Tackling Paper & Piles

July 15, 2011


The other morning my husband staged an intervention at our kitchen table. He kindly addressed the issue of my incessant pile making. Apparently having to move two stacks of papers so he could sit down for breakfast was the last straw. I quickly chimed in with the “I’m busy. You have no idea how much I have to think about and do” argument and then I stopped myself. He was right. I do have a problem and it’s not because I’m too busy; it’s because I don’t take the time to layout a good foundation of organized behavior. The root of my problem is that I try to do too much at once and the little things, like putting stuff back where it belongs gets lost in the shuffle. In turn, stuff piles up and the chore of organizing becomes extremely daunting.

Today I’d like to talk about DUMP ZONES and how I plan on attacking mine. Are you familiar with a dump zone? It’s basically what it sounds like– a zone/area where you dump stuff. These zones aren’t necessarily the right place for you to dump your things, but for some reason you can’t help but put stuff there.

I have quite a few…
Say hello to the biggest dump zone of my house. THE KITCHEN TABLE.

Casey is working from home today and his laptop is on the table. I’m stressed because he has turned our table into an office but I should be more focused on the fact that there’s A LOT of unnecessary paper & random items on the table. It’s funny how one can completely ignore their OWN mess and focus on someone else’s. (GUILTY!)

This small dump zone takes up precious kitchen counter space… We shove stuff in this pretty box when we don’t know what to do with it. Our keys get thrown in this area too. Toothpaste, gum, Netflix discs, pens & sunscreen DO NOT belong on the kitchen counter.

I’m also an expert of the bag on a chair trick! Do you do this? I load up our kitchen chairs with bags and clothing as if they’re coat racks.

This drives my husband CRAZY.

And we work our way into the bedroom. This is my current pile of stuff… I’m not reading all of these books. I clearly need to put some away. I should do that now. It will only take a minute.

Here’s a small stack of magazines next to our couch. I recently recycled a ton of magazines so this stack is smaller than normal. I fear that it might get bigger and I desperately hope it won’t….

Here’s a little peek into the upstairs bathroom. Our son Cooper leaves books all over the floor when he’s using the bathroom. I usually trip over the books and get upset. I need to put some books away and give him a little box to put a few in. We need a rule about how many he’s allowed to have in the bathroom at a time!

Here’s a typical stack of papers, pens, thank you notes & random belongings on my desk.  I’ve been neglectful of this room because a certain 3 year old likes to trash this area and undermine all my work. More on that soon!

I think the first step to tackling my PAPER issue is to make only ONE designated dumping zone in the house. Since we enter our house mostly through the garage, I figure I can re-purpose this dresser and make it into a PAPER STATION. If we deposit all of the incoming/outgoing mail in organized sections as well setup a station to sort/recycle, I can prevent the paper & magazine pile up I constantly battle with inside our home. That means no piling on the kitchen counter! You hear that, honey?!

So this is my project for this week. Tune in next week and I’ll have a new PAPER STATION for you to lay your eyes on.

Today’s mantra:

What you do every day matters more than what you do once in awhile.


Let’s tackle our dump zones together!


36 comments on “Tackling Paper & Piles

  1. Ah, I love it! I struggle with this as well, we enter our home through a little mudroom/laundry room, and there is just no room to set things down there. So it gets defaulted to the kitchen counter, which then gets mixed with any dirty dishes, which is just gross. I love your solution!

    • Oh man! I couldn’t find a check the other day and was searching FOREVER for it and then I found it stuck to a pile of paper because it had BBQ sauce on it. That was pretty low….

  2. Erin Louise Nov 16, 2011

    Tracy, this is the story of my life! I have always had piles and dump zones. I think part of me enjoys seeing a stack of something…yes I realize it’s weird. I am also guilty of completely ignoring my piles while nagging my husband to clean up his stuff. We have this round-about argument often. However, I will try to follow your mantra and clear out a few piles…perhaps I could make a pile of to-do lists and organization ideas…yup that is the solution, I mean that would be a beneficial possibly useful pile, right?

    • If it’s weird to love seeing stacks, then I AM TOTALLY WEIRD. I appreciate them, but others don’t…sigh!

  3. Kristen De Deyn Kirk Nov 16, 2011

    I’m the same way, although your piles seem much prettier. Funny that you have the book The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin in one of your piles. The author has a whole chapter in there about the link between order and happiness (at least for her.) Maybe you’ve already read it. In any case, the book cover is so pretty that I hate to see you put it away! Good luck with staying on top of everything and let us know how it goes.

    • Yes! This book is totally inspiring me! I’m already starting to feel happy getting rid of stuff that I don’t need.

  4. Tracy — I got such a kick out of seeing my book “The Happiness Project” on your pile and reading about your struggles with clutter. What a great post. Clutter! I fight it constantly, too. It’s surprising to me the degree to which outer order contributes to inner calm. Good luck with your piles, papers, etc. (I’ve adopted a new rule that has really helped me, and might work for you too: “Surfaces should be used for activities, not storage.”)

    • Surfaces should be used for activities, not storage = GENIUS

      Thank you so much for stopping by Gretchen. I can’t tell you enough how inspiring you are. You’re getting the ball rolling in my life. THANK YOU!

  5. Wilma Nov 16, 2011

    This is so totally me! :( I also utilize doorknobs to hang bags, hats or bras. Sigh

  6. Tracy, you are blowing my mind and changing my life. Dump zones! OMG, I am SO guilty of this. For me it’s my living room couch. I dump everything there when I walk in the door. And my kitchen island is my kitchen stuff dump zone. And we just have piles everywhere. Your desk is my entire office times 1000. Eep! You’re right about not letting it pile up to the point where it’s daunting. I am so there. Help! 😀

    • One thing at a time! Tackle one project each day. Just set out an hour and challenge yourself to get stuff done in that hour. You’ll be surprised at how much you can accomplish. And most of the time you’ll want to work beyond that hour because you’re on a roll!

  7. This makes me so happy. I was always so jealous of how organized and pretty your house looked. I am a pile maker too. I try and organize one about once a week but I have about five of them so it is a vicious cycle. One thing I can’t do is the bag on a chair because I hate going to the store without enough bags. Those get emptied out pretty quick.

    • I was afraid that I’ve been giving people the impression that my life is “perfect.” It’s NOT! It’s just well edited 😉 We have clutter like you wouldn’t BELIEVE!!

  8. Can I suggest a magazine rack that attaches to the wall for your son’s books? Great post, reminds me of someone I know. Really, really well.

  9. On board to tackle! I’ve posted the goal on my blog, and hopefully I can post success too! Thanks for the inspiration!

  10. I’m a pile maker too. And I turn the backs of chairs into coat racks. But it always feels better when I pick up and don’t leave papers and things laying around, it’s just hard to keep up with it on a daily (or even weekly) basis. Bills and important documents that need to be filed really do me in. The filing system in our house is a pile.

  11. Loved your post, especially the illustrations! I’m looking around at my piles right now and ready to tackle. Three weekends in a row out of town and the piles haves grown like moss around the house. After reading Gretchen Rubin’s The Happiness Project, I adopted two mantras: “Do it now” and “Do it once”. Not always successful, but the mantra helps me stop and put something away, or deal with it immediately, instead of adding to a pile.

  12. cristy Nov 17, 2011

    I just found your blog via Shutterbean (which I found via How Sweet It Is…which is sort of the beginning a blog “pile” in and of itself, right? Hmm..Never mind…I’m piling on thoughts now..which is frightening, seeing as I’m sitting in my office, where it looks like a bomb went off, since I have a Cricut on my desk and 14 different cartridges I bought because I’m convinced I can teach myself how to make an invitation for my daughter’s birthday party that is just unreal, but I’ve never used this thing before, and now i have piles of scrapbook paper that I’m destroying because I have no idea how to use the dang machine, not to mention I just turned around and there are 75 pieces of paper spewing out of the printer and they’re not numbered, so I’ll probably gather them all and put them in the recycle PILE and have to print it all over again…trees! beware! crazy disorganized pile maker is on the loose!!!)….see? this is how piles happen. It’s stream of consciousness reading/billpaying/school-papers-reviewing and signing/etc etc etc ad nauseum. Which reminds me, this mess is making me sick to my stomach, and none of the beds are made and the breakfast dishes are (in a pile) in my sink.

    So really, Tracy, I have no idea what you’re talking about.

  13. I’ve been following Gretchen’s column for quite awhile, and have experienced a huge improvement, but piles are still my nemesis. IHow do I sign up for this newsletter? I couldn’t find a sign up sheet.

  14. christel Nov 17, 2011

    HI, I love your posts. I follow flylady each day and that helps with my clutter but I am fascinated by any organizational concepts and your posts are lighthearted enough along with the reality and hard work of it all that I look forward to your newsletter. I am doing closets, cupboards and drawers this week and every once in awhile I get up and open doors etc that are done and it makes me feel motivated and terrific! My hint is to do one thing that’s bugging you quite well and let it “prime the pump” so you say “I can do this!”

  15. dana828 Nov 17, 2011

    yeah…this is totally our house too. My kitchen peninsula is the WORST (right now: no less than 4 random piles of papers, mail, etc., my purse, daughter’s drawstring sports bag, bottle of wood glue (??), 6-pack of beer, cake pan, checkbook, broken bracelet, son’s half-empty pumpkin bucket, my laptop, and work binder-as I’m working from home today). UGH! Just the other day my husband prompted me to buy an accordian file for all these papers that accumulate here. The idea is that we will immediately assign them a file slot til they can get to their proper places. Since our office is in the basement, and largely my husband’s domain, I rarely make it down there. So the bills & his mail pile up on the counter until he eventually-usually once a week-takes them down there to deal with them. So I bought a pretty black ostrich-look file (since it has to live out in the open). Now to just get everything in it…

    My nightstand is another dump zone, as is the long dresser in our room. And I don’t even want to talk about the office. My husband is a huge piler, which is half the reason I don’t like to go into the office!

  16. Teresa Finnern Nov 17, 2011

    Tracy, I am so excited to find your site! I desperately need help in this area!! I moved from a townhouse into a house this summer, moved my classroom from a modular unit to a building classroom, and then just after Labor Day had to move my classroom BACK out to a different modular unit. Just looking at a cardboard box would start a small anxiety attack!! Yikes!! Then after lots of frustrating work, one day things started to feel better. But I still have a long way to go!! So I am looking forward to some inspiration to get all my STUFF at work and at home in order!!

  17. Katie Nov 17, 2011

    Oh my gosh Tracy!!! I need this blog SO BAD! I’m a newlywed and we are currently purchasing our first house and I know if we start off organized we have a much better chance of keeping it de-cluttered…I’ve loved AND USED all of your blog posts so far. Please keep them coming and help me plan for our casa 😀

  18. I too have many dump zones, which often are frantically dealt with after a friend announces they are coming over. My worst dump zone is my handbag, with 2 kids I’m always hauling around all sorts of stuff and at times when out and about just shove “stuff” in my handbag as I’m too busy chasing after a child, breaking up a fight etc

  19. Tracy! I totally do this exact same thing, except my husband moves all my piles to one location because he can’t stand clutter. We’ve just agreed that I’m allowed one pile and that he just has to deal with it.

  20. kathleen m Nov 18, 2011

    i had individual folders for every thing from credit card statements to insurance invoices to cable bills to mortgage stubs. every day when the mail came in i could lump them as a “file pile” or sit and put each piece of paper away. you can guess how high that pile got. now i make a file folder that says “2011”. after paying a bill the paper goes in this folder. when we do our taxes at year end we will use this one file to review all expenses and then keep or discard the paper as necessary. MUCH faster, quickly organized and mindless.

  21. Today i decluttered one of my dump piles-the living room bookshelf. And last night i cleared off the kitchen table. This post got into my head! My husband was confused because i am not s “neat” person but he was impressed with my resolve!

  22. mamasfamily5 Nov 22, 2011

    There is a website http://www.flylady.net it is most helpful place to keep u on track u can find . Check it out it can change your life. Love u and Joy :)

  23. This post made me laugh out loud — especially the captions!

    I was just thinking, have you heard of the term “piler”? I read somewhere that there are 2 kinds of organizers… pilers and filers.

    When pilers try to become filers, they usually become “messies”. Some people will be filers for some types of stuff and pilers for others.

    When I learned that it made me feel better… my whole life I have always thought, “PILES ARE FILES” and I thought I was the only one.

    I think the main idea is to just accept that you are a piler, routinely go through your pile(s) and get rid of stuff that you don’t need anymore, and keep your piles contained (like in a “pile box”). But I also get a big energy release out of getting rid of an entire pile, so I’m not anti-decluttering… just accepting this has helped me a lot.

    This is my first time to your blog so you might have already written about this, but I also really enjoy gretchen rubin’s 1-minute rule (if you can do it in 1 minute, you have to do it now).

    Also get a lot of support from reading “clearing your clutter with feng shui” by Karen Kingston (who coincidentally says you should have a junk drawer, which I guess is a type of “drop zone”… just make sure it’s on the small side and that you thin it out on a regular basis.)

    Looking forward to more homefries!!

    • Cindy Dec 2, 2011

      Hi Rebecca,

      Yes, you described me perfectly; I’m a PILER! I just keep rearranging my piles and dispose of papers once I decide I no longer need it or it’s just too old to worry about.

  24. Thanks for sharing pictures of your piles…they made me laugh and feel less crazy about our office – which is essentially one big scary pile. It’s on my tackle list for 2012.

  25. I have such a problem with dumping papers on my kitchen table, coffee table, nightstand, desk, etc. I definitely need to do a clean sweep and organize them all.

  26. What a great post! Aside from the fact that I am single and don’t have kids, it describes me (and my piles) to a T! I’m looking forward to reading the follow-up posts to see how you are tackling all of it.

    I’m glad to see I’m not alone in pile land!

  27. Cindy Dec 2, 2011

    Tracy, I stumbled upon this webpage and I’m hooked! I have huge clutter piles, mainly in my bedroom – under my desk and overflowing in front of my dresser. I have problems opening up mail, so things I don’t think are urgent get tossed into these large piles, later go into plastic bags. I still have unopened mail from early 2010. I get discouraged when I open the piles of mail because I need too many categories for filing. In the end, it all gets piled neatly into a paper tray waiting ’till next time. I think I need to read the “Happiness Project”. BTW, I enjoyed reading Rebecca’s post and already feel better, thanks Rebecca! :)

  28. Firecracker Dec 6, 2011

    Can’t wait to see how it turns out! I have a 10-ft kitchen island and the entire thing is a dump zone! It embarrasses me to no end, but I can’t get myself to spend the time & $ to set up a system…hoping to learn something new!

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