Are You Organized for the Unexpected?

posted by Andrea | 02/15/2018

NOTE: this is actually a picture of my house when we moved bedrooms around this summer! 

Working as a professional organizer for many years, I’m sure you can imagine some of the sights I’ve seen!

While I’d never disclose personal information, I can definitely tell you that I have seen my share of extreme hoarders, shopping addicts, perfectionists whose homes are in dissary because they can’t do anything perfectly enough, and busy families who continually put things off until “later” — without any knowledge or plan as to when “later” might be!

I was always surprised by how the majority of my clients lived in complete chaos, under piles and piles of clutter, with no rhyme or reason to anything. Even the homes that looked nice and neat from the front door often had so much stuff shoved in drawers, closets, and cabinets to keep it out of sight that it took forever to find anything they needed.

I’m not saying this to judge or belittle these people, I’m saying this because it’s the truth — I’ve seen it over and over again with my own 2 eyes, and I doubt my past organizing clients are the only disorganized people in the world!

Clutter and disorganization are huge issues in today’s society… and while it might seem that the clutter inside YOUR OWN home is YOUR OWN business (nothing for others to be concerned with) I’m sharing today’s post because there are too many situations when the clutter in YOUR home becomes someone else’s problem.

As you’ll read below, there are many unfortunate (and often unexpected) situations when someone might need to step in and run your home, pay your bills, care for your children, or manage your life… and if your home is completely disorganized, there’s a good chance the people who are trying to help won’t be able to.

photo source

Are YOU Organized for the Unexpected?

The following is an email from a reader that I originally shared in February of 2013, but want to share again.

A few years ago, the father of a dear friend died unexpectedly. In attempts to bless this family, several of us decided to clean my friend’s home while she was out of town for the visitation, funeral, etc. We opened the front door and it was like a tornado, and not just a tornado that had happened in the 24 hours since her dad died and they left town, but really just a way of life.

I literally picked up 27 loads of laundry off the floor between the upstairs and downstairs, there was no way of knowing what was clean and what was dirty, so I washed, dried and folded all of it. Someone else cleaned the bathrooms, two others did the kids’ rooms, some did the kitchen, etc. We were there for 3 hours with 10 people and it was just starting to look “picked up”, but not spotless or deep cleaned (I took all the laundry home and brought it back later.)

More recently, my daughter and I babysat for a family that has a newborn in critical condition and 4 other children at home. We took them a meal, but we had to move things on the counter and in the refrigerator just to fit anything in. The house was a disaster — and again, not a disaster that just happened, but a permanent disaster. 

They had a filing cabinet with every drawer labeled “STUFF” and the mailman had to bring the mail to the door because their box was stuffed full and no one could find the key to open their box. There was a Social Security card in the mail for their brand new baby, which they were waiting for to sign up for Medicaid!

Why am I saying all this?

Because you never know when your life is going to change and someone else will have to take over paying bills, getting your mail, watching your kids, doing your laundry, making your meals, or living in your house.

These two experiences have made me more aware of how being a disorganized doesn’t just affect you,  but so many others as well — especially when no one can figure out your system or find ANYTHING in your house.

I just think that sometimes we live self-absorbed lives and think, “Who cares, it is my mess.” But in reality, as I have personally seen several times, it DOES affect others and is something to consider in the way we keep our homes.

Something to think about for sure!


Based on a recent conversation with friends AND the fact that many of us are getting organized for the New Year and compiling our paperwork and other important documents for tax season, I thought it was important to re-share this email from 5 years ago. 

The “older” I get and the more children I have, the more crucial it feels for me to be organized “just in case” something unexpected happens to me, to Dave, to our children, to our house, etc. etc.

No, I do not live in fear of the “what-ifs”, I don’t constantly expect something bad to happen to me or to my family, and I don’t let worry or anxiety get the best of me. But I DO try to be prepared, just in case something unexpected does happen. 

The intent of this post is NOT to scare you or make you feel unprepared, but rather to encourage you to honestly evaluate your life and your home… and consider what you could do NOW to help alleviate some of the stress that too often accompanies unexpected events in life.

Personally, I feel so much better knowing it would be relatively easy for someone else to come in and run our home and finances if the situation ever arose. I also feel confident that since we keep our home relatively organized, anyone would be able to find almost anything they needed to keep things running “as normal” (Nora could probably even do much of it herself!)


The most important thing for me has always been to have our important papers organized and in one place — financial information, Will, Trust, and Power of Attorney information, usernames and passwords, important contact people and numbers, medical information for the kids, etc. etc.

Several years ago, about a year after Nora was born, I shared how we keep all our important paperwork organized “just in case” something would ever happen to Dave or to me. This single binder of information has given me so much peace of mind, and it has actually come in handy several times already.

If you want to do just ONE thing, I would highly recommend creating your own binder of important information (you can even use my free template to get started!)

Of course, my main motivation to keep my home neat and orderly is simply my own satisfaction and comfort. However, there are definitely times when I’m in the middle of a mini organizing project and I think to myself, “would this make sense if someone else had to run my home?”

Like I mentioned above, I do NOT live my life wondering and worrying about all the bad things that could potentially happen, but it is comforting to know I’m as prepared as I can be IF something unexpected were to happen.

And in the event that nothing unexpected ever happens to us, we will simply enjoy living a more organized life in a more organized home! 


Filed under: OrganizingMental & Emotional

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  1. Peg Veregge


    With all my thanks to you, Andrea, I feel much better about compiling all this important information. Yes, it took a long while to thoroughly catch everything. Yet, in the process I learned that we have insurance on items we no longer have, our passports have expired, and husband’s business credit card is connected with airline rewards program, with TWO redeemable tickets available! Your blog has inspired many many other good ideas for my busy family. You’re simply awesome! Big thanks. Peg


    Andrea Reply:

    This is SO great to hear Peg! I’m thrilled my posts and information have been helpful for you!
    and yay for free airline tickets!!


  2. Laura


    I absolutely love your post. Such great advice in your posts! We inmigrated to the US 15 years ago and I am the one dealing with our finances. I also travel for work (not so often as before) and I had a spreadsheet with the websites users and passwords, but was also worried that if my husband ever needed it he may not find it, and he has no clue which banks we deal with or where our investments are. I have a very organized filing cabinet, but he would have to go through all the files. After reading your post I bought the binder that you use, and with your printables I organized all relevant information and documents, not only for my husband if he ever need them but also for the executor of our state. I bought a big enough fire safe and put it there. The only remaining thing is to tell the person we named as executor in case we both die abiut this. Next thing on my list is to do an inventory of our home contents for insurance purposes in case we need it in the future. I read that there are apps for this where you can store photos. Have you done this?


    Andrea Reply:

    Thanks Laura! Sounds like you really have things organized — good for you!

    I personally don’t use an app to log inventory (I looked into this a while back, but they all charged a monthly fee). That said, I will post this as a reader question on my FB Page today and send you the link once I do!


  3. Mary in Maryland


    Unforeseen circumstances…I had a friend who’s house was a disaster–piles everywhere about thigh deep, dirty laundry on most surfaces, months’ worth of dirty dishes and left-overs spread around the house, and two small dogs who hadn’t noticed much difference between indoors and outdoors. And a couple of tweens. Not a problem, we just met elsewhere.

    Then she was diagnosed with stage 4 breast cancer and wanted me to spring her from the hospital and arrange home hospice. I got a group of friends together and took care of food waste and dog poop. We trashed outdated newspapers and stashed one bedroom with clothes from the floor. (I got friend’s permission for handling whole classes of clutter.) But I still had to do a lot of persuading of the hospice nurse who came to evaluate the house. My thesis was that my friend had been living in the house for twenty years and was probably immune to whatever lurked there. And this was where my she wanted to be.


  4. Linda


    Such a great article, Andrea. My husband and I both had major health issues in the past three years that required my sister and/or mother to come stay at our house and dog sit. I considered it a major victory that the second time my sister stayed, the only thing she couldn’t find was our vegetable steamer. That was after I did some major purging and organizing following my husband’s first health scare. When someone is lying in a hospital bed is not the time to start discussing health care decisions or funeral arrangements. So, as soon as he was well we finally went to a lawyer and got all the appropriate documents done. I then set up a binder that included everything and showed my sister where it is stored. She asked me to set one up for her and her husband and for our parents, which I did. But as I set up our binder I told my husband I included a card in a business card holder for all the appropriate lawyers, financial planner, banker, etc. and included cards that said we do not have a safety deposit box or life insurance (don’t worry…its for good reason, not an oversight). My husband then told me he has two life insurance policies. REALLY? We’ve been married 28 years and I didn’t know about them because they were through employers from before we were married. Now those insurance policies are in the binder, too. The process of setting up the binder forced me to get everything together in one spot and I’m thrilled to have it done and safely stored away. It gives us both a lot of peace of mind.


    Andrea Reply:

    wow — I’m glad you have your binder ready now. Hopefully you (or your family) won’t need to use it for a long time!


  5. Kelly S


    Such good points. Last year I put together a binder using your template for important papers – thank you!! I was recently diagnosed with breast cancer at age 31 with 4 young kids – all 5 and under. Though I am hopeful for my prognosis, it has motivated me to get things in order, especially since we have moved tons in the past few years so are not very stable.

    Two additional things I want to mention to add to your list for being organized:
    1) complete an advance health care directive. This is a simple document (you can likely find one online, maybe look up “five wishes” for one). It allows you to establish who can make health care decisions on your behalf, like if you are in a coma. I think this is especially important for deciding who would make decisions if your spouse isn’t available, or you aren’t married. I imagine a spouse would be the natural choice for most people, but the “plan b” option is important – would it be your parent? Sibling? Friend? This document allows you to make this choice well in advance. You also can indicate your wishes for being kept on life support, donating organs, etc.
    2) jot down funeral wishes. Do you have any favorite songs or Scripture passages/quotes? Want to be buried or cremated? I’ve been a part of planning a few funerals the past year and so wish people would have done this. Even in the case of a prolonged death (like my mom’s from cancer), by the time we knew she was likely going to die, she was too emotionally freaked out to discuss her funeral desires. It would have been much easier to do this before she ever had a diagnosis.


    Andrea Reply:

    oh my word Kelly — I’m so sorry to hear about this. That’s basically like me (32) with 4 young kids. I can’t even imagine going through all of this at this point in my life.
    Thanks so much for sharing your tips and ideas — Dave and I DO have the appropriate medical forms ready to go “just in case” but we have nothing planned for our funerals.

    Blessings to you and your family as you move through this difficult season of life.


  6. JJ


    The posibility of an emergency is what normally motivates me to keep things cleaned up!!! Teaching your kids at young ages to have a place for things has helped us! We are still in that process, since they are young. I even cut out and laminated scrapbook paper and used Scotch Removable Mounting Putty for “parking spots” for their water bottles. It was crazy always trying to track them down for meals. Having less makes it easier to keep on top of things. Especially in the winter we purge A LOT!