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5 Tips for Decluttering Your Home

Editorial Note: The content of this article is based on the author’s opinions and recommendations alone. It has not been previewed, commissioned or otherwise endorsed by any of our network partners.

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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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Mortgage

Should You Save for Retirement or Pay Down Your Mortgage?

Editorial Note: The content of this article is based on the author’s opinions and recommendations alone. It has not been previewed, commissioned or otherwise endorsed by any of our network partners.

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On the list of financial priorities, which comes first — paying off your mortgage or saving for retirement? The answer isn’t simple. On one hand, owning a home with no mortgage attached to it provides long term security knowing you’ll have a place to live with no monthly payment except property taxes and insurance. However, you’ll also need income to live on if you plan to retire, and how much you save now will have a big impact on your quality of retirement life.

We’ll discuss the pros and cons of whether you should save for retirement or pay down your mortgage, or maybe a combination of both.

Pros of paying down your mortgage vs. saving for retirement

The faster you pay your mortgage off, the sooner you own the home outright. However, there are other benefits you’ll realize if you take extra measures to pay your loan balance off faster.

You could save thousands in long-term interest charges

Most homeowners take out a 30-year mortgage to keep their monthly payments as low as possible. The price for that affordable payment is a big bill for interest charged over the 360 payments you’ll make if you’re in your “forever” home.

For example, a 30-year fixed $200,000 loan at 4.375% comes with a lifetime interest charge of $159,485.39. That’s if you never pay a penny more than your fixed mortgage payment for that 30-year period. Using additional funds to pay down your mortgage faster can significantly reduce this.

Even one extra payment a year results in $27,216.79 in interest savings on the loan we mentioned above. An added bonus is that you’ll be able to throw your mortgage-free party four years and five months sooner.

You’ll build equity much faster

Thanks to a beautiful thing called amortization, lenders make sure the majority of your monthly mortgage payment goes toward interest rather than principal in the beginning of your loan term. Because of that, it’s difficult to make a real dent in your loan principal for many years. You can, however, counteract this by making additional payments on your mortgage and telling the lender to specifically put those payments toward your principal balance instead of interest.

Not only do you pay less interest over the long haul with this strategy, but you build the amount of equity you have in your home much faster. And to homeowners, equity is gold — you’re closer to owning your home outright, and equity can also be a resource if you need funds for a home improvement project or another big expense.

You can access that equity as your financial needs change by doing a cash-out refinance or by taking out a home equity loan or home equity line of credit (HEL or HELOC).

You won’t lose your home if values drop

When you contribute extra money into a retirement account, there is always the risk that you’ll lose some or all of the money you invested. When you contribute money to paying off your mortgage, even if the values drop, you still have the security of a place to live, and are increasing the equity in the home, no matter how much it’s ultimately worth.

Making extra payments ensures you’ll eventually have a debt-free asset that provides shelter to you and your family, regardless of what happens to the housing market in your neighborhood.

Cons of paying down your mortgage vs. saving for retirement

There are some cases where paying down your mortgage faster might actually hurt you financially. Before adding extra principal to your mortgage payments, you’ll want to make sure you aren’t doing damage to your financial outlook with an extra contribution toward your mortgage payoff.

You might end up paying more in taxes

The higher interest payments you make during the early years of your mortgage can act as a tax benefit, so paying the balance down faster could actually result in you owning more in federal taxes. If you are in a higher tax bracket in the early (first 10 years) of your mortgage repayment schedule, it may make sense to focus extra funds on retirement savings, and let your mortgage interest deduction work for you. Of course, everyone’s tax situation is different, so you’ll have to decide (with help from an accountant ideally) if it makes sense to itemize your taxes in order to claim mortgage interest payments as a deduction.

You won’t get to enjoy the return on your paydown dollars until you sell

The only real benchmark for figuring out the value of paying down your mortgage is to look at how much equity you’re gaining over time. However, the equity doesn’t become a tangible profit until you actually sell your home. And the costs of a sale can take a big bite out of your equity because sellers usually pay the real estate agent fees.

Home equity is harder to access

The only way to access the equity you’ve built up is to borrow against it, or sell your home. Borrowing against equity often requires proof of income, assets and credit to confirm you meet the approval requirements for each equity loan option. If you fall on hard financial times due to a job loss, or are unable to pay your bills and your credit scores drop substantially, you may not be able to access your equity.

Pros of saving for retirement vs. paying down your mortgage

Depending on your financial situation and savings habits, it may be better to add extra funds monthly to your retirement account than to pay down your mortgage. Here are a few reasons why.

You may earn a higher return on dollars invested in retirement funds

The growth rate for a stock portfolio has consistently returned more than housing price returns. The average return in the benchmark S&P stock fund is 6.595% for funds invested from the beginning of 1900 to present, while home values have increased just 0.1% per year after accounting for inflation during that same time period.

Assuming your portfolio at least earns 7%, if you consistently invest your money into a balanced investment portfolio, you can expect to double your money every 10 years. There aren’t many housing markets that can promise that kind of growth.

Retirement funds are generally easier to access than home equity

Retirement funds often give you a variety of options for each access, with no income or credit verification requirements, and only sufficient proof of enough funds in your account to pay it back over time. For example, a 401k loan through the company you work for will just require you to have enough vested to support the loan request, and sufficient funds left over to pay it off over a reasonable time.

Just be cautious about making a 401k withdrawal, which is treated totally differently than a loan. You aren’t expected to pay it back like you would a 401k loan, but you could get hit with taxes and penalties.

Cons of saving for retirement vs. paying down your mortgage

You’ll need to weather the ups and downs of the market

Most people who have invested money in the stock market or tracked the performance of their 401k over decades have stories about periods when the value of those investments dropped substantially. While the 7% return on investment is a reliable long term indicator how much your retirement fund might earn, the path to that return is hardly linear.

For example, if you were considering retirement between 1999 and 2002, you may have had to delay those plans when the S & P plummeted over 23% in value in 2002. If you look at each 10-year period since the 1930s, every decade has been characterized by periods of ups and downs.

Calculating the benefit of paying down your mortgage vs. saving for retirement

If you’re torn as to what to do with that extra cash or windfall, let’s look at an example of someone who has an extra $200 to put into either their nest egg or their mortgage each month for the next 30 years.

For this scenario, we’re going to assume their retirement account earns an average 7% rate of return and that their mortgage loan balance is $200,000.

Here’s how much they’d save:

Savings From Paying $200 per Month Down on Your Mortgage
Years PaidMortgage Interest SavingsExtra Equity in HomeTotal Interest Savings and Equity Built Up
10 years$6,040$30,039$36,079
20 years$28,529$76,529$105,058
22 years 6 months$50,745$200,000$250,745

One thing you may notice about the mortgage savings chart — it includes how much extra equity you’re building. Often only the mortgage interest savings is cited when people look at how much you save with extra payments, but that ignores the fact that you’re building equity in your home much faster as well. So not only do you save over $50,000 in interest with your extra contribution, you replenish $150,000 of equity that was used up by your mortgage balance.

As you can see, adding that extra $200 to their mortgage principal each month saved them about $200,000 in the long haul — but the real savings don’t stop there.

By adding an extra $200 to their mortgage payment each month, this borrower turned their 30-year loan into a 22-and-a-half year loan and became mortgage debt-free seven years faster.

That means, in addition to saving $50,000 in interest savings and gaining $200,000 of equity, they also no longer have a mortgage payment. That frees up $998.57 per month that they can now use as discretionary income. That’s an extra $89,871 they could potentially save over that 7.5 year period.

When you add that to the $250,745.41 they saved on mortgage interest and earned in home equity, they’re looking at a total savings of $340,616.

That gives the mortgage paydown a $54,000 net positive edge over saving that extra $200 for retirement, as you can see in the table below.

Savings From Contributing $200 per Month to a Retirement Fund
Years PaidRetirement Balance
10 years$34,404
20 years$102,081
30 years$235,212

The one caveat for this retirement calculation is we assumed the saver was starting at a $0 investment balance. If they already had a healthy balance in their nest egg, they might actually come out in better shape than paying down their mortgage.

There are clearly benefits to each option, and you should consider running your own calculations with your real numbers to get the best answer for yourself.

Paying down your mortgage and saving for retirement at the same time

There’s a fair case to be made for both paying down your mortgage and saving more for retirement, but why choose? If you’re somewhat on track with your retirement savings goals, and like the idea of having your mortgage paid off quicker, you could allocate a certain amount to each.

Pick a number you feel comfortable paying to your principal every month, and then to your 401k, and put it on autopilot for a year. Any time your income increases, or you get bonuses, divide up the amount between principal pay down and retirement additions.

Let’s look at what happens if you evenly divide up your $200 per month between investing your retirement and paying down your mortgage. We’ll use the same $200,000 loan at 4.375% referenced above, and look at the lifetime results.

Savings From Paying $100 Down on Your Mortgage Until Paid Off
Years PaidInterest SavingsExtra Home EquityTotal Interest Savings and Equity Built Up
10 years$3,020$15,020$18,040
20 years$14,265$38,265$52,350
25 years$30,534$200,000$230,534
Savings From Contributing $100 to a Retirement Fund for 30 Years
Years PaidRetirement Balance
10 years$17,202
20 years$51,401
30 years$117,607

Balancing the $100 investment in both strategies still yields a six-figure retirement balance after 30 decades, a debt-free house after 26 years, and shaves off $30,000 in mortgage interest expense. If you don’t like putting all your eggs into one financial basket, this may balance the risks and rewards of each option.

Final thoughts

Looking at the short term and the long term may provide you with the best framework for making a good decision about how to spend dollars on retirement versus extra mortgage payments. Be wary of any financial professional that tells you one path is absolutely better than another.

Having a stable source of affordable shelter is equally as important as having enough income to live when you retire, so a balanced approach to paying down your mortgage and savings for retirement may help you accomplish both goals.

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.

Denny Ceizyk
Denny Ceizyk |

Denny Ceizyk is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Denny here

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Life Events, Mortgage

What Is Mortgage Amortization?

Editorial Note: The content of this article is based on the author’s opinions and recommendations alone. It has not been previewed, commissioned or otherwise endorsed by any of our network partners.

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One of the biggest advantages of homeownership versus renting is each mortgage payment gradually pays off your mortgage and builds equity in your home. The difference between your home’s value and the balance of your loan is home equity, and your equity grows with each payment because of mortgage amortization.

Understanding mortgage amortization can help you set financial goals to pay off your home faster or evaluate whether you should refinance.

What is mortgage amortization?

Mortgage amortization is the process of paying off your loan balance in equal installments over a set period. The interest you pay is based on the balance of your loan (your principal). When you begin your payment schedule, you pay much more interest than principal.

As time goes on, you eventually pay more principal than interest — until your loan is paid off.

How mortgage amortization works

Understanding mortgage amortization starts with how monthly mortgage payments are applied each month to the principal and interest owed on your mortgage. There are two calculations that occur every month.

The first involves how much interest you’ll need to pay. This is based on the amount you borrowed when you took out your loan. It is adjusted each month as your balance drops from the payments you make.

The second calculation is how much principal you are paying. It is based on the interest rate you locked in and agreed to repay over a set period (the most popular being 30 years).

If you’re a math whiz, here’s how the formula looks before you start inputting numbers.

Fortunately, mortgage calculators do all the heavy mathematical lifting for you. The graphic below shows the difference between the first year and 15th year of principal and interest payments on a 30-year fixed loan of $200,000 at a rate of 4.375%.

For the first year, the amount of interest that is paid is more than double the principal, slowly dropping as the principal balance drops. However, by the 15th year, principal payments outpace interest, and you start building equity at a much more rapid pace.

How understanding mortgage amortization can help financially

An important aspect of mortgage amortization is that you can change the total amount of interest you pay — or how fast you pay down the balance — by making extra payments over the life of the loan or refinancing to a lower rate or term. You aren’t obligated to follow the 30-year schedule laid out in your amortization schedule.

Here are some financial objectives, using LendingTree mortgage calculators, that you can accomplish with mortgage amortization. (Note that MagnifyMoney is owned by LendingTree.)

Lower rate can save thousands in interest

If mortgage rates have dropped since you purchased your home, you might consider refinancing. Some financial advisors may recommend refinancing only if you can save 1% on your rate. However, this may not be good advice if you plan on staying in your home for a long time. The example below shows the monthly savings from 5% to 4.5% on a $200,000, 30-year fixed loan, assuming you closed on your current loan in January 2019.

Assuming you took out the mortgage in January 2019 at 5%, refinancing to a rate of 4.5% only saves $69 a month. However, over 30 years, the total savings is $68,364 in interest. If you’re living in your forever home, that half-percent savings adds up significantly.

Extra payment can help build equity, pay off loan faster

The amount of interest you pay every month on a loan is a direct result of your loan balance. If you reduce your loan balance with even one extra lump-sum payment in a given month, you’ll reduce the long-term interest. The graphic below shows how much you’d save by paying an extra $50 a month on a $200,000 30-year fixed loan with an interest rate of 4.375%.

Amortization schedule tells when PMI will drop off

If you weren’t able to make a 20% down payment when you purchased your home, you may be paying mortgage insurance. Mortgage insurance protects a lender against losses if you default, and private mortgage insurance (PMI) is the most common type.

PMI automatically drops off once your total loan divided by your property’s value (also known as your loan-to-value ratio, or LTV) reaches 78%. You can multiply the price you paid for your home by 0.78 to determine where your loan balance would need to be for PMI to be canceled.

Find the balance on your amortization schedule and you’ll know when your monthly payment will drop as a result of the PMI cancellation.

Pinpoint when adjustable-rate-mortgage payment will rise

Adjustable-rate mortgages (ARMs) are a great tool to save money for a set period as long as you have a strategy to refinance or sell the home before the initial fixed period ends. However, sometimes life happens and you end up staying in a home longer than expected.

Knowing when and how much your payments could potentially increase, as well as how much extra interest you’ll be paying if the rate does increase, can help you weigh whether you really want to take a risk on an ARM loan.

The bottom line

Mortgage amortization may be a topic that you don’t talk about much before you get a mortgage, but it’s certainly worth exploring more once you become a homeowner.

The benefits of understanding how extra payments or a lower rate can save you money — both in the short term and over the life of your loan — will help you take advantage of opportunities to pay off your loan faster, save on interest charges and build equity in your home.

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.

Denny Ceizyk
Denny Ceizyk |

Denny Ceizyk is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Denny here

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