Conquering The Paper Monster

Piles on the shelf

I swear that paperwork multiplies overnight when I’m not looking!

I was doing so well at getting organized and here I am again looking at piles of papers.  I clearly have not been following my plan.  Instead, because of a busy schedule, paperwork ends up getting shoved onto a book shelf beside my desk.  It’s overwhelming when I see the piles.  It takes “forever” to go through them.  Tackling one pile a day is time consuming and my subconscious tells me that there isn’t THAT much time in the schedule to deal with it.  So, I procrastinate, which makes it worse.  Then I finally deal with it, getting everything organized for a while only to have it all pile back up again.   You can actually see my desk top at least once a month.  But, the sad thing is that I’m not one of those people who has a messy desk, but knows where everything is.  Here’s my confession.  I have a messy desk that is a black hole and I can’t find anything when I need it.

A shelf in the closet. Yikes!

Does this story sound familiar to you?  If yes, read on.  If no (perhaps because you’re naturally ultra organized), read on anyway.  Maybe it will help you understand what a family member or friend of yours is wrestling with on a regular basis.  Send them to this blog entry. 

My goal is to encourage anyone who operates like me to get organized along with me.  That means discovering the ultimate problem… always going back to old, hard-to-break, bad habits and dealing with that once and for all.

The bag of junk from my kitchen counter

On with the story.  There are three guys in my house.  Between the four of us (and I have to admit my youngest and I are the worst culprits), the kitchen counter seems to be a collection place for receipts, toys, junk mail, and so much more.  The other day I couldn’t stand it anymore and put everything on the kitchen counter into a paper bag to deal with later.  (More procrastination.)  Now the counter looks tidy, but there’s a black “sort through your paperwork” cloud hovering over my head.  Sigh.

Do I not know how to get organized?  Certainly, I know how.  I’ve “gotten myself organized” many, many times.  Maybe you can relate to this.  The problem is that things get set down and on goes our busy schedule.  Maybe the phone was ringing as I rushed into the kitchen.  Maybe I was putting groceries away and wanted to keep the grocery and pharmacy receipts so onto that handy spot on the counter they went or I needed to shred them because I noticed they had both the last four digits of my credit card number and my name.  Then more things get set down… newspaper articles I wanted to keep, a recipe printed out from the internet, my son’s toys or homework, magazines, etc.  There’s always an excuse.  Because there’s always something on my mind, I’ll get to it later.  Next thing I know, the paper monster has been let loose and has grown.  Why in the world do I keep all this paperwork to go through “later”.  I don’t like to throw away anything that has my name and address or any other personal information on it.  It’s best to shred it.  Instead of taking a couple of minutes to shred right then, it goes in the pile to deal with later.


A clean counter is nice

I know EXACTLY what to do.  Simply do not put paperwork down to deal with later.  Every day go through the mail.  Toss junk mail that doesn’t have identifying information on it.  Take a minute to shred any part of a piece of mail that does have identifying information and toss the rest of the letter if it’s not something I need to keep.   Put bills directly into my “To Be Paid” inbox on my desk.  Put any mail that needs action right away into an action folder for when I’m at my desk and ready to deal with it.   Or better yet, do this sorting at my desk with the trash on one side, the file cabinet on the other, the scanner on my desk, and my check book handy.  File anything that needs to be filed or put receipts in my handy dandy NEAT scanner pile.     Take 5 to 10 minutes a day (depending on how much mail you get) to do this and you can maintain a neat and tidy desk and counters.

So, if a person knows what to do and they simply aren’t doing it, does that mean they’re lazy?  Absolutely not.  It is just a matter of MAKING TIME to do it.  There are so many things in our schedule and I’m sure the same is true for you.  The thing to do is to take ten minutes a day to address the mail, receipts from the store, etc.  During that time, clear the kitchen counter (or kitchen table or wherever your sore spot is located) of anything and everything that shouldn’t be there.  Make it a habit.  Don’t set paperwork down to deal with later or it will multiply BECAUSE you have just gone back to a bad habit that you’ve been practicing for years.


OK, so here’s the challenge for myself and all of my readers.  (My husband is going to like this.)  One step at a time.


1. Take all receipts from your wallet.  File any that you need to keep, shred any that have the last four digits of your credit card and name on them and throw away those that don’t and aren’t needed.   (Unless you’re an avid shopper, this shouldn’t take longer than a minute or so.)

2. Put your mail on the kitchen counter (or your desk, if you have one).  Picking up one envelope at a time immediately throw the junk away that has no identifying information about you on it.  Tear out the identifying info on those that do.  Shred what you tore out and throw away the rest of the junk from that envelope.  Open all bills and put them into a “bills” file for your desk.  Read the rest of your mail.  File anything that needs to be filed.  (Don’t set it down to be done later.)  Put all letters and invitations that need a response on your desk (or the corner you have for working).  Done for now.  That shouldn’t have taken more than 10 minutes for most people.  If yours takes 15, then make time for 15 minutes a day.

3. Take a small pile from your paper pile and do the same with them.  (How do you eat an elephant?  One bite at a time.  You don’t have to tackle the whole pile.  Just take one small section of it every day… one bite.)

That’s it.

The next day do the same.

The next day do the same.  And keep doing this day by day until your piles are finally cleared.

None of us can tackle the HUGE overwhelming pile.  But, we can certainly chip away at it a little at a time until everything is cleared.  Once your piles are cleared, keep doing steps 1 and 2 every single day so that those piles don’t ever reappear as a paper monster again.  It’s that simple. These two steps should not take more than 5 – 10 minutes a day.  Just focus on that one small task each day and it won’t be overwhelming in the midst of a busy schedule.

Now, here’s the thing.  It’s easy to go back to bad habits.  Skip this just one day and you’re there.  Just keep doing this every day until it becomes a good habit that has replaced the old bad one.

Imagine how freeing it will be to be able to find what you need when you need it and to not have piles of paper around.  Let’s get organized in this one small way.  Are you willing and ready to join me?

Let’s do this together.


3 Comments Add yours

  1. habisha says:

    My kitchen counter often has piles of mail that my hubby sets out (in an organized fashion — for him) and if I don’t watch it, the whole thing is all of a sudden full and I’m trying to chop onions in a tiny space while trying to avoid getting any on his precious paperwork/mail. Finally, in frustration, I just gather it, indehoo and dump it on his chair. He can deal with it then.

    I have a place that seems to multiply papers, too — receipts from the doctor’s office, Starbucks receipts, Physical Therapy exercises, and the odd bit of mail asking me to join this or that or a magazine subscription I think about till way too late. I do deal with this pile once a week.

    The worst is the office: There are stacks of 750 page manuscripts everywhere, especially if I’m editing more than one novel at a time. Why do I DO that? Seriously, it’s easier to edit one at a time rather than two, but I’m always in the midst of editing two and writing one. Maybe two. Sometimes three — and they all need their own space in my office, even though I set up files for them. They just like being out in the fresh air better, I guess.

    Now I live in a tiny house and my desk is in a nook, so nothing is allowed out of its place. We HAVE to deal with it. Much neater. I can sort of see the desk. Ha! now you need to keep up with me…

    Love you, my dear friend. You can always blame it on the new puppy.

    1. Sheree says:

      LOL – I found myself wanting to put paperwork down in that sore spot and just before it hit the counter I remembered to just go through it right then and there. No mail and papers hanging around. Everything is still neat and tidy.

      I can see how having a small space would necessitate keeping organized. One day I’ll come with the family and visit.

      1. habisha says:

        I’m holding you to it.

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