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Get your financial house in order

Over the last several months, I’ve dealt with a lot of death.

My youngest brother died in April. My father-in-law died in October. The day after Thanksgiving, a close friend who was more like my sister died in an automobile accident.

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I’d like to share with you what I’ve realized from all this : Get your house in order.

I’m not suggesting that you live in fear of death, but I am asking you to do what my 54-year-old friend, Juanita Ann Waller, did for the people who loved her. She left her personal affairs and her apartment in an awesomely organized manner.

I’ve stressed over the years how important it is to have an estate plan. But Juanita’s death has touched me like few others. She was always thinking of her family and friends, and what she left behind is a testimony to her thoughtfulness.

Yes, she had a will, life insurance, and the necessary paperwork to take care of her estate. But there was a higher level of organization in her affairs than I have ever seen.

Juanita had a place for everything. She cataloged what was in her file cabinet. She had a notebook that detailed what was in each cabinet drawer. As a result, when friends packed her belongings, we didn’t have to look through her private papers to label the boxes.

How many hours would they have to take off from work to organize your property?

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There wasn’t a single junk drawer in her apartment. There were no stacks of papers on her desk threatening to unleash an avalanche of craziness on the floor. Nor did she have bags of papers stuffed in her closets.

She didn’t even have a trash can because there wasn’t much waste to throw away. Her closets weren’t overstuffed. Her pantry and refrigerator weren’t overstocked with food. There wasn’t a single item in any room that we could tell went unused for very long.

My friend could have been the spokeswoman for the simplicity movement, which strives to get people to reduce their consumption and material possessions. Her place was so tidy and uncluttered that I wept. It made me ashamed of my personal living space, my cluttered office, and my hoarding of things that long ago should have been tossed or donated.

Over the years, I have promised myself to get organized. But whenever I clean my office, it’s cluttered again only a few weeks later.

Just think about this: If you were to die, how long would it take for people to go through your stuff? How many hours would they have to take off from work to organize your property? Could they find your will? Where would they look for instructions on your estate? Have you written down in a secure place passwords to your computer or phone so relatives can contact people if you die?

I wouldn’t characterize Juanita as obsessive with her orderliness. She never criticized us for our clutter.

No, Juanita was organized for a purpose. She never wanted to cause confusion. Clutter can contribute to a sense of unease because you can’t easily put your hands on the things you need or the things others might need on your behalf. Every year, Juanita would purge her place of unneeded items.

Juanita kept notes in her day planner and in notebooks, to remind herself and others, especially me, of things we needed to take care of. This practice gave comfort to her family who could see their special events or moments documented over the years. No loose paper or sticky notes for her.

As we were boxing up Juanita’s possessions, we all felt embarrassed. We, in our abundance, saw a woman who kept only what she needed, knowing it was more than enough.

We all pledged to spend some time organizing and getting rid of stuff as a remembrance of Juanita, who gave an abundance of hugs. We promised her that we’d get our houses in order.

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