When it comes to investing, our message has long been loud and clear: Build a well-structured portfolio to capture available market returns while managing the risks involved. Shape it to meet your individual goals and risk tolerances. Keep a lid on the costs. Stay on target over time.

That’s all well and good, but …

What if you’ve been investing a while, but you don’t yet have that “well-structured portfolio”?

It stands to reason: The more wealth you accumulate, the more chaotic your assets and accounts can become. What begins as a manageable assortment (hopefully) grows. That’s a good “problem” to have, but the sheer volume can eventually overwhelm your organizational efforts.

Then what?

Fortunately, it’s never too late to bring order to your investment universe. In this first installment in our three-part series, we’ll explore some sensible solutions to this perennial challenge, starting with initial steps you can take to move from random results to a more organized approach.

Step One: Take Stock of What You’ve Got

A great way to get started is to figure out where you stand today. What do you currently own? Where are you holding it, and why? Bonus points if you can determine how much your current holdings are costing you in apparent and hidden fees.

Step Two: Decide Where You’d Like To Go

Next, it’s time to plan—and document—what your orderly investment universe looks like, and how you expect to get there. Having a plan in place can feel incredibly empowering if your investments have gotten out of hand. You can stop taking pot shots at your wealth, and begin aiming at your tailored targets.

Strategy: How much risk and expected return are you shooting for? Do you have the time and temerity to take on more investment risk, hoping for higher returns? Or are you better served with a more modest approach—less “exciting” but less likely to fall apart in a pinch?

Target: If you could start with a clean slate for creating your “perfect” investment portfolio, what would that look like? How many stocks vs. bonds, international vs. domestic, and so on? What would be the best funds or securities for achieving your aim?

Tactics: Which of your current investments no longer make sense for your plans? Which might be replaced with better-managed, lower-cost equivalents? What pieces are missing?

Step Three: Proceed as Planned

If you’ve accumulated a vast clutter of capital, you’re likely to want to do some remodeling: selling unnecessary or overpriced positions, buying others that are a better fit, streamlining duplicate assets and accounts, and otherwise rearranging your financial furniture.

In a tax-free world, you could proceed at full speed. In real life, when you sell positions for more than you paid for them, there can be burdensome capital gain taxes realized in the year of the sale. Plus, if you generate enough taxable gains in a year, it could bump you into a higher tax bracket, which could increase your tax rates across a wider swath of your total annual income.

How do you pursue a tidy transition, given the challenges involved? We’ll offer some insights on that in our next piece, Transitions and Taxes.