Thursday, December 03, 2009

Organizing Medical Paperwork

Today one of my children went to the dentist for the first time. Thanks to Dr. Rice, Mickey, Kathy and Pam for making it such a wonderful experience for both of us!

Along with a visit to the dentist or doctor comes paperwork and sometimes lots of it! Here's what I do to organize the medical paperwork for my family:

1) Each family member has a three ring binder with their name on the spine. Mine is titled "Carolyn Health Care" and is stored alongside my husband's and children's binders.

2) We are basically healthy so one binder is sufficient for our medical, dental and vision records. I like to use Avery's write-on dividers that can be erased and reused, but you can use whatever you have on hand. Here are a couple of photos of my child's binder.

If you visit multiple doctor's or have a lot of medical paperwork, you might need several divider tabs or a binder for each doctor.

3) I organize the papers in reverse chronological order according to the date of the office visit with the dates highlighted in yellow. Sometimes the insurance companies will send explanation of benefit (EOB) paperwork with several visits on one sheet. In that case, I just take a copy or make a note of the coverage on the medical provider's paperwork.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Tips for Sick Kids

As the parent of two young kids, I am both terrified of the H1N1 virus and know firsthand how easy kids can get sick. When illness strikes, the last thing I want to be doing is running out to a drugstore in the middle of the night. Here are some simple tips for being organized for sick kids:

  • Make time in your schedule to get your kids and yourself vaccinated. Avoiding illness in the first place is the ideal scenario.

  • Teaching kids good hygiene can be difficult, especially if you have toddlers. I recently read about a product called Germy Wormy to teach kids to cough into their sleeve. I made my own reusable one by cutting off the top of an old sock. My child left the thing on for about 10 minutes but usually does cough into the sleeve, so I am glad I didn't buy the Germy Wormy product.

  • Have basic medicine (i.e. Tylenol/Motrin) on hand. I like to keep one bottle upstairs and one downstairs for convenience. When I see one is low, I just add it to my shopping list. I use the notes function in Microsoft Outlook for various lists.

  • Keep a bottle of Pedialyte or Gatorade in your pantry. Just be sure to watch the expiration dates for safety and to avoid waste.

  • Have the telephone number for the doctor's office nearby. I keep these numbers in Outlook, but also in a binder in the kitchen for babysitters and when I cannot get to my computer quickly.

Friday, November 06, 2009

Donate Household "Scraps"

The Scrap Box in Ann Arbor, Michigan is a great place to donate old collections of baby food jars, buttons, craft supplies, coffee cans, corks and other household "scraps". They also take National Geographic Magazines, which I know can be difficult for folks to part with.

The Scrap Box is a non-profit organization that provides craft materials for teachers as well as individual families. What a great way to get rid of clutter and keep it out of landfills!

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

WSJ Article on Hoarding

Today's Wall Street Journal had an informative article on compulsive hoarding disorder. The article included a quote from my colleague, Deb Stanley, who specializes in helping chronically disorganized clients. There is also an interesting recording with an interview with Dr. Randy Frost, a psychologist from Smith College who studies hoarding.

Friday, October 16, 2009

E-mail Overload

Like most people, I find it is so difficult to keep my e-mail under control. Using some of the techniques from my friend and colleague, Randy Dean, I am happy to say that my in-box is at 3 messages today. A record low!

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Local Hoarding Fatality

In Clinton Township, Michigan a local elderly couple recently died in their home. Fire officials believe the couple's hoarding of stuff may have prevented the couple from exiting the home. The Detroit News reported this as "collecting" but from reading the article it appears to me that the couple might have been hoarders. While professional organizers, such as myself can help, compulsive hoarding is a real disorder requiring the help of a mental health professional.

I should also note that most of my clients are not hoarders or people in need of mental health help. The folks that I work with are mostly busy professionals and families with whom life has gotten a little disorganized.

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Upstairs/Downstairs Organizing

I grew up in a small ranch style home, but currently live in a two story home with a basement. It seems like sometimes I find myself constantly running up and down the steps to put things in their proper places either upstairs, downstairs or in the basement.

I recently have had to limit my trips up and down the stairs due to temporary health issues, which has turned my poor husband into a bit of a pack horse. The general rule in our house is that you never go up or down empty handed, but I do not want to create unnecessary trips, especially now when I am relying on my spouse's help.

In order not to forget anything, I have a basket where throughout the day I place items needing to go upstairs and make a list of things I want to bring down. This is working so great, I might continue this practice when my stamina is back.

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Goodwill Opens in Chelsea

Folks in western Washtenaw County have another option for donating household items and clothing. The Dexter Leader and Chelsea Standard recently reported on the opening of a new Goodwill drop off location in Chelsea, Michigan:

"The Chelsea Goodwill CMH center is located at 1167 S. Main Street. The 2,000 square foot location will be open seven days a week, Monday through Saturday 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. and Sunday noon to 5 p.m."

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Organizing Recipes

In the August edition of my monthly e-newsletter, Your Simply Organized Life (click here to sign up), I will answer a reader question regarding organizing recipes torn from magazines or newspapers.

Here is how I like to organize recipes in my own household. I have a simple one inch binder (shown below) for all the recipes I collect. This limits me from collecting too many that we may never try. If something isn't to our tastes, it gets recycled to allow room for another recipe.
Inside of the binder (see below) each recipe is housed in a plastic sheet. This is great when things get messy or the recipes are not quite the right size. I find this solution to be simple, easy and inexpensive.

Wednesday, July 08, 2009


Now that we are fully into July, summertime has officially arrived here in Michigan. My garden is in full bloom and looks so beautiful. The tree peony (photo below) blooms are long gone and have been replaced by lilies and lavender. This summer what are you doing to enjoy life more? Are you slowing down to "smell the roses" or "take in the warm sun"? Or are you finishing up some nagging projects? Remember this time is fleeting, just like the beautiful peony bloom. Take advantage of every day!

Monday, June 22, 2009

Donate Clutter in Dexter

Here's a great opportunity to get rid of your clutter (err, unloved treasures) in Dexter. Every day this week from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. St. Joseph Catholic Church in Dexter is collecting items for their upcoming flea market. Items can be dropped off at the Parish Center in the village.

If you cannot drop your items off this week here are additional dates and times:
Saturday, June 27, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
June 29~July 3, 9 a.m. to 7 p.m.
July 6~8, 9 a.m. to 7 p.m.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Book Review

David Allen's 2001 Bestseller: Getting Things Done

This book has been on my reading list for a long time now. As I mentioned in my May 2009 Newsletter, Your Simply Organized Life, I finally figured out how to use my local library's on-line catalog to put books on hold and work my way through my "Books to Read" list. This is working great for me and it doesn't cost me a dime. Now if I could only read books faster than they appear on my list.

Getting Things Done, or GTD as it is commonly referred to is chock full of tips for organizing your time and your stuff. Overall, I learned some new things and felt the time spent reading GTD worth it; but did find it to be somewhat of a slow read.

What I like about GTD is that it incorporates tips not only for one's work (corporate) life, but also for your personal life. Some of systems David Allen recommends seem confusing and cumbersome (even for a professional organizer!). But there are some great tips to be had from this book. My favorite from page 99 "Keep the Drawer Less Than 3/4 Full" can be applied to organizing almost any physical space.

Friday, May 29, 2009

T-Shirt Quilts

If you cannot part with those old t-shirts, but do not wear them anymore you can hire someone to make your very own t-shirt quilt. I recently heard of a woman out of Olivet, Michigan who has a business called Too Cool T-Shirt Quilts.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

August Shredding Event

Last week The Ann Arbor News reported that Recycle Ann Arbor's recent free shredding event was met with such success that it will be repeated for the third time in early August. Watch this blog and my monthly newsletter, Your Simply Organized Life, for updates.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Metal Recycling for Cash

Organizing is like pulling back the layers of an onion. Some of us have bigger onions than others. As an organizing consultant, I am no different. My clutter is just hidden better and my onion is probably a little smaller than most.

That being said, I have been on a slow and steady mission to declutter our garage. My husband told me early on in our marriage (10+ years ago) that the garage was his domain and I wasn't to organize it. This was even before I started organizing professionally.

Since then we have worked together to slowly let go of those things that we do not need in order to make our garage tidier. The previous owner of our home left a rickety metal shelf in the garage. This past weekend we emptied it of our stuff, took it apart and yesterday morning I took it to Razorback Metals in Dexter, Michigan.

Our old shelf was worth only $0.60 for metal recycling, but I had a coupon from the Dexter Leader (I write a monthly column for this local weekly) that gave me $10 for "gas money" by bringing my stuff to Razorback Metals. I still cannot figure out that business model, but I was happy to get rid of that old shelf and walk away $10.60 richer.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Letting Go

I see the biggest personal transformations in the clients that I am able to work with over long periods of time (6 months plus, about once a month). It is incredibly rewarding both for the client and myself.

This morning during our organizing session one of my long term clients proudly (and rightfully so!) told me about her practice of what I like to call the "one in, one out" rule. She had purchased new drinking glasses and while the new ones were in the dishwasher, she promptly (utilizing the "do it now rule") sorted out the old glasses for donating or recycling. This is something really simple, but something she probably would not have done in the past. Hurray!

If you are ready to let go of some of your old stuff, here's a great general guide to clearing out clutter.

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Electronics Recycling Event

Once again the Ann Arbor Public Schools in cooperation with Apple Computers and the University of Michigan is hosting two events for local businesses, non-profits and residents to safely recycle old electronics.

On May 7 and 8, 2009 from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. local businesses and non-profits can drop off old electronic equipment for recycling at the Washtenaw Intermediate School District at 1819 S. Wagner Road in Ann Arbor.

On Saturday, May 9, 2009 from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. local residents can dispose of old electronics for free at Pioneer High School on 610 W. Stadium Road in Ann Arbor. This is a popular event, so line up early at the Main Street Entrance. Last year the event filled 11 semi-trailers with old equipment and kept an estimated 145 tons of waste out of local landfills.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Ann Arbor Book Festival

For two years (2006 and 2007) I served on the Planning Committee as Volunteer Coordinator for the Ann Arbor Book Festival. While I am no longer on this committee, current Volunteer Coordinator, Hillary Dorwart, needs your help for this year's Festival. Here's what Hillary has to say:

The sixth annual Ann Arbor Book Festival takes place May 15 - 17. Please volunteer your time and enjoy the community-wide event that celebrates reading, writing and literacy. View the full, exciting schedule at Contact the Ann Arbor Book Festival at to volunteer today!

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Ann Arbor Mom 2 Mom Sale

Over a year ago, I wrote about my first experience with a local Mom 2 Mom Sale. These sales are great places to sell the things your children have outgrown or pick up necessities for a fraction of the price of buying new. In Southeast Michigan you can check out for the latest sales in your area.

On Saturday, April 25th from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. The Ann Arbor Jaycees are organizing a Mom 2 Mom sale at the Best Western on Jackson Road in Ann Arbor. Check out the Jaycees website for more information.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Discounted Office Products

Approximately 90% of my clients do not need to purchase any organizing products when working with me, but for the remaining 10% I try to recommend products that will truly meet their needs. I should note that I am not affiliated with any products, so there is no conflict of interest.

A fellow organizer in New Jersey brought to my attention this week that Ultimate Office is going out of business. This is a shame, as their products seemed to be of high quality and were truly unique. Hopefully another company will fill the void as many of these products cannot be found at Staples or Office Depot.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Recycling Vacuum Cleaners

Last week my old Eureka upright vacuum cleaner seemed to be on its last leg. It wasn't surprising since my mom had handed it down to me in the early 90s. I am not sure when she bought it, but I remember her saying once that it was a low end model.

Through a loyalty program I had the opportunity to get a new Oreck XL Classic vacuum for free. This is a great deal seeing that this vacuum cleaner retails for around $300 and in my mind that seems like an awful lot of money to pay for a vacuum.

My new vacuum arrived on Tuesday and I love it! It is so lightweight, adjusts easily between different types of flooring (I vacuum everywhere to save time) and is doing a great job sucking up dog hair.

I had planned to throw the old vacuum in the trash, but felt guilty about the environmental waste. My husband reminded me that Recycle Ann Arbor would probably take the vacuum, as he had recently taken an old copier for my mom and our old shredder for recycling there. I called and they will take the old vacuum for free or at most a $2 fee. Less clutter in my house, reduced waste in the landfill and clean floors! What more could one need for a Simply Organized Life?

Monday, March 02, 2009

Organizing Tips for Families

This morning I had the pleasure of presenting my seminar titled "Organizing Tips for Families" to the MOMS (Moms Offering Moms Support) of Northville group (I am in the green sweater). This is a vibrant secular group that meets twice monthly at the First United Methodist Church in Northville, Michigan.

The group has quite a roster of activities including a seminar from Dr. Bob Sornson of the Early Learning Foundation on March 16th and a Mom to Mom sale on April 24th & 25th. They are currently accepting gently used items for the Mom to Mom sale which benefits the group and local charities.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

An Organized Medicine Cabinet

For 2009 I have replaced the "Ask the Expert" feature from my monthly e-newsletter "Your Simply Organized Life" with a monthly organizing challenge. In February I challenged readers to organize their medicine cabinets in three easy steps. This is a simple organizing project that can be accomplished in less than one hour.

Along with readers, I took up this challenge and found six items with expired dates (see photo). It was so easy to take these items to my local pharmacy for proper disposal. It also freed up a nice amount of space in my medicine cabinet.
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Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Getting Out of Debt

In the last four plus years helping people get organized professionally, I have seen a high correlation between debt and clutter. I recently read in my local newspaper that the Dexter United Methodist Church is offering a course for couples called Financial Peace University based on the teachings of a gentleman by the name of Dave Ramsey.

Interestingly enough, I heard of Dave Ramsey a few months ago from a participant of my seminar titled "Secrets of a Simply Organized Life." Mr. Ramsey's teachings are based on Christian principals, but I think they can benefit folks of any faith. Here is a link to his seven baby steps.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Kindness of Strangers

Last Sunday my family experienced the kindness of strangers in our friendly little Michigan community. We were all in the car (my husband, child, dog and myself) returning from a visit to my mother about two hours away. Our little one was getting antsy in the car, so we turned on WKAR for the classical music which always seems to sooth our child. My husband, driving, was enjoying the music so much he totally missed the entrance to our neighborhood. Then he seemed paralyzed as to what to do at the next road and ended up pulling into an unplowed side road.

Our car has all wheel drive, so I was not concerned until I realized we were clearly stuck in the snow. Shortly after my husband got out to push and I took the wheel, a kind couple stopped to help us out. Being a professional organizer I really should be prepared with a winter car kit like the one described in this article, but I was not and have never been stuck in 20 years of Michigan winter driving. Fortunately, our good Samaritans were prepared with a shovel neatly tucked into the back of their car. Five minutes had not passed and another gentleman stopped to help push us out.

It really made us feel good that folks in our community are so helpful. We hope we can do the same sometime soon.

Sunday, January 04, 2009

Organizing for a Career Change

I have received some great questions from the readers of my monthly e-newsletter, Your Simply Organized Life (sign up here). This month I wrote about "Feeling Fine in 2009." Here's one reader question and my response:

Q: Do you have any ideas for organizing yourself during a job search/career change?

A: This is a great question, because it is so important to stay organized when searching for a new job or possibly making a career change.

When searching for a new job, I recommend creating an electronic file folder on your computer and a paper file folder (this can be a section of a three ring binder or a hanging file folder) for each position you are interested in. If you are really tech savvy you can skip the paper file, but I find most people still have tons of loose papers to pull together. I like to label the folders by employer name. This way you can customize your resume and other application materials for that particular employer. If you apply to more than one job at an employer, just create sub folders.

As for a career change, this is a much bigger project that should include extensive research and may even require additional training. To get you started, set up a three ring project binder with sections for research, training, etc. As you conduct your search, additional categories will reveal themselves.

While going through this process be sure to manage your time appropriately with goals for each day or week.

Friday, January 02, 2009


The holiday season was a real whirlwind for me this year. It seemed to blow in and blow right back out in a flash. While I enjoyed the season, getting back to my normal daily routines is reassuring. Now I seem to have a reasonable handle on the clutter that creeped in during the holidays, including the household paperwork. What routines do you need to reinstate now that the holidays are pretty much finished?