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I bought O Magazine the other day because it was a “Declutter” issue—‘tis the season for that now, I guess.  The Suze Orman article promised “a surefire way to build wealth that won’t cost you a penny.”  Her solution: getting organized.  Suze says that financial clutter needs an overhaul now and then just like closets, and that piles of disorganized bills and papers indicate a lack of control over what undoubtedly is important stuff.

While she recommends putting each of your bills into their own folder and we already know that I dismiss that approach, but I did appreciate her advice about which documents to save and for how long—and the fact that she doesn’t recommend a safety deposit box for important docs, but suggests a more portable safe instead, since I’ve been debating that issue for a while myself.

I think everyone pretty much gets that not having your financial life in order costs you more money in late fees and interest.  But finding the motivation and discipline to get it all organized is incredibly hard.  Why, when the benefits are so great?  I think this speaks to what I think is one of the biggest problems people face, but don’t realize they face: mental clutter.

Mental clutter is when you have so many things on your mind that you can’t keep them straight and are constantly forgetting things or getting distracted by remembering things you forgot earlier.  Some people probably think living in a state of mental clutter is just normal life, but I think of it as the epitome of stress.  It’s more dangerous than actual clutter, because that’s objective.  What looks like chaos to one person can be perfect order to another—if and only if they don’t have mental clutter.  Organizing your external stuff is really just a means to the end of organizing your internal stuff, of eliminating mental clutter.

For example: a credit card bill arrives which you don’t have the money to pay right now and just the thought of paying it anyway overwhelms you because you’re paying just the minimum and you know the interest that’s accumulating is going to take you forever to pay off.  So…you put it aside because it’s too much to think about right now and make a mental note to get to it over the weekend when you have more time to think about it.  Which means you’re then walking around trying to remember to pay that bill, along with a million other things, and then maybe you forget and that causes more stress and before you know it you’re overwhelmed by mental clutter.  Bad news bears.

It should be no surprise that my solution is to find a way to not have to think about it.  For financial stuff that means automating it.  Everyone should take advantage of online banking and online bill paying.  In my opinion this is one of the best inventions known to man.  One session of going through just one month of bills means you can set up recurring payments to each biller well before the deadline every month.  I prefer sending it from my bank account rather than having the biller automatically withdraw it because it’s easier to make changes if you switch banks and you aren’t chasing down your money if you have a dispute about a bill.  Then you also don’t have to worry as much about saving bills because you can always print the backup from your bank.  Once you’re relieved from the burden of having to keep track of all your bills, it is so much easier to start paying down debts and setting aside savings as well.  Then not only are you not paying late fees and interest but you’re also putting money aside and not even missing it—bonus!