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Blog: Minimizing Financial Clutter
Analysis Paralysis

Should I keep this?
Where should I keep this?
What if I don't keep this?  I might need it someday.
The fear of making a wrong decision can cause us to make no decision at all.   And, as professional organizer Barbara Hemphill puts it, the result of postponed decisions is clutter.
Many of my clients are disorganized because they are perfectionists!  Does that sound odd?  It isn't.  Think about it:  You have a box of miscellaneous papers.  Your thought process goes something like this: 
"Some of the papers look "official" and, therefore, worth keeping.  But for how long?  Forever?  What dire consequences will happen to me if I discard them?  I had best not find out!   So I'll just keep them all to be on the safe side.  Now, where should I keep them?..."
"Some of these papers don't really look official, but they sure look interesting!  Yes, I did miss this seminar (it was held 3 years ago), but I might want to contact the organization to see if they will be offering it again.  Or, I could just file it under "Seminars" so I'll have the information in case I need it.  Or should I file it under the seminar topic, instead of just under "Seminars"?  How will I remember where I put it?  This is dumb!  I'll just leave it in the box and decide later "
We're afraid of making a "wrong" or "bad" decision so we don't!  But of course, a non-decision really is a decision.  It's a decision for disorder instead of order.  It's a decision to keep an open loop open, rather than to close it and be done with it.  And the result is clutter in our homes, our offices, and in our brains.  Each unmade decision adds to the pile of physical and mental clutter.
How do we prevent analysis paralysis? 
Get "Just Enough" Information.  Perfection is a direction, not a destination.  Maybe you need perfect information to safely send a man to the moon, but you don't need "perfect" information to make a decision about your paperwork.  In fact, there really is no such thing as "perfect" information.  Go to the IRS website, for example.  Now, you would think that they, of all people, would be able to tell you definitively exactly how long you need to keep your tax records.  Upon reading their information, however, you'll see some less-than-definitive information.  So, if your life motto is "Better safe than sorry", you can follow the most tax-record-conservative suggestions.  If you have limited storage space, or if you are confident that you could retrieve the needed information in a pinch, you can follow the "minimum requirements".  Bottom-line is, eliminate the word "perfect" from your vocabulary, and replace it with the word "sufficient". 
Go With Your Gut.  My mother always regretted when she didn't go with her first thoughts about something.   Her first impressions usually turned out to be correct.  It was when she second-guessed herself that she ran into problems.  This rule applies to making decisions about paperwork, too.  When I work with clients, I encourage them to talk to themselves as they make decisions.  I encourage them to file papers under the first category name that they mention as they talk about a particular paper.  It may not be the way I would file, but then, I'm not the one who's going to have to find that piece of paper again!
Have a Records Retention Policy.  This is a must for businesses, and can be useful for individuals, too.  A records retention policy lets you make the "Keep/Discard" decision once.  After that, you just have to follow your established policy.  For example, individuals could make a policy that says "Meeting notices shall be discarded after the meeting date has passed."  In the seminar notice case I mentioned earlier, there would be no question about what to do with the notice, had the person had a records retention policy in place.  You're letting the "policy" be responsible for your decisions.
Have Faith.  Have faith that, in this computer age, most personal paperwork can be easily re-created, if necessary.  And most importantly, have faith that you are a competent person who can confidently make "good-enough" decisions.

posted on: 10/26/2008 11:30:00 AM by Katherine Trezise
category: Finances

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Minimizing Financial Clutter

by Katherine Trezise

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About Katherine:

Katherine Trezise is president of Absolutely Organized, based in Baltimore, MD. She is president-elect of the National Study Group on Chronic Disorganization. Katherine holds a masters degree in business administration, is a Certified Professional Organizer® and a Certified Professional Organizer in Chronic Disorganization®. Absolutely Organized specializes in helping people organize their homes, paperwork and financial records to make room in their lives for the things, people and activities that are most important to them.

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