Once upon a time, after many months of grieving a loss, I walked into my kitchen to get something for a headache. I opened the medicine cabinet, only to watch in disgust as boxes and bottles came spilling out everywhere. As I picked up the offending items, I started noticing how many of the medicines had expired. Additionally, I noticed three almost completely unused boxes of Band-Aids and children’s Tylenol gumming up the bottom of the cabinet. In my fog of depression I had let things slide, and not just in the kitchen.

Something inside me clicked. Anger? Frustration? I started going to town on that cabinet, and eventually all of the other cluttered spaces I discovered lurking in our home. It’s funny how a messy medicine cabinet was just the nudge I needed to start regaining control over everyday life. Years later, I still feel good when I open that door and can find what I need easily.

The scenario I just described is an example of situational disorganization, and it’s something I encounter regularly in my line of work. I’m a professional organizer. I love taking a fresh, unbiased look at the organizing dilemmas we all find ourselves in from time to time and I love helping clients work through them.

Situational disorganization occurs to most all of us at some point, as it results from the aftermath of major life events (both positive and negative). Anything from a move, to a layoff, to a new baby can throw a wrench into schedules and surroundings. I hadn’t noticed how cluttered my cabinets and closets had become, because my mind was necessarily occupied with just getting through each day. You or your family may have experienced something very similar as you have struggled with cancer and its unpredictability.

So where do I come in and why am I blessed and honored to be writing for you? Well, when is the last time you cleaned out a closet? Or even a drawer? How did it feel? Assuming you really dug in, purged the unnecessary and optimally arranged the things you needed, I’ll bet it was pretty liberating. But how many of you actually get a big kick out of a project like that? I DO, and I get tremendous satisfaction from helping others do the same. I like looking at a disorganized mess, customizing a plan for the owner of said mess, and offering all of the encouragement and accountability needed to finish the job. I also love blogging, writing, and teaching about organizing skills in a variety of settings to help people get their sense of control and order back.

Whether we care to admit it or not, when life gets in the way and wreaks havoc on our lives and homes (and our energy or ability to deal with those things), anxiety begins to take hold. We forget to pay a bill, we miss an appointment, we lose an important item, we buy things we don’t need…this is the physical manifestation of the relationship between disorganization and stress. We often dismiss the clutter that creeps in because it’s very hard to admit we’ve gotten so sidetracked. And really, sometimes we have excellent reasons for being sidetracked (certainly a cancer diagnosis qualifies).

Like you, I’ve been touched by life’s joys and setbacks, triumphs and tragedies, as we all are if we take some chances and live life to the fullest. Among the lower points I include cancer affecting the lives of close family members and friends, and I’ve found myself in the role of supporter and cheerleader – but I’ve often wanted to be able to do something more. I have celebrated healing, mourned loss, and in the process taken a special interest in the effect that these highs and lows have on our personal surroundings. I’ve realized that while we don’t always have control over what life throws at us, we can have some control over our “stuff”, and that almost always equates to breathing a little easier.

I love to see people feel happier and optimistic about both their inner and outer lives, and writing each month is just one way for me to give back to courageous women like each of you. In future issues, my goal is to give you solid and proven ways to combat the clutter, get control of your time, save some money and ultimately help you just feel better.

I’ll offer tips and encouragement as well as an approachable organizing “challenge” for the month. And even if you’re already a pretty together-organized person, hopefully I’ll be able to share some new techniques and concepts you might not have thought about before. While I definitely have ideas in mind for future articles, I also want to hear from YOU – just email me your questions or suggestions at sara@skillsetorganizing.com.

So let’s get started, shall we? This month’s Approachable Challenge: Check the bottles in your medicine cabinet and throw out or flush the expired stuff (depending upon package disposal instructions).

If your community has a prescription drug take-back program take advantage of it. If not, take the medicine out of the original container and mix remaining pills or liquids with something unappealing in the garbage (coffee grounds, cat litter) so that children or pets won’t be tempted to mess with them. Plastic bottles can be recycled, but take labels with any identifying information off first.

Now enjoy your roomier cabinet!