I don't want to get too personal, but do you occasionally suffer from "moving piles" and other paper clutter? Moving piles are piles of paper that land on the kitchen counter and then travel around to dance on other flat surfaces in your kitchen or home. When you want to make dinner, you move the current pile or piles from the counter to the dinner table. When you want to set the dinner table, you move the piles from the dinner table to a living room or a dining room table. After dinner, so you don't forget to deal with this paperwork, you put the piles back into the kitchen. You are then ready for the dance to begin again, and again, and again. To resolve the paper dance, here are ideas to recognize and try:
You are not alone. Paper clutter afflicts many households. Paper is the number one item people bring up in my seminars. The bottom line is paper clutter or “moving piles” are basically mobile stacks of indecision or postponed decisions. Everyone has paper clutter to varying degrees. We all struggle with uncertainty. Not knowing what to do with that article, invitation, or mail offer, you keep moving it around. Personally, I don't have this problem completely licked yet. I usually do have a small "working pile" on the corner of my own kitchen counter. Real life isn’t perfect. Real life requires time and input from other people sometimes to make the correct decisions. Stick with it. You can do this.
Work with paper clutter regularly. Paperwork is easier to deal with when I try to keep my quantity of unmade decisions fairly small and under control. Notice that I said regularly, not frequently—we all get busy and have days when we don’t get to our paperwork. Once a week, even, is much better than not at all. Here are some tips to help conquer those daily "moving piles" and to keep them from growing out of control. Since paperwork piles are unmade decisions, try to get better, faster, and smarter at making paperwork decisions. To do this:
Ask yourself questions. I ask myself a few questions to clarify if I will ever need a piece of paper again. What would be the worst thing that would happen if I tossed it? If I can live with the answer, I might not need to keep the paper. I also ask: How hard would it be to get this information again if I decide I need it later? Could I call the school, or a friend, or look it up on the computer?
Next, keep your paper up-to-date with your life. Keep a supply of empty folders. Be proactive and start a new folder when you have a new category for your life—a health issue, a home improvement project, a vacation, or something else that you are researching. Our lives change and our paper clutter changes too. On that note, be proactive with unsubscribing online to e-mail clutter that no longer fits your life too.
Remember to reward yourself. Don’t skimp here. After doing the work, I try to reward myself for making these difficult paper decisions. I promise myself a treat for dealing with the paper clutter, and then I follow through with it. This could mean a stop to the coffee shop or the ice cream parlor or as simple as a few minutes with my favorite magazine or catalog! Rewards can be especially helpful for dealing with a backlog of paperwork, like cleaning out old files in file cabinets that are crammed full.
Create one simple system you trust. If you are afraid to file something because you might not find it again, consider these ideas: If the system is simple, small, and tailored to you, you will be able to trust and use it. Paper frustrations happen when you have several different systems going at one time, meaning you have to look several different places for the one piece of paper that you want.
Go visual. Many people are very visual. That means enclosed file cabinets don’t work for everyone. Consider creating a system that still lets you see all this paper work. Instead of folders tucked away in a kitchen drawer, try a more visible and open system. Put hanging baskets on the kitchen wall or magnetized baskets on the side of the refrigerator, so you can still see the top edges of all of the papers. Or, use folders but keep them out in a visible open "stacking" tray system.
Whatever ideas you use to beat those "moving piles" and stop the paper clutter dance, make a single system that works for you and fits your own lifestyle and work with it regularly. Remember, there is no one right way to do it. Choose what fits for you!
Barbara Tako is a clutter clearing motivational speaker and author of Clutter Clearing Choices: Clear Clutter, Organize Your Home, & Reclaim Your Life (O Books, 2010), a seasonally organized book of clutter clearing tips that readers can pick and choose from to fit their personal style and needs. Sign up for her free monthly clutter clearing tips newsletter at http://www.clutterclearingchoices.com.