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When you’re in grief, whether because of serious bodily injury or illness, the death of a loved one or divorce, it’s nearly impossible to focus and think clearly.

Elizabeth Kubler Ross talked about the five stages of grief, and said that they happen in basically a specific sequence of Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression and Acceptance. But in my experience, those thoughts and emotions tumble around together like tennis shoes in a clothes dryer; you can experience all five, plus several more, in the course of an hour cycle.

Having your affairs in order makes surviving trauma that much more comfortable. When you can barely think straight enough to add 2 plus 2, having to request bank statements, find car titles or deal with car trouble or broken items in the home can feel absolutely overwhelming and insurmountable. Being on a budget and unable to hire help with these tasks adds to the feelings of depression and helplessness, unfortunately.

The time to get prepared is BEFORE trauma happens. And guess what — if you are one of the lucky ones that does not experience a traumatic event in your life, you will still slide along like butter on a hot skillet of organized bliss.

Number 1: Create a file system. Pull together every grubby little piece of paper you find and categorize it (receipts, statements, medical records, personal letters and cards, etc). I don’t care if you get a slick file cabinet, a plastic file box or a cardboard banker’s box, start filing. Label clearly, because when your brain is fried you are not going to want to decipher chicken scrawl.

Number 2: Start repairing or replacing things around the household that are broken or not working. If you are shaking with sobs and need a simple hot shower but the shower head sends out only a miserable dribble of spray, you will spiral into Anger and Depression faster than you can say Kubler Ross.

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Number 3: Deposit into your Friends and Family accounts. I’m not talking about money. If you haven’t been particularly thoughtful of your friends, are alienated from your family or are rude to wait staff and bank tellers, guess what? When you are red-faced from crying and need a shoulder, a meal, a ride, encouragement, advice or other support, you may not have it. People will not have much sympathy for you if you’ve been absent or unpleasant.

Number 4: Learn to ask for help before you need it. I heard once that people can’t love you if you don’t need them. It’s a lesson I’ve learned the hard way. You can combine this with Number 3 — help someone else and ask them to help you with something. We all have our gifts, mine are organizing and writing. I need help with gardening and home repairs. I can help a friend with a resume or layout of an apartment and she can help me with an irrigation system and installing a new shower head.

Number 5: Create a list of daily, weekly, monthly and annual home chores, personal upkeep, auto issues and children’s schedule. When you are in trauma or grieving, let your brain take the day off and look at a pre-made list to direct you on what to do. Then it just becomes a matter of putting one foot in front of the other and trudging along to make sure your life doesn’t fall apart any more than it has to.

Number 6: Get Healthy Now. Everything is easier if you can breathe easily, have wonderful strength and mobility, and have ditched unhealthful habits. Whatever your current level of health and fitness, I encourage you to up your game.

With the constant threat of wildfires, the state of the world and just the stress of our fast-paced culture in general, we all have to become survivors. We need each other more than ever. Take care of your one precious body. Love your friends and family. Honor yourself with a well-run home. And file your papers!

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Angela Hoxsey is a professional organizer living in the Napa Valley. For more about her services, go to houseinorder.com or call 707-738-4346.

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