No More Chaos Theory — Get Organized!

Musicians' Assistance Program

Volume CV, No. 4April, 2005

Krista Mancuso

April is a month of change and renewal; the clocks move forward as the weather warms, and the race begins to complete your taxes by the 15th of the month. It may be too late to reduce your level of stress for the current tax season but there is hope for being organized next year.

The dictionary defines organizing as “putting together into an orderly, functional, structured whole.” Ask the average person, and they’re more likely to define it as a painful process, akin to having their fingernails removed. How can one person organize their life with seeming ease while another person has difficulty sorting their mail? You may think that the ability to organize is an elusive one, possessed by a select few, but it is actually a learnable skill that you can master…with practice.

Julie Morgenstern, professional organizer and author of the best selling book “Organizing from the Inside Out,” believes that getting organized is about designing a system based on your unique personality, natural habits and individual goals. A helpful question to ask yourself is when do you have the most energy for tasks? Are you energized and mentally clear, able to focus on challenging items first thing in the morning? Or do you need time to wake up to the day? The answer may help you to identify the optimal time for accomplishing tasks that require thought and consideration. After coming to terms with your own personal style and identifying your goal, you are better equipped to begin organizing an area of your life.

The first step toward achieving organization over your paperwork is to set up file folders, or large manila envelopes, to sort documents as each enters your home, or you sift through a well-established pile. Each folder will have a specific purpose; you will create custom folders based on your assessment of items typically received and saved in your home. The main folders that everyone should have in their organizing system are:

  • Bills. This folder includes all current bills requiring payment. When the time comes to make the payments, then you need look in only one spot to see what bills are on hand. In order to make this task even easier, I have a basket that includes everything I need to pay bills, including pens, stamps, a calculator, envelopes, and the checkbook with ledger; I put the folder in the basket and I can move to any room and pay bills from there.
  • Income. This is a monthly folder and includes all pay stubs, W-2 forms, etc., for any income earned during the given month.
  • Expenses. Also a monthly folder, this includes all receipts for incurred expenses. If you prefer to have expenses separated for home and business, then create two expense folders: Expense—Home and Expense-Business.
  • Taxes. This is an annual folder and includes any forms or communication received throughout the year for state and federal taxes. If you pay your taxes using estimated payment coupons then be sure to put them in the bills folder and highlight the date due for each.
  • Read this week! This is a weekly folder and contains items that you need to read and consider but which do not have a designated custom folder. The folder should be purged weekly.

As a musician, you may find that you generate an enormous amount of paperwork. This system can be easily amended to twelve monthly folders combining income and expenses generated during the calendar year (i.e., “Income/Expenses—January”). At the end of each month, I fill out a basic tracking form for income and expenses, using the receipts in the folder. By year’s end I have twelve completed forms — with receipts attached — detailing activity for the designated month. If you prefer to have your accountant detail your activity, then you’ve already shaved off valuable time by simply filing the documentation throughout the year. (A sample of a basic expense form is available at the MAP office.)

For the musician who often travels out-of-state (i.e., as a member of a national touring company), your requirements for tracking income and expenses may dictate that you organize them by location, as opposed to monthly. For this purpose, I recommend using manila envelopes and stapling an expense form to the outside. After noting the location on the top of the form, put any documentation for that state into the envelope, then complete the form at your leisure. If you return to a state during the calendar year, then add documentation to the envelope for that location and update the form or complete an additional one.

An effective way to further reduce clutter and stay organized is to sort and purge mail as it enters your home. Discard junk mail immediately, and place all remaining mail in one of your folders.

Remember to shred any items containing personal information before discarding.

The introduction of a system to organize your paperwork can help reduce your level of stress and increase your personal productivity. Embrace the season of change — organize.

The following sources were used in preparing this column:, and “Organizing from the Inside Out” by Julie Morgenstern.

Krista Mancuso is the social work intern in the Musicians’ Assistance Program.