Should It Stay or Should It Go?

Should It Stay or Should It Go?

After the holiday onslaught of gifts and gets, the new year is the perfect opportunity to declutter.  You start January armed with a label maker and ready to organize, but the volume of stuff makes it almost impossible.  As the nation’s top decluttering expert, people ask me all the time, “What’s the easiest way to organize?”  “Simple,” I say.  “Have less stuff.”

But letting go of clutter is difficult. We have actual emotional blocks that keep us from letting go of our clutter. Seven of them to be exact.  In my upcoming book, MAKING SPACE, CLUTTER FREE: The Last Book On Decluttering You’ll Ever Need, I discuss all seven of the emotional blocks and how to break free of them.

Some of the emotions that get in the way include: sentimentality (but Aunt Lois gave it to me, how could I possibly get rid of this lamp that doesn’t work?), guilt (but I spent so much money on them, how could I possibly get rid of these ridiculously high heels I’ll never wear?), or pure fantasy (but someday I might take up mountain climbing so how can I get rid of all this rope?).   If you deal with clutter on a daily basis, you know these can be powerful stumbling blocks.  If you are grappling with any of these emotional blocks, how do you declutter?  Here are 5 simple questions to ask yourself about any item in your home or office to decide …

Should it Stay or Should it Go?

If you want to keep it and you say yes to any of these questions, it can stay! If the answer is no, then it goes!

  1. Do you use it on a semi-regular basis? By semi-regular, I mean at least once year, such as the large platter I have that holds the turkey at Thanksgiving. I have used it every year for over two decades, and it stays. The old sleeping bags that haven’t been on a camping trip in ten years should go.
  2. Is it making you money?  Do you use it for work, or does it help you generate income somehow? It stays. Whatever is piled up in the corner of the family room for that someday garage sale that you’re never going to have should go.
  3. Can you buy it again for a reasonable price or borrow it?  Is it costing you more to store it or fix it than it would to buy it again? Or is it something everyone has and it would be easy (and free) to borrow from someone you know? It should go.
  4. Do you have a place to put it away in your home?  Is it in a comfortable place where it fits easily? Great! It stays. Is it shoved on a closet shelf so that every time you open the closet door, it falls on your head? It goes.
  5. Do you love, love, love it?  I mean, do you love it? If yes, then it stays. If it’s okay, I sort of like it, “I hate it but so-and-so gave it to me,” it goes.

These five questions will help you launch your decluttering process.  Every time you hit up against one of your emotional blocks, ask yourself these questions and letting go will become easier.  It’s a process so remember to start with the easy stuff (not family photos or your beloved grandmother’s jewelry) and set yourself up for decluttering success!

The child of a hoarder, Tracy McCubbin knows firsthand that the grip “stuff” can have over some people is very real.  In 2007, while working as an assistant for a major television director, Tracy discovered she had the ability to see through any mess. Ten years later, dClutterfly is Los Angeles’ #1 Home Organization company, serving clients like Mindy Kaling and Ray Romano, as well as countless producers, directors, and executives. Tracy’s book Making Space Clutter Free: The Last Book of Decluttering You’ll Ever Need (Spring 2019), reveals the seven emotional blocks we have with regard to our “stuff” – and how to cure them while creating permanent change for a happier, healthier, and clutter-free life. To learn more about Tracy, go to

A Gratitude Attitude Helps to Reverse Autoimmune Disease

A Gratitude Attitude Helps to Reverse Autoimmune Disease

The average time allotted by insurance companies for a medical office visit is 6 minutes. Hardly enough time to meet, greet, and write a prescription for a pill to help the current ill (or what is called “chief complaint”). Health professionals have to find ways to help their clients get the most benefit in the shortest amount of time. One of the easiest and most effective interventions I use with my patients is the practice of gratitude, or what I call adopting a “gratitude attitude.” 

Science tells us that the best intervention in our age of high productivity and time efficiency is one that takes the least amount of time and yields the biggest reward. I have found this to be true in my own practice too. In my book, Solving the Autoimmune Puzzle: The Woman’s Guide to Reclaiming Emotional Freedom and Vibrant Health, I talk about a common human trait I have observed in the last 30+ years of my health care career: The Misery to Motivation Ratio. In other words, the more miserable a person is, the more motivated they will be to make the changes required to transform their illness to wellness. Believe it or not, that’s a huge advantage of feeling miserable! You are ripe for constructive change! You can turn your life around in ways that people in less pain simply don’t feel the need to.

Gratitude Heals

Again, I have found that one of the most effective interventions is the practice of gratitude. Gratitude heals. And those who are feeling pain and misery will notice the benefits immediately.

Over the past decade, there have been many studies that indicate gratitude helps people who are ill move from a depressed outlook on life to a more helpful and vital one. It turns out that a person who is struggling with health issues, depression, and anxiety will gain even more benefit if they practice a gratitude attitude along with mental health counseling.

What does science say are the benefits of practicing an intentional gratitude practice?

  1. Gratitude is a great emotional detoxification method.

The ancient science of Ayurveda, the 10,000-year old sister science of yoga, teaches that we must digest our emotions just as we digest our foods. Ayurveda also says that what is in the mind crystallizes in the body. You can almost see what negative emotion would look like in the body if you think about it in that way. It would feel heavy and dark. In contrast, the feeling of gratitude will feel light, resilient, and flexible…exactly what we would all like to feel in our body. Don’t think for a second that how we feel doesn’t register in the body. Science has already demonstrated that, and that is exactly why it is no exaggeration to say that gratitude heals.

  1. Gratitude doesn’t even need to be shared to work its magic in the body.

It turns out that writing a letter of gratitude to someone who has contributed to you in your life is going to bring about changes in your immune system, brain chemicals, and brain state. These changes occur whether you send the letter or not. However, if the person you wrote the letter of appreciation to is alive, why not send it and see what happens to their brain state and immune system?

  1. The benefits of a gratitude practice don’t occur overnight.

The longer the practice, the bigger the benefit. The more days spent gratitude journaling, expressing gratitude, and feeling appreciation, the more health benefits are accrued. Be patient if you don’t feel fantastic after writing one letter or expressing gratitude to one person.

  1. Gratitude re-wires the brain for good.

fMRI scans were done on the brains of people who received psychotherapy (trauma release) andpracticed a gratitude writing activity. These were compared to fMRI scans of people who did only psychotherapy. The study participants who were grateful lit up in the prefrontal cortex of the brain- the part of the brain that is required for adult decision making- like what to put on the end of your fork, what to drink, who to get into relationship with, how to manage conflict, how to spend and save money, and so on. The more grateful you are, the better you are at “adulting” and the healthier your choices will be.

Generous Are Those Who Are Grateful

It turns out that the more grateful you are, the more generous you are too. All of these acts of positive emotion lead to an immune system that feels positively toward you. In other words, it helps to reverse autoimmune disease. Gratitude heals.

If you want to learn more about reversing autoimmune disease and other chronic illnesses, you can work with Dr. Keesha 1:1, participate in her autoimmune deep immersion retreats, take a DIY approach with her online programs, or train with Dr. Keesha through the Academy for Integrative Medicine health coach certification program and learn how to not only work with functional medicine labs/nutrition, Ayurvedic medicine, but also how to help others heal their emotional root causes for illness. You can find information at .

Article originally posted on

Dr. Keesha Ewers is a board certified Functional and Ayurvedic medical practitioner, as well as Doctor of Sexology, host and founder of The Woman’s Vitality Summit, and founder of a new branch of medicine called Functional Sexology. Click here to learn more about her Integrative Medicine Health Coach Certification Program.

What Do Smart Women Want?

What Do Smart Women Want?

It’s the time of year when you are invited to review your employer and government health benefits through Open Enrollment, so our focus this month is on helping you make the best decisions when it comes to your health and money.  

If you are still working and have benefits through your employer, you should be receiving a packet allowing you to review and make changes to your employee health benefits.  This is why I’ve invited CPA and financial planner, Wayne Titus, to help you dive deeper into your options to help ensure you get the most bang for your buck, as well as well as important tax-planning steps to take before the end of the year.  Be sure to check out Wayne’s interesting article on Health Savings Accounts, Flexible Spending Accounts, and Health Reimbursement Accounts so you can learn the difference and decide which best suits your needs.

If you are 65 or older, October is when you will be able to review and change your Medicare benefits.  Medicare expert, Jo Murphy, will be sharing ways to save money on health care benefits, how to choose the best health care benefits that fit your needs, and where to go to get your health care benefits questions answered. Don’t miss Shari Wenokur Smith’s informative article about Medicare Open Enrollment.

Making smart choices about your life, your health, and your finances is our mission here at Smart
Women’s Empowerment, and to make sure we are addressing your concerns, we have conducted several surveys with our Smart Women community, and what we learned has been eye-opening.  In fact, we have created our 2019 editorial calendar based on your responses.  I’ll share the full results of the survey in next month’s Smart Women, Smart Choices, as well as what we have planned for you in coming year.

Next month, is National Caregiver’s Month, and since 73% of you told us you would  be interested in a course specifically on “preparing to become a caregiver or care receiver,” we will be bringing you guests interviews and resources for this important period in your life so you aren’t caught off-guard.

In the meantime, be sure to schedule time to review your benefits, check out the two great articles in this month’s Smart Women, Smart Choices, and join the conversation on Smart Women Talk Radio this month.  Remember, if you miss the live show, you can listen on our website or on your favorite podcast venue.  Our shows are now available on Spotify, iTunes, iHeartRadio, and several other podcast venues!

Katana Abbott is a CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™ professional and Certified Senior Advisor who began her financial planning career in 1987 with Ameriprise Financial Services.  Because of her personal experiences with financial abuse, death, disability, divorce, and caregiving, she teaches women how to take charge of their finances, create wealth and prepare for expected and unexpected life events. Katana is an inspirational speaker, author and the host of Smart Women Talk Radio with over a million subscribers. She is the founder of the Designated Caregiver® program and the Smart Women Companies.  She has been married to DSO French hornist, Mark Abbott, for over 30 years and they have two daughters.  To learn more and connect with Katana, visit her at

Are You Ready for Medicare Open Enrollment?

Are You Ready for Medicare Open Enrollment?

It’s Open Enrollment season for Medicare. This is the time to examine your benefits and make sure your plan is working for you.

Did you know that there is a free, unbiased service that can help people walk through the Medicare process?

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) helps fund and support a nationwide network of State Health Insurance Programs (SHIPs) that help beneficiaries understand their Medicare and Medicaid benefits, get answers to questions and help trouble shoot problems. These programs may go by different names in different states (Michigan’s program is called the Michigan Medicare Medicaid Assistance Program or MMAP), but they all offer a cadre of highly trained, certified, volunteer counselors that have been trained in health care benefits counseling. This includes Medicare, Medicaid and other Medicare insurance products. SHIP counselors are completely unbiased, are not connected with any insurance company and they are not licensed to sell insurance. Counselors are available year-round to guide and assist beneficiaries but are especially busy during the annual Medicare Part D Open Enrollment, which runs October 15 through December 7. Many SHIP programs offer special assistance to help people review and assess their Medicare Part D choices during this enrollment period.

Reviewing Your Plan Annually is Important

The Open Enrollment Period is the one time of year most Medicare beneficiaries can make changes to their Medicare Part D prescription benefits. During Open Enrollment you can:
• Switch Medicare Part D Prescription Drug plans.
• Change from Original Medicare to a Medicare Advantage Plan
• Switch from one Medicare Advantage Plan to another Medicare Advantage Plan

Any changes in coverage that you make will take effect on January 1, 2019.

I recommend that everyone review their plan options and choices once a year. Even if you’ve been happy with your current plan it is important to check that all your medications are still covered and that the price point is still affordable for you.

Be sure to understand that your health needs and how you like to access services are unique to you. You do not need to get the same policy as your friend or your spouse, even if they claim theirs is “the best!” Everyone is different. For example, if you only take one medication and your friend takes 5, they may have the best policy for them. You may end up spending significantly more money than necessary if you choose the same plan base on their recommendation. A SHIP counselor can compare plans with you to help make that determination.

How Much Does Medicare Cost?

Medicare can be quite expensive depending on the plans chosen. Each plan is different. Premiums, deductibles and co-pays vary; the medications you take might change from year to year, both in terms of what you take, and what is on the plan formulary; the policies and prices can change from year to year, and, if you have a Medicare Advantage (Part C) plan, the services may vary. Your local SHIP counselor can review all of this with you. And, if you are having difficulty paying for Medicare or your prescription drugs, SHIP counselors can also determine if you might qualify for assistance to help pay for any or all of your Medicare costs based on your income or assets, and they can also assist with the application process.

What Are My Medicare Options?

People who are new to Medicare can select Original Medicare, which is Part A for Hospitalization and Part B for outpatient services, or a Medicare Advantage Plan (Part C) which functions more like an HMO or PPO. Most Medicare Advantage plans cover prescription drugs. But, if you select Original Medicare you will most likely also need a Part D, prescription drug plan and a Medigap (or Supplemental Plan) to cover certain costs under Original Medicare.

When Can I Enroll?

There is a seven month period for people just turning 65 to enroll in Medicare (3 months before your 65th birthday, the month of your birthday, and 3 months after). Timely enrollment is essential as there are financial penalties for late enrollment that can follow you throughout your lifetime. For those who already have Medicare, Open Enrollment provides you with an opportunity to make changes to your plans.

If you want a Medigap policy you have a six month period starting the first day of the month you turn 65 or older and are enrolled in Part B to purchase a policy with a “guaranteed right of issue,” meaning that you cannot be medically underwritten. After that period costs may go up based on your age, health or medical conditions.

If you are still working, have a retirement health plan or are covered by your spouse’s health plan, you may not need to enroll in certain parts of Medicare. It is best to check with your employer Plan Administrator to get more specifics. This may prevent costly penalties or unnecessary duplication of coverage.

Prevention and Wellness Coverage

If you are new to Medicare, you are entitled to a comprehensive “Welcome to Medicare” visit during your first year and yearly preventive visits thereafter. Medicare also offers many preventive and wellness services such as vaccinations, mammograms, prostate cancer and obesity screenings, smoking cessation counseling and more. You are also entitled to a yearly “Wellness Visit” to develop or update your personal care plan. All of this is detailed the Medicare and You book that is mailed out every year to Medicare beneficiaries. Additionally, the phone number for your local SHIP will be listed on the back.

Protect Your Identity

You have probably heard that Medicare is issuing new cards this year. You may already have received yours. The new cards have removed the Social Security numbers. There is now a Unique Alpha-Numeric Medicare Number with no personal identifiers attached. Gender information and the signature line have also been removed. This is to provide protection against Identity Theft that has become all too common in our society. Medicare started issuing new cards in April of 2018 and the roll-out is set to continue until April of 2019. Don’t worry if you haven’t received your card yet. The old cards can be used until December 31, 2019. Your new cards will be mailed automatically to you, but you may not receive your card at the same time as your neighbors or friends. It is important to note that you don’t have to do anything to receive your card. Scammers are contacting people insisting that they give their Social Security numbers or other information to get their new cards. A good rule of thumb is to never give out personal information over the phone unless you are dealing with a trusted contact. And, anyone who asks you to send or do something to get your card is not a trusted contact.

How Can I Learn More?

There are many resources available to you to learn more about Medicare or to help you make decisions. As mentioned earlier, Medicare and You provides fairly comprehensive information on Medicare and the services it covers. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid has a user-friendly web-site, which also provides good information.

And, your local SHIP program has certified volunteers who have been trained to provide personalized one-on-one counseling to Medicare beneficiaries. We can help you understand your health care options, compare or enroll in Medicare Prescription Drug Coverage, review your supplemental insurance needs, apply for additional assistance, identify and report fraud or scams, and more. To find your local SHIP, go to and type your state in the box or look on the back of your Medicare and You book. We are here to help.

Shari Wenokur Smith holds a Master’s in International Development from the American University in Washington, D.C., and a Master’s of Public Health from the University of Michigan.  She also is a Certified Senior Advisor.  She is currently the Regional Coordinator for the MMAP Program with the Area Agency on Aging 1-B in Southfield, Michigan, when she works with a team of 147 certified volunteers providing Medicare counseling throughout most of Southeast Michigan.


How to Make Sense of the Open Enrollment Alphabet

How to Make Sense of the Open Enrollment Alphabet

It’s open-enrollment season again, and at some companies, employees will need to choose whether they would like to sign up for a Health Savings Account (HSA), a Flexible Spending Account (FSA), or a Health Reimbursement Account (HRA). While it sounds like alphabet soup, it’s important to understand the differences. If you don’t, you could be leaving money on the table next year. 

Here’s a quick breakdown on the three types of accounts, along with a few tips to find out whether they’re right for you:

Health Savings Account (HSA)

Health Savings Accounts, or HSAs, must be combined with a qualified high-deductible health insurance plan. This tax-advantaged account can be used to help pay your deductible, and any funds left in your savings account earn tax-deferred interest. Your contributions to your HSA are tax deductible, and withdrawals to pay for your qualified medical expenses are tax free. But here’s the best part:  The money in your account is yours to keep – you don’t have to “use it or lose it” by the end of the year.

How it Works

  • You decide how much to contribute, as long as the amount doesn’t exceed the maximum allowed by the government. (In 2017, for example, the limit is $3,400 for an individual and $6,750 for a family.)
  • Depending on your plan, you may receive either checks or a debit card for your HSA account to use for qualified medical expenses, including your deductible, any co-pays or co-insurance, or qualified medical expenses that your plan does not cover.
  • There are no deadlines for spending the money in your account.
  • Your HSA rolls over each year, unlike an FSA, which we’ll discuss later. If you reach the age of 65 and are on Medicare, you can still use your account to pay for out-of-pocket medical expenses, but you’ll no longer be allowed to contribute money to your account.
  • Once a year you may rollover the balance in your HSA account from your employer account to another, lower cost, better diversified HSA, and select and manage those investment options yourself.
  • If you change jobs, you can take your HSA with you.
  • You can also have an HSA if you are self-employed.

What to Check  

  • Be sure to compare the coverage and the cost of your current plan with your high-deductible plan option to see which is less. (Richard Thaler of the New York Times has a great article on how to evaluate your health plans.)
  • Since you can invest your HSA funds in mutual funds, stocks, or other types of investments, make sure your HSA offers low-cost funds that are reputable. Some companies require you to have a minimum balance in your account before you can invest (to ensure you’ll have the funds you need for a qualified medical expense). However, if you don’t anticipate needing the funds right away, it could be beneficial to look for an HSA that will let you invest right away, without a minimum.
  • Some employers contribute to their workers’ HSA accounts, so if yours does, a high-deductible insurance plan with an HSA could make better sense than a regular insurance plan.

Flexible Spending Account (FSA)

Also known as a Flexible Spending Arrangement, Flexible Spending Accounts may be offered by an employer in lieu of, or in addition to, a health insurance policy. As with an HSA, FSAs are funded pre-tax, by payroll deduction, which can lower the employee’s taxable income for the year. Employers set the contribution limits for FSAs, while the specified limit for dependent care accounts is $5,000 per year. Unlike HSAs, however, FSA funds need to be used by the end of their run-out period, which is usually three months after the end of the year. Prior to the Affordable Care Act, employees who didn’t use the funds in their account wound up forfeiting those funds to their employers. Be sure to review your plan’s specific carry over allowance.

How It Works

  • Employers fund the entire amount of an employee’s contribution at the beginning of the year, so the individual has funds to use for medical expenses. The employee then pays back the amount through payroll deductions.
  • At the end of the year, you may lose any remaining funds you haven’t spent.
  • As with an HSA, you may receive a debit card to pay for small medical expenses, such as co-pays, prescriptions and other fees.
  • FSAs can be used to purchase certain non-prescription drugs, unlike other types of plans.
  • FSAs stay with the employer. They cannot move with you to another job.
  • Stand-alone FSAs (those without a major medical insurance plan) can only provide limited dental and vision benefits, and in certain cases may be used in conjunction with an HSA.

 What to Check

  • If you choose to use FSA funds to pay for childcare, you could lose your child tax credit when you file your taxes. Check with your tax preparer before making your decision.
  • Be sure you understand how your company’s FSA may be integrated with its HSA plan.

Health Reimbursement Account (HRA)

Many types of Health Reimbursement Accounts (also called Health Reimbursement Arrangements) exist, but we’ll focus on those that are linked with high-deductible health insurance plans. Employers may offer an HRA to employees and their families who enroll in the company’s group health insurance plan. An HRA differs from an HSA and FSA in that the employer is the only one who contributes, and, like an FSA, the employer owns the account.

How It Works

  • An employer determines how much to contribute to an HRA per employee.
  • The funds could be used to cover co-pays, deductibles, or insurance premiums.
  • Funds are available from the first day of coverage.
  • Unlike FSAs and HSAs, HRA funds do not accrue in a separate account. Employers reimburse employees after they have incurred an expense. Some HRAs are set up to pay only after an employee reaches his or her deductible. Reimbursements are tax deductible.
  • Once the employer’s contribution is used up, employees must pay the balance of any expenses they incur. Depending on how the employer sets up the plan, someone who doesn’t spend the entire benefit may be able to roll the funds over to the next year.
  • HRAs stay with the employer.
  • Business owners are usually not eligible to participate in HRAs; however, employees (including spouses who are legitimate employees) can participate as long as they are receiving regular paychecks.

What to Check

  • Since HRAs can vary by employer, talk to your human resources department to learn more details about your company’s plan.

During this open enrollment period, take the time to study all of your options. In addition to protecting your health, you may also be able to improve your tax position and take advantage of funds contributed by your employer.


Before Wayne Titus founded AMDG Financial and AMDG Tax and Accounting in 2002, he spent fifteen years at two large accounting firms, working with Fortune 50 clients. He dove into entrepreneurship to make a bigger impact on people’s lives. Titus is a fee-only fiduciary adviser, meaning he owes loyalty to his clients and places their interests ahead of his own or those of his firms. With assets of more than $150 million, AMDG Financial integrates tax, financial and investment strategies to help clients make financial and life transitions successful on purpose. The company’s credo is, “From financial wisdom, better stewardship.”

To learn more about Wayne Titus, visit


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