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Helpful Tips

Organized kitchen drawers

7 strategies to declutter your home and keep it that way

Nearly 45 percent of Americans devote between five and seven hours per week toward tidying up the house, according to polling done by the American Cleaning Institute. And a major source of these often unenviable tasks is dealing with clutter.

Clutter is a lot like dust - it tends to get everywhere, and just when you think you're rid of it, there it appears once again. In short, clutter is organization's arch nemesis, affecting - if not infecting - virtually every room in your home.

Each of us have clutter personality types, according to Molly Graves and Ashley Murphy, founders of the NEAT Method. As reported by the Huffington Post, most fall into one of three clutter categories:

Three sea shellsThe "Extras" crowd are those who have more than one of various items, largely because they don't have a system in place that allows them to keep track of things, leading to a vicious cycle.

Then there are the "Constant Worriers." People who fall into this category, according to Graves and Murphy, opt not to throw things they don't use away because one never knows when that something will be needed. They're the "Just in Casers," if you will.

Last but certainly not least, there's the "Overwhelmers." As their title implies, these individuals can't help but feel overwhelmed by what are often Herculean decluttering tasks, that they have no idea where to begin. And as such, they don't, leaving it to another day … a day that invariably never comes.

Decluttering is like just about anything else in life - it's a process. However, with the right mindset and determination you can stamp out the stuff collections for good. Here are a few helpful strategies:

1. Declutter in small doses daily

With everyone seemingly constantly pressed for time, tidying up the place frequently - from kitchen cabinets to closets - gets put on the back burner. The problem with that is what may have been quick and easy fixes turn into hard and drawn out work.

Set aside an allotted period of time each day (you could even set a timer) to declutter, advised Neatnik.org's Nicole Anzia. Speaking to Lifehack, Anzia recommended allocating a few hours in the typical week - or as little as 20 minutes in the average day - toward straightening things up. Doing a little bit over time - instead of a ton all at once - will spare you from frustration and make the straightening process more hassle-free.

2. Be cautious about impulse buys

Impulse buys affect us all. In fact, based on a poll commissioned by Slickdeals, Americans purchase things due to sudden urges on average of three times per week, The Motley Fool reported. Impulse buys are fine every once in a while, but each and every one of them has to go somewhere. And by definition, impulse buys have a tendency to collect dust because they so rarely get used.

Commit to being more reflective the next time you buy something. This doesn't mean necessarily that you should only buy things you truly need, but try to be a bit more discriminating when it comes to your wants.

Organized room with a green chair3. Create a junk bin or drawer

This tip may be particularly helpful for the Constant Worriers previously referenced. From USB cables to lids to extension cords, you probably have one too many of something that doesn't belong.

If you can't bring yourself to get rid of it completely, devote a drawer or bin to these items. So long as they aren't too big, anything and everything can go inside these vessels so they're out of sight and out of mind for the time being.

4. Find places for items you use

We tend to think of clutter as stuff that we don't regularly use. But clutter is an umbrella term that includes the possessions we use all the time. They too need places to go. As recommended by Leo Babauta, purveyor of the self-help blog ZenHabits.net, select five items that you handle frequently and think about where they'd make sense to store.

For example, if you like fiddling with sports equipment, like a baseball bat while watching the Red Sox or Dodgers when spring and summer roll around, try putting it in the corner of a room where the walls meet. Alternatively, you might want to purchase an attractive wooden baseball bat rack that you can mount to the wall so fewer things are stored on the floor.

5. Make your bed right when you wake up

Try to get into the habit of straightening up your bed every morning when you awake. An unkempt bed only adds to the sense of confusion and disorder that clutter causes. A made-up bed can help set the tone for your bedroom and can encourage you to keep everything that surrounds the bed in order, such as the night table, bureau or chest.

Clean bedroom - white with gray accent pillows6. Clear out closets of clothes rarely worn

When was the last time you did an inventory of your clothing? People have a tendency to wear the same five or six shirts, jeans, pants and shorts, perhaps expecting to use those rarely worn some other day. But when has that day actually arrived? Instead of letting clothing stay there so it takes up storage space, you might consider donating it to goodwill or perhaps giving some of what you don't wear to younger relatives who might wear them.

Alternatively, get into the habit of "seasoning" your clothing, where you put the typical items you'd wear during summer in your dresser drawers and closets - such as shorts, polos, tee shirts and blouses - and packing the heavier items away for winter. Pack them in clear containers - instead of bulky boxes and trash bags - so you can easily see what's inside and tuck them away.

7. Make decluttering a lifestyle

We all tend to be creatures of habit, which can be a good or bad thing. Tidying up regularly definitely falls in the "good" basket, which is why you should try to adopt a decluttering mindset. Much like staying healthy and in good shape, organization is a lifestyle, not a "one and done" deal. Thus, whenever you use something, find its rightful place upon completion, whether that's in the closet, drawer, bookcase or trash can.

With these decluttering tips and tricks, we’re positive you can finally organize your home from top to bottom once and for all.


Mortgage Speak

painting of a home surrounded by fields and mountains

What are USDA home loans, and do I qualify?

From interest rates and closing costs to credit history and insurance premiums, homeownership can appear daunting - especially if you operate on a fixed income. There are mortgage opportunities available, however, that can make the process of getting a loan and buying real estate easier and less intimidating.

It's called the Rural Development Guaranteed Loan Program. Backed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, USDA home loans are geared toward borrowers with limited means and - as its title suggests - live in or hope to dwell in a rural location.

There are various definitions as to what "rural" actually means, but generally speaking, it refers to areas where the population is 35,000 people or fewer. So long as the property is within a USDA-RD designated rural area, you may be eligible for a USDA home loan.

There's an excellent chance the house you're considering falls within the USDA home loan footprint because rural climes cover approximately 97 percent of the nation's land area, according to the most recent estimates available from the U.S. Census Bureau.

Who qualifies for the USDA loan program?

It's difficult to say whether or not you'll qualify for this type of loan, mainly because lenders look at the whole package when determining approval. For example, they traditionally examine your income, debts, employment history and request a bank statement of available funds. Your debt-to-income ratio should be no higher than around 40 percent.

What credit score do you need for a USDA home loan?

Another core aspect of eligibility requirements is your credit history or credit score. Credit bureaus - Experian, TransUnion and Equifax - use credit scores to better analyze people's financial capabilities. Higher scores are the ideal and generally indicative of having paid bills off promptly and carrying manageable debt loads.

Much like qualifications, your credit score is evaluated in concert with other financial particulars, but most lenders require a FICO score of at least 640. The higher your score, the less you'll spend in interest should you be approved.

How does a USDA loan differ from a traditional mortgage?

For many years, a 20 percent down payment was standard operating procedure. That's no longer the case, as the National Association of Realtors says the average is around 5 percent for first-time home buyers. The down payment is perhaps the biggest distinction USDA home loans have compared to conventional - you don't need one at all.

There are a few other contrasts as well. One of which is the property must be owner-occupied so investment properties don't qualify. Also, your income can't be above a certain threshold, usually no more than 115 percent of the median income in your geographic area.

If you're looking to escape the city and enjoy the creature comforts from home on a budget, a USDA loan may be just the thing. Talk to your lender to find out more.


Helpful Tips

Springtime Energy Saving Tips

Mar 29
8:00
AM
Category | Helpful Tips

Cutout of a light bulb and plug over grass

Springtime Energy Saving Tips

Earth Day is on April 22, so it is a great time to look for ways to make your home energy efficient. Living in a more energy efficient home is not only good for the environment, it is also good for your wallet. Energy efficiency can save you hundreds of dollars a year by reducing your utility bills. Read on to see where you can make changes in your home to save your money and the environment at the same time!

Bathroom/ Kitchen:

  • Install low flow faucets and showerheads to reduce water expenses.
  • Never leave your bathroom and kitchen ventilation systems running longer than they need to be because these systems replace inside air with outside air.
  • Air dry your dishes instead of using your dishwasher’s drying cycle by opening your dishwasher door after the rinse cycle.
  • Avoid using your oven on hot days. Instead use your microwave or grill outside.

Laundry:

  • Wash your clothes in cold water.
  • Take advantage of warmer days by hanging your laundry out to dry.

AC/Central Air:

  • Use blinds and shades in the sunny side of your home during the warmer months to keep your home cooler while using less AC.
  • Install a programmable thermostat to use less heat or air conditioning during the hours you are not home.
  • Turn on your fan while using the air conditioner so you can raise your thermostat 4 degrees without any difference in comfort.
  • Clean and replace your air conditioning system’s filters. Dirty filters can slow air flow and cause your system to use more energy.

Outlets:

  • Don’t charge your cell phone overnight since it only takes a few hours to charge.
  • Unplug your device chargers when they are not in use.
  • Utilize power strips. Even when turned off, electric equipment will still use a small amount of electricity. Using a power strip, you can easily disconnect the power supply to multiple devices when they are not in use.

Light Fixtures:

  • Make sure that you are using energy efficient light bulbs like LED’s in all your light fixtures.
  • Use a timer on your outdoor lights to ensure they are only on after sunset and before sunrise or install a motion sensor so the light only turns on when someone is present.
  • Always turn your lights off when you leave a room.

There are many ways to reduce the amount of electricity and water that you are using in your home. And, if everyone adopted just one or two new ways to make their home more energy efficient, we could make a significant impact on our environment. It's a win-win!


Mortgage Speak

Hand holding a money back passing to hand holding a toy house

What is an Earnest Money Deposit and why does it go into Escrow?

For that matter, what is escrow?

Let's start by defining "escrow." According to Dictionary.com, escrow is a contract, deed, bond, or other written agreement deposited with a third person, by whom it is to be delivered to the grantee or promisee on the fulfillment of some condition.

When you make an Earnest Money Deposit, you probably want that money to go to a neutral third party, to make sure it's handled properly, right? That's where escrow comes in.

What is an Earnest Money Deposit?

When you agree to purchase a home, there is typically an "earnest money deposit" included in the agreement. This is money you put into the transaction in good faith. Should you walk away from the transaction, that money could be forfeited to the sellers. "So," you ask, "how does all of this work?"

Who, What, Where, When and Why

The journey to homeownership is made up of lots of different processes and "parties." The two most fundamental parties are, of course, the buyer and the seller. That's just the start of it, though. There are also the real estate agents, loan officers, underwriters and closers - all people you'll meet during the homebuying journey (although not necessarily in that order). A lesser known party is a third party - or what the industry sometimes refers to as an "escrow" officer. This can be an attorney, title company, etc. Each state has their own structure of how real estate transactions are settled. An escrow officer serves as a neutral third party when the homebuying process has actually reached the point of money changing hands.

Through an escrow officer - or the entity that serves this function - the home buyer makes an earnest payment that goes toward the purchase of the home. It's called "earnest" because it's an indication that the person buying the home is genuinely interested in buying a house that's for sale and is willing to part with something of value - cash - as a result. When the real estate transaction goes through successfully, the earnest money is generally counted toward the purchase of the home.

You may ask why that money doesn't go straight to the previous owner of the home. The main reason is that there are usually more things that have to happen before the deal is finalized. By holding the money in escrow - a limbo, of sorts - it provides both the seller and buyer with certain protections and assurances that the money will eventually change hands, but only after various terms and conditions are met, those which are generally mutually agreed upon.

In short, escrow officers - who could be an attorney or representative of a title company - serve as failsafes to assure that the actual purchase of the home goes as planned and that all sides are satisfied by the terms of the sales agreement. Alternatively, the money that's being held may return to you if the deal falls through because of the seller - like if the seller suddenly has a change of heart.

How much is an earnest money deposit?

That depends on you. The size of the earnest money deposit is part of the negotiation between the buyer and seller. The contract that's written up, often referred to as the "sales agreement," "purchase agreement" and "agreement of sale," details the terms of the earnest money deposit and how it may be drawn on, distributed or affected by unforseen events. It's a good idea to walk through the contract with your real estate agent and understand the ways your earnest money deposit could be affected.

See? Now you can swing these terms around with the best of them. Makes the whole process a little less intimidating, doesn't it? You've got this. And if you have questions, ask your favorite RMS loan officer.


Helpful Tips

Woman stressing over a cluttered room

4 smart ways to eliminate unwanted stuff

Stuff occupies our lives, much of it kept in our homes. In fact, according to estimates from the Los Angeles Times, there are over 300,000 items in the average U.S. household - enough to give organizing guru Marie Kondo a migraine.

Over time, household items that were once all the rage become out of date. Children grow older, wear and tear takes its toll and the rapid pace of technological innovation renders the state of the art to obsolete status seemingly overnight.

Big or small, stuff takes up space, which comes at a premium when you're looking to declutter and organize. So, what do you do with it all? Should you sell it online or in a yard sale? If it's technological in nature, how do you get rid of it responsibly?

Here are a few ideas that can help you resolve your stuff struggles.

1. Take advantage of social media

On Facebook and Twitter alone, there are over 1 billion active users, according to company estimates. That's an enormous base of potential customers to sell the items you no longer want or need.

As noted by NBC news, Facebook Marketplace is a fairly recent phenomenon that the social media giant developed in 2016, which enables people to locate and/or sell used items in their area. You can use this online avenue to sell or simply to inform people nearby that you're giving away X, Y or Z.

clothing on hangers2. Consider donating

People are always in need of things, be it clothing, computer supplies, video games or lightly used furniture. Speak to friends, co-workers or relatives about any consignment shops in your area.

You can contact them and find out what they accept and what to check for to ensure the items are fully functional. You can even donate your car, which you may be able to claim as a tax deduction in April.

3. Re-gift unwanted presents

Just as everyone has stuff, everyone has received a gift they really don't want. In fact, according to a 2017 poll from Pureprofile, the average adult receives one gift during the holidays that he or she didn't want, retailing for an average of around $50.

You may want to consider re-gifting these items. However, courtesy and manners experts warn that it's best to do this when the original items come from certain people more than others, such as co-workers. Also, ensure that the clothing, appliances or gadgets you're re-gifting are unused.

4. Reach out to suppliers before disposing of electronics

The time between the newest and current model for a smartphone, tablet or gaming system seems to be getting shorter and shorter. And as such, people are updating more frequently as well. You can't merely throw these gadgets in the trash, however, as they can wind up in landfills, harming the environment.

Get in touch with whatever vendor from which you bought the device. There's a good chance it will either buy it back from you or take it off your hands at no cost; they'll make sure it's disposed of properly. You can even use a service like Gazelle to trade in that older iPhone, iPad, or Android and get some cash in return.


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