There Will Be Piles

There Will Be Piles


There are certain patterns I have noticed when I work with people in their offices and homes. No matter what the state of things when I arrive—from slightly broken organizational systems to evidence of systems never having existedthere are piles. 

Of course, in a home that's cluttered, there will be piles. Piles of clothes are common. Piles of bins with assorted things. Piles of electronics. And don't even get me started on piles of tote bags. And the piles of shoes.

When presented with these piles the clients respond, in terms of body language, in a squaring of the shoulders and a full front approach that means business.

But there is one type that is dreaded above all piles. 


This pile is composed of assorted papers we gathered up in the course of tidying over weeks and months. They are also gathered from far corners of the home (and every available surface) like mushrooms, found tucked vertical in the kitchen between the fruit bowl (sometimes in the fruit bowl) and the cereal, stuffed into bins or bags, and at the bottom of purses and backpacks. Body language for these piles? Crossed arms, slumped shoulders and outward groans. Sometimes both.

Clients may resist my invitation to sit down and sort through it. They'll usually suggest taking a short break to check email, make tea or ask me if we should work on something else for a while. 

I drew the little diagram on the left to sort out the emotional difficulties in facing piles.  These piles are seasoned with indecision and emotion: regrets, reminiscing, identity, lost opportunity and good and bad memories. 

I think at the heart of the difficulty is a resistance to the decisions that have to be made about each piece of paper. I try to make it easier but reminding them that all this paper has a home.  We just need to put it there one by one. I offer my best optimistic smile.

They are right to roll their eyes. It is unpleasant.

Even with these clear sorting categories, the decisions are hard to make and, I think, are dependent on how decision fatigued the client is. The process is often exhausting. For the ADHD client it is pure torture but even for the average decisive person it can be hard to decide whether they want to let go of ideas, projects, old letters, bills, receipts and old tax documents.  

The first home is the garbage bin. The second is a memento box that would hold greeting cards, photos, kid art, friend art, pretty things they can't throw out. The third is a filing folder system they use to hold to be paid bills and other business/home documents that are necessary. The last is the To Do file folder/basket or whatever catch all the client would like. 

Once we've moved through all the difficult piles, it feels as though the we've come out of a cold, damp cavern where we did a little spelunking and then got lost. We both take a deep breath and look around blinking in the light. We usually have bags of trash to show for our work and the client feels the lift of a fresh start. 

I have my own dread of this kind of pile.


Here's my solution: 

A file folder for everything I tend to hold on to close to where I come in contact with it. 

Let me illustrate: I read the paper, open the mail, receive the children's best artwork on a daily basis in the dining room. So, I also have a small filing system with categories that reflect the things I tend to keep: Recipes, City To Do, Tame Space Inspiration, Kid's Art, Scrapbook. Then there is the trash can, right next to the filing system. 

This works for me, after many years of refinement. Clutter still builds on the counters, but I tend to manage it immediately because I know it has a place to go. 

What's your system? 

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