Diabetes Forecast

7 Ways to Bust Clutter

An organized home opens the door to health

By Tracey Neithercott , ,

What does a tidy, uncluttered home have to do with helping you achieve your best health? More than you might realize.

"There's huge value in being organized," says Peter Walsh, an organization expert and author of It's All Too Much: An Easy Guide for Living a Richer Life With Less Stuff. "You can't make your best choices [and] you can't make your healthiest choices in a cluttered home. Good organization is the foundation to good health."

If you have diabetes complications such as vision impairment, blindness, or neuropathy, clutter can be downright dangerous. "My mom, because of diabetes, had a lot of problems walking and seeing," says Laura Leist, president of the National Association of Professional Organizers. "With stuff lying on the floor where it doesn't belong, you can accidentally trip."

You need not become a perfectionist to benefit from organizing your health care tools. "Organizing is really about creating systems and processes that work for that individual," Leist says. "So there's no right or wrong way."

1. Ready, Set, Go!

Before you jump into an organizing project, devise a plan of attack. Decide whether to start with something small—so you'll see results right away—or do a large area with small projects, says Leist. It's easy to get sidetracked by objects that need to be put away in other areas of the house, but avoid jumping from room to room or you'll be derailed.

Once you've narrowed your focus, gather a few key supplies: garbage bags, a recycling bag or bin, and a paper shredder. You'll want to clear the clutter before you create an organizing system.

Tidy Tips

Some ways to organize diabetes supplies and medical paperwork, from our friends on Facebook:
We get boxes and mark them by date and put the medication in the fridge with the oldest at the front so it gets used first.
Joana Goff

I had a medicine cabinet built in my kitchen for my medical supplies. My medical paperwork is in my office in a filing cabinet with all of my bills.
Kate Quinn

I keep any and all of my medical information, such as my doctor, meds, and allergies list, on a USB drive. I attached it to my key ring, and in waterproof marker I wrote on it "My Medical Info." Most emergency staff have access to a tablet or a laptop these days.
Debbie Hasbrouck

I put everything in a box for each fiscal year to make sure I have my paperwork in case there is an insurance dispute.
Lisa Edmunds

Next, sort items into two piles: the stuff that will stay and the junk that will be trashed, recycled, or donated. Can't decide what to throw away? Leist suggests asking yourself whether an item serves a purpose (right now, not in some imagined future) or if it's just taking up valuable space. If it's the latter, let it go. "Decide what matters most to you in the world," says Erin Rooney Doland, author of

Unclutter Your Life in One Week: A Seven-Day Plan to Organize Your Home, Your Office, and Your Life. "Then get rid of those things that distract you from these important things."

Or try what Walsh calls the "trash bag tango." Grab a partner and two trash bags each—one for items that can be thrown out and the other for goods you plan to donate. Set a timer for 10 minutes, and fill both bags.

If you're still stuck, give yourself some time to get used to the idea of living without certain items. "Put them in a box," says Leist. "Put a six-month date on it. If you haven't had an urge to go into the box [after six months], then that's probably a sign you need to let things go."

From there, it's time to organize.

2. Medications

Corraling your medicine in one area does more than just reduce clutter. It'll help you weed out expired meds; many have a one-year shelf life, so check. And it can make juggling multiple pills more successful: The location will remind you to take your medications. First, elect a specific area for your medications and supplements if you take any—a cool, dry place because heat and moisture can make meds lose potency before their expiration date. This can be an entire cupboard, a single shelf, or a box, basket, or bin. Just make sure that all of your meds (except for any unopened insulin you store in the refrigerator) fit in the spot.

Next, for oral meds, buy a seven-day pillbox (or use stackable clear containers, and consider locking pillboxes to keep kids and pets safe) and dole out the necessary medications for each day. "I like using weekly pillboxes to help me remember to take my medications," says Doland. "Once a week, I'll sit down and put each day's pills into their compartment. This is a great exercise for helping me find out if I need a medication refill before I run out of pills."

3. Supplies

Select a central area for your blood glucose–control supplies—meter, test strips, ketone strips, blood glucose log, glucose tablets. Where you stash your supplies doesn't matter; what's important is keeping all items together. This will also be useful for family members or friends who may need to find your supplies in an emergency. If you find yourself constantly misplacing meters and test strips you tote from one location to another—say, to the gym or office—consider purchasing backups and storing them in each place.

4. Medical Records

When you have a chronic illness, medical paperwork such as prescriptions, bills, and insurance explanations of benefits can pile up. Finding a single page in a pile of look-alike papers can be time consuming. Start by trashing anything that's outdated or that you no longer need (see "Shred or Save?" below). Experts suggest two ways of organizing the mess: Store it by category in a large file cabinet or portable file box dedicated to medical records, or create a medical binder.

When filing medical records, arrange them by specific categories. Using hanging files with tabs makes it easy to label a folder by its contents. "The more broken down it is, the easier it is going to be to find it," says Leist. How you categorize is personal, so go with whichever method makes the most sense to you. Some ideas: Create separate folders for each doctor you see or create files for each type of record, such as explanations of benefits, receipts, and lab results. Walsh recommends color-coding each set of files for each member of the family so that it's easy to retrieve papers at a moment's notice. And, to monitor how long a document has been stored, write the date on the top when you file it. Whatever you do, don't just stick a "medical" folder in your everyday file cabinet—that's just another form of clutter.

Or create a medical binder. Whenever you get a medical bill, an insurance statement, or the like, slide it into a clear page protector and add it to a three-ring binder. From there, you can divide the binder by category. Set up individual colored binders for each member of your family.

If you're comfortable with the computer and have a scanner, you can also scan each document the moment you receive it. Store the scanned documents in medical files on your computer, then shred the original once you've paid the bill or no longer need the hard copy. If you're worried about losing the files, copy them to a USB drive or back up your computer regularly.

5. Phone Numbers

The easiest way to organize the contact information for the members of your medical team is to add them to the contacts on your cell phone. If you can, label them as "doctors" so you can easily find a number even if you don't remember the name right away. Or use a business card holder or transcribe the information into an address book with a "doctor" or "medical" category.

Leist suggests typing up a list of your doctors and sliding it into your medical binder or taping it to the inside of your file cabinet. "In the case of an emergency," she says, "it would make it really easy for a family member to know who the important contacts are."

6. The Kitchen

  • Keep your dinner table clear instead of using it for storage. You're not likely to sit down to a proper meal if your table is a catch-all for mail and more. The same goes for kitchen countertops. "It's pretty hard to cook or enjoy cooking if your kitchen is cluttered," says Leist.
  • Make the most of your space by fitting the necessities first. If there's leftover room in your cabinets, go ahead and store that panini maker. But if you don't use it and you can't fit it in, either tuck it away elsewhere for safekeeping or donate it.
  • Pay attention to food items. Toss anything that's expired as well as any spices that have lost their aroma (they don't go bad in the sense that they're dangerous to eat, but they'll lose their potency). Any food you no longer eat for health reasons, such as canned goods loaded with sodium, belongs in the donation bin.
  • Plan on a set spot for your grocery list. Keeping a list can help you stick to healthy foods—instead of spur-of-the-moment purchases of junk food. Alternately, you can keep an ongoing list on your cell phone or computer with many new apps (such as ZipList and Grocery IQ) and websites.
  • Use any coupons that you clip. Piles of clippings can create clutter, so keep yours in an envelope or organizer and make sure you take it with you during a grocery run. Leist says storing it in your car can help you remember.

7. Work in Progress

A great portion of clutter is composed of items that require action soon. That's where an in-box helps—to hold all in-progress documents. When you receive mail, open it right away. Each piece of mail should go somewhere: Take action on it, then file it. Or put it into a box or file sorter you read through weekly. This desktop file is where you can place to-be-filled prescriptions, notes taken during medical exams, and notes from a doctor's visit. "What you don't want are a bunch of pieces of paper that sit there," says Leist. "The key is to have a place that you look at every day where you say, 'See, here's what I have to follow up on, and here's a prescription I need to refill.' "

If an item has a due date—say, you must fill a prescription by Friday morning—Leist suggests adding a reminder to your calendar. "I recommend that you always have a place where you write down things that you need to do, things that are pending, things that you need to follow up on," she says. This may be in Microsoft Outlook, on your cell phone, or on a calendar hung on your office wall.

Once you've cleared the clutter out of an area of your home, the next step is to keep it cleared. To do that, you'll have to commit to change the way you do things—and your mind-set, says Doland. "Don't worry too much when your systems fall apart, because they will," Doland says. "Start back on the routines … the very next day. After three months, it will be easier, and it will get easier every day after that."

More Online

6 great clutter-busting products!

Shred or Save?

What medical documents to keep—and for how long

As long as a bill has been paid, you're not planning to write off a medical expense on your taxes or claim it on a flexible spending account, or a file isn't in use (for instance, if you're appealing an insurance claim), you're safe to toss insurance statements, doctor's bills, and other medical receipts. But if you're considering claiming a medical-expenses deduction—for the 2013 tax year, once your medical expenses surpass 10 percent of your income (7.5 percent for the over-65 crowd), you can begin writing them off—it's a good idea to keep all medical documents at least until you've filed your taxes.

If you take a medical-expenses deduction or if you've submitted claims to your insurance provider for use in a flexible spending account, save the receipts and bills (and all other tax-related documents once you've filed a return) for three years, says Lindsey Buchholz, JD, LLM, MBA, lead tax research analyst with H&R Block. Didn't file a return? Keep files for six years.



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