Disorganization: it’s EXHAUSTING.

Disorganization: it’s EXHAUSTING.

my desk

shown: my desk. not shown: the dreaded piles of papers

As I’m sitting down to write this, I’ve just spent 40 minutes pacing the house looking for two pieces of paper that are really, really important, and I still can’t find them.

The last place I saw them was here in my home office, on the daybed, where they don’t belong.

Setting up this new-to-me office was a priority when we moved in a few months ago. Not decorating it—we’re still getting to that. But the basics are there, mostly.

We wanted a functional space that was inviting enough for me to want to work, and the kids to want to hang out. That last part has been wildly successful. They love it in here, and I can’t blame them: the room has fabulous light, a cozy rug, a comfy chair, and a daybed for lounging. (It’s probably telling that it’s the dog’s favorite room, too.)

I love the room, except for one small detail: there are papers everywhere.

My desk is tidy, the bookshelves are straight, the bed is made, but the floor is covered with stacks and stacks of papers. And I realized today, as I dug through them for the umpteenth time, that the stacks are there because I haven’t made a decision about what to do with them.

My old college prof used to say that we’re all doomed to practice “repetition in search of mastery.” In our lives, we’ll keep circling back to the same struggles—consciously or not, learning a bit more each time—until we achieve a breakthrough or die trying. My prof was talking about significant soul-level stuff when he made his proclamation, and it seems petty, in the big picture, to say one of my major struggles is structure and organization. But that doesn’t mean it’s not true.

I’ve come a long way. For years, I resisted structure of any kind, and only in my thirties have I finally come to accept how much better I do with a framework in place. And after multiple re-readings of Getting Things Done, I’m very good at getting my swirling thoughts into my head and captured on paper, and I have a good handle on my day-to-day.

I’m still not good at dealing with the papers themselves. I don’t even have a file cabinet in here. (Because file cabinets are ugly. Roll your eyes. I deserve it.)

But nothing is more exhausting than the task that’s never started (or the endless searching for elusive papers). There’s a proverb about taking action when the pain of standing still becomes greater than the pain of making a change, and I’ve reached that tipping point. The lack of an organizational system is exhausting me, and I’ve had enough.

I’d rather do the work than push the papers. But I absolutely can’t do the first without also doing the second.

I don’t need to find the perfect organizational system; I just need to get started. On that note, I ordered a few boxes of file folders. I replaced the batteries in my label maker. I found a project on Pinterest to turn our ugly filing cabinet into a halfway attractive one, and I’ve enlisted Will’s help in moving the (100% empty) file cabinet from the basement to my office.

Honestly, I’m embarrassed that these stacks of papers are freaking me out so thoroughly, and I’m annoyed that it’s my own fault. But I’m also heartened that while I created the problem, the solution isn’t that difficult (and if I’m wrong, don’t tell me!), and completely within my control.

I’d love to hear your tips on getting organized, combatting endless stacks of paper, and using chalk paint in comments. 

(And if you’re creating a problem for yourself that’s completely preventable and straightforward enough to solve, tell us what it is? And then go do something about it. We’ve all been there, and we’ll cheer you on.)

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55 comments

  1. I can really identify with this post, especially after having moved a short time ago…. and my office/library room is still stacked with boxes and will be even worse this upcoming week as a new floor and ceiling are installed while waiting for the shelves that are to be built in…. It’s a mess! And yes, it is exhausting!

  2. Sarah says:

    I’ve taken the Organizing for ADHD book out from the library a couple of times and have thought about buying it. I tried the box technique used in it, but have now moved to magazine folders, because we seem to do better with vertical piles rather than horizontal. I hired an organizer to help me with some things and that’s what she suggested. I still use some of my boxes. I have three wall-mounted file holders – one for each kid – to keep track of school papers. My husband and I each have a magazine folder, then I have a couple more for the broad categories of things I need to keep accessible. Within my magazine folder, I have a manila folder for things like mobile-deposit checks and receipts I need to hang on to. I’ve been using boxes for longer term filing, because I forget what categories I even have in a file cabinet. It takes up more space, but I like it better. I’m also starting to scan more things – it’s what my dad does, and he’s a small-business owner with complex finances. He scans things and then puts the hard copy (if he thinks he might need it because of a signature or some such thing) in a box just labeled by the year. Everything else, he shreds.

    I also find that the more simple the system and the fewer the categories, the easier it is to maintain.

  3. Molly says:

    Oh! I can totally empathize with the power of paper stacks to paralyze one! I have lived with stacks of papers and such for years (to one degree or another) whether they be on the desk corner, the floor, or in boxes/crates. As a teacher with ADD I make my own paper filing systems as I go. My file categories make sense to me but don’t always seem logical. I tend to color code everything since I am a very visual person. Orange for monthly/seasonal activities, green for grammar, purple for science (because green was taken), etc. Having recently gotten married I am slowly trying to put together a workable filing system for our paper work (everything from shot records to receipts to rent lease). The scary thing is my hubby is more scattered than I am.

  4. Jules says:

    We are moving house and country so I have had to pull out every paper from our filing cabinet and make a decision. Around 98% will be shredded. I love filing things and being able to produce papers immediately but really need to think more carefully about if I need to. I agree that filing categories can be very broad but within that you can break it down if you want. For example I keep a hanging file for vehicles and within that file have dividers with each vehicles description and registration number on it. I open the file drawer, find the vehicle file, open, flip to the correct vehicle by its tab and toss in the relevant paper. Insurance file has dividers with house, medical etc. within medical I have Manila folders for me, my husband and the dog (yes, she has medical insurance, vaccination certificates etc) I drop the mamilla folders in with the opening at the top so I don’t have to pull it out to drop papers into I I have a hanging file for appliance receipts, guarantees and handbooks. All get tossed into that file when purchased and at the same time the stuff relating to the old appliance, if it’s a replacement, is tossed. I have any bill possible sent electronically and also paid automatically from the bank. In every case I get two discounts, one for being paperless and one for paying in full on time. And I never have to remember to send a cheque! I also have all out banking online, not one statement from the bank in the house. I can go back to th bank website and search statements if necessary. They even pay our credit card bill each month so no interest ever paid there either! The only thing I do each month is go through the bank account and credit card statements online each month to check all transactions are correct. When I collect the mail I walk back to the house via the rubbish bin and drop in anything that is junk. We have way less mail with the online billing and not reading most flyers and junk mail reduces my urge to go shopping because of ‘bargains’ to be had! Conversely if we are in the market for something I read all the junk mail carefully and then it goes into the bin. Other paperwork is directly on my desk with a paperweight on top. Everyday I spend a couple of minutes at my desk checking for upcoming events such as birthdays I need to send cards for. I do that and file my couple of papers at the same time. Once a week the night before our rubbish collection I go through any papers on the desk or one the shelf where we keep newspapers, magazines and catalougues and bin any we are done with. I don’t have a huge space allotted to them so decisions have to be made to make them fit.

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