Organizing Medical Files

About this time of year I like to go through all my files and purge what I don’t need to make room for incoming paperwork in the new year.

One very thick file that I have not addressed in the past few years is my medical file. The older I get, the more doctors I have and the bigger this file grows.

In the past, I have just had a file folder for each doctor with their business card as the tab. But some doctors have retired and have been replaced by new doctors. Some paperwork in there is probably duplicated elsewhere. And some information I want to find quickly without searching through fat files.

I realize that my medical records should include copies of all test/lab results, diagnoses, treatment reports, radiology reports, progress notes, insurance statements and any referrals from each medical facility I’ve visited.

I did some research on organizing the medical files and most postings recommended 3 hole punching the records and keeping them in a notebook with dividers. This sounds very organized and probably a good idea if you are just starting out. I find myself rebelling at going through all those papers and punching holes and organizing them in notebooks. I also don’t see me taking care of all new paperwork following this process. So, I am going to stay with the hanging files. I am also going to skip the advice about color coding the individual files for the same reason. I do have a box file that is blue in my filing drawer that says Medical. The following files will go into this one big file folder.

As I go through and clean out my files, I will keep in mind that any documents related to insurance claims or payments should be kept up to five or seven years.

One thing I have not done that I will now do is create a table of contents. This will list all of my providers and their specialty along with a phone number. It will also note if the provider is still active.

Right behind the table of contents but in the same folder, I will list my immunizations and their dates.
I have also in the past few years made a practice of having any doctor give me a copy of the medical history forms they ask you to fill out each year. I will keep copies of these in this folder and always pull this folder when going to appointments. If I have guessed the date of my last period on a form, I want to keep using that guess on future forms. The same folder will then have a list of all medications both prescribed and supplements along with the pharmacy telephone number. I will also list there any allergies I have.

Test results and notes or history will be kept in the individual doctor folders with the newest information in front. If there are any legal medical papers signed for a procedure, HIPPA papers, or any other insurance papers, I will keep them in the individual doctor folders but grouped in the back of the folder.

If there is an ongoing illness or injury, more paperwork is necessary. A file should be created for the following categories:

  • Medical bills you receive from healthcare, labs, hospitals
  • Insurance claims you have filed
  • Insurance claims you have been paid
  • Medical bills you have paid
  • Receipts for out of pocket expenses like parking fees or non prescription drugs
  • Test results from this illness
  • Hospital discharge orders or documents
Then there are the EOBs or Explanation of Benefits. These define how a claim is processed, and what amount may be owed. They detail what medical procedures or treatments you have had and the specific dates. They list the codes for each treatment or item as well as a brief description of what the service entailed.
These should be kept for at least one year. Some groups say keep them for three to five years and certainly keep them until the medical claim is paid in full. For serious health conditions, keep all medical bills and EOBs on file in chronological order for at least five years after the last treatment date, or seven years if you’ve claimed the medical tax deduction.
Hold on to any questionable EOBs or those that cover chronic illnesses. Otherwise, if you are comfortable, shred these documents after one year.
All of this sounds like a lot of work and it is, but it will save you frustration down the road. Break this project down into small doable sections and conquer it one section at a time.

Jonda S. Beattie

Professional Organizer

Organizing the Attic or Basement Zone

November is a wonderful time to organize and clean out your attic or your basement zone. The temperature tends not to be too hot or cold for comfort. It is also an area where many of us store our holiday decorations.

As you prepare to work in this zone, first decide how you want to use this area in your home. You might include on your list storage of:

  • Seasonal decorations
  • Seasonal house items like fans or heaters
  • Household items you wish to keep but are not currently using
  • Toys, clothing, or other items you wish to pass on to friends and family
  • Out of season clothing or sports equipment
  • Suitcases
  • Archival paper
 Plan out a zone in your storage area for each category. Items you access frequently like suitcases or cat carriers should be near the entrance of this area and items you do not plan to use in the next year like unused household items are best stored furthest from the entry.
Attack the attic or basement zone by zone. Remove everything from the one zone you are working on and sweep down the area and look for any structural damage or infestations. As you place items back in the area, if you come across broken, unloved items, or multiple items (How many suitcases do you really use?) that have been hanging around for years, now is the time to let them go. You will feel so much lighter when they are gone. You will enjoy the room to move around.
Leave space between each zone so you can safely retrieve or store items.
Label all containers. Use large labels you can see from some distance. Even if a container is clear, it is hard to see what is inside if the lighting is dim.
It helps to locate different holiday items if you use colored or themed containers to store your decorations. Still label the containers with primary items. This keeps you from having to dig through multiple boxes to find the advent wreath or creche you want to use early in the season. Your organized attic or basement will make decorating and un-decorating a much easier task.

Jonda S. Beattie

Professional Organizer

Organizing Your Storage Areas

In September the weather starts to cool down a bit. We put away our summer equipment. This is a fantastic opportunity to organize this storage space. It might be your workshop, garage, or basement. It is such a temptation to go in and just dump the stuff “just for now”. Soon you find the area disorganized, cluttered, and difficult to move around in.

Before you begin on this project, take a good look at the way it is now. Look at what is working (don’t mess with that area) and what is not working. How do you plan to use this zone? Do you plan to:

  • Park your car
  • Store trash cans/recycling
  • Store tools and accessories
  • Pot or repot plants
  • Work on projects and store tools
  • Store bikes and other sports equipment/outdoor games/camping gear
  • Store entertainment supplies
  • Store extra products
Now bring the things outside. If it is a small area do it all at once but if it is a large area or very filled, do it by sections. Sort like with like. Note what is broken and what you have not used in the past year or two. Get rid of those items. Throw away expired seeds and old chemicals. Give away or sell tools you no longer use.
Next decide where to logically places your zones. You want to place items that you use frequently near entrances. As you group your items in each zone, look for containers to hold small items together. A clear shoebox without a lid can hold gardening gloves. A flat basket can hold small gardening tools. Use shelves, pegboards, hooks, and nails to keep items off the floor. Avoid stacking containers because, for sure, you are going to want something out of that bottom container. Label all containers that are not clear.
Knock down the cobwebs, sweep the floor, and start putting things away. You’ll be amazed at how much room there is now that all items have been bunched together and stored properly.
Reward yourself. A hot shower and a cool drink might be just the thing.

Jonda S. Beattie

Professional Organizer

Closing the Loop – Completing the Task

A lot of clutter in your environment may well come from not completing tasks.

When you work on any project, you want to see the job completed and then put away.

Marilyn Paul in her book, It’s Hard to Make a Difference When You Can’t Find Your Keys, talks about the rhythm of organizing. This rhythm is cyclic. With any task you first get ready for action, you then take the action, this causes a natural disorder, and then you need to restore order. Many people do not do that final step and so have a series of natural disorders building up in their environment.

I come into homes and see piles of laundry both clean and dirty. Those piles are there because tasks were not completed. Dirty clothes are washed, dried, and maybe even folded but the final step of putting the clothes away is not done in a timely manner and so a bit of clutter begins to accumulate. Or a person has a closet with clean clothes and they dress for the day. The clothes get dirty. They may make it into a hamper at the end of the day but then the dirty clothes pile up and cause clutter.

I love to cook and prepare meals from scratch. I am good about getting out the materials and prepping the food and cooking it. What I am not so good at is immediately cleaning up from my cooking mess. I will do it (if my husband doesn’t do it first), but not immediately. So for a while there is clutter in my kitchen.

The same holds true for paper tasks. You pull out your bills or a bank statement or a project you are developing. You complete the task or at least complete a part of it but then you push the paper aside and leave it out on your work area. Now your desk is cluttered and it is harder to do the next task.

I put the challenge out to you. Look around your home and see some hot spots where clutter is building up. Could this clutter be there just because you did not complete a task? The trick to controlling this clutter is to complete each task before beginning another one.

Jonda S. Beattie

Professional Organizer

Organizing Projects for the Summer

Summer is here, and it is hot outside. Our energy level is lower, and we would love to just relax with a book and a cold drink. It is a difficult time to get excited over big organizing projects. Still, we don’t want our home to backslide.

Summer is a wonderful time to work on a few hot spots instead of big projects. Walk through your home and note a few things that could use some work. Maybe the towels in the linen closet are all askew. That cutlery drawer in the kitchen is a mess. You know some of your cosmetics need to be tossed. You’re pretty much keeping up with bills, but filling has fallen behind. Make a list of some of these small projects that could be either knocked off or improved in an hour or less.

Choose one day a week – say “Let’s get started Monday!” or “Let’s wind it down Friday!” and schedule an hour to do one of these projects on your list. It is amazing how good it will make you feel that you have accomplished this small project and how much fun it will be to reward yourself with that cold drink and a delightful book.

Happy summer!

Jonda S. Beattie

Professional Organizer

Using a Team Approach to Decluttering

Every now and then I have a project that makes sense to use a team. I love this model and wish it came up more often. Some jobs I am the team leader and some jobs I am working under another leader. I enjoy both scenarios.

When does the team model make the best sense for a client?

  • A huge project that needs to happen quickly. Ex. An estate trying to empty a cluttered house or a family moving with short notice and needs to downsize.
  • A person overwhelmed working on a project and now just wants it done. Ex. Several moves later there are still boxes hanging around from the first move.
  • A house renovation where the house needs emptying and then items brought back form storage and put away.
  • A hoarding situation where the client is now ready to clear out items from the home.
At first the team model may seem expensive to the client but when they realize how many people will work for many hours and they see how quickly real change happens, they are delighted. A team of three or four experts can tear though a project much faster than one organizer.
When does this model not make sense?
  • The client cannot make decisions easily and team members must wait around for the client’s responses.
  • The client is not pushed for time and would rather spread out the work ant the cost and learn by working together.
  • The client is nervous having people in her home working when she cannot see them all.
  • The client is not clear with her vision and expectations.
As professional organizers we want what is best for our clients and team work is just one more way that we can serve.

Jonda S. Beattie

Professional Organizer

Organizing the Master Bedroom Zone

I love to organize and declutter my master bedroom in the spring. It’s finally gotten warm enough to put away most heavy winter clothes. It is also a time when I like to clean the windows and let the sun pour in.

Anytime I work in a zone, I start with a vision. Because I share this room with my husband, it needs to be a shared vision. We want this room to have a calming and soothing feel and be a place that sparks joy and happiness. We like soft light but enough for reading. My husband meditates here so the room should have an uncluttered peaceful feel.

I allow one month to work on this zone and divide the area into four sections. The easiest way to do this is to assign one wall to each week. We look at our calendars and schedule time to do this project. Rob has his hanging clothing items in his office that is across the hall, so he will only have to schedule time to work on his dresser and end table.

  • Week One: I work on my closet. I evaluate all the clothes, shoes, handbags, and accessories to see what needs to go, what needs some care, and what is kept. I use the backward hanger trick (every time I clear out the closet, I hang up all my clothes with the hanger facing the wrong way. The first time I wear an item, I turn the hanger back around to its normal position). Any clothes that still have the hanger facing the wrong way, get a long hard look. Why have I not worn it? It may be a special occasion outfit and that occasion did not occur – so I keep it. I may have similar clothing that I prefer to wear – so I get rid of it. It may make me feel uncomfortable – low neckline, too short, a bit too tight, makes me feel old – so I get rid of it.
  • Week Two: I work on the wall with my dresser and Rob works on his dresser that is on the closet wall. We take every thing out and toss out anything that is damaged and put into a donation box anything that no longer fits or that we no longer enjoy wearing. I take out my heavy sweaters and tops and put them in a container that is in the closet. While working on this wall, I clean the dressers and any accessories that are on that wall.
  • Week Three: I work on a wall that only has a window. I also do the window that is on the bed side wall. I clean the blinds, the frames, and the inside of the windows.
  • Week Four: I work on the bed wall. We clear our end tables. Over the year a lot of reading material has accumulated. We pull out all items we are not currently reading and empty and clean out the drawers. During this week I also clean the bed and all bed linens. The duvet is cleaned and stored away for the warm months. Any accessories that are on the end tables and wall are also cleaned. 
As a reward for completing this zone, I will allow myself a shopping trip to purchase a few items that will replace some of the tossed ones. Then I will put out fresh flowers and step back and admire the space. I feel we will sleep better in the clear, clean bedroom.




Jonda S. Beattie

Professional Organizer

Organizing Your Storage Unit

Why do people (one in 11 American households) rent storage units? According to Wikipedia, industry experts often refer to the 4Ds of life (death, divorce, downsizing, and dislocation). Also, some homes do not have a basement or attic so a storage unit holds what homes with those attics and basements store there.

If you are one of those one in 11 American households that rent a storage unit, you will want to keep it organized and decluttered. Treat this unit like another zone in your house.

When organizing follow these steps:

  • Determine the purpose of the unit. Is it mainly to store seasonal decorations and party supplies? Is it storing items while your home is being renovated? Are you holding grandma’s items there until you can decide on what to do with them?
  • Have an inventory of what is in the unit. 
  • Label all boxes and if possible use clear bins.
  • Zone out the unit so like items are stored together. If you are using the unit for holiday decorations, have all Halloween in one zone and all Christmas in a different zone.
  • Use shelving so boxes are not stacked on top of each other. Boxes will crush if stacked too high. If you want something from a stack of boxes the odds are it will not be in the top box.
  • Have pathways so that you can safely get to each zone in your unit. If shelving is packed close together, have rolling casters on the bottom of the shelving units so you can move one out into the hallway temporarily to get to what you need.
  • At least annually reassess the purpose of the unit and remove all items that are no longer needed or loved.
Do not use storage units just to keep things out of your house. If you are paying every month for storage, make certain that you know the reason why it is important to you. Then honor the items in the storage by keeping them organized.





Jonda S. Beattie

Professional Organizer

Organizing Your Guest Bedroom or Bonus Room

Most guest bedrooms rarely see a guest but when company comes, it’s great to have a space available for them to sleep. But, it’s rare to have space for a room that only has the function of sleeping guests.

When I look at my guest bedroom and focus on the functions of this space, I note that there are many. The room has a closet used for offsite office storage and some personal pictures. There us a dresser that holds off season clothing, gifts, holiday cards, and some memorabilia. There is also a cat condo (and who am I kidding, also the bed) that is used by my cat to sleep in the sun.

But when overnight guests arrive, this is their room. I want the area to be open and inviting to my guests. I want all my items out of sight but easily accessible.

I maximize my closet by using elfa shelving, but once a year I rearrange and purge items I feel I no longer need. I look through all my pictures and usually toss a few that are near duplicates or do not really speak to me anymore. I feel if I want to keep my memorabilia, I ought to honor it and look at it at least once a year. By purging and reorganizing, I allow space for items I have stacked on the bed that have been purged from my office zone last month.

My dresser also has zones within the drawers. I look at the clothing stored there and toss what I no longer think is necessary or I no longer love. I organize gifts and cards I have stashed in one drawer and look over any stored memorabilia. I set aside some empty space for a guest to use.

By the end of the month, I have this guest bedroom matching my vision for the upcoming year. I celebrate by putting fresh flowers on the dresser.

For help in setting up your zones, sign up for my Zone Plan Coaching Teleclass (Jonda@timespaceorg.com) or purchase my workbook – From Vision to Victory: A Workbook For Finding a Simple Path to an Organized Home (available on my website www.timespaceorg.com)

Jonda S. Beattie

Professional Organizer

Setting up a Gift Zone

Quite a few times I have worked with a client organizing an area and we will come across a gift they had purchased and never sent. I’m all for buying gifts ahead of time. Sometimes you are out shopping and you see just the perfect gift for your brother but his birthday is past and it’s a long time until the holidays. Go ahead and buy the gift but then what do you do with it when you get home?

I recommend designating one or two places in your home to stash these gifts. If you have children you may need to get a bit creative to hide their gifts. I like to tag the items with the name of the person I had in mind when I made the purchase. I tend not to buy large items so I use a drawer in my guest bedroom for my gift zone. I have seen clients use a shelf in their basement, an under the bed storage container, or an area in a closet. These spaces do not have to have super easy access because you will not go there often. However, they should be easy enough to get to that you are not tempted to just lay the gift down “just for now”.

Another advantage of having a gift storage area is that when you do buy something and go to put it away, you can see what you already have. This keeps you from buying five things for your sister because she is so easy to shop for and only one item for your brother (another book?). It also keeps you aware if you are overbuying. It is great to have a couple of hostess gifts tucked away so that you can shop that gift zone before heading out to the store.

If you do not already have a zone for gifts, take a walk through your home now and see what place or places might work for you.

Happy shopping!

Jonda S. Beattie

Professional Organizer