Shane & Jessica of Losing a Puzzle Piece

Shane & Jessica of Losing a Puzzle Piece

Daughters, the experience of caring for a loved one often brings with it many life lessons and discoveries. Find out what sisters and bloggers, Jessica and Shane learned about the therapeutic value of organization while they walked beside their oldest sister on her journey with terminal cancer. 

“Our caregiving experience led us to become obsessed with home organization. Nothing gives us more joy than reading an article about reconfiguring a tiny closet, reorganizing a drawer of miscellaneous kitchen tools, or perusing the aisles of the Container Store. We aren’t quite at the level of practicing “the Japanese art of decluttering and organizing” described in The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo – she does encourage you to treat your socks with respect and greet your house, afterall, and we’re just not there yet – but we do like many of her ideas. She makes a convincing case that you should discard what you don’t use, keeping only items that spark joy, and explains how your living space affects your body and mind.

We are two sisters who helped to care for our oldest sister, Colleen, with terminal cancer. Our caregiving experience was an acute one, lasting only about 4 months, but the intensity, sadness, and anxiety that filled those months was unreal. The desire for order in our homes peaked when Colleen was dying. Our lives were filled with chaos as we traveled every few weeks to be with her and, in between trips, attempted to keep tabs on the situation from afar. We lessened our stress by organizing every closet in our houses. It became our therapy.


The junk has to go!

Our sister, Colleen, inspired us throughout our lives as she excelled in almost anything she did. She was a nurturing older sister and overly protective of her sisters. She was fiercely competitive and a successful surgeon and athlete. She was also a loving mother, amazing baker and cook, and talented home decorator. While caring for her, we were amazed at her perfectly combed house, making our lives easy as caregivers, with little clutter to interfere with our duties. We continue to be inspired by her level of organization in her closets, kitchen, and filing system. Even her basement storage bins were labeled and sorted. Every item seemed to have a home. We don’t know how she did it all, but we made note of her organizing skills and tried to replicate them in our own homes.

We personally know that caregivers have many things to keep track of, while stress and worry are constant battles, but we felt that clutter could worsen the problems. Life was out of our control, but we might contain the disarray by having tidy kitchen drawers. Even amidst the chaos and sadness, we spent a day or two organizing our closets, sorting outgrown baby clothes into bins and give away piles, thinning out the kitchen tools and barware collected over the years. The work paid off when every piece of clothing was in place. It was so satisfying to be able to actually see only the items needed in drawers and cabinets. Colleen also wanted to maintain her customary sense of order while she was becoming more ill, and we gladly pitched in to help. It seemed like the only area where we could actually do something useful. We helped her sort old books and go through clothes, and take unwanted items to disposal and donation sites.

Thin out your clothes, kitchen ware, and other items before you organize. Simplify.

organized book shelvesLooking back, we should have prioritized napping over cleaning up. We are not trying to add to a caregiver’s to-do list. By all means, when you are busy caregiving, let the little things go like having a perfectly organized shoe rack. But, if you are like us and sleeping or napping is a challenge, then if you can’t sleep, you may as well burn off some nervous energy by organizing that drawer of junk which is driving you crazy.

Nap first, then organize.

Turns out that our mania to keep things organized may be a coping skill. Research shows that clutter and disorganization raise stress levels as well as lead to depression and fatigue. We definitely did not need more stress in our lives as caregivers and maybe that is what drove us to be neat freaks. Or, maybe it was a distraction technique and an attempt to assert some control in our lives. We do believe that although cleaning up and organizing may take some work at first, the reduction in stress and the feeling of happiness is worth it. This article in Shape magazine discusses how organizing can help you physically and mentally.

Not only do we love the victory of an organized toy area, it is entertaining to read stories and look at pretty pictures of a well designed closet. We like learning tips from organization experts, such as those featured in this Real Simple article: “Organized people say no to spillover.” Brilliant! It actually makes us feel closer to our sister to have a picture perfect row of bins in our bathroom cabinet. She would be proud.

Learn from the best organizers.

Have other caregivers experienced the same joy and release of organization? Should we add “organize your home” to a list of coping skills for caregivers? Or does it just add to caregivers’ already long To Do lists?”


Jessica and Shane are from a close-knit family of five girls. The sisters view themselves as puzzle pieces that “fit perfectly together and complete the picture”. To learn more about Jessica and Shane and the beautiful work they’re doing to support people facing grief and caregiving, visit You can also follow them on Facebook and Twitter. Thanks, Girls!

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