The Great Emptying: Expert Advice

UPSwamp…from a certified incompetent: me.

I think we’ve all come across the Number One bit of expert advice on getting cluttered papers under control – “Handle each piece of paper just once.” It sounds so sensible! Don’t waste time pawing through mountains of paper over and over. Take one piece, decide where it belongs, put it there, done. Repeat as many times as needed.

The only problem is, it doesn’t work all the time for everybody. It has never worked for me. When I try to sort through paper piles, I wind up with so many different categories that, before I know it, I’ve lost track of which papers go on which pile, and soon after that I give up in exasperated despair.

If following the rules doesn’t solve your problem, maybe it’s time to think harder about what your problem really is, and invent new rules to solve it. My problem? When I have to invent several dozen categories for scrambled papers*, I get confused and overwhelmed. So, for the past week I’ve been going through the piles gathering bank statements. Nothing but bank statements. It’s easy to sort them based on which account they apply to, and easy to set up one folder for each account and put them there.

Yes, I’m going to need to sort through those same jumbled piles again. And again. But the piles (some of them, at least) are visibly smaller, and now that I can see that I’m making progress, the idea of more sorting isn’t half as scary.

* Scrambling papers is even easier than scrambling eggs. But the papers aren’t as tasty.

7 responses to “The Great Emptying: Expert Advice

  1. Sounds practical to me. Besides, then your eye is tuned to pick out the most important papers first, and that’s the real concern, that one might miss something vital when throwing out the heaps of waste paper. Well done making the heaps shrink.

  2. Sharon, I’ve never been able to adhere to this one-time only rule. I do piles and then I sort them. But I have the pile that needs attention (bills, etc.) and the rest can usually wait (and often be thrown out.) 🙂


    • Frankly, I suspect the one-time rule comes from office work – and at that, from pre-computer, pre-email office work. Someplace where you’re handling a lot of incoming paper every day, but a filing system has already been set up to categorize it.

  3. here’s the answer: start with two piles – one to keep and one to get rid off, Then get rid of the get rid of pile before you then go back to the keep pile and be ruthless!

    • That’s a good idea for manageably small piles – my problem right now is that if I made a pile that went from floor to ceiling, that would only be a little bit of the total mess. (Besides, it would collapse long before it got to the ceiling 😉 ) So instead of trying to sort everything all at once, I’m making “keep” and “toss” piles of specific parts of the whole mess – this past week for example, actual bank statements went in the “keep” pile, and envelopes the statements came in or advertising flyers that were sent with the statements have been tossed.

      Shorter reply – I’m following your advice, but modifying it.

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