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Getting organized can improve your health

Mounting chaos can lead to stress and guilt, so start down the path of order

By Anne Endicott

contributing writer

New Year’s is like a clean slate — an opportunity for absolution from mistakes or bad habits made the year before.

And though we promise ourselves this is the year we’re going to get it together by eating right, being on time and remembering things, it’s a tall order to fill if there isn’t a foundation of organization for all of life’s details.

“We are always in the go-mode,” says Laura Rau, a nurse case manager for the Hospitalist's Physicians at Legacy Mount Hood Medical Center in Gresham. “We fail to make a plan for structure in our lives, which provides a sense of order. Disorganization is a breakdown in order. The key is to locate the source of the breakdown and refresh the order.”

Few people lead a chaos-free life these days. Warp Nine lifestyles don’t allow time to cook a good meal, which inspires guilt for shoving fast food at our children; put away things around the house, making us feel like candidates for the TV show “Hoarders”; or remembering all the commitments and appointments we’ve made — a trait that can affect job performance and our reliability to others.

Most people can tolerate a certain amount of disorganization in their life, Rau says, when they have a routine for tasks guiding them. Shopping for groceries once a week or doing laundry on Sundays, for example, keeps those details in check, making us better masters of our universe.

“If you have a sense of purpose, even if it’s only cleaning your house on Saturday,” she says, “you can tolerate the disorganization because you know it’s going to get cleaned on Saturday. You’re owning that goal. When you own the goal, you feel more on top of your life.”

Feeling overwhelmed by disorganization is usually accompanied by stress, Rau says, because we’re basically functioning in a daily survival mode. The part of our brains that address rational thinking and creative problem solving shuts down. We become paralyzed and defeated by the notion of any self improvement. Toss in worries over issues that are out of our hands, and it’s a recipe for overload.

“People are less likely to be organized when they’re stressed,” Rau explains. “In our culture, there are stresses we can’t run away from or control — a job loss or the economy. If you are focused on what you can do to relieve the stress in your own life, you’re better able to cope with the stresses you can’t control.”

The key to managing life, Rau says, is a plan — “baby steps” to corral all those details. Examine the habits that are currently making you crazy and devise a way to keep them from ruling you. Utilize a 30-day wipe off calendar, with color-coded pens for each family member, to write down dentist appointments, school conferences and athletic schedules. Establish an area where important papers, bills or reminders can be placed and address them weekly. Leave the junk mail in the recycling container on the way in from picking up the mail.

And don’t be afraid to say “no” or ask for help, Rau recommends. While we all want to be super heroes to our families and employers, it’s impossible to manage everything alone.

“Slow down, eliminate a few things on the schedule,” Rau says. “Make a plan to bring down the stress level and execute it to further reduces stress. Paint a picture of the structure you want in your life. Then, communicate that plan to others so they can support it.”

Some tips to get started

Getting organized doesn’t require a complicated system of storage bins or closet organizers. It’s the simple day to- day tasks that can mount up and become unmanageable quickly.

  • Regain control with these easy tips from professional organizers:
  • Keep counters and tables clear of clutter by discarding and shredding junk mail immediately after you pick up the mail.
  • Designate a space for car keys, cell phones and purses. Leave items in that place each time you come home.
  • Pack children’s backpacks with books, homework and other school related things the night before.
  • Weekly, update the calendar with family members to ensure all appointments and schedules are current.
  • Plan meals for the week and prepare a shopping list. Then, establish a regular day to buy groceries so you don’t run out of something, make several trips to the store or rely on fast food.
  • Before retiring for the night, make a quick sweep through the kitchen or family room, picking up clutter from tables or other areas where things have collected.
  • Set aside a day or evening to pay bills on a regular schedule. Keep an accordion file for tax and donation receipts.

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