Thursday, June 18, 2009

Top of the Heap

Photo of Bob by Karen Peterson

As a gal who is notoriously fond of organization and order, I have been harboring a dirty little secret for a while now. I have had an organizational breakdown of the paper variety. For years I had a system involving a hanging file for receipts categorized by tax deduction, an action file and a file for correspondence. It was tidy and delightful. I also had a desk, and a filing cabinet, occasional uninterrupted free time, and no pre-schooler. That’s all changed. Excuses? Why yes.

My in-box procedure for the past year or so has involved tossing all of the paperwork and mail that accumulates into The Basket. When I need to locate something, I tear through The Basket (aka That Damned Basket), swearing about how much time I am wasting until I lay my hands on what I’m looking for, or I don't. My filing system consisted of emptying The Basket into an old P.F. Chang’s to-go bag and cramming it in the closet when company was coming. The horror.

Every few months I would spend an evening filing, shredding, and promising myself not to let it get so bad next time. I broke that sweet promise over and over again. Even though I hated it, I was obviously comfortable enough with my mountain of paper to continue doing nothing about it. I’m so complicated.

A few weeks ago, you may recall, I made the decision to do Inbox Zero; a technique for prioritizing and organizing email for maximum productivity. It was a little time consuming to get set up and once I got to zero it took awhile to get used to the naked look of my inbox, but now, I love it. The same types of procedures will be used to corral my out-of-control paper situation.

Today is the day where I take the next step: Paper Zero. I will climb the pile and then implement a new system. Unless I would like to have the “help” of my 3-year-old, this all must be accomplished during naptime. I will come up with a number of important and pressing reasons why I should continue putting this off. (Twitters, Facebooks, snacks) I will ignore the whinier me and get going.

I breakdown the piles of papers (mail/bills/cards/coupons) and odds and ends (crayons/Chuck E. Cheese tokens/batteries of indeterminate age) and organize them by category. Then with some manila file folders and the P-touch label maker, I make it happen. The key to my innovative system is that all of the files have to be accessible, eliminating the apparently Herculean effort of getting the blue plastic file box out of the cabinet and putting it back. These new files will return to the infamous Basket, which will now hold only files. Paper that finds its way into the house must find an immediate and permanent residence.

An hour and 20 minutes later I have reached: Paper Zero. As with most unpleasant things, the build up and the dread were much more dramatic and unpleasant than actually just getting it over with.

I am wondering if I have the fortitude for Laundry Zero.


  1. ONLY 20 minutes?? did you shred everything? he hee - can you come over and help my overstuffed drawers of all those papers!

  2. If I could get away with shredding everything I definitely would. (So tempting.) It was an hour and 20 - and I was running fast!

  3. An hour and a half to paper zero???? I am very impressed. I have never seen paper zero, closet zero or mind zero and I'm sure any of those would take me at least a lifetime. You are my zero hero.

  4. i personally have not seen laundry zero in 10 1/2 years. my son hides dirty socks like a squirrel saving up for winter