Learn how to handle the clutter, manage the paperwork, and reduce the stress that comes with being a caregiver to a loved one with a terminal illness.

Finders Keepers, Losers Weepers:

Files or Piles?

By Marcia L. Howland, Ph. D.

Published January 19th, 2017

It is amazing how fast paper and other clutter grows while you are a caregiver. Are you a “filer,” “recycler,” a “thrower,” “seller,” “donator” or a “piler?” I have just dealt with fifteen years of a senior newspaper collection. I kept what I wanted for immediate reference, gave away some and recycled the rest. Neither being a hoarder, nor providing kindling for an accidental fire, I had to let it go.

The same goes for anything in a home — plastic butter dishes, furniture, antiques, books, mail, cookware, tools, lawn equipment and chemicals, outdated or unused medications or clothing. Sometimes we even wait too long to clear off the 1,914 e-mails. You name it; I don’t want to claim it. Don’t try to catch up; start where you are and move ahead. Reach back as you have time, doing one small area at a time.

"Keep life as simple as possible. As a caregiver, your routine is substantially changed for the duration." Tweet

My mother taught me that there is a place for each thing. When the space got full, something had to go. Of course, in the 1930s and 1940s, we made use of feed sacks for homemade clothing, cans for storing things, tools for fixing farm machinery, and buckets for milking the cows and small closets in the two-story farmhouse. We had secondary use for most things. Mother used a “burn barrel.” Non-usable disposables went in there—and we had less clutterbug stuff to collect in those days.

What can we do about massive collections of stuff that we keep moving to make room for caregiving? Keep a small business file in one spot to maintain records of finances: medical, taxes, income and expenses. A medical notebook is helpful in keeping a chronological system of medical appointments and treatments as well as domestic and medical staff coming to the home to provide care. Keep copies of legal documents in an accessible and safe place. Keeping current medical, medication, and legal information in a packet near the front door cuts stress in case of emergency.

Your control system is a written schedule for morning, afternoon and night. This schedule keeps family and substitute caregivers on a regular routine. Rearrange, remove or change the patient room to accommodate equipment and supplies and to keep them immediately accessible to do necessary tasks. Keep what is needed easily accessible.

Maintain a respite room for family, visitors and helping staff to sit. Keep it clean, uncluttered, quiet and aesthetically inviting with furniture, pictures, plants and music. Refuse to let dishes pile up; clean and put them away. Prepare simple meals that include your nutritional needs of those of your loved one. Order a meal to be delivered. Ask a friend for a simple meal or to help in the kitchen.

Keep life as simple as possible. As a caregiver, your routine is substantially changed for the duration. Just don’t let stuff stack up because you can’t outrun it. Once you’re behind, you’re always behind which spells s-t-r-e-s-s. When stuff is not being used, decide whether to throw it, recycle it, donate it, sell it or trade it. For heaven’s sake, don’t put it in the garage or the attic!

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About Marcia Howland

Dr. Marcia Howland, Ph. D. shares how caregivers can reduce the stress induced by the amount of paperwork family caregivers must manage when caring for a terminally-ill loved one.

Marcia Howland, Ph. D.

Spiritual Outreach Counselor at Crossroads Hospice Charitable Foundation

Dr. Howland has been an active board certified clinical hospice chaplain for 15 years and is a renowned public speaker. She has dedicated her career to being an educator and resource person for spiritual care, caregiver support, end-of-life issues and bereavement. She is a valued member of the writing team at Crossroads Hospice Charitable Foundation.


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