Archive for the ‘Paper Organizing’ Category

Confronting our monsters

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At 8:00 this morning, I had my own private celebration. It took place in my head.

An hour earlier I was driving and thinking about how terrifying it must be for some of my clients to do the one thing that scares them the most; To finally confront what’s kept them from moving forward in their lives because they feel overwhelmed and stuck and it’s showing up as piles of papers, boxes and who knows what else, on their desks, on the floor, in their drawers, everywhere.

I was thinking about what it means to do the one thing that scares you the most and to have the courage to do it anyway because you know you have to. Because you know not doing so will have far greater consequences.

For people who are chronically disorganized, the consequence of not facing their fears can be enormous.  For some it’s a loss of control over their lives. For others, it’s isolation. I know people who have lost their children, their spouses and their very security because of their inability to face their fears head on.  I also know people who have shown great courage and have discovered the meaning of making room in their lives.

My fears are about public speaking. And yet, as a small business person I know the value it brings to others in the form of information and sometimes even inspiration. But I do it quite frankly because I have to. Working with people in their homes and in their offices or helping them move is tactical but it’s also very personal. I know that if people see me and feel I am someone they can trust, and recognize I  have the expertise to help them, then they often will remember me when it comes time to organize their offices, or their bedrooms or help them plan and oversee their move to a new home.

The Paper MonsterThis is what I was thinking at seven o’clock this morning, on my way to speak to a group of fifty small business owners and entrepreneurs about how to face their fears, specifically about how to confront their own Paper Monsters.  I did this presentation a few weeks earlier and it had not lived up to my expectations  – perfectionism, my monster, rearing it’s ugly head, yet again –  and now I was getting ready to face him again.  Was I scared? Petrified, which is why at that moment I started thinking about my clients.

“If  they can have the courage to hire me, then I can damn well find the courage to face my fears as well, ” I thought.  And so I did. And it went fine. It wasn’t perfect but it was good enough. And that’s good enough. But to be honest, I’m glad it’s over. At least for today I can celebrate.

Tomorrow, I do it again.

Are You A Hider or A Piler?

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Is your stuff – paper, possessions, or supplies – out in the open where you can see it?
Do you forget, ignore or lose what you can’t see?
For you, is out of sight is out of mind?’

On the other hand do you prefer to have everything you own tucked away  – in a drawer, cabinet, or closet?
Do you feel unsettled, anxious or out-of-control when things are not stored, stowed or put away?
Do people always remark at how tidy your home looks?

If the first example sounds more like you, consider yourself a Piler.  On the other hand, if the second example resonates more strongly with you, you are probably a Hider.

The terms Hider and Piler represent two types on an organizing continuum. Generally people fall somewhere along the continuum preferring one kind of organizing habit over another. These are not absolutes. Understanding your – and others – preferred type can help you learn ways to be and stay organized as well as to help you better understand the habits of others. For couples, its common for one partner to be a Hider and the other a Piler. Understanding your partner’s style and how they think about organizing will help keep the peace at home.

The most important thing to know is that both Hiders and Pilers can be equally organized or disorganized.

Take a look at the pictures below:

The column on the left represents two versions of a Piler organizing style: An organized Piler, as represented by the store that sells beads and other jewelry making s

upplies and a disorganized Piler  as illustrated by the photo of the cluttered office.

The column on the right represents two versions of a Hider organizing stye – an organized Hider as  represented by the physician’s examination room and a disorganized Hider as exemplified by the cluttered drawer.

Organizing styles can be dictated by function – such as the need for safe and sanitary conditions as in a doctor’s office or the need for customers to find what they are looking for quickly and easily as in the bead store example. For most people, however, organizing styles emerge from our individual personalities, learned habits or in some cases, physical or emotional conditions.

It’s helpful to think of Hider and Piler as preferences, rather than extremes, with most people falling somewhere between them but leaning towards one or another at varying degrees.

While I have not conducted a scientific study about organizing preferences, in my experience as a professional organizer, I have found that Hiders and Pilers also share some other characteristics.

For example, Pilers, because they like items out where they can seem them, may not benefit as much from conventional organizing methods.  An example of this is a standard two-drawer file cabinet.  A better solution for a Piler is an open file drawer on wheels that allows them to see and file their papers and then stow them away as needed.

Many of my clients who I would consider Pilers are artists, creative types or visual learners. They are stimulated by various forms of color, design, objects, and words. A Piler who does not feel comfortable expressing himself in a particular environment may find substitutes for filling the space in other ways.

An example of this are artists who earn income in an office setting. To compensate for the design of a standard office cubicle – with things like closed, overhead bins – artists and other Pilers often fill their surfaces with paper, piles or other bulky supplies. When I notice a client doing this, once we’ve worked together on organizing the paper,  I often recommend they find objects, artwork or photographs to fill the space (in lieu of the paper) that inspire them.

Conversely, a Hider may feel torn between her need for order and the desire to consume, purchase or own items of perceived value.  From the outside, everything looks fine, even beautiful. Until you open a drawer, cabinet or closet.  Then suddenly everything spills out in a jumble.   This is what I call the “Jack-in-the-box” phenomenon.

Typically hiders call me when their clutter starts creeping out from the drawers, cabinets and closets because they’ve run out of room.  I often recommend to Hiders that they examine their beliefs about what they value so that they can begin to edit down what they have.  I also remind them that storage areas are valuable ‘real estate.’ If they want to cut down on the clutter-creep they are either going to have to maximize the real estate, through editing, or else be at risk of spending more to house thier stuff. The worst case scenario is when people buy bigger homes or invest in expensive storage units to accommodate items they don’t use, want or need.

A hider can also lean towards the other extreme, purging themselves of all but the minimum necessities, sometimes prematurely, maintaining a tidy space albeit a bit sterile or overly staged.

In the fall I will be conducting an online seminar about Hiders and Pilers. If you are interested or want more information, email me at


4 Steps to Plow Through Those Paper Piles

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Paper. No matter how much we hear about going paperless, it’s still a fact of life that paper in every form whether it be junk mail, supermarket coupons, business cards, magazine clippings, bills or receipts will continue to be part of our lives for the foreseeable future.

There are really only four ways you can manage the inflow of paper:

1. Stop it before it starts
2. Determine if you must act on it
3. Determine if you must or need to hold on to it (or really want to)
4. Toss it

Stopping it before it starts. This is akin to the prevention approach. Depending upon the type of paper you have, you may want to consider some of the following approaches
Get off mailing lists. Contact the Direct Marketing Association at
Stop printing website pages from the Internet. Of if you must, only print those that are associated with a task or action you plan to take.
Don’t take what you don’t need. Just because they hand it to you doesn’t mean you keep it. If your local supermarket hands you a coupon at the register, unless it’s an item you know you will buy don’t keep it and ask the cashier to dispose of it.
Be a business card snob. Only take business cards for those people and organizations that you probably (not maybe) would do business with. If someone hands you their card that you know you will never refer to, politely decline by saying, “I know how valuable these are to you, please share it with someone who can benefit from your expertise.” Or a more direct approach, “Thank you for offering but in my effort to go paperless, please save this for someone else.”
Stop clipping magazine and newspaper articles. Seriously, when was the last time you actually looked in that file and did something with that article? When you clip an article you are actually contracting for your own time. What is your time worth? With everything else you have to do, are you really going to make this recipe? Are you really going to going to invest in a marble countertop? It’s great to keep a single file or box of images that inspire you, but rather than keep every picture related to the hobby you think you plan to do “some day” – use the time instead to focus on ways you can actually do that hobby today!

For all other pieces of paper, you should ask yourself, “Is there a necessary action I need to take with this?” If so, then take the action and dispose of it or file it if you’ve been advised to when you’re done.

If there is no necessary action associated with that piece of paper, then you should be keeping it for one of the following reasons only:
1. You have been advised to by a financial professional. Examples would be your tax return or record of business expenses.
2. It would be difficult to replace such as a passport, birth certificate or deed.
3. It’s a record of where your money comes from and goes to such as an unpaid bill or a recent investment statement.
4. You know you will reference it again and probably more than once such as frequently called numbers, vendor information or mailing labels.
5. It has strong emotional value such as a cherished photograph or sentiment from a loved one AND would be dearly missed if lost.

Whatever is left over, according to to the National Association of Professional Organizers, there is an 80 percent chance you will probably never refer to it again except when you decide it’s time to purge your files.

This is the very definition of paper clutter. You keep it but it serves no purpose for you. If this is the case for you then ask yourself, “If this piece of paper were to disappear, what would it cost me in terms of lost time, money or information?” If the answer is nothing or probably nothing, then it’s time for the shred or recycle bin.

For more practical tips on organizing your life at home or at work, subscribe to Back On Track, the e-guide to organizing living from LET’S MAKE ROOM.