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Clearing Way for a Better Life

Tips to help you organize your time and space so you can make room for the things you need and love

by Marguerite Barone

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It seems like wherever we turn, someone is trying to get us organized. Almost every magazine we see in the supermarket line features an article on getting organized. Some teach us how to make the most of the space in our closets or kitchen cabinets while others reveal the secrets of making better use of our time. Then there are the television programs that actually show us how to organize a den, a child’s bedroom, or a garage. While you probably shouldn’t take on a big organizing project during cancer treatment and recovery, there are a few simple steps you can take to reduce the clutter in your life.

Where does clutter come from? Think of what comes into your home every day courtesy of the post office: bills, insurance statements, mail-order catalogues, magazines, credit card offers, solicitations from charities, store circulars, bank statements, and renewal notices, just to name a few. Another source of clutter is the computer, which is supposed to minimize the paper in our lives … if we let it. The problem is that so often we come across a great article or a terrific recipe, and we feel compelled to print it. But what happens to it? It ends up on a table or desk, adding to the seemingly ever-growing pile of paper.

Getting organized relieves stress and promotes a sense of control over your environment.

Author of Article photo

Marguerite Barone

Unnecessary purchases also contribute to clutter. We might buy something that is lovely in the store without thinking about where to put it or if we really need it. And last but not least in the list of clutter-causing culprits is our own sentimentality and attachment to things.

Once you are motivated to get organized, the first thing you have to decide is where to start. It is best to begin with whatever bothers you most. For example, if piled-up paperwork has caused you to miss paying bills on time or have a membership cancelled because you did not send your renewal check, your desk is a good starting point. With your shredder at the ready and a bag or basket for recycling, go through each item and discard or recycle anything that does not require your attention. Then deal with what is left.

To maintain order in the future, sort the mail as soon as it arrives. Bills or other items that require attention should be kept in a prominent place.

For doctor’s visits, each family member should have a notebook with a pocket on the inside cover. Bring it to every medical appointment, and use it to write down important information you receive. Include the date, the healthcare provider you saw, follow-up appointments or tests needed, and anything else you may need to refer back to. Referral slips and prescriptions can be kept in the pocket. Before an appointment, use it to write down any questions you want to ask the doctor.

Keep a personal calendar as well as a family calendar to keep track of appointments and avoid scheduling conflicts. Refer to it regularly as a reminder of upcoming activities.

To keep track of medical records, it is best to have manila folders or loose-leaf binders for each family member: one for bills, one for test results, and so forth. File paperwork regularly to avoid confusion and clutter.

Making the best use of our time and energy also presents a never-ending challenge. This is especially important when you are undergoing treatment and feeling exhausted. Prioritizing and simplifying what you have to do and where you have to go is vital. Concentrate on one thing at a time; multi-tasking often causes a loss of focus. Plan errands to limit the number of trips you have to make. Take shortcuts and share some responsibilities. Ask for help when you need it; friends and family will often be glad to pitch in.

Getting organized relieves stress and promotes a sense of control over your environment. It is a process, and you should not expect perfection. It would be a mistake to look at your whole house and attempt to organize everything at once. Begin with small projects.

If you minimize, simplify, and keep only what is really important to you, you will have more time and more space for the things you need and love, in a home you that will give you pleasure and peace.

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Marguerite Barone, a professional organizer, is the owner of Organizing Concepts in Holtsville, NY. She is also a member of the National Association of Professional Organizers.

This article was published in Coping® with Cancer magazine, September/October 2010.