life! But that money isn’t going to them. Roll over in your grave because you neglected to update a form. Totally avoidable heartache!

  • If you get divorced, update your beneficiary forms.
  • If you get remarried, update your beneficiary forms.
  • If you have or adopt a child, update your beneficiary forms.
  • If you have an insurance policy with beneficiary forms, just look them over once a year and make sure they’re updated, because why risk it? A minute a year.

Every year, you should speak with your insurance expert about your policies and just have a quick conversation and check in. My clients appreciate that chat immensely. Most of the time there’s nothing major to update, but now and again we’ll be talking and a detail will pop up and suddenly a forgotten need will be uncovered. Once a year, review your policies and give that beneficiary form a once-over to be sure it’s up to date, and if it has to change, we can take care of it together, quickly and painlessly. Yes, really. 

If you want to know more about this, reach out and it will be my pleasure to discuss. 

Not just organizing: On preserving, and cherishing

A longtime organizational client approached me with an interesting creative project: He had an unfinished draft of his great-grandmother’s memoir, as well as a shoebox overflowing with her handwritten recipe cards, and stacks of her photos and postcards spanning several wars, decades, languages, and continents. His goal was to put everything together in such a fashion that his family would be able to access these materials in a meaningful way. After much brainstorming and discussion, I suggested that we build a hybrid memoir-cookbook, formatting it in such a way that the recipes could be understood in their context (with appropriate text and photographs surrounding) and actually used to create the delicious foods the matriarch herself had used to feed previous generations of her family! I worked on this project with multiple family members over the course of approximately 18 months.

I edited the draft (twenty single-spaced pages!) very carefully, reviewing even seemingly minor changes (such as punctuation) with our client, as it was crucial not to alter the voice of the author – but I did want to make everything accessible to children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren. What an incredible story of travel, children, war, love – and all of it actual family history! Once my client approved the final text, we were able to move forward. I used PowerPoint to prepare the manuscript so the family could also experience the “texture” of the cards at the surprise Christmas reunion reveal that my client had planned. Overall the family was thrilled to have so much of its history cataloged so beautifully. 

#ProTip: Pay your group disability premiums with post-tax dollars.

TL, DR: If you are enrolled in group long-term disability insurance through your job, make sure you are paying your premiums with post-tax dollars.

In today’s constantly evolving and increasingly competitive workplace, employers often offer benefits as part of a total compensation package to lure potential employees and retain their current staff. Sometimes these benefits are employer-paid, meaning the employee receives them free; there can be benefits to the employer, such as tax incentives, not to mention the impact on employee morale! Other times these benefits are employee-paid, meaning the employee receives access to the benefit which s/he otherwise would not have had through the employer. Hybrid arrangements also exist, in which both employer and employee contribute, such as matching programs.

It is important for every employee to know what benefits s/he is receiving, and whether the benefits are being funded from his / her own salary or by the employer. It is also important for every employee to know whether the benefits are being funded with pre-tax or post-tax dollars. This is especially crucial for group disability premiums.

When you’re dealing with group disability, tax is only paid ONCE: either you pay the premium with post-tax dollars, or you are taxed on the benefit, should you need to collect a benefit.

Frankly this breaks my brain a bit! Let’s say you’re paying $9 monthly for your group long-term disability coverage. It is unlikely that you will even notice that $9 coming from the post-tax side as opposed to the pre-tax side. But if you need to file a disability claim, however, and your group policy is like 99% of the ones I’ve ever dealt with and pays around 60% of your salary, if you pay your premiums with post-tax dollars, you’ll receive 60% of your salary TAX FREE. If you pay your premiums with pre-tax dollars, you’ll still need to pay tax on the benefit – which means 60% of your salary will then have regular income tax taken out, and your total take home pay will be even less than 60% of what it was pre-disability. In the cases of the clients I’ve worked with, this is literally the difference of hundreds of thousands of dollars in benefits! 

A simple call or email to your HR department coupled with a review of your last few pay stubs should make this possible.

I could write volumes about the necessity of disability insurance. I spent a large portion of my professional life at a boutique law firm solely handling disability law. I’ve seen the havoc disabilities of all types can wreak on even the most seemingly financially stable families and businesses, and the incredible lifesaving benefits of a proper insurance program. If you’re interested in learning more about individual disability insurance or disability insurance for your business, please reach out.