I read an article in a few years ago that changed my entire life. In an interview a professional organizer basically said, “There are filers and there are pilers. Too often pilers attempt to turn themselves into filers, and they should not.” I was astonished. Cue the heavenly chorus; it was as if I’d been given permission to be myself after years of trying — and failing — to arrange my papers.

South Florida, NEAT Method

Has this happened to youpersonally? You want to find something fast, maybe a permission slip or a receipt for the taxes. You understand you’ve got it; you’re simply not sure where exactly. Is it at the pile of papers by the telephone? You paw through them, heart racing. No. OK, what about the stack in your dresser? Shuffle, shuffle, shuffle. Adrenalin is pumping. No. OK, OK — the dining room! Shuffleshuffleshuffleshuffleshuffle! No! The agony! The shame! Nooooooo!

Looking for something under duress is awful. Although it always left me demoralized, I did it far too often. I attempted to change. Ask anybody who has lived with me I was always trying to get organized. I purchased a filing cabinet and on too many occasions, spent hours getting all my papers filed. But I could never seem to sustain it. All too soon papers were heaped on top of the cabinet and in my favorite stashes around the house. I felt like such a loser.

And then — wonder of wonders — I learned I was a piler, which gave me the hope to work out something that worked for me.

Alison Hodgson

This is what I came up with. In the corner of our living room we had an underused cupboard. We removed the doors and installed wood shelves, which I painted the lightest robin’s egg blue. I wanted it to be more pleasing, since it’d be in continuous view. I found that these quite green baskets. They weren’t exactly what I wanted, but also often I’ll put something off while I attempt to discover the best and most economical option. This time I was happy with great enough. I understood there were cuter ways to tag the baskets, but I did not need to allow the vision of perfection to keep me out of something that worked. In this case plain 3-by-5 cards, which I cut down, labeled appropriately, punched a hole and tied to the baskets with leftover ribbon out of Christmas.

My Piling System Worked

All my kids, my husband (Paul) and the dog needed a basket. My younger daughter had two, because she was registered in a Mandarin immersion program half the day along with a Western classroom the other half. It was simpler to keep the papers separate. There was a basket for receipts, which were for tax purposes or things I may have needed to reunite. There is a basket for guides: large and tiny appliances, as well as major home systems, like our furnace, air conditioner and water heater. I had a basket that I broadly named “Writing,” because I was working on a book and beginning to freelance. It held notes, receipts and posts I wanted for research. There were several other baskets, with more planned, but that I can not recall that the classes.

We had a filing cabinet for long term records and Paul’s company, but this was for me and — miracle of miracles — it functioned until our house burnt. In our new home, I have a modified system of those baskets along with a filing cabinet that I’m capable of utilizing. I have baskets for every one of the children and my husband, and one each for my writing, receipts, guides and the dogs. I’m going to sort through the dogs’ basket. Since their records are created only once per year, I understand I can handle filing them at the filing cabinet.

Obviously, this system is not for everyone. Soon after it was completed, I showed my cupboard to a friend. Without missing a beat she told me about her strategy, which was that this folder she’d found that held many files and expanded. She loved it because she managed to have all their important documents right at hand. It was so simple!

I simply stared at her. She was speaking about an accordion file. Did she think I would go to all this trouble if I could take care of a stinking accordion file?

If you’re on the other end of the spectrum, clapping your hands at the idea of purchasing a bunch of new baskets, then I want to caution. I put this up once I’d done substantial decluttering during our entire home. I’d gotten rid of truckloads of belongings and contributed the numerous bins and boxes themselves. This was not just another attempt at finding a way to create my jumble manageable. I’d minimized to a level I could afford, but papers were my Waterloo.

Are you a filer or a piler? Have you got an unconventional process of organization? What has worked for you?

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