It’s a new year and I’m celebrating with a new look to my website! The people over at Stormhill Media and I have been working on this for months and I’m so excited by the results. Can’t wait to hear what you think! Please drop me a line and let me know. I LOVE to hear from you.
This new year has also inspired me to try to do some paper organizing. I had a boss years ago who said he never trusted anyone who didn’t have a messy desk, and I’ve certainly lived by that adage. As you can see from this picture I just took, my desk is drowning in kids’ artwork, leftover Christmas cards, scribbled notes about my current Book-In-Progress, articles that I really mean to read one day, and oh so much more. I led a “Getting Organized for the New Year” session for our MOPS group and had to acknowledge yet again that paper is my downfall. I love all the reminders and keepsakes—I really do—but at a certain point it becomes too much.
I’ve read quite a bit of good advice about paper organizing over the years, but I haven’t found one person or system whose advice completely fits me. For example, I could never live with only the minimalist two file folders that Marie Kondo suggests, and I prefer file folders and filing cabinets to the binders that many professional organizers swear by. But I have found a few rules I find helpful.
Look through every single piece of paper.
This rule, from The Paper Solution by Lisa Woodruff, means that it takes more time. No shoving entire piles of paper or folders in the shredder or recycling bin. But it’s also reassuring to a paper lover like me. You never know what you might miss that is important or was mis-filed. I found a check I’d written years ago that I’d been using as a bookmark! And going through each paper also ensures that you can set aside anything with your address or other personal details on it to be shredded.
Only touch the paper once.
This rule is so difficult for me, and that’s one of the reasons why I think it’s a good one! My temptation is to pick it up and just put it back in the pile if I’m not sure what to do with it or if its home is in another room. The end result is much more work for myself. So I do my best to be ready with a place for everything before I even start sorting.
Don’t let the piles form in the first place.
This rule has been easier for me to implement now that two of my three kids are doing online learning and thus not bringing home daily stacks of Very Important Paperwork. But there will always be paper coming in and so I’ve invested in this cute organizer for their school things that I do want to keep. I keep it on a little built-in desk in the kitchen and the paper goes straight in there.
Use Marie Kondo’s rule about sparking joy to decide what to do with kids’ artwork.
Figuring out what to keep and where to keep my kids’ artwork and schoolwork has always been a struggle, so I like this idea of asking if each piece sparks joy. I find this rule to be easier to follow for older artwork and papers. I can look at my 14-year-old’s math quiz from way back in second grade and be quite clear that it’s not something I want or need to keep. For the ones I do want to keep or am unsure about, I try to take a good photo. (Just doing that makes it a lot easier to let go of the actual paper art.) This whole process is harder with the new creations my youngest brings home from preschool since she’s proud of them and wants to see them displayed right away. One solution I’ve found was to invest in a couple of these frames with magnetic covers so I can just pop the top open and put in her latest piece of art without even having to take the frame down off the wall. (Note: I’m just including these links to share items I’ve found useful; I have no sponsorship or affiliate relationship with these sellers.)
These rules have been helpful to me, and it does feel great to get rid of great swaths of paper, but I’ve been surprised by how emotionally exhausting the process has been. These pieces of paper from other periods of my life–everything from college papers and old resumes to medical records and correspondence–have brought back lots of memories and emotions. That’s, of course, part of the reason why I have held on to them in the first place. and why I’ll continue to keep some of them. I’ll never be completely free of paper, nor do I want to be.
One of the reasons I try to go through this process in the first place is that I believe it’s part of practicing the spiritual discipline of simplicity, which is all about holding our possessions more lightly. And that means also remembering not to treat simplicity (or specifically paper organizing) as an idol. I love it when my desk is clear, and I truly believe that fewer piles of paper help me to give more attention to God, but for me simplicity itself is not the point. Like all spiritual practices, simplicity is only helpful insofar as it points to God.
So I keep going through these piles, hoping that the end result will be greater productivity but also, most importantly, more time and space for God and the work God is calling me toward.
Let me know how you organize your paper (or don’t!). What works for you and where do you struggle?