Conquering the Medical Supply Monster
Do you ever feel like medical supplies are taking over your house? As if every room is simply filled with them? That they are spilling into the living room, kitchen, bathroom, and even your bedroom? That they have become a living, breathing monster?
You are not alone. Medical supplies can take up a tremendous amount of space, even if your child only deals with one medical technology, such as a feeding tube. Not only do you have extra tubes, extensions, pumps, pump bags, backpacks, and syringes, but you also have cases and cases of formula. And of course supply companies only deliver once a month, which means that you may have enough formula to stack up to the ceiling…in several different rooms. And that doesn’t even include diapers. Those of us whose kids use multiple technologies deal with what can only be termed a supply monster, sometimes with hundreds of different items delivered weekly or monthly.
If you are like me, too much clutter may stress you out. The last thing we need is more stress because our medical supplies are taking over the house. So let’s get organized!
The first thing you need to decide is what areas you can use to store supplies, and what areas should be “medical supply free zones.” Personally, I like to keep medical supplies out of my living room, dining room, and family room, as well as the bedrooms of everyone but my child with complex medical needs. You may have different preferences, but identifying what areas can possibly house supplies and what areas are off-limits can help you to make an organizational plan that will keep your family happy.
Take a look at your entire house or apartment. Do you have basement or attic storage space that can be used for extra supplies? Can you convert a closet, pantry, or kitchen cabinet for supplies? What rooms have extra space? What “hidden” areas, such as under beds or behind furniture, are available for use? Make a list of every possible area you could use to store items. Then go back through your list and cross off any areas that you want to remain free of medical supplies.
The Usefulness Hierarchy
Once you have identified potential zones for storage, it is time to create your Usefulness Hierarchy. Your Usefulness Hierarchy is simply a list of all your child’s supplies ranked by how useful they are on a daily basis.
Take a minute (or an hour!) and write down all of the supplies your child uses, including ones that are only used in rare circumstances. (This is useful to keep for your records as well.) Once you are done, rank each one in terms of how often it is used. I like to think of my supplies as things that are used daily, things that are used weekly, things that are used monthly, and things that are rarely used. If you are a visual person, you can instead take out all the supplies you have on hand and sort them into categories based on how useful they are on a daily basis.
It can also be helpful to note the general size of items. You may be able to keep your entire stock of small things like meds, syringes, and other small supplies together, but large items like packages of diapers, cases of formula, and boxes of suction catheters may need to be divided due to their size. I am guessing most people don’t have enough space to store an entire month’s worth of diapers in their child’s bedroom!
Finally, note any special storage requirements, such as medications that need to be out-of-reach, items that need refrigeration, items that cannot be in sunlight, or items that need to be kept away from heat, cold, or moisture. You will need to find special areas for these items.
Matching Zones to Supplies
Next up is matching your potential storage zones to your supplies. Anything that is used multiple times a day or at least daily should be easily available. In our house, these items are mostly in bins that are stored on shelves within my daughter’s room. There are some exceptions—particularly items with needles—that are instead stored in the closet, but can still be accessed easily. Items that are used weekly I usually store nearby, stacked on shelves in my daughter’s closet. Overflow of extra items (diapers, suction catheters, extra tubing, bags of sterile water) is in the basement laundry room, neatly stacked on metal shelves.
I also have some secondary storage areas for unique items. All meds are in a kitchen cabinet, away from the stove and sink, and out of reach of little hands. All refrigerated items are in a refrigerator in the basement.
Picking Out Storage Solutions
And now the fun part—picking our storage solutions that work for you! Obviously, the type of storage will depend on the items you need stored and the space available. In general, I like to use bins on shelves, metal shelving, and rolling carts, but you may prefer a cabinet, wardrobe or modular system.
Storage can be expensive, but it does not have to be. Some of my main storage areas consist of cheap modular metal storage with bins made out of washbasins left over from hospital stays. You can also repurpose other types of storage–tool and electrical storage solutions can be great for medical supplies—often at a lower price.
You will also need to weigh whether you prefer closed-door storage, which is harder to access but looks cleaner, or open-door storage, which is easy to access but can look messier.
Here are just a few great ideas for storage:
$100 tall wheeled cart with bins from Sam’s Club
Closed cabinet or wardrobe storage
Inexpensive plastic drawer system
Low modular storage with cloth bins
Closet overflow storage in closed bins
Kitchen cabinet used for medications, with med lists
Bin system within a closed cabinet
Crate storage with repurposed washbasins as bins
Making the most of small spaces: Vertical metal storage, undercrib storage, and plastic drawers
It is possible to win against the monster that is an overwhelmingly huge pile of medical supplies. With a little bit of effort you can tame the monster once and for all, and make things safer and easier for your child as well.