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Expert Name: Yolanda Baker
Expert Title: Accountant
Company Name:  GrayStar Investments, LLC
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Short Bio: Ms. Baker is an Accountant helping special needs families and those with large medical bills with their healthcare expenses. She is the author of "The Smart Family's Guide to Cutting Healthcare Costs", a guidebook on how she was able to get back tens of thousands of dollars back from her son's autism therapy costs. She offers free webinars, seminars, and newsletters detailing her unique method of medical savings.
Organizing Tips for the Busy Special Needs Parent

I don't like books about organizing. There are two sentences I hate to read in those books:

“You'll need a day for this portion of organization.”

“Take an hour to get your space ready.”

I'll need a day to organize? An hour to prepare a space? Who has time to read an entire book on organizing? As a special needs parent, it's difficult to organize anything in my house, especially if the kids are home. So what to do?

The recommendations below come from personal experience and the experiences of other special needs families. However, these tips can be used by anyone.

Each step should be done in 15 minute increments.

From my experience, this is the minimum amount of time for each step. If you have more time than that, great! Make sure to note down on your calendar what you are doing this day. If you finish that task, check it off and pat yourself on the back. It's incredible what you can accomplish in such a small amount of time.

Turn off all distractions, including kids. :)

If at all possible, do this when the kids are in school or in daycare. If your kids stay at home, try during their naps or have them engrossed in a project they love.

Eliminate “no” words when in the process of organizing.

Avoid labels such as “tackle”, “purge”, “toss”, or “trash” while organizing. Use “yes” words: “resolve”, “clean”, “organize”, “complete”, “recycle”, or “donate” to keep your spirits up.

Draw a “before and after” chart for each room.

No need to be a Picasso here. You may want to take a picture, print it, and write notes about your ideas on how your future organized room will look like. However, do not be disappointed if your “after” is not what you wanted. You'll have future 15-minute opportunities to work on it.

Create organizing boxes.

Have three boxes ready: “paperwork”, “items”, and “donate”. Have additional boxes in case there are a lot of items that need organizing. Secure the location of the boxes.

Begin bite-sized “power sweeps”.

Place all the paperwork in one box. Don't separate the paperwork yet.

Create four additional paperwork boxes.

Have the first box for unopened envelopes, a second for loose letters, a third for books and pamphlets, and the last one for stationery and office supplies.

You're probably thinking, “Why don't I just skip the above step and start with four paperwork boxes? Because you may have boxes and paperwork scattered about, and time's up. Be patient.

Purchase an in-box with four shelves. Have a grocery-sized paper bag and plastic bag ready.

Place the in-box, paper bag and plastic bag next to the “unopened envelope” box.

Open as many envelopes as you can.

Place urgent letters at the topmost section. Place not so urgent paperwork in the 2nd to the top section, and label it “Next Week” (Why? It's better than “next month”). “Research soon” (or similar wording) on the 3rd level, and “File” at the lowest level. Recycled paper goes in the paper bag. Nonrecyclable items go into the plastic bag.

If you're uncertain where a letter goes, put it in the 2nd section, “Next week”.

Use the “Power of three”.

Create file folders and file dividers for the urgent paperwork first. Have a general outline of what subjects should be in the folders. For example, health can be interpreted so many ways. Health insurance? Alternative health? Do you have a chronic illness that needs its own divider?

Does your topic have sub-topics? Health insurance can have many subtopics: Explanation of Benefits, insurance denial letters, certificates of coverage, medical statements, etc.

This may take more than a 15 minute session, so break the labeling into 15 minute segments, and so on, and so on ….

Continue the bite-sized “power sweeps”.

Once you completed the paperwork, continue with organizing the “items” box. Once that is done, complete the “donations” box.

Think like a Shaker.

The Shakers were an English religious sect that arrived in America before the revolution. They were famous for their unusual “body shaking” dances. They also had interesting beliefs in cleanliness.

“There is no dirt in heaven.” proclaimed the Shaker's founder, Mother Ann Lee. They were very ingenious with methods of organization.

“Shaker pegs” would be found in rows of peg rails throughout the home. The Shakers would hang clothes, hats, household items and chairs upside down on the wall. With the chairs hung that way, the floors could be cleaned quickly and the chair seats would not collect dust.

Think like a Shaker. Where can additional shelves, pegs and hooks be installed in your home? Think about height when installing pegs or hooks; your little ones may try to hang from them.

Leave nothing on the floor. I'm not recommending you hang up your furniture when not in use, but any boxes, books, or other mobile items will collect more dust on the floor versus being placed on a shelf, peg, or in a basket.

If you wish to expand your organizational techniques, there is one book that I had a positive experience with: The Sensory Child Gets Organized, by Carol Dalgliesh. This book is designed for special needs families, but any family would benefit greatly from this book (Note: I am not being paid to recommend it).

Starting with this article may give you the confidence to finish organizing tasks. Perhaps it will give you that boost you need to continue to organize according to your personality, lifestyle and budget. Take your time, and celebrate those 15-minute tasks you complete! Dancing and shaking while cleaning is optional.

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