Pick up the latest copy of a hot home magazine and you’ll find glossy photos capturing sleek images of perfect homes and offices. It’s so alluring, but honestly, where is all of the stuff? Do these people live real lives? The short answer is no. Even if you’ve gone paperless and now read your news online and receive your bills electronically, paper clutter is still never going away. There are just some documents that you need to have around. So, first remember that it’s ok to have some “stuff” and then figure out if you are a file or a pile person. Do you like everything tucked away or do you prefer to have stacks at the ready? Whether you are a color-coded file person or a towering pile of papers person, we have some tips to keep it all under control.
1. Keep it Simple
Start with ten categories and files and keep it simple. Most of the documents you need to have on hand should be able to fit within those ten different categories. Stick to it for one month and if you find that you need more, then add them, but the best filing systems are the ones that are easy to navigate.
2. Boxes Are Not a Sign of Failure
No matter how hard you try or how much you want to keep things packed away in files, there are just some things that need to be in plain sight. Maybe it’s documents that require some action or it’s simply things that need to be referred to often, but keeping an in-box or a stackable file system keeps things contained but accessible.
3. Make it a Habit
Every good organizer knows the key to keeping it all together is making it a habit. Whether you take two minutes each day or 15 minutes at the end of the week to tackle that growing pile, it’s better to maintain your system on a regular basis. The longer you wait, the more overwhelming it becomes.
4. If in Doubt, Throw it Out
Twice a year, set aside time to really comb through your files and figure out what really needs to be kept. Have you completed a project that won’t need to be revisited? Get rid of it. You can use that space for something new. Not sure if you still need something? Put it in a box somewhere that isn’t part of your daily system. If you haven’t looked at it after a few years, then throw it out.
5. Pack Rat Brat
File people can also sometimes be pack rats since they are tricked into thinking that keeping things in neat files means they are organized. Restrain your inner pack rat by keeping a recycling bin and garbage can next to your desk. Put yourself on an experiment by putting things you think you might need aside for 30 days and see how often you refer to it. After the 30 days, see how often you referred to it and then determine its fate from there.
1. Piles Can Be Perfect
Don’t let the file people bully you into thinking you’re not organized just because your system is more visible. Piles can be just as organized if you know what you have.
2. Contain the Creep
Don’t let your piles becoming the leaning tower of Pisa. If you are going to keep piles out, then keep them contained and don’t let them get out of control. Set aside a specific amount of space on your desktop for your piles and keep them constrained to that. Too many pile people contort themselves to work around their ever-expanding piles only to end up with sore backs and necks.
3. Colors are Key
Color coding the piles isn’t just for over-achievers. It’s a great way to immediately identify what you have without having to dig through the pile. Pick five folder colors and use them to clearly indicate categories such as: Must Do, Must Take With Me, Holding Pen, For Someone Else, and To Pay.
4. Set a Height Limit
You know those rides at the amusement park where you have to be “this high” to ride? Well, set a limit for your piles. Once it gets to that height, force yourself to weed through it.
5. No New Piles
Commit to no new piles. If something can’t be integrated into an existing pile, consider whether you really need to keep it or not.
About the Author
Alicia Rockmore and Sarah Welch are the co-founders of Buttoned Up, inc (@getbuttonedup)., a company dedicated to helping stretched and stressed women get themselves organized and co-authors of Everything (almost) In Its Place. We welcome your thoughts! Please send ideas and questions to us at: firstname.lastname@example.org or visit us at www.getbuttonedup.com