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.)