Organize for Stress Reduction

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Stress reduction is important for self care; one way to reduce stress is to organize.

piles of paper can cause stress
Piles of paper can contribute to stress

Stress reduction may be easier said that done for families who have a child with a disability. We’re constantly juggling present needs while planning for the future. Don’t forget the times we lament over the past, asking ourselves if we made the right decisions.

Personally, I don’t look at stress as an all-or-nothing; we can’t eliminate all stress. We can take steps to reduce it, while learning how to cope with the stress we can’t let go of. One of those steps has to do with clutter, and specifically piles (and piles and piles) of paperwork.

Papers, Papers and More Papers

Families who have special needs also have a disproportionality large amount of paperwork. Keeping track of evaluations, medical appointments, therapy outcomes and IEP goals can create piles of clutter. If you’re like me, it can be tempting to toss paperwork into a basket, promising yourself you’ll get to it “later.” Before you know it, baskets are overflowing, and you can’t find anything when you really need it.

Studies show that just looking at clutter can increase stress and anxiety, increasing cortisol levels in women. That may be, in part, because clutter signals your brain that there is an endless pile of work to do, causing your body to react.

Conversely, seeing those piles of paper can be paralyzing – you just have no idea what to do next. In fact, according to the Princeton Institute of Neuroscience, visual clutter competes with our brain’s ability to pay attention and tires out our cognitive functions over time.

Having a system for organizing important paperwork is a must for special needs families. Knowing where to find what you need –when you need it — allows you to move about your day efficiently, attending to other important tasks.

To organize the paper, I use a simple binder system. Nothing fancy. Using binder dividers, I have labeled the following sections:

Contact information

This section includes a comprehensive listing of phone, fax and email contacts for doctors, therapists, specialists, service coordinators, etc.

Therapy schedule

Weekly schedule for in-school (or outside of school) services like PT, OT and speech therapies. (Get a weekly services calendar template here)


This section is for the IEP, assessments, and end-of-year reports. (Get a one-page IEP summary template here)

Medical History

Initial medical evaluations and test results.


Psychological evaluations, PT, OT, Speech therapy — all of the paperwork that’s completed routinely. Always keep the most recent on top, so it’s easily accessible.

Medical Insurance

This section is for any medical insurance-related paperwork, including Medicaid coverage paperwork to support annual recertification.

Make it yours

Feel free to customize to your family’s needs. You’ll tame the clutter, release some stress and save time that would otherwise be spent searching for paperwork.

Free downloads
IEP summary template
Weekly Services Calendar
20 (realistic) ideas for Self-Care

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