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5 Tips for Decluttering Your Home

Editorial Note: The editorial content on this page is not provided or commissioned by any financial institution. Any opinions, analyses, reviews, statements or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the author’s alone, and may not have been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities prior to publication.

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Spend a little time on Instagram or Pinterest and you’re bound to come across some very aspirational accounts. No, not exotic locales or luxury goods – it’s all about pantries, refrigerators and closets that are so pretty and tidy, even the most dedicated pack rat might find themselves fantasizing about shelf liners, baskets and color-coordinating storage containers.

Amy Tokos, a Certified Professional Organizer in Omaha, Neb., said she believes decluttering and organizing are popular now because young people don’t place as much value on possessions as many of their predecessors have.

“I’ve observed college-aged kids and teenagers,” said Tokos, “and they just aren’t as attached to stuff. Fewer of them have cars, they want to live in smaller places and own just what they need, no more. For the generations before them, the goal was to get a house, get a car and acquire stuff. Now it’s more about experiences.”

Do you look at the pristine spaces on Instagram and think your home could never look like that? Well, think again. Here are tips for decluttering even the most chaotic home – and why you should bother.

Why declutter?

It may seem as though keeping a tidy home is all about appearances, but it actually has positive psychological benefits.

A 2016 study published in the Journal of Environmental Psychology found that clutter — defined by the researchers as “an overabundance of possessions that collectively create chaotic and disorderly living spaces” — has a negative impact on one’s ability to feel at home in one’s living space.

Of course, there’s a financial aspect to too much clutter, as well, especially if you’re planning on selling your home. Decluttering is often listed as one of the first steps in getting your house ready to sell, as removing unnecessary objects can make the home appear more spacious and relaxing to would-be buyers — a feeling that could result in a higher sales price. Consumer Reports estimates decluttering your home can result in a potential increase of 3% to 5% of your asking price.

Where to declutter

Does just the thought of dealing with clutter fill you with a sense of dread? Lauren T., who blogs at AnOrganizedLife.info and has more than 40,000 organization-loving followers on Instagram, recommends starting small.

“Start with the smallest area of your home and take the process one step at a time,” Lauren said. “Devote 10 to 15 minutes a day to tackle a kitchen drawer, a cupboard or linen closet. Set a timer — it helps!” she said.

Tokos also recommended the 15-minutes-per-day idea. “If you try to dedicate an entire day to decluttering, you’ll procrastinate. Start small, going cupboard by cupboard or zone by zone each day,” she said.

Some good places to start are these “hot spots” where people tend to accumulate the most clutter.

Closet

Have you ever heard of the Pareto Principle? In 1896, Vilfredo Pareto, an Italian economist, observed that 80% of Italy’s wealth was owned by 20% of the population. Since then, his 80/20 rule has been found to apply to many areas of our lives, including our wardrobes. As Tokos said, the average person wears 20% of their clothes 80% of the time — that’s why you have a closet full of clothes and nothing to wear.

She recommended keeping a donation basket near the closet. “If you take something off because you don’t like the way it looks or feels, put it in the donation bin,” she said.

She also recommended turning all of the clothes hanging in your closet so the hangers face back-to-front. Over the next six months to a year, when you wear an item of clothing, return it to the closet with the hanger facing the correct way. At the end the year, you’ll be able to easily see the clothing you never wear and donate it. This works with shoes, too. If you normally store your shoes with the toes pointed in, flip them around to see which ones you’re not using.

Paper

Paper, especially mail, is a big issue for many people. Tokos recommended keeping a recycle bin just outside your door so you can dispose of most of that paper before it even comes into your house.

For papers that can’t be tossed immediately, Tokos recommended sorting them by the next action you need to take with it. For example, have a place for things to be read, bills to be paid, coupons to be used and items that need to be added to your calendar.

“Don’t just stack everything in one pile,” Tokos said. “When you organize paperwork by the next action, it’s a lot less daunting than one big pile and makes dealing with it realistic.”

Kids’ bedroom

Most parents know how kids’ clothing and toys seem to multiply daily, so keeping their room tidy is an ongoing chore.

Tokos recommended cutting back on the amount of clothing you buy for your kids. “Kids will wear the same things over and over again. So give them five outfits they love and don’t keep anything else in the house,” she said. This tip works especially well for accessories like socks — “if your kids have 30 pairs of socks, they’ll be all over the house. If they have seven pairs, those socks become really important and you won’t find them shoved in the couch cushions.”

Lauren stays on top of her daughter’s toy clutter by maintaining a “one in, one out” rule. “If a new toy comes into the house then an existing toy must be donated to charity,” she said. She also recommends keeping a “donate” basket in your child’s closet so you can immediately weed out any clothing that’s been outgrown.

Sentimental items

Even the most ruthless declutterer can hit a roadblock when they arrive at sentimental items like photographs, family heirlooms and kids’ artwork. But when it comes to such memorabilia, less is more.

“If you love certain items, you need to make them a treasure and only keep a few of them,” Tokos said. If you keep too many “treasures,” they start to look more like junk.

“For example,” Tokos said, “if you have 10 boxes of childhood memorabilia stored in boxes in the basement and something happens to you, your family will never go through all of those boxes. They might look through one and toss the rest.”

So pare down your collection of sentimental items and look for ways to display your keepsakes rather than storing boxes upon boxes of these items in the basement.

Lauren offered a special tip for children’s artwork. “Eighty percent of the pictures my daughter draws are automatically placed in a “send to grandparents” file. I try to mail them out at least once a month to reduce paper clutter,” she said.

No matter which area you tackle first, Lauren recommends taking everything out of the space you’re working on, cleaning it thoroughly and then making decisions on objects one-by-one.

“Before putting anything back in the space, decide what category the object falls in: Keep, Toss, Donate or Relocate. Then it becomes very simple; the toss pile is garbage that can be discarded immediately, the donate pile is a box to be donated at the end of the week or month, and things in the relocate pile can be placed back into their proper space in another area of your home.”

After purging, Lauren recommended looking at what remains before investing in some sort of organizational system. She said a shoebox can do wonders for organizing small objects rather than simply putting them place into a newly decluttered space.

4 ways to get rid of clutter

What to do with all of the items you remove from your home? You have several options.

  • Donate them. The easiest way to get rid of unwanted items is to drop them off at a local charity or thrift shop like Goodwill or Salvation Army. Donate gently used books to your local library, work-appropriate clothing to Dress for Success and household items and building materials to Habitat for Humanity ReStore. Save your donation receipts, as you might be able to claim a tax deduction.
  • Host a garage sale. If you have a lot of stuff to get rid of, you could turn your trash into cash with a garage sale. Team up with family members or neighbors to get more inventory and make it fun.
  • Sell it online. You may be able to make more money selling certain high-value items online. Try eBay, Craigslist or Facebook Marketplace.
  • Recycle it. Some of the items you need to get rid of might not be worth donating or reselling, but that doesn’t mean they need to wind up in a landfill. Many cities have bins for recycling worn-out clothing. Used athletic shoes can be dropped off at a Nike retail store for their Reuse-a-Shoe Check out TerraCycle for more free recycling programs near you or to purchase a Zero Waste Box that allows you to recycle anything from coffee pods to toothbrushes. You might also find someone near you who is interested in taking unusual items off your hands through the Freecycle Network, a network of nearly 1 million members who give and get stuff for free in their communities to keep stuff out of landfills.

The bottom line

Remember, after you’ve decluttered your home, you’ll need ongoing maintenance to keep it organized. “It has to be an everyday thing, not an annual event,” Tokos said.

She recommended setting up systems to make it easy to maintain, like keeping a donation basket in your closet and communicating with family members to make sure everyone has the opportunity to add to the donation pile.

Keeping on top of paperwork and mail is a daily chore. “The mail never stops,” Tokos said, “and the longer you let it pile up, the more overwhelming it gets. Set a timer to see how long it takes you to go through the mail. It typically takes just three minutes if you do it daily. When you time it, you realize it’s not a huge job and you can just get it done.”

To maintain the motivation, Lauren recommends taking the time to enjoy your newly organized spaces.

“Open the cupboard you just organized and designed to perfectly suit you and your life and just bask in the glow of something you created,” she said. “Be excited and love every minute of the process.”

Advertiser Disclosure: The products that appear on this site may be from companies from which MagnifyMoney receives compensation. This compensation may impact how and where products appear on this site (including, for example, the order in which they appear). MagnifyMoney does not include all financial institutions or all products offered available in the marketplace.

Janet Berry-Johnson
Janet Berry-Johnson |

Janet Berry-Johnson is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Janet here

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How Credit Report Disputes Can Sabotage Your Chance for a Mortgage

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Mortgage underwriting can feel like it’s taking a lifetime when it’s standing between you and your dream home. But your lender wants to make sure that you’ll be able to repay the loan, so they’ll take the time to go over your credit history with a proverbial magnifying glass.

Before you get to underwriting, you’ll want to make sure you’re a creditworthy borrower. This means maintaining a good payment history, paying down debt and disputing any errors on your credit report.

However, credit report disputes can impact your ability to get a mortgage if they’re still pending when you’re applying for a loan. This guide will explain how and why.

Why your credit reports and scores matter

One of the first things lenders look at is your credit report, which provides information about your credit history. It details whether you’ve made on-time payments on credit cards, loans and other accounts.

The information included in this report is summed up by a credit score that generally ranges between 300 and 850. The higher your score, the more creditworthy you are perceived to be.

Although credit scores aren’t the only factor that determines whether you’ll qualify for a mortgage, your credit score heavily influences the mortgage interest rate you receive. The highest scores qualify borrowers for the best mortgage rates.

Before you begin the homebuying process, it’s smart to review your credit report and have a copy handy. You can request a free credit report once a year from each of the three major credit reporting bureaus, Equifax, Experian and TransUnion, at AnnualCreditReport.com.

It’s critical to arm yourself with this information in advance. That gives you the opportunity to dispute any inaccuracies you’ve discovered and clean up your report.

What is a credit report dispute?

Credit report inaccuracies are relatively common. Inaccurate information can happen for a variety of reasons — a credit card payment being applied to the wrong account or duplicate accounts in your report giving the impression that you carry more debt than you actually do, for example.

Not only can errors harm your credit score, but they can prevent you from qualifying for a new credit account, such as an auto or home loan. That’s why it’s important to regularly keep track of the information found in your credit reports.

When you review your credit report and find an error, you have the opportunity to formally dispute it under the Fair Credit Reporting Act This is the first step to take to get the error corrected or removed.

Fortunately, it’s easier than ever to file a credit dispute with all three credit reporting agencies online.

How to file a credit report dispute

If you’ve found an error on your credit report, take the following steps to dispute it:

  1. Provide your contact information.
  2. Identify the items in your credit report that are inaccurate.
  3. Explain why you’re disputing the info and include documentation to support your dispute.
  4. Request a correction or deletion.

You’ll also want to reach out to the creditor that is reporting inaccurate information to the credit bureaus. Let them know you’re disputing the information and provide them the same documentation you’re giving to the bureaus.

In many cases, the credit bureaus investigate disputes within 30 days, according to myFICO.com.

However, many disputes can go unresolved for long periods of time, which can be troublesome for consumers applying for a mortgage. Many loan applicants don’t realize an open credit report dispute can raise a red flag to lenders and may even prevent mortgage approval.

When to file a credit report dispute

You’ll want to file a dispute as soon as you spot an error on any of your credit reports, but if you’re thinking about buying a home in the near future, it’s best to exercise caution when filing disputes, especially right before you apply for a mortgage.

Although the dispute investigation can wrap up in 30 days, it could last as long as 90 days, so it’s best to avoid filing new disputes a few months prior to starting the homebuying process.

How mortgage lenders view credit disputes

When a dispute is filed, credit reporting agencies are required to label the item as “in dispute.” The dispute itself doesn’t impact your FICO Score. However, your score may temporarily deflate or inflate while the disputed items are being investigated.

Mortgage lenders know credit reports with disputed items don’t paint the most accurate picture of a consumer’s creditworthiness and many require this status be removed before approving a mortgage application. This leaves some consumers with a difficult decision to make — accept costly credit report errors or delay applying for a loan until disputes have been resolved.

Here’s how lenders who provide conventional and FHA loans consider credit report disputes when determining whether a consumer qualifies for a mortgage.

Conventional loans

Both government-sponsored enterprises, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, have automated underwriting systems that alert lenders to existing credit report disputes. These entities don’t issue loans, but buy mortgages from lenders that follow their rules.

Fannie Mae’s system initially reviews all accounts on a borrower’s credit report, even those that are being disputed. If the borrower would be approved for the loan even with the account in question, the loan moves forward. But if the disputed account would push the borrower into the “rejection” category, the system will direct the lender to investigate whether the dispute is valid.

Lenders using Freddie Mac’s system are required to confirm the accuracy of disputed accounts. The borrower would need to have the accounts corrected before the loan can move forward.

FHA loans

FHA-approved lenders require borrowers with disputed delinquent accounts on their credit report to provide an explanation and supporting documentation about their dispute. If the account has an outstanding balance of more than $1,000, the loan must be manually underwritten, which means the loan officer has to review the loan application and supporting documents outside of the automated system.

The loan officer goes over the paperwork included in the borrower’s file very closely to determine their risk of mortgage default and whether they qualify for the loan program that they’re applying.

Disputed medical accounts are excluded from consideration, but disputed accounts that are paid on time must be factored into the borrower’s debt-to-income ratio.

How to remove a lingering credit report dispute

Gaining access to a new credit report with updated information is not an option for the borrower if the creditor won’t correct the information. And when a consumer files a complaint with the credit reporting agencies, the agencies will often defer to the creditor.

Just as you’ve reached out to your creditor and the credit reporting bureaus to file your dispute, you’ll want to take the same action to remove it. Contact the creditor directly and request that they update the account information to show that it’s no longer being disputed.

You may also want to reach out to Equifax, Experian and TransUnion to request dispute removal, but keep in mind they may also reach out to the creditor who is reporting the disputed account. See the FICO website for more information about contacting each bureau’s dispute department.

The bottom line

Dealing with an unresolved credit report dispute can turn into a consumer nightmare. Even if you’ve followed best practices, you may still be unhappy with the results.

Fortunately, you can still submit a complaint to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. They will forward your complaint directly to the company in dispute and work to get a response from them. Another option is to seek guidance from a consumer advocate or an attorney. The National Foundation for Credit Counseling may be a helpful place to start.

Credit reports and scores have such a strong influence on lifelong financial health, so the most effective defense is to be proactive about making sure yours are in the best shape possible. Regularly monitoring your credit profile and working to fix inaccuracies before applying for a mortgage is a good game plan to prevent major problems as you embark on the homebuying process.

Advertiser Disclosure: The products that appear on this site may be from companies from which MagnifyMoney receives compensation. This compensation may impact how and where products appear on this site (including, for example, the order in which they appear). MagnifyMoney does not include all financial institutions or all products offered available in the marketplace.

Crissinda Ponder
Crissinda Ponder |

Crissinda Ponder is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Crissinda here

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