Blog :: 02-2021

Welcome to our blog! Here you will find information regarding market, local and Lakes Region information and events! Along with DIY projects and more! Come back often to see what's new and leave us a comment if there's something you'd like to see.

Want To Build Your Own House? The Pros, Cons, and Costs

Building a brand-new home may sound like a dream come true. You get to choose the ideal layout for your family’s needs, and have a say in each and every design element. However, the process may also be daunting if you’ve never done it before.

To help you through it, we’ve created this Guide To Building Your Own Home. It will provide all the detailed information you need at each stage of the home-building process so that everything goes as smoothly as possible.home under construction

By Erica Sweeney, 

In this first article, we’ll offer a glimpse into the pros and cons of building a house, including how much it costs, how long it takes, how it's financed, and much more that will help you decide if this option is right for you.

Pro: You can get exactly what you want

Building a home is a popular option these days. Construction on single-family homes was up 10% in November 2020 compared with the previous year, according to the National Association of Home Builders. And, it makes sense: When you build your own home, you get exactly what you want: an in-law suite for when the grandparents visit, a decked-out office for working from home, midcentury modern style, and more. Anything is possible.

“You get a blank slate,” says Marc Rousso, CEO of JayMarc Homes in Seattle. “The fun part about building a custom home is that it can be whatever you want.”

That might sound overwhelming, so Rousso suggests starting with a vision board. Check out websites like Houzz or Pinterest, and drive around snapping photos of homes you like. Then think through how big you want the home to be, how many bedrooms and bathrooms you need, and the bonus spaces you want to live as comfortably as possible.

The best way to make sure you get what you want (and that it fits within your budget): Hire a great builder from the start. This crucial step sets the best possible foundation (in every sense of the word) for your new home. Builders help you select others on your team (such as an architect, interior designer, and landscaper) and serve as your point person throughout the process.

Not sure how find a homebuilder? NAHB offers an online directory, and its members are committed to ongoing education and ethical standards. Hiring builders who have been in business for several years is also a plus, as they’ve proven they can weather both the highs and lows of economic cycles.

Pro: You can build just about anywhere you want

Have you always dreamed of living by the water or having a mountain view? Or maybe you want no neighbors in sight? Building a home lets you set up your residence just about anywhere you want.

Talk to your builder before making a land purchase, though, Rousso urges. The builder will need to do a feasibility study on the land to make sure it’s a suitable place for the home you want to build.

“We've talked more people out of buying land than into buying land, because there are so many pitfalls,” he explains.

Builders help make sure the land is zoned for residential development and identify any issues with building on the site, such as connecting to utilities or developing the land before building can start.

Another thing to note: Land development can be costly. HomeAdvisor estimates it to be $1.30 to $2 per square foot of land, including surveying, drainage plans, utility and septic mapping, permits, soil testing, land clearing, excavation, and demolishing any existing structures.

Pro: New homes typically come with less maintenance

An obvious advantage of building a home is that everything is brand-new. That means maintenance and repairs will be minimal or even nonexistent for a while, saving you plenty of headaches and thousands of dollars a year. According to HomeAdvisor, in 2020, homeowners spent an average of about $3,200 on home maintenance.

Nonetheless, a new house isn't entirely maintenance-free. You’ll probably still need to do yardwork to keep up your newly installed landscaping. And you may want to pay for some preventive upkeep, such as a maintenance contract on your HVAC system, costing $150 to $500 a year. But that could save you money in the long run.

Con: Building usually costs more than buying an existing home

Building a house is an expensive enterprise, and typically costs more than buying a preexisting home. As such, you'll need to have some in-depth discussions with your builder on what you want, and whether it's affordable for you.

“A builder can help guide the design process starting with schematic design to give the prospective client an idea of the budget,” says Tim Benkowski, senior project manager at Balsitis Contracting in Lake Geneva, WI. “That way, design revisions can be made early without the owner falling in love with a home design only to find out they need to cut out their favorite parts or reduce the project scope.”

Several factors determine how much your newly constructed home will cost: location, size, complexity, and design elements.

The NAHB estimates that the median price of constructing a single-family home is $289,415, or $103 per square foot. Labor typically constitutes about 40% of the cost, followed by permits, design fees, and materials.

Con: Getting a construction loan can be complicated

To finance building a home, you’ll need a construction loan, which is a little more involved than getting a traditional mortgage to buy a preexisting house, says Steve Kaminski, head of residential lending at TD Bank.

For starters, you’ll likely need a 20% down payment since construction loans are considered higher-risk. Along with the usual financial documents needed for your loan application, you need to provide project plans, costs, and land value. You also need a signed contract or purchase contract with the project’s plans, specs, and budget details, and a timeline for the construction.

“The lender is not only evaluating the borrower, but also the project plans and oftentimes the builder to ensure they will be financially solvent throughout construction,” Kaminski explains.

Construction loans are usually shorter-term, covering just the duration of the build, and may have higher interest rates, usually about 1% higher than conventional mortgages, according to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

Once the home is completed, you can pay off the balance or convert the loan to a conventional mortgage. The interest rate and the type and terms of the mortgage will depend on your credit history and lender.

When shopping around for a mortgage for a new home build, Kaminski urges borrowers to go with a lender experienced in working with construction loans.

Con: Building a home takes a while

Generally, it takes a bare minimum of three months to build a simple house, and it can take much longer. But it’s a “sliding scale,” says Benkowski. “A 2,500-square-foot and under [home] can typically be completed in seven to nine months with proper planning. A 7,500-square-foot home and up would likely take 12 to 30 months.”

Planning as much as you can will keep the project on track. Still, delays do happen. Weather is the biggest one, with temperature shifts and rain or snow postponing work. Your own choices could also be to blame. If you’re taking too long to choose your favorite flooring or windows, it could make it all take a little longer.

Erica Sweeney is a writer whose work has appeared in the New York Times, Parade, HuffPost, and other publications.


How to Decorate a Living Room

Whether your style is traditional or modern, relaxed or formal, bold or subdued, your living room should be a place where you can feel comfortable, let down your guard and spend quality time with friends, family or just yourself. There’s an art to decorating a room that looks great and works well for you. 

Yanic Simard, designer for Toronto Interior Design Group offers tips and tricks for creating a comfortable space that reflects your style. Here are some of his favorites.

Living room with fireplace and chandelier

1. Mix Light and Dark

When a living room is all white and bright, it can feel too “clean” and unapproachable. When it’s all dark, it can feel like a cave. But mixing dark and light colors creates a dynamic look that has depth and balance. The design of any space benefits from the inclusion of at least a little white and a little black.

neutral colors couch rug in living room

2. Contrast Your Neutrals

Beyond including some white and some black, decorating a living room with a variety of contrasting neutrals goes a long way toward making it feel rich and welcoming. In this example, the white walls, caramel leather, brass hardware, gray sofa and blue-gray cabinets all contrast with one another, which highlights their different finishes and undertones. This makes the palette feel rich even before other key elements, such as color, pattern and texture, are added.

deocorating with textures

3. Play With Texture

Texture is easy to overlook when decorating a living room, especially since we don’t see it so much as touch it. But it’s important for making a living room feel cozy, and that goes for plush textures that appeal to the touch and harder textures that add contrast. Include leather, cotton, wool, metal, stone, glass, plant life and as many other textures as you can.

couch pillows coffee table

Pillows are a great place to start, especially if you’re decorating a living room on a budget. Look to other accessories and furnishings to add new materials to the palette, even in small doses.

 wooden wall wide screen tv

4. Work in Some Wood

We can’t talk about texture without talking about wood, one of the top materials for bringing a sense of warmth to a living room.

There are so many ways to add wood, any of which will make a space feel a bit more inviting. Consider wall paneling, side tables, movable stools, picture frames, sofa legs and carved pieces of art as just a few of the many options.

fireplace couch and coffee table

5. Mix Up Your Upholstery

Sure, most furniture stores give you the option of purchasing an entire living room set in matching upholstery, but that doesn’t mean you should do it. In a formal seating area, matching upholstery can give a sense of maturity and order, but if you want a living room to feel cozy and welcoming, mix and match your upholstered pieces to give the design a bit more personality.

light fixture sofa chair and coffee table

One of the safest ways to do this is to mix leather chairs with a fabric sofa or vice versa, so the materials contrast in an obviously intentional way. It gives the living room design some diversity, which can also give members of the family different options to suit their seating preferences.

6. Choose Practical Fabrics

Speaking of upholstery, it’s especially important for living room seating to be not only comfortable but durable. What this means will depend on your family. You may have babies or small children, pets or not, and they may be messy or tidy. In general, mid-tone fabrics are the safest bet, as very light or dark shades will readily show soil and wear.

Leather is a great material for avoiding stains because it can be easily wiped clean when a spill occurs. However, it’s usually more easily scratched than most fabrics, so it may not endure animals as well. A leather that already has a broken-in look or a pattern can age especially well.

See how to clean leather furniture

Denim and corduroy are two other materials that can be inviting yet durable. Plus, they add an unexpected twist compared with the typical plain cotton or wool upholstery you often see in stores. When choosing fabric for your living room furniture, look for a material with a blend of natural and synthetic fabrics to get the practical features of both, and if possible do a bend test of a fabric swatch to make sure the weave appears tight and doesn’t reveal the backing material. A tight weave will be more durable than a loose one (which leaves lots of space for dirt to hide), no matter the material.

7. Add a Dash of Color

While you can create a beautiful space without any vivid hues, adding even a little bit of color to a living room can go a long way toward creating a relaxed and inviting atmosphere.

When in doubt, look to a cheerful blue — it’s a hue that usually everyone can agree on. It perfectly contrasts warm elements such as leather and wood, and it feels just neutral enough to work with basically any other future accent colors.

8. Add a Patterned Rug

Pattern is a powerful design tool, infusing a living room with energy and minimizing the appearance of stains or wear. A patterned rug brings these benefits to the “fifth wall” — the floor — simultaneously anchoring a seating area and giving the whole room a sense of life. Even if you already have carpeting, consider adding a rug to your seating area. The first time you roll it up to go to the cleaners after a big spill, you’ll be glad you had it there.

9. Choose Movable Tables and Stools

Lightweight tables, stools, ottomans and even side chairs that can be moved around easily make a living room much more comfortable, giving you and your family lots of options on a daily basis for putting your feet up, setting a drink down or seating an extra guest. 

Use a few smaller pieces, such as the upholstered footstools seen here, to allow for movement of pieces closer to and farther from the main seating as needed.

10. Consider Conversational Distances

No matter how big your living room, there’s a limit to how large a seating group can be and still make sense for intimate conversation and cozy gatherings. A good distance between seats to facilitate conversation is about 8 feet, meaning if you have several sofas or a sofa and side chairs, the seating area should have a diameter of 8 feet, or 4 feet out from the center. 

A huge, 12-seat sectional sofa may look great and be perfect for a party, but if you’re looking to create a cozy living room, it’s usually best to use fewer, smaller seating pieces and push them a little closer together.

11. Don’t Take It Too Seriously

A living room is a great space to embrace thoughtful disorder, such as through an artistic gallery wall, mix-and-match throw pillows, open storage baskets and fun furniture like this tepee-inspired tent.

Trying for perfect order will mean that anything out of place will stick out like a sore thumb, whereas accepting a bit of controlled chaos will mean the occasional dropped toy or draped blanket will look right at home.

How to Protect a Home's Pipes From the Freezing Cold

Subzero and Arctic temperatures across a dozen states last week were putting homes' pipes at risk of bursting. As water freezes, it expands. That can put pressure on metal or plastic pipes, prompting them to burst and leading to costly repairs and home destruction.

frozen pipe

Homes in the northern parts of the U.S. may be at less risk for frozen pipes since many homes are built with water pipes within a home’s building insulation to help protect them from freezing temperatures, USA Today reports. However, homes in the east, mid-Atlantic, and South may be more prone to freezing pipes.

Pipes most at risk of freezing likely would be found in the attic, garages, crawlspaces, basements, and pipes that run against exterior walls with little or no insulation.

"Your older houses are going to be probably more susceptible to this because the insulation wasn’t as good back then and they might have routed some pipes in places where maybe they shouldn’t have," John Galeotafiore, who oversees testing of power gear and home products with Consumer Reports, told USA Today. "Having said that, there could be some new construction that people just didn’t do it the right way."

Preventing Pipes From Freezing

The Red Cross has several tips on its website to help prevent frozen pipes, including:

  • Keep garage doors closed if there are any water supply lines in the garage.

  • Open kitchen and bathroom cabinet doors to allow warmer air to circulate.

  • Let a small stream of water drip from faucets that are served by exposed pipes. When the outside temperatures are particularly cold, and you fear frozen pipes, even a trickle of water from the faucets could help prevent pipes from freezing.

  • Keep the thermostat set to the same temperature during the day and night. Maintaining a warmer temperature inside the home can help.

If the Pipe Bursts or Is About To …

Turn off the water at the main shutoff valve immediately. Homeowners can usually find that at the water meter or where the mainline enters the house.

If the pipe hasn’t burst yet, you may see an indication that it is about to: Water flow from a faucet may be slower than normal. To try to thaw it, leave the faucet on. Running the water will help melt any ice within the pipe.


Also, some homeowners may use a heating pad, heat lamp, space heater or a hair dryer to warm the pipe. Start from the faucet and work your way along to heat up the pipe, Remington Brown, senior engineer director with the Insurance Institute for Business & Home Safety, told USA Today. If you don't apply heat on the side closest to the faucet, you can build up some pressure in the pipe and possibly cause it to burst. Lastly, towels soaked in water that are wrapped around the pipe may help too. These type of applications of heat may help full water pressure to return.

Do not use a blowtorch, kerosene or propane heater, or any other device with an open flame to attempt to thaw the pipe. "You don’t want to use anything that is going to ignite," Brown said. 

If the pipe is already fully frozen, if you can't find the frozen pipe section or it is not reachable, call a licensed plumber.



If Pipes Are Frozen, Should You Leave the Faucet On? Here’s How to Thaw Pipes During Winter Storms,” USA Today (Feb. 16, 2021) and “Frozen Pipes,” American Red Cross

Styling in Place

The design trends that will dominate in 2021 reflect the ways the COVID-19 pandemic has upended people’s lives, driving them to create a home that’s a safe place to relax, work, study, and socialize. 

Outdoor pool and furniture

By Barbara Ballinger

While the following three enhancements address practical needs, there are plenty of high aesthetics—and a healthy dose of joy—in these new visions for the lives people are living indoors and outdoors. These are the kinds of upgrades that may just have people choosing to stay put, even when it’s safe to venture out more freely.

1. Two-for-one “Layered” Kitchens

layered kitchens and lighting

Even before the pandemic, some homeowners with an open floorplan found that increased exposure and family togetherness posed a downside in the kitchen work area: piles of dirty dishes, cluttered countertops, and other unsightly messes. Leave it to trendsetters to develop a solution for those with ample space and funds: two kitchens in one. Mick De Giulio of de Giulio Kitchen Design in Chicago calls it a “layered kitchen” with separate “work” and “living” zones. Cheryl Kees Clendenon of In Detail Interiors in Pensacola, Fla., refers to it as having a “prep and show kitchen.” In the work area, typically at the back and concealed by a door, wall, or hall, serious cooking and cleanup take place. The area may be part of a large laundry or utility room and might also be used by caterers (when entertaining returns with gusto), Clendenon says.

In contrast, the living or show kitchen at the front remains open, designed to display culinary creations in a clean, uncluttered way. It’s where a golden-brown turkey would come out of the oven before being carried to the back for carving. Some homeowners may also designate one kitchen for special-requirements cooking such as gluten-free prep, which a client of Clendenon’s requested. Or some may want to make space for a dedicated beverage center with a coffee station, refrigerated drawers, and a wine cooler to meet needs from morning to night, De Giulio says.

2. Flexible, Prefabricated Sheds

Outdoor Prefabricated Shed

Sheds, once used primarily to store sports equipment and garden paraphernalia, have evolved into a common home addition. Some homeowners use them as overflow storage instead of paying for an expensive off-site facility. Others seek larger and better outfitted models as accessory dwelling units for people because more municipalities are approving ADUs. They’ve become dwellings for returning adult children and short- and long-term renters, quiet work-from-home quarters, and escapes for recouping sanity—hence the new moniker “the sanity shed.”

Rather than have an architect or contractor design and build a shed from scratch—which can be pricey and time-consuming and which often requires a building permit—homeowners can find more affordable, off-the-shelf options on the market, some of which can be customized. Boulder, Colo.–based Studio Shed has experienced explosive growth during the pandemic. The company offers prefabricated, sustainable designs that vary by size (from 64 to 256 square feet), color, door and window placement, finishes, and price ($11,000 and up). Because of the increase in gardening during the pandemic, the company offers its “Studio Sprout” greenhouse ($14,250), while customers’ most popular choice is a functional home office (about $25,000). Some municipalities looking to spur affordable housing in a shorter time frame offer preapproved plans for expanded sheds that can serve as modest dwellings, says architect Brian O’Looney of Torti Gallas + Partners in Washington, D.C., in his new book, Increments of Neighborhood.

3. Outdoor Warming Features

outdoor fire pit and furniture

As temperatures fell, homeowners wanted to extend safe, outdoor socializing with family and friends in the time of COVID-19. “Everybody wanted to turn their backyard into an oasis to be able to eat safely and talk,” says landscape architect Clara Batchelor of CBA Landscape Architects in Cambridge, Mass. Many, including residents of multifamily buildings with shared outdoor space, want to keep doing so throughout winter. Two features that make fresh-air living in chilly evening weather pleasant are fire pits and patio heaters. They offer warmth from infrared electric heat, propane, or real wood-burning fires.

Local authorities are revising codes and ordinances to ease requirements pertaining to fire features, says architect Gary Kane with The Architectural Team in Chelsea, Mass. While fire pits have been popular for years, they’ve become more stylish, now available in different shapes, sizes, materials, weights, and prices. One design that grabbed attention early in the pandemic was Solo Stove’s portable “Bonfire” pit that uses logs but is smokeless. Hybrid models use gas and burning logs, says landscape architect Marc Nissim of Harmony Design in Westfield, N.J. Patio heaters are a newer home addition, inspired by restaurants using them to coax diners to eat outdoors. Using a variety of heating fuels, some are designed to stand alone and others mount on a wall or ceiling, says landscape designer Michael Glassman of Michael Glassman & Associates in Sacramento, Calif.

Barbara Ballinger is a freelance writer and the author of several books on real estate, architecture, and remodeling


Old Ski Gondolas Find New Life as Private Dining Rooms

Food for Thought, Restaurateurs Take Notice!

A Colorado woman is revamping used gondolas to help restaurants stay afloat with outdoor dining.

By Sarah Kuta, FOOD & WINE Magazine

With cold winter weather on the horizon and ever-changing local COVID-19 rules limiting indoor dining, Wendy and Rich Tucciarone began worrying about the fate of their Steamboat Springs, Colorado, craft brewery and restaurant last fall.

In the summer, it was easy to spread out the tables on Mountain Tap Brewery's large patio and prop open the building's garage doors. But even with heaters and firepits, the patio would be a tough sell during the icy evening temperatures and frequent snowstorms in this Colorado ski town famous for its "champagne powder."

During one creative brainstorming session, their accountant suggested converting out-of-service ski gondolas—small, enclosed, cube-like spaces that transport skiers and snowboarders uphill—into private outdoor dining spaces. The Tucciarones are avid skiers and mountain bikers, so they liked the idea immediately.

But even in a mountain town, used ski gondolas are hard to come by. 

Lucky for the Tucciarones and other struggling restaurant owners across the country, one woman had been buying up entire fleets of used ski gondolas over the last few years, mostly on a whim, in the hopes of someday upcycling them into something else. 

The pandemic became that someday. Dominique Bastien owns The Gondola Shop, a small gondola refurbishment and repair shop with seven employees in Fruita, Colorado—and an unlikely star during the coronavirus pandemic. As summer turned to fall, with no end to indoor dining restrictions in sight in many parts of the country, Bastien and her team began converting old ski gondolas into novel, pandemic-safe, private dining spaces for panicked restaurant owners wondering how they were going to stay in business over the winter.

Mountain Tap Brewery installed three of Bastien's gondolas, which can each comfortably seat six adults and are available by reservation, on the patio in November. They've been booked ever since.

"The gondolas have saved us this winter for sure," said Wendy Tucciarone.

Like yurts, greenhouses, tents, igloos, and other pandemic pivots, ski gondolas are allowing restaurants to expand their seating and offer comfortable outdoor dining accommodations during the winter while adhering to local regulations intended to help prevent the spread of the virus. Each gondola can typically hold between four and six adults who, in theory, are all members of the same household or pandemic pod. Many restaurants are blocking off 20 to 30 minutes between seatings to sanitize, clean, and air out the gondolas, which are often equipped with lights, heaters, and Bluetooth speakers.

The Gondola Shop is a spinoff of Bastien's regular trade, which is polishing and repainting ski gondolas that are still in use at ski resorts around the globe. (Gondola windows and doors are typically plexiglass, which gets scratched, graffitied, dirty, and cloudy over time—Bastien says she runs the only company in the world, Sunshine Polishing Technology, that contracts with ski resorts to polish their in-service gondolas.)

Bastien's gondola maintenance work typically slows down in January and February, when ski resorts are operating at full blast. So three years ago, when she heard that Vermont's Killington Resort was replacing 55 older gondola cars, she took a huge risk and offered to buy them all.

A year later, she bought 95 gondola cars from nearby Steamboat Resort. 

"I don't know what came to my mind," said Bastien. "I had nothing in mind really."

Over the course of her 20-plus years in the gondola polishing business, Bastien occasionally heard from one-off homeowners who wanted a refurbished gondola for their backyard or event planners who wanted a gondola to help set an après-ski scene. She figured there might be broader demand for repurposed gondolas, which she and her staff could work on during their down months. They experimented with converting them into saunas and dog houses, but mostly, the 150 or so gondola cars sat in a field near her shop.

Then, the pandemic hit. In the blink of an eye, Bastien lost all of her gondola polishing contracts as ski resorts closed early for the season in March.

"I was slowly planning to go bankrupt—no joke," she said.

In September, Bastien's phone rang. The Town of Mountain Village near Telluride, Colorado, wanted Bastien to repurpose five gondola cars into private dining spaces that could be shared among the 12 restaurants at the base of Telluride Ski Resort. Within two weeks, they upped their order to 25.

Bastien and her team got to work, frantically tackling a year's worth of work in four months. They learned as they went, sometimes calling their vast network of ski area lift maintenance technicians for questions and troubleshooting.

The Gondola Shop delivered on its promise, and the Town of Mountain Village opened 25 private dining cars ahead of the Christmas rush. The picturesque gondolas quickly garnered attention on social media and in the press—and then Bastien's phone and email really began to blow up.

Suddenly, she was fielding inquiries from restaurants in Cleveland, Washington, D.C., St. Louis, San Francisco, Park City, Utah, and Sun Valley, Idaho. Her team, which includes a painter, welder, woodworker, and several other artisans, began churning out customized dining gondolas as quickly as possible.

Bastien offers gondolas in various conditions. Some restaurants buy them as-is for around $4,800 and just stick a table inside. (Bastien doesn't recommend this practice but is happy to accommodate. "It smells like 30 years of use when you open the door," she said.)

For others, Bastien's team will fully disassemble, clean, sandblast, fix, repaint, reupholster, and generally spiff up the gondolas to the restaurant's specifications, a process that takes five or six weeks and costs between $15,000 to $20,000. She also rents fully refurbished gondola dining cars for around $500 a month.

Though the last six months have been chaotic, Bastien says she's just happy to be busy doing something that matters—and may ultimately help some restaurants stay in business—during the pandemic. 

"It just got crazy," she said. "Things turned out really weirdly but really well." 

Just outside of Cleveland, five après-ski-themed gondola cars are helping restaurateur John Owen keep the lights on at Rocky River Wine Bar and Market, two of the seven restaurants he owns in the region. 

Owen invested heavily in the outdoor dining spaces at both restaurants to keep his staff working and safe (servers pass food and beverages through the gondolas' open windows), but also because he believes many people will be uncomfortable dining indoors for the foreseeable future. He also views the gondolas as an investment in public relations and marketing—they're popular on TikTok and Instagram.

"It's allowed us to stay relevant and busy, enough to allow all of our employees to stay employed and not lose shifts—because when you lose seats inside (the restaurant), you have to lose staff," he said.

Restaurant owner George Eder is counting on a surge of pent-up demand this spring and summer, and he believes the two gondolas he rented from Bastien will help his restaurant Pizza Republica get by until then. But more than anything, they offer a tiny glimmer of what dining out used to feel like, before the pandemic.

"It's fun to see people's faces," he said. "If somebody cancels, it's, 'Oh, I can get a gondola.' They get excited. And that's what's missing right now from restaurants is that little bit of joy."




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How to Get Your Papers Organized Before Tax Time

A professional organizer offers a manageable plan for tackling those paper piles now to make April a little easier.

As the new year rolls in, so do tax documents and year-end financial statements. What do you do with these documents? If you stack them along with other papers you’ve collected over the year — and vow to be more organized next tax season — you’re not alone. 

That said, now is a great time to start chipping away at your paper piles so it will be easier to find what you need when you’re ready to file. And then you can set up a system to make next year’s tax season less daunting.

desktop computer desk and chair

By Patricia Lee, Houzz Contributor

Which Types of Papers to Recycle, Shred or Throw Away

I recommend that you keep three bins close by as you sort through your papers: trash, shred and recycle. You may want to check the guidelines of your city’s waste management company as they can vary, but as a general rule photo paper and thermal receipts cannot be recycled and should be considered trash. Similarly, any papers that have glitter, foil accents or plastic or wax coating cannot be recycled. 

Of course, papers with personal information such as your name, address, Social Security number and bank account or credit card numbers should be shredded to prevent fraud and identity theft. 

Most other papers can be safely recycled.

Easy Paper Categories to Tackle First

For most organizing projects, it’s usually easiest to start by decluttering the least important and least sentimental items before moving on to the most significant ones. Taking a first pass to eliminate papers that won’t require too much mental effort is a good warmup before you launch into harder decisions.

1. Junk Mail

In this age of digital advertising, you’d think you would receive less junk mail. However, that doesn’t appear to be the case. 

The good news is that you can usually get rid of these papers without thinking too hard about them. I suggest you recycle unnecessary catalogs, coupons and ads. Shred any credit card offers or other junk mail that may contain personal information. 

If you wish to unsubscribe from unwanted snail mailings, you can contact most company customer service departments to opt out. Alternatively, there are various online services that help you remove your name and address from distribution lists.

soft basket with magazines

2. Irrelevant Papers

Once relevant papers have become irrelevant, it’s time to get rid of them. Some examples would be old magazines and newspapers, unnecessary receipts, old school notes, outdated business cards, utility bills, bank statements and more. 

You may have good intentions to work your way through a backlog of magazines because you feel wasteful discarding them without reading them. But be realistic about what you can finish reading before the next delivery. 

Also, if you don’t need to save your utility bills and bank statements for tax or other purposes, you may be able to discard them after you’ve checked them for accuracy and reconciled them with your payments and bank accounts. 

And most receipts that don’t need to be kept for tax, insurance or resale purposes can be tossed after the return window has closed, the warranty has expired or you know you’ll be keeping the items (like groceries).

desk with chair and bookshelf

What to Do With Harder-to-Tackle Paper Categories

Once you’ve shaved off the first layer of nonessential papers and are ready to dive a little deeper, think about the main categories that cover what you may need to keep. These vary for each person, but some common categories include:

  • Taxes

  • Action items (bills to pay, cards to reply to)

  • School documents

  • Medical records

  • Property records

You may have additional categories that apply to you. Once you’ve determined your categories, sort remaining papers into them. The idea is to divide your paper organizing into smaller and more focused bites so it’s less overwhelming. Then you can further sort each category to determine what you need to keep and what you can let go. 

For this article, let’s focus on the category of taxes.

The Papers You Need to Keep for Taxes

The first step in organizing your tax-related papers is knowing what you need to keep. You don’t want to keep too few records and not be prepared for a potential audit. Nor do you want to keep excess, space-consuming documents. 

In the broadest of terms, calculating your income taxes requires determining all the income you’ve received during the year minus eligible deductions and credits. So do your due diligence to find out your specific, personal requirements for each part of this work. 

If you have a tax preparer, he or she should be able to provide you with a list of requirements. If not, you may be able to find some guidance on the IRS website, through online tax-preparation resources and in your previous year’s tax return. Here are some examples of information you may need regarding your income, deductions and credits (not an exhaustive list):


  • Wages, salaries, bonuses and tips

  • Interest earned

  • Stock sales and dividend income

  • Rental income

  • Retirement account distributions

  • Unemployment benefits and disability payments

  • Advance commissions

  • Lottery payments


  • Contributions to retirement accounts

  • Student loan interest

  • Capital losses

  • Mortgage interest

  • State or local taxes

  • Medical expenses

  • Charitable contributions


  • Recovery Rebate Credit

  • Child and dependent care credit

  • Adoption credit

  • Residential energy-efficient property credit

  • Health care credits

I recommend you create a checklist of the specific income, deductions and credits that pertain to your situation. 

My own list includes the forms (W-2s, 1099s, 1098s and so forth) and information (charitable contributions, medical expenses and so on) that I need to have for my tax filing. This checklist helps me stay organized each year. I would otherwise not be able to remember the detailed requirements of this once-a-year task, and I’d risk submitting an incomplete tax return. 

Keep in mind that tax requirements do occasionally change, either due to the IRS or personal situations, so it’s wise to update your checklist when that occurs.

6 Common Causes of Clutter and Their Cures

Storing Your Tax Documents

1. Current Tax Year Documents

There’s plenty to sort through at tax time, so the more you can eliminate searching for documents in April the better. To simplify, I recommend you keep all your current-year tax documents corralled in one place. 

I keep two sets of tax documents: personal and business. Neither is exceptionally complicated or document-heavy, so for me two hanging folders (one for personal, one for business) works perfectly. 

Throughout the year, I put anything tax-related (charitable contribution receipts, business receipts) in its correct folder as soon as I receive it. For business expenses, I write the category and purpose (marketing, office supplies, meals and entertainment) on the back of the receipt right away to avoid the chance of forgetting it.

The method that works best for me is to collect all my tax documents in each folder all year and then sort more specifically when it’s time to prepare. But if your taxes are complicated and you must retain many papers, you may want to create smaller subfolders to keep categories sorted throughout the year. 

Whatever method you choose for collecting your tax documents, it will be successful only if you actually use it. Therefore, make sure your document storage is in a spot you can easily access. Otherwise, there will be a strong tendency for documents to pile up on a counter instead of being filed away appropriately.

2. Previous Years’ Tax Returns and Documents

Tax returns and documents that have already been filed with the IRS and state agencies need to be retained in case of an audit. Depending on your situation, the number of years you need to keep your tax documents can vary. 

At the time of this story’s publication, the IRS website stated that the period in which you can amend your tax return or the IRS can assess additional taxes ranges from three to seven years. The period of limitations in my state is four years. Therefore, out of a great abundance of caution, I keep my physical tax returns and documents for seven years.

Personally, I keep my past tax returns in a portable file box. I store the box in my office, but it doesn’t get a prime spot, since I take it out only once a year to add the newest set of documents and remove the oldest set. (I then relabel the empty folder from the oldest set for the following year’s tax documents.)

I also save digital copies of my tax returns, which I can keep indefinitely. Some recommend keeping tax returns and W-2s forever, in case the IRS ever claims you either didn’t file a return or filed a fraudulent one. I recommend you consult with a tax professional to confirm the safest route for you.


Patricia Lee, Houzz Contributor is a professional home organizer in the San Francisco Bay Area. 

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Weekend Outdoor Activities 2/12 - 2/14/21

Looking for something fun to do outside this weekend?  Well, search no more, there's plenty of outdoor activities in the area for the whole family to enjoy!

Alton Bay Winter Carnival 2021

Although things will look a bit different this year, the fundraising cause remains the same. Due to the pandemic, the Alton Business Association (ABA) will not be able to host a large-scale winter carnival event in the way the group normally would. With that said, the ABA is committed to bringing some winter fun to the community. There will be smaller (in the interest of safety) sponsored events featuring an Ice Sculpture Walking Tour, Bob House Decorating Contest and the Virtual Fundraising RAFFLE. The Raffle includes amazing products, services and gift certificates donated from members of the surrounding businesses.

Ice Sculpture Walking Tour:

The generous businesses sponsors have enabled the ABA to hire Ice Designs by Jeff Day to carve three unique ice sculptures for the community to enjoy. The sculptures will be on display in Alton Bay at the land bandstand, gazebo and in front of the community center. Be sure to bundle up and go for a walk in the bay to check them out! If you take pictures with the ice sculptures, be sure to tag ABA @altonbusinessassociation and use #altonwintercarnival. The sculptures will be on display starting late afternoon February 12 thru February 14 or until they melt!

Bob House Decorating Contest:

Sponsored by Dockside Restaurant - email ABA at to enter by February 12. They will post pictures of the bob houses on their Facebook page.

Winter Carnival Raffle:

The Virtual Fundraising Raffle is already underway and closes February 13th at 11:59 pm. They have amazing prizes donated from ABA members and local businesses. The list of sponsors is growing and the ABA lists thus far, Alton Circle Grocery, Alton Excavation, Alton Home & Lumber, Catchpenny, Gunstock Mountain Resort, Hannaford, Inspiration for Organization, Irwin Marine, K-9 Kreations, Katie's Kitchen, Northeast Security Agency, Lake Life Brand, Seacoast Spine & Sports Clinic, Shibley's at the Pier, Simple Beautiful Nails and the Little Christmas Cottage. Don't miss this opportunity to win prizes.  Head over to ABA's website, where you can purchase tickets. Winners will be announced on the ICE, February 14 at 11 am!

Virtual events may be added, so stay tuned to the ABA Facebook Event Page @altonbusinessassociation and website.

Although Winter Carnival events may look different this year, it's a chance to embrace all the outdoor fun that winter season brings!


Wolfeboro Cross Country Ski Association 

Since 1972, The Nordic Skier and Wolfeboro XC have joined as partners in the pursuit of a top notch nordic ski center. Click here for more information.



The 2021 Great Meredith Rotary Ice Fishing Derby is this weekend!

February 13-14, 2021

Online ticket sales have ended. You can still purchase tickets at local retailers for the remainder of this week and at Derby Headquarters beginning tomorrow, Friday, February 12.

Vendors Selling Tickets

 Every ticket purchased (online or otherwise) is entered into each cash drawing throughout the weekend.
You can win over $5,000 without even baiting a hook!

Alton Circle Grocery
10 Main Street
Alton, NH 03809

Bryant & Lawrence Hardware
270 Main Street
Tilton, NH 03276

Case 'N Keg
5 Mill Street
Meredith, NH 03253

Coyote Creek Outfitters
22 Farmington Road
Rochester, NH 03867

Dive Winnipesaukee
4 N. Main Street
Wolfeboro, NH 03894

E.M. Heath Hardware
318 Whittier Highway
Center Harbor, NH 03226

Green's Corner Store (Formerly Murphy's Mobil)
246 Whittier Highway
Moultonborough, NH 03254

Newfound Sales & Trading Post
381 Lake Street
Bristol NH 03222

Skelley's Market
374 Gov. Wentworth Highway (Route 109
Moultonborough, NH 03254

The Tackle Shack (formerly AJ's Bait and Tackle)
54 NH Route 25, Unit C    
Meredith, NH 03253
(603) 279-3152

The Tackle Shack (Newbury) 
894 Route 103
Newbury, NH 03255

Wildlife Taxidermy & Sports
2188 Candia Road
Manchester, NH 03109

Winnisquam Country Store & Deli
1021 Laconia Road
Tilton, NH 03276

For more information:

The Meredith Rotary Club
PO Box 1210, Meredith, NH 03253
603-279-7600 /


Small Business Day, presented by Bangor Savings Bank

Courtesy of Wolfeboro Chamber of Commerce




This online webinar will provide you, the small business owner, with critical information needed to thrive in the COVID-19 landscape. Small Business Day panels, featuring experts in their field, will focus on financing options for small businesses; tax implications of COVID-19 stimulus acts;  liability and other COVID-19 concerns for small businesses; and legislative issues affecting employers.

There is no fee to participate, but advance registration is required. For more information, please contact Lora McMahon at 603-224-5388 x101.

Event Item Name          Expires                   Pricing

Small Business Day        Feb 12, 2021             $0.00



Bangor Savings Bank, Presenting Sponsor


McLane Middleton, Professional Association, Sponsor

Bigelow & Company, Partner

Maloney & Kennedy, Sponsor

Mason + Rich CPAs, Sponsor

Nathan Wechsler & Co., PA, Sponsor

Tufts Health Freedom Plan, Virtual Exhibitor

U.S. Small Business Administration, Virtual Exhibitor

NH Small Business Development Center, Partner

NH Small Business Development Center


Preliminary Agenda
8:00 am:  Legislative Leadership Panel
A special panel featuring legislative leaders who will identify top small business issues they’ll be addressing during the 2021 legislative session. Panelists include: Senate President Chuck Morse, Speaker of the House Sherman Packard, Senate Democratic Leader Donna Soucy, and House Democratic Leader Renny Cushing. This interactive session will allow you to get the latest information on key legislative proposals impacting the small business community.

9:00 am:  Financing Options for Small Business
Learn about traditional and alternative (non-traditional) options for financing your small business from a panel of experts. Panelists: Amy Bassett, district director, NH Small Business Administration; Julie Glosner, Merrimack Valley regional director, NH SBDC; John Hamilton, acting president of economic opportunity, NH Community Loan Fund/Vested for Growth; and Mary Mattson, senior vice president, commercial banking team lead Manchester/Concord, Bangor Savings Bank. Moderated by Michael O’Reilly, senior vice president and commercial team lead, Bangor Savings Bank in NH.

10:00 am:  The Bottom Line: Tax Implications of COVID-19 Stimulus Acts
This will be an interactive presentation allowing you to get answers to your specific issues from three of New Hampshire’s top CPAs. Topics to be discussed will include PPP loan forgiveness, deductibility of expenses, payroll tax credits, how Main Street Relief funds will be treated and more. Panelists: Kevin Kennedy, CPA, CFE, Maloney & Kennedy; Marie McKay, CPA and principal, Bigelow & Company; Leslie Walker, CPA and director, Mason + Rich; and Steve Lawlor, principal, Nathan Wechsler. Moderated by Dave Juvet, senior vice president of public policy, BIA.

11:00 am:  Liability and other COVID-19 Concerns for Small Businesses
This panel will explore pressing issues the pandemic has raised for small businesses like legal liability, and changes to paid family leave and paid sick time in the recently passed federal COVID-19 stimulus legislation. Panelists: Patrick Closson, director and chair of Corporate Department and Healthcare Group, McLane Middleton; Steven Dutton, director, Litigation Department, McLane Middleton; and Jennifer Parent, director and chair of the Litigation Department, McLane Middleton. Moderated by David Creer, director of public policy, BIA.

Thank you to our promotional partners:

Cohase Chamber of Commerce
Exeter Area Chamber of Commerce
Franconia Notch Regional Chamber of Commerce
Greater Claremont Chamber of Commerce
Greater Dover Chamber of Commerce
Greater Hudson Chamber of Commerce
Greater Merrimack Souhegan Valley Chamber of Commerce
Greater Nashua Chamber of Commerce
Greater Ossipee Chamber of Commerce
Greater Keene and Peterborough Chamber of Commerce
Greater Salem Chamber of Commerce
Greater Rochester Chamber of Commerce
Hampton Area Chamber of Commerce
Lakes Region Chamber of Commerce
Lakes Region Tourism Association
Lake Sunapee Region Chamber of Commerce
Meredith Area Chamber of Commerce
Mt. Washington Valley Chamber of Commerce
NH Association of Insurance Agents
NH Dept. of Business & Economic Affairs
NH Lodging & Restaurant Association
NH Small Business Development Center (SBDC)
NH Automobile Dealers Association
North Country Chamber of Commerce
Ski New Hampshire
Upper Valley Business Alliance
U.S. Small Business Administration
Western White Mountains Chamber of Commerce
Wolfeboro Area Chamber of Commerce