Organizing papers and piles (Day 5 of 31 Days of Organizing)

drowninginpaperI was helping a first-time client with organizing papers, piles, and cleaning out his office. On day one, I always want a tour of what’s in the office, on the shelves, in the desk, and in any closets. A tour lets me know what I’m getting into and gives me clues about a client’s state of mind.

As this client was giving me his tour, he kept saying, “Oh, and look – another stack of papers! Oh, here’s another stack, too.” And then he’d open a drawer to reveal more papers stashed inside.

Let’s begin talking about paper piles this way:

Clutter is the inability (or unwillingness) to make a decision.


A cluttered space is a cluttered mind.


Clutter tends to breeds more clutter.

Now, I’m not going to go all hard-ass on you and insist on a paper-free, clutter-free office 100 percent of the time. After all, my husband has taken some shocking photos of my desk when I’m in the middle of a big project. Papers, papers everywhere!

That being said, I can tidy up my office space in three minutes flat because everything has a place and there’s a place for everything.

And today, I’m going describe the most common reason you can’t seem to conquer the paper clutter.

Let’s go back to my client above. When we pulled out a stack of paper, I asked him to go through it with me so we could begin identifying patterns (or categories) of paperwork (invoices, bills, client paperwork, articles he’d printed out, bank statements, cards from family, etc.).

He pulls the top sheet off the stack. It’s an overdue bill for something. He looks at it, explains what it is to me, sighs loudly, and sets it off to the side.

Back to the pile, he takes the second paper off, looks at it, tells me he needs to do something with it and sets it over near his feet.

Going back to the pile, he throws the next four or five sheets away and says, “I already handled it.”

Then he starts rifling through the pile, pulling some pieces out, throwing some more away, and putting more individual pieces around on the desk.

I stopped him and said, “Do you see what you’ve done here?”

He looks around, confused.

I said, “We started with one stack of papers. Now, in going through that one stack, you’ve created a dozen more piles. See how clutter breeds clutter?”

He laughed and exclaimed he was hopeless at organizing papers and piles. I assured him that was hardly true.

Here’s the deal: yes, you’ll make a bit of mess as you begin to go back and sort through papers. And, if you pay attention and stick to my system (described below), you’ll be able to easily and quickly sort through things.  And once the sorting and purging is done, you’re on to the “keeping up” phase. Then, as I’ve said before, it’s far easier to keep up than to catch up .

So, here’s the plan for handling paper piles:

  1. Gather together a trash can, recycle bin, and shredder. You should have those anyway because we talked about them in an earlier post.
  2. Grab two additional files, boxes or bins (depending on how much paper you have).
  3. Grab two big sticky notes. Label one “ACTION” and one “FILE”
  4. Then, methodically going the stack, touching each paper in the stack only once, you decide if the paper in your hand requires ACTION (something to do, something to capture – like a phone number, someone to call, etc.) or you decide if it needs to be FILED. If it doesn’t fit into one of those two categories, toss it, recycle it, or shred it.
  5. Continue working your way through piles until there are only TWO piles left – those are your ACTION and FILE piles.
  6. Next, depending on how large those piles are, schedule work blocks on your calendar daily or weekly to take action and to file. It might take several months, but with dedication and focus, you’ll get it done.

Admittedly, this is a very simplistic way to look at decluttering papers. However, it gets to the heart of the issue: clutter is the inability (or unwillingness) to make a decision.

Once you decide where something must go (Action, File, Trash, Shred, Recycle), then it becomes very, very easy to make that decision. And as you exercise that decision muscle, the easier and faster sorting papers will go.

Once you’ve set up a solid filing system, you’ll never again have to wonder where something goes. You will, however, have to commit to making the time to take action and file. Papers won’t file themselves, as I’m sure you know.

If you’re still having trouble with this, I can help. I’m a whiz at creating custom organizing solutions and guiding my clients as they adopt new, more effective habits (around anything). A little support and encouragement goes a long, long way.

Make Some Room,


P.S. Have you forwarded any of the 31 Days of Organizing to share with another person? I hope you will! I strongly encourage you sharing this great information with other business leaders and professionals you know who want to be organized, productive and super in charge of their time. Thanks for sharing!

P.P.S. When you’re ready to do something about your disorganization, procrastination, or overwhelm and you want to be guided by someone you trust, I can help. Let’s schedule a Clarity Session and get you into action.


Getting organized is work (Day 4 of 31 Days of Organizing)

getting organizedA reader asked, “How do I handle mail and all the resulting clutter? I mean, I open it, but it still needs to be handled and I can’t do it right then. What do I do with it until I can get to it?”

This is such a great question because so many people struggle with this issue.

I’m going to break it down into 10 really simple steps. However, these steps must be accompanied by a few of important foundational understandings first:

  • Getting organized is work; staying organized is habit
  • Habits (routines) matter a lot in keeping yourself organized
  • Go slow now to go fast later. Slow down to build your habit muscle. You can go fast once you’ve firmly adopted the new habit.

Getting organized is work, no question. I said in an earlier email it’s easier to keep up than to catch up. This is true for organization in ways you can’t comprehend yet if you’re haven’t adopted some effective habits and routines yet.

Habits (routines) matter in organization – without effective habits, you have chaos. Taking two minutes now to follow your routines each day means fewer piles, less clutter, and less overwhelm.

Go slow now to go fast later. This is one of my mantras. If you slow down, even for two minutes, you’ll develop a strong habit muscle. With this strong muscle, you’ll make better decisions, have more clarity, and you’ll keep the chaos at bay for the long haul.

Now, about that mail:

  1. Routine: deal with the mail every single day it comes or at least once a week. It’s best ifvyou choose a regular time to collect it and sort it (morning or afternoon or evening).
  2. Location: choose a “mail opening location.” Ideally, you want this location to have (1) a trash can; (2) a shredder; and (3) a recycle bin all in the same place.
  3. Collect: get the mail from your mailbox.
  4. Sort: Quickly sort the mail and recycle anything you obviously don’t want or need (advertisements, circulars, catalogs, obvious junk mail, etc.).
  5. Discard: open the rest. Anything else that is “junk mail” can be recycled or shredded. Most paper can recycled, but the odd item here and there will have to just go in the regular trash.
  6. Gather: all that should be left is a pile of bills to be paid and a pile of things that need additional action (like invitations, forms to complete, offers to accept, etc.)
  7. Hold: create a “holding place” for bills to be paid. I have small, metal letter holder where I put my bills. Some people use a folder; others a tray. The key is to pick a place, commit to the place, and use it.
  8. Hold, Part II: create a “holding place” for other items that need attention. I have a folder labeled “Action.” You could label it with your name, with the words “To Be Processed” or something else. Some people use a tray. Again, the key is to pick a place, commit to the place, and use it.
  9. Schedule: choose and schedule a time block once a week to pay bills and to process your action folder. The calendar will remind you it’s the day/time to pay bills and process your action folder – this keeps you from having to “remember to do it.”
  10. Action: sit down at your appointed time and pay bills and process your action folder. If something isn’t due until later or if you’re not ready to make a decision on something, it goes back in the folder to be reviewed again next week.

If you follow these 10 simple steps, you will never suffer from piles of mail ever again.

And remember, it takes 21 days to form a new habit. Adopt this one and it might feel like work at first, but after 21 days of practice, you will have formed an awesomely effective and efficient habit.

I dare you to try it!

If you’re still having trouble after trying this, I can help. I’m a whiz at creating custom organizing solutions and guiding my clients as they adopt new, more effective habits (around anything). One little tweak could make the whole 10 steps really work for you.

Make Some Room,


P.S. When you’re ready to do something about your disorganization, procrastination, or overwhelm and you want to be guided by someone you trust, I can help. Let’s schedule a Clarity Session and get you into action.

Two minutes now (Day 3 of 31 Days of Organizing)

Two minutes now saves hours later LIHow many times have you left the house and realized you forgot something?

Or how many times have you searched high and low for something and wasted 10, 20, or even 45 minutes looking for it?

Today in 31 Days of Organizing, I’m going to talk about the power of routines and the magic of two minutes now saves hours later.

See, I believe most anything can be simplified and systematized with a routine.

An effective daily routines take only two minutes.

I’m completely serious!

  • Daily flossing (only floss the ones you want to keep)
  • Handling the mail (snail)
  • Handling email (okay, this is maybe 15 minutes with an effective and efficient routine, but still…)
  • Having a leaving-the-house-mantra: phone, wallet, keys (this one belongs to my hubby) and knowing exactly where those items are
  • Creating a home for something and labeling it
  • Making a new client folder and labeling it (remember: paper folder, electronic folder, email folder – this is one area where I like things to be matchy-matchy)
  • Closing or opening anything (a quick routine ensures you don’t forget anything)
  • Making updates (a thorough checklist doesn’t take long and saves hours later when you discover you forgot a step and have to go back and redo the thing in whole or in part)
  • Daily writing (you might write longer than 2 minutes, but having a routine to get you in the “writing frame of mind” is invaluable)

I’m so wild about two minutes now saves hours later because it’s so very, very true.

I’ve seen mail piles three feet tall because someone didn’t take two minutes each day to sort their mail using the recycle bin and shredder.

I’ve seen email strings that go on for 20 messages because someone wouldn’t take two minutes to schedule a lunch appointment by phone.

I’ve seen late fees, over limit fees, and missed opportunities because said, “I’ll take care of that later” and never got back around to handling the important matter.

And I’ve seen people stressed out, harried, and lonely because they don’t take two minutes each day to pet their cat or dog. They think, “I’ll do it later” — except sometimes later never comes.

If you sigh in exasperation and say, “Angie, I can’t even find two minutes in my too-busy day,” I can help.

Make Some Room,


P.S. When you’re ready to do something about your disorganization, procrastination, or overwhelm, I can help. Let’s schedule a Clarity Session and get you into action.

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