Family-tested solutions
for Special Needs

Toddler and mother playing together

Family-tested solutions
for Special Needs

Toddler and mother playing together

Effective Tips from Disorganized People (like me)

Many books stacked high together on tableSomewhere on the bumpy road to self-acceptance, I stopped taking advice from super-organized people.  I mean no disrespect to those who alphabetize their spice racks and always put the scissors back in the designated drawer. My husband’s tidy desk is usually the first place I look for office supplies.  That’s why his stapler is clearly marked TED’S STAPLER.

The World of Stuff is Not My Friend

Organized people like my sweet Ted are prone to explain patiently that orderly habits make life easier.  In fact, messier people in their lives are not simply waiting to be shown the light.  One person’s orderly system is another person’s overwhelming chore. We don’t all share the same relationship to the world of stuff.

My Files are Piles

A friend of mine once created a series of color-coded notebooks that recorded every service her daughter received over a period of five years, cross-referenced by category of therapy, provider, date of the visit, and maybe color palette of the waiting room, for all I know.  It hurt my brain just to glance at the neat row of binders lined up on her bookshelf.  I’m the person whose files quickly become piles, the form I need will always be on the bottom, and the phone I was holding a minute ago will vanish from my hand.

The Shortest Path Between Points A and B

For a head like mine, organizing stuff in tidy bits is not the same as cutting through the clutter.  Some of us need very simple, flexible ways to make peace with the overwhelming volume of data required to get services for our children.  My best tips come from the naturally disorganized people who can’t or don’t make time for elaborate systems.  One thing they have in common is the habit of very organized thinking about the shortest path from Point A to Point B.  They ask themselves, “What can I do in the next 24 hours to change the most intolerable situation I face?

“Disorganized” Family-Tested Tips and Resources

This bundle of family-tested tips may help you navigate from overwhelming to simple.  They work for me!

Get a Living Room Laundry Basket

You don’t need a clinical diagnosis of ADD to appreciate the housekeeping shortcuts on ADDitude. “The best organizational tool you can get is a trash can,” writes Bob Seay in his essay “I am Joe’s Keys.” One tried-and-true method recommended on this site: Keep a laundry basket in the corner of each room to collect the mess until you have time to put things away. In my living room, a wicker basket masquerades as a decorative item.

Don’t Lie to Yourself

Shawna Wingert’s blogs on her site Not the Former Things make me want to curl up on her couch and crack open a can of personal affirmation.  A special needs mom of two sons and author of “Everyday Autism,”  she speaks to the heart of blame and shame we feel when overwhelmed by life’s pile of stuff  (Lies I Believe About Being a Special Needs Momma).  A former special ed teacher, Wingert also sells packages of self-guided and guided templates for customizing a child’s learning plan.

Create a Mess-It-Up-Clean-It-Up Binder

Get There Project’s Family Road Map suggests keeping a 3-ring binder with tab dividers for each category of document. That’s ideal but may not work on days when you rush out of a meeting with several new multi-page forms plus three errands to run before school pick-up time.  IRL, I often stash loose papers in the binder and clean it up when I have a chance.

Very Important Documents Alert

Corral any Very Important Documents that you pulled out during the meeting.  I punched three holes in a mailing envelope I stuck in the back of the binder.  With this method, you won’t lose precious items as you rush out to the parking lot and juggle for the car keys. I speak from experience.

Annual Binder Method

Organized or not, I stow this binder away in my (messy) closet at the end of the year.  With no extra work, you have a convenient annual record of treatment.  By the time David was 20, we tried 46 different medication cocktails.  A year-by-year binder was an essential resource.

Got other totally simple ideas for disorganized parents?  Please send, I’d love to share!

Keep it Together,


Wendy Besmann

Wendy Besmann is the Executive Director of Get There Project. Her books include Family Road Map: A Step-By-Step Guide to Navigating Health, Education, and Insurance Systems for Families with Special Needs, Young Adult Road Map: A Step-By-Step Guide to Wellness, Independent Living, and Transition Services for People in Their Teens and Twenties, and Team Up for Your Child, A Step-By-Step Guide to Working Smarter with Doctors, Schools, Insurers, and Agencies. She and her husband Ted have two sons, Elliot and David, who live with special needs. Wendy and Ted split their time between Knoxville, Tennessee and the University of South Carolina campus, where Ted is an engineering professor and Wendy is a "vintage" grad student in Public Health.

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