Reasons We Lose Things

The list of possible causes for misplacing things might be endless.  As with life, there are many variables and complicating factors.  It’s probably not as simple as “here it is, the sole cause for why I can’t find my things” and rather a combination of different reasons.  Therefore, considering the common causes can help us identify our own triggers, which is the first step toward limiting how much we lose things.  Here I’m talking about emotions – their tremendous impact in both organizing and locating our things.

  • When we’re distracted, tired/exhausted, angry, hurried/impatient we are exponentially more likely to forget where we put things.  We’re also not being thoughtful about what we are actually doing.  This is not a good time to make decisions about how to set things up for future use – wait until you can focus on the process.
    • I’m a big fan of being mindful, being in the moment as much as you can.  And if we could will ourselves to be in that state all the time we could eliminate this as a challenge.  Yet we all know that it’s not that simple.
    • Sometimes we can catch ourselves and control the distraction or whatever – “now is the time to focus on this.”
    • Other times it means recognizing that you are not in the best mindset for dealing with your stuff – do it later when you can be mindful.  If there is some urgent need to get things elsewhere, get like items grouped roughly together and find a place you can get them out of your way – rather than attempt to actually organize anything.
    • There are times when you need to take a few seconds to get things into their home; if you frequently misplace necessary things like your keys, cell phone, wallet/checkbook, etc. – take the seconds it will take to make sure you put them into their home – however frustrated or impatient you might feel.


  • Likewise, when we’re in the middle of strong emotions like any of the above – it becomes extraordinarily easy to become blind to that thing we are looking for.  This is turn can exacerbate our feelings – the frustration of panicked searching – the idea that we’ve lost something again and then when we found it and it was “right there all along” (if it was).  For some people, the mere suggestion something has been misplaced will send them into this state of stress.
    •  We can become frazzled when we can’t find that thing we need – whether it’s our keys and we need to leave the house or if it’s some paper we need in the next week.  This state – the adrenaline pulsing means we’re reacting emotionally rather than logically – and therefore our ability think clearly is compromised.  No wonder it’s harder when we feel stressed about losing the thing to then find it.
    • If you can recognize when your mind is racing, practicing stepping back – find a way to relax and calm your mind.  This is easy to say and can be excruciating to try to apply!
    • When you become aware of how your emotions are dictating, consider the true urgency of finding that lost thing – is it something that can wait, even for an hour or more?  If finding the item can wait, then distract yourself with something else – something that will take your attention for a while.  Then you might find when you revisit the search that you can be calm and methodical and it’s found quickly.
    • If you need the item urgently, it’s likely your reactions are going to be that much stronger and you’re going to be more emotional too.  Ideally you can take a minute or two to calm yourself.  This can be anything that helps the anxiety subside – in order for you to think and process more clearly.
    • This is not the time to problem solve what contributes to your misplacing things.  The stress of dealing with this frequently is often a motivator for finding solutions.

For some people, losing things is virtually a catastrophe.  While for other people, it might be uncomfortable; it is something they largely accept as part of life.  Both sets of people as well as everyone in-between still have to deal with strong emotions around misplaced items – no one is exempt.  It’s amazing and sometimes disturbing how our emotions can distort our thinking and perceptions as well as how challenging it can be to keep them in check.  And not just in one-way, but both sides – trying to organize or finding our things.  This doesn’t mean avoid your feelings, rather when we can see their impact, we can make smarter choices – which sometimes means simply (or not so simply) waiting for a better time and state of mind.

Review – Containers


  • a way to keep like items together
  • can maximize space
  • can increase accessibility
  • useful for smaller items of similar category


  • not a guaranteed solution for organizing struggles
  • contents within can “disappear”
  • can become more work to access and replace in its space


Here’s another somewhat nontraditional review – since it’s on containers in general, not a specific container.  When I talk about containers I am referring to any object that has the ability to keep things grouped together.  This means that a drawer, a filing cabinet, a bin, a bag, a basket, and so on are all containers – even your purse, if you use one.  We all use some containers under this definition although how useful the containers we use will depend on who we are and how we use them.  There are times that using containers can make things more challenging – even if you want to use them.  With this broad definition of a container, you might consider when and how they work for you and when they’re actually counter-productive.

In many ways the world seems to assume that we all need containers – we’re “weird”, maybe “wrong” if we don’t want to or can’t use containers.  The filing cabinet is a great example – many people believe they have to use a filing cabinet – “it’s what it is designed for.”  This is one of the fallacies of containers – even when they are designed for a specific purpose it doesn’t make them function for everyone.  Then it’s time to consider other options for keeping items contained.  You can create systems for containing that doesn’t require containers.

Figuring out when and where containers will help you is the most important thing – for if they only complicate your process, that’s defeating the point.  Therefore let’s cover a few situations that can make containers more useful.

  1. Are there things that seem to get “lost” frequently?  Small items in a bigger drawer can be one of these things getting lost.  This can be a time to consider a container of some sort to keep those smaller items together and accessible.  This is when it’s time to consider if you simply need a bin – in this example, something without a top to provide visibility and is easy to use – or if another solution needs to be found.

    Pantry drawer showing containers

    Here’s one of my pantry drawers – using containers to corral smaller items together

  2. Are there areas that are harder for you to use – spaces that are less accessible for you?  If you are shorter, high shelves can be a challenge to use – although if you put less frequently used items into a container, it provides easier access.  As a short person, the lip of a container means that you can slide the things you need out without the hassle of getting the step stool.  And it’s not just the lip of a container – it’s the handle, lid, whatever – having the items contained means you have access to hard to reach areas and the things you store there.  This can apply equally to deeper areas and low areas if it’s a challenge to bend or sit on the floor – containers offer easier access to get and move the things to a more convenient area while you need the contents.  The key to making this work is to limit the weight of the containers in the hard to access areas.

    Tall closet showing containers

    Both these shelves are hard for me to reach – yet by putting like items into containers, I can grab the handle, loop, edge to get easy access. This applies even to that box above.

  3. Do you need (or want) to maximize the tall and/or deep shelves?A cabinet shelf – one of any style stand-alone shelf – can help make the most of tall shelves in closets and then you use containers on top and bottom of these, as they’re useful for you.  One of the challenges of tall and deep shelves and using the cabinet shelf without containers is that loose things can topple off and things can disappear behind things – so the combination of tall and deep shelves and using containers means that you can make the most of the space.  You can also stack containers in these spaces, though that can make it harder to get to all of them and then possible resistance to returning them to their spot. Containers used in the front of these types of closets can then be easily moved when you need access to the items further back, which hopefully are need infrequently.

    Stand alone shelf in a tall and deep closet shelf

    Here’s a stand-alone shelf in one of our tall and deep closet shelves – where the containers on top and below provide greater storage. There are containers behind on both levels as well – helping to make the most of the space.

With all the variations of containers available to us, it is worth evaluating what features will assist you in getting and staying organized when a container is called for.

  • What size do you need?

Remember, wait to get a container until you have gathered and sorted all the like items you want to store together.  By doing this, you will know your specific needs.  It’s worth considering if the amount of items is typical too – are you likely to pick up more things that would need to be stored there too?  Do you actually have more than you’d like to store normally, so in the future a smaller container would make more sense?

  • What is the container made of?

With all the options out there, we’re virtually unlimited in our choices – plastic, canvas, wicker and woven materials, metal, and so on.  Yet, there are more than preferences for the material involved.  For instance, wicker and other woven type containers can snag things unless they’re lined.  Some people want to avoid using plastic, though that often means the contents aren’t visible from the side.  Are solid sides important?

  • Will you forget what’s inside if it’s not transparent?

Some people are quite visual – if you can’t see it, it’s like it doesn’t exist.  Sometimes this means that labels aren’t enough, so being able to see the contents becomes critical to the system working.  Other people, who are visual in a different way, come to strongly associate a particular container with specific contents – where the orange bin is autumn decorations.

  • Does it need a top or will the top just get in the way (or get lost)?

Lids can be important when we are stacking containers on top of each other, or if you will need to tip the container and not have the contents spill out.  They can help keep dust and dirt out of the contents too.  Other times, it makes more sense to have open containers – it’s easier to put things in and pull things out.  Inside a drawer is a prime place to avoid lids – you can see and access the contents easily.

  • Is there a shape that will work better for the stuff or the space?

Most of the time, a square or rectangular container is going to help maximize your spaces – since most spaces are designed with right angles.  Yet, is this container going into such a space?  If it’s a decorative hamper that you’re going to put in the corner of your living room to hold your yarn – it doesn’t need to have right angles for the space or the contents.

  • How much does it matter if it has a place for a label or is challenging to label?

One of the challenges with containers is the ability to label – or rather the inability to label them.  Many adhesives don’t attach securely to canvas, metals, wicker and woven materials and so on.  There are containers designed with a built in label while the bulk of them don’t provide this feature.  Figuring out how valuable this is for your situation is important.  Of course there are alternatives for hard to label containers – I’ve gotten attached to binder clips holding the label – as they can work with most containers.

Despite the perception that containers should work for everyone and are the solution for organizing challenges – it doesn’t make it true.  We need to consider our situation, the space, and how we work.  As much as I love containers, they do not function equally well for me – it depends on different factors.  This means that to discover what will work for us, in whatever context, we need to evaluate our needs.  Containers certainly help us contain our belongings, yet they are not the only way for us to keep our items together.

Going Shopping – In Your Home

We all have more things in our home than what we are currently using.  We might even have a lot of things collected – things we bought when we couldn’t find the other ones and/or things we bought in bulk or when it was on sale.  Our spaces might be significantly limited – so there’s only room for a few things close by where we use them.  I am asked regularly whether I think people should get rid of these duplicates – “don’t I need to purge the excess stuff?”

Some people think that most things in excess are the very things to pass along – donate, recycle, even throw away.  You’ve probably heard “experts” talking about how if you have clothes that don’t fit, get rid of them.  If you have 10 bottles of shampoo – donate them to a shelter or something.  The bottom line of the thinking seems to be to remove all those unnecessary things and free up the space in your home.

With much of what I talk about – I believe that there are no absolute answers for people.  Yes, you can create more space by donating the clothes that do not fit.  Yet, what are the factors that motivate you to keep those same clothes?  Considering your own situation means that the solutions fit your life.  Remember, there is no one right answer.

Therefore, consider that all those things you have “extra” of are the things that you can go shopping for – right in your home.  And you won’t have to buy them – again.

This idea is familiar with those who have a root cellar – or simply keep some of their food in the basement.  Yes, it can function as a food supply in case of an emergency, yet it is also hopefully food that you move upstairs when you run out of that particular item and then replenishing the supply.  We can apply this idea to other things that we have more than what we’re actively using right now.

The key is to make it relatively easy to find what you’ll need – it is about making it more like going shopping.  What are the broad categories of things you have?  If you have beauty products – shampoos, toothpaste, lotion – get these all together.  Initially it can be the general group of bathroom items and then you can make sure each division is together.  That way when you run out of shampoo, you go to the place where the extras are and pick up another bottle to resupply your shower.

If you have more than one size of clothes, consider what it is like to grab one of them not knowing if it will fit you.  Like with anything you are keeping “extra” of, getting them sorted can make all the difference down the road.  Get all the clothes that are one size down from where you are right now and keep them together.  Under the bed bins can be great for this – it keeps the clothes out of the way, maximizing your usable space, and allowing them to be accessible when you need them.  Where you store clothes that don’t currently fit isn’t as important as keeping them out of your usable space and having groupings for each size.  Then when it’s time to dig into another size – hopefully smaller – you know that what is there are all things that will fit you.  You get a “new” wardrobe without spending any more money – all by going shopping in your own home.

Many of us already do this to a lesser degree, we have an extra shampoo and whatever – so we don’t have to rush to the store if we run out or forget to pick it up at the store.  When we pull out that duplicate item to use, we add it to the list for the next shopping trip.  Even when we don’t pick up another – whether the store is temporarily out or we simply forget despite the list – there’s enough time to get that thing on the next shopping trip before we’ll need it.

It feels less like shopping when you have only the single duplicate, yet it’s about using what you already have.  If the things you have are things you are going to use eventually – then why not set things up so you can access and use them with minimal effort?  The key is to make sure they are things you will use – want to use – and part with those things you won’t use.

We can apply this idea to various things:

  • any consumables i.e. food, cleaning products, beauty products, paper products, etc.
  • clothing
  • a supply of possible gifts
  • the décor you don’t have room for right now but want to switch out periodically or are simply not ready to part with

As you can see it is not necessarily about having to get rid of the things you are not currently using, it is about making sure you can use and appreciate the things you do have – even if it’s at some future point.  Sometimes it even feels fun to “go shopping” in your home and rediscover the treasures you are now ready to use – some people have compared it to Christmas or a birthday, you have all these gifts you’d not quite remembered.  This can happen even as you sort the things – preparing them for future use.  If you will use those extra things in the future, you can create the systems to make it easy to find and then use them – to go shopping in your own home.

Organizing Photos

This can be a daunting prospect, especially if you have little to no system in place.  It’s similar to dealing with paper – these relatively small things that each need to be looked at and dealt with.  Yet photographs are often one of our most prized possessions, and creating a system means that not only are we protecting them, but also that we can appreciate them when we want.  As I touched on last month in Technology – Digital Pictures, organizing photos is becoming even more of a challenge to organize since we often have both physical pictures as well as digital ones.

As with virtually everything that we need to organize, the first step is to figure out what you want to do with your photos – besides keep them of course.  Do you want to put them into an album?  Do you want to scrapbook them?  Do you want them all printed or scanned – keeping them all in one specific medium?  How would you like to be able to appreciate them?  There is no wrong answer – although many people are embarrassed they don’t want to do more with them than have some order.

Let me make a couple of things clear early on – one, you do not have to set aside a weekend or a day to begin organizing your pictures, you can decide to spend an hour here and there (as with all organizing endeavors).  Two, as precious as photographs are, challenge yourself to part with the blurry and unnecessary duplicates.  Three, if you want to keep the physical images safe, look for archival containers (including albums and pages) that might not be available locally.  Four, consider whether you need to organize the larger pictures independently from the standard size pictures.

Often the traditional thinking with pictures is to get them into chronological order.  If the mere thought of figuring out the chronology of all your pictures leaves you wanting to scream, don’t worry – there are other options.  The ideas for organizing photographs can work with both physical and digital – though digital has other challenges associated with it.

One approach for organizing photos is to consider a broad timeline idea – more than chronological.  One person I worked with chose this idea: since kids, couple-hood, before spouse, and earlier generations.  In this situation, we needed 4 empty boxes/containers for those categories and we sorted the boxes of pictures into them, just adding another box into the category when the first was filled.  In another situation, after using floss to remove old pictures from albums, we spread out the pictures to divide them into decades – the ‘10s, ‘20s, ‘30s, and on.

If you think about scrapbooking – not that you are going to do this – the idea is to have a theme, the focus of the particular scrapbook and gather those photos together.  You can use this idea for organizing, the themes for your family and life – trips; family traditions (i.e. holidays, celebrations, etc.); athletic/theatrical/nature-loving/etc. kids; family “monsters” (pets); state of the home (garden pictures, renovations, etc.).  This is a time for you to think about your family and the things you are capturing in the pictures.  These themes become your broad categories – the piles or boxes that you sort into.

Imagine having a collection of pictures from each year your child was in soccer (or whatever activity) all together.  Organizing your pictures in this way allows you to see the progression over the years – there is a continuity to the photos that also offers perspective, “look how much they grew from that first year until their last year.”

Even if you stop at this point in the organizing process you will have a system in place.  Of course, you can continue to refine that system more – breaking those broad categories down so that specific photos can be found.  This is when you can use other groupings within the larger category – so all the Halloween pictures of your kids or Halloween pictures of your kids from the 1980’s are together.  You get to create the way you break it down or not.

From a preservation standpoint it’s recommended that you refrain from labeling the photographs themselves as inks can end up damaging the images.  From an organizing perspective, labeling each picture can be time-consuming and maybe even frustrating.  It’s easier to label the envelopes, index cards, and box for each category.

There it is – the process to getting your photographs into a system.  Yes, it will take time to get through your photos and into the organizing system that makes sense for you.  Yet with these dear memories, how wonderful would it be to have easy access to walk down memory lane or to find pictures to share with others?  And with the system in place if you decide later on to do something different – like make an album – the photos are already organized.  Any new pictures coming in can also be easily added to their place in the system.

3 Common Scheduling Recommendations

What comes to mind for what ‘schedule’ means to you?  There are times that I think of my calendar specifically – those appointments that are concrete and involve other people.  Other times it’s broader than just my calendar – where it’s all the various pieces on my agenda.  And let’s be honest, we all have an agenda – whether or not we write it down or make consistent progress.  When we struggle with our schedules it’s setting us up for crazy-making – we feel guilty, lazy, and head towards being overwhelmed.  And no matter what any expert might claim, what will help you is something for you to discover, so let’s consider some approaches that you can experiment with to find out what will help you.


Put Tasks Into Your Calendar-

Most time management experts say that we need to put tasks into our calendar – you choose a block of time and add it directly, making it into a concrete appointment, with you.  If you’ve never tried doing this, I would suggest you test it out and see if it helps you.  This seems to be one of the most popular and common recommendations – sometimes even part of the foundation of time management approaches.  It’s also a prime example of something that works for some people and falls flat with others.  Although I play with this from time to time, it’s something that fails to benefit me.  Maybe my inner child rebels against that much structure or I’m aware of how negotiable those tasks really are – yet more often than not, any tasks in my calendar end up getting done in other time slot or avoided.  The one exception can be errands – where I choose the errands based on time and location, so it’s really the most convenient to do it then.

Identify Your Roles-

This is another popular piece of the foundation for managing your time – identify your values and the life roles you fill.  Another way to think about these is what are your big picture goals for your life – those important things that you want to spend time on.  I’ll even go a step further and tell you to make sure one of those things on your list needs to be: personal/self-care or some other name that means you’re making yourself a priority in order to have the energy for the other things.  If we identify “relationships/family/friendship” as a role we value, we can then make room in our schedule for attending to that.  I talk about this in Tasks – Big Picture View, and share my own list of 5 roles. The list of your roles will work more effectively if it’s short (again time is limited) and then you make effort to include fulfilling aspects of it in your schedule.  You can use these roles in other experiments – both to help you include them in your schedule and to see if you are living your values the way you’d like to be.

Include Time Estimates with Each Task-

Many experts talk about writing the amount of time you think a task will take right after the item – regardless of what the task is or how time consuming.  As I talked about in Take Control of Your Schedule, we all only have so much time to work with and it only helps us if we can avoid over-scheduling ourselves.  I’ve talked before about how our perceptions of time can be distorted – in either direction – so writing down your estimate about how long each task will take you helps you to be mindful about what you’re trying to accomplish and whether it’s a task for another day or time.  Also by having the time estimate there, you might realize how you need to adjust the allotted time for certain tasks, more or less time – helping you control your schedule in the future.  Although I do not write time estimates each week on my to-do list, I use this as needed – whether to remind myself that this or that task will take more time or to clearly show that just because most tasks are “small” the time still adds up.  I’ve also noticed that when I am feeling overwhelmed that including the time estimates on my to-do list helps lessen my anxiety and stress, which translates to making the most of my time in smart ways.  Of course, if you use a digital calendar and put your tasks directly into your calendar, you are blocking the time – the estimate of the time that task will take you.  Even if you don’t physically record your tasks, you can consider the time required when you’re thinking about what’s on your agenda.


These 3 approaches to handling your schedule more effectively are probably the most well known, although I’ve got several more on my list of options for scheduling experiments for another time.  None of these are the end-all be-all that will solve any schedule challenges.  They can all be used together or not – although knowing these approaches, even if you don’t actively use any of them, can be important as you work with your schedule.  If you haven’t tried any of these, test them out for yourself and your life.  Do they add any benefit for your schedule?  Is there a particular time or context that they could help you?  Remember, it’s all about finding ways to help make your life easier.

Misplacing Things?

It happens to all of us – we forget where something is or can’t find that thing we need.  I’m currently even in the middle of one of those times – one of our magazines has a place, I’m sure of it – yet I cannot seem to locate where they are.  It bugs me!  And granted I can be a bit of a perfectionist; it’s more than that though, it’s unsettling to know you have something yet cannot get your hands on it.  Although on some level losing things is inevitable, it’s worthwhile to work at minimizing that.  Therefore let’s look at some of the causes of losing things as well as steps to take in order to limit how much we misplace.

  • We don’t put things away when we’re done with them.
    • Put things back into their home when you are done with them.  How’s that for an obvious solution?  Yet, the better we can get about this, the easier our lives can be.
    • This can happen for any number of reasons and sometimes it can even make sense at times.  There are steps for dealing with things we aren’t ready to put away so they won’t get misplaced in the process.  First, is there a place nearby the home that keeps the item more accessible?  For instance you have an item you pulled out of the bathroom medicine cabinet/drawer/cabinet and want to leave on the counter – it might be the reminder of seeing it or making it easier to access.  I have a counter of sorts for in process stuff – everything goes there, waiting to be used and then returned to its home.
    • Also, keep things moving toward their home – I know I don’t always want to run upstairs/downstairs to just put something away – yet I have containers for items that need to go in that direction, so the next time I’m moving that way, I take it along and take the few moments when I get there to put the things away.
    • Does something else need to change?  We had a chronic problem with scissors in our home – they kept disappearing.  When we talked about it, we realized that we really wanted more around – it was too inconvenient and not easy enough – and once we got a couple of more pairs, they each go back to their homes after they’ve been used.
  • We put like things in different places – whether that’s forgetting where we’d put that x thing before, or wanting those x things in multiple areas for ease of use, or changing our minds about where to keep x and not moving the earlier place into the new place.
    • Put x in only one place and do it every time.
    • Early on in getting things organized, focus only on choosing a place and putting the things in that place.  That’s the most important consideration initially and later you can think about other considerations.
    • Also, if you’re early in the organizing process, remember to think in broad categories first – so all “office” supplies get put in one place, or like I talked about recently with papers in Paper Pyramid, all papers to be filed in one place.  You can refine these once you’re further along, though those things will likely be close together at that later point too.
    • There can be times when having more than one place for x thing: cleaning supplies in each bathroom, items you want on each floor of your home, products that are currently open and being used like Ziploc bags, toilet paper, garbage bags, etc. are examples that might have two locations – those that are in use and those that you pull from when needed.  As with almost everything, it’s not completely an absolute – unless you can make it so.

Here I’ve only covered two of the reasons we can misplace things among the many possibilities that exist.  I’ll discuss more in the coming months.  And you will probably begin to see how much overlap there can be among the culprits that lead to our misplacing things.  With these two examples – we might not put things away when we’re done with them because that item could go in more than one place – so it’s easier to simply not put it “away.”  It can help to examine which is your primary struggle with misplacing things and then try different strategies to limit or even eliminate these tendencies.

Limiting Your Collection Places – Including Technologically

You’ve heard me say this before: “I love containers” – all of them: any shape, material, size, etc.  I absolutely drool over them.  And fight the temptation to bring them all home.  It can be a problem.  I’ve ended up with large boxes just filled with empty containers – waiting for the perfect thing to use them for.  You could say I have a tendency to “hoard” them.  They are always useful – at least they have the potential for it.  Yet, there’s the point – potential usefulness.  Just because something is or can be useful does not make it worth using or keeping.  Also, “useful” is subjective – is it actually useful for you and your life?  This applies to technological solutions – programs and apps – as well.

How are containers and programs/apps alike?

  • They are designed to hold things within them.
  • They are there in essence to benefit us – make our lives easier.
  • It can be too easy to go overboard – collect different options.
  • With too many being used it’s all too easy to lose track of where things are.
  • It can be easy to get the “container” before you’ve identified your specific need.
  • Neither are the end-all, be-all answer for your stuff.

Recently in my newsletter I mentioned my “hoarding” of quotes and how I have a great program that contains them well.  That didn’t stop me from drooling over programs that were designed for the organization of quotes.  My husband cautioned me to avoid them; one of the reasons is that some software can become irrelevant quickly.  Yet, there’s a more important reason to avoid collecting programs or apps – how much do you want to disperse the information you are saving?

Sure, there are programs designed for this exact type of information and getting it organized.  Then there’s this program for that type of information.  This can go on ad infinitum probably.  And it might be tempting.  Yet, then you have to keep track of where your specific information is as well as the data itself.  It’s easier when just a few programs can help you maintain and organize various types of information.

The program I use to organize my quotes, NoteShare, is also used extensively for recipes, craft projects, and other lists.  The features of the program fit my needs in more than one context, although I’m contemplating alternatives for my collection of quotes, i.e. EverNote.  With NoteShare, between the ease of adding images and the wonderful ability to expand and collapse entries keeps the various files manageable, the program is quite versatile.

Just as with the extensive options for types of containers, we are now overloaded with choices for containing our information – both with the devices as well as the software.  With all the capabilities of the various devices it can be tempting, as well as inexpensive, to collect software to handle each different types of information we need and want to keep.  One of the obvious challenges though is that many programs can overlap in their ability and function – and then where did you actually store the information?

We need to be thoughtful about what we truly need and make sure it will help us.  A container will become cumbersome when we have too much or too little to store within it – as well as any number of other factors that make them counterproductive to our lives.  In fact containerizing isn’t even the right answer sometimes.  The options for containing our digital stuff need to be equally deliberate about – what do you need?  How will it help you?  Sometimes that means using programs that are extremely versatile, while at other times you have specific needs – like a photographer using complex photo editing software that would exasperate the rest of us.

The solutions that will work for each of us will not always be obvious.  Similar to setting up organizing systems that we think will work well for us that fall flat; finding the right containers – if containers are even needed for this or that – might well be a process.  I liked EverNote when I started using it, yet didn’t appreciate how versatile it was.  It wasn’t a “container” that I used much while now I’m using it more and more.  Our solutions for containing our stuff – physical or digital – can evolve.  We just want to make sure that we remain mindful about our choices, which will help us from getting overwhelmed with our stuff (again).

Herding Papers into the Filing Cabinet

I have a vision of trying to herd cats – with them flying in all directions!  I’ve only met a few people who actually enjoy filing, and the rest of us try to manage it.  This can be especially challenging if you have put off handling your papers once you’ve finished the action they needed – as well as if your filing system is over-full from lack of purging.  When you are facing this situation you have a decision to make about what your first step will be – do you begin with thinning your filing system or by corralling all those loose papers?

First some questions: (familiar from my “Paper Pyramid”)

  1. Do you currently have a system for your papers?
  2. Is there room within your system for adding papers? (i.e. is your filing cabinet or whatever stuffed full or not)
  3. Are you happy (relatively speaking) with your current system?
  4. How many papers are waiting to be added to your system?

If you can answer yes to the first 3 questions, then your progress can move forward more easily – how much so will depend on your answer to the final question.  (If you answered no, check out the link above to Paper Pyramid.)

The most satisfying first step regardless of your answers is typically to get all those loose papers together.  Toss all those that you don’t need or want to keep – as long as it’s obvious quickly; otherwise wait to decide until you get farther along.  There will be more opportunity for purging in the process.

Just like if your answers from above were no, the foremost consideration as you look at each piece of paper is whether you will need this in the short-term or not.  Depending on the amount of papers, this might be all the distinction you need – 2 piles of papers: needs action and to file.  It’s critical that you keep all papers that need your attention separate and together through this process – until they can be tossed or moved into a pile for organizing/filing.

Hopefully if you answered yes, you’ve already made the decisions about how long to keep papers that are exempt from governmental guidelines.  If not, there’s still hope – you just need to think about and decide for yourself how far back you need to keep certain records.  There are many opinions out there about how long to keep your papers (besides property and tax related) – which I talk about some in Paper Retention.  Remember at this stage it’s fine to add all papers to their pile, the decisions can be delayed for the time being.

Depending on your answer to the last question, “How many papers are waiting to be added to your system?” the next probably step is to subdivide.  For instance, get all your financial papers together, all the instruction manuals, everything that can fit into a category – make sure the pile of papers is relatively small so that the filing process can move along smoothly.

Since you answered yes to the first three questions, consider another question:

  • When was the last time you purged papers from your files, even if they are not overflowing?

If you don’t know or it’s been more than a year – as much as you might not want to hear it, this is the ideal time to organize your files.  This is not about emptying the file drawer and surrounding yourself with piles of papers.

It is about taking the best opportunity to make sure only papers you need and want are taking up the valuable space in your system.  Therefore, you have a pile of financial papers ready and waiting to go into their file.  Pull out the file – completely out of the filing cabinet.  Look through it, this doesn’t need to take much time once you’ve decided how long you’re keeping each type of paper – and remove all those papers that are older or no longer relevant.  Then add the sorted papers you’ve gathered from around your house into their appropriate file.  Continue with each file.

One of the things I’ve done to streamline the purging of older papers is to place a single tabbed divider between each year in every file.  This means that at the beginning of the next year I pull out all papers in front of the first divider and shred them, and move the tabbed divider to the back of the file and add all current papers behind it.  This makes regular purging a simple process that requires virtually no thought.

Remember that one of the things that can break a filing system down is having too many papers in one file.  There’s a fine balance between too few and too many papers in one file.  And to state the obvious, if we don’t purge the papers from our files, they will overflow – or more likely we’ll stop doing the filing to avoid dealing with that cramped file.  Any way that you can make purging papers an easy part of the process will save you time, energy, and most importantly – your sanity throughout your life.  Your files will no longer threaten to explode and any resistance to getting those papers into the filing cabinet will come more from just the dislike of the filing process than actual problems.

Getting papers from around the house into the filing cabinet should not at all be like herding cats.  Ideally it’s not a chore, it’s something that can happen fairly easily.  Although I admit, filing remains a chore for me.  It’s still not like herding cats – I have an inbox designated for papers that need filing in a discrete place that also has limited room for growth – the paper corral.  If my papers have moved past any necessary action, they go directly to the “inbox,” and this is where they stay until I manage to get them into the filing system.  This means my papers are in one of three locations only: action needed, the “inbox,” or in the correct file.  It’s only the last step that I can still struggle with – yet it’s completely organized as it is.  It’s all about finding what works for you – so herd those papers into the filing cabinet and regain control of your space.

Paper Pyramid

Are you trying to imagine a literal pyramid of paper?  Fortunately I am not talking literally – though it might be interesting to see one, though I’d imagine none of us would want to deal with it.  Nevertheless, papers are the most common struggle we all face – and it can feel like a pyramid.  And there can be a pyramid effect to papers, just like my recent discussion, The Pyramid Effect of Getting Organized.  Because papers are challenging, it warrants its own discussion – these small pieces need to be evaluated and have a decision made about each one – time and energy consuming.

First some questions:

  1. Do you currently have a system for your papers?
  2. Is there room within your system for adding papers? (i.e. is your filing cabinet or whatever stuffed full or not)
  3. Are you happy (relatively speaking) with your current system?
  4. How many papers are waiting to be added to your system?

When your answers to the first 3 questions aren’t all yeses, it’s time to consider using the idea of a pyramid to deal with your papers.  And if you answer no to all 3, then the pyramid will be the most efficient way to handle those papers.  This also reduces the chaos in the short term.  Warning – it might feel inefficient and time consuming – that’s because we’re looking at the bigger picture of getting your papers organized in order for you to maintain them and be able to find what you need when you need it, in the long run.

Think about the base of the pyramid – it’s wide and broad.  Figure out your broad categories of papers in your life – like financial, health, recipes, articles, personal/kids, memorabilia, photos, and etcetera.  There’s a caveat though – you don’t want to separate them into file size divisions.  It’s too soon in the process to be attempting this – you’ll get there.

One important category will be those papers that need action from you in the short-term.  You need to make sure to keep those available during the process, though once you’ve taken the necessary action you can add them to one of your other categories.

These categories are also meant to be small enough that when you’re ready to move onto the next step, you’ll be close to creating the files.  The categories are based on your life, your comfort, and the papers you are dealing with.  With one client, the bulk of papers we’re organizing are from her years as an art teacher and her own art supplies – so we created broad categories of images/pictures, technical art info, projects/ideas, blank papers, art history, recipes, articles, and health info.

Keep going through all the papers you can find, adding them to your broad categories – fewer than 10 categories total.  Ideally you will not move to the next step in the pyramid until you have gotten all your papers into these groupings – whether they stay in the same category or get moved later in the process.  It’s simplest to have all the papers you need to organize all together – in order that you can figure out what and how much you are dealing with.  Therefore don’t forget the papers that are already in your filing system, as these will need to be considered in the next step.

Now you’ve gotten all your papers into their broad categories, you pick one of your categories and begin to subdivide that.  This is when you can start to think about your specific files, though I’d wait until you’ve sorted everything in that category before doing any actual labeling or filing.  As you’re making the piles of papers, you can begin to visually see how small or big they are – giving you a chance to consider whether another division would make sense in order that a file doesn’t become unmanageable.

Once you’ve sorted one category, you can label, put into files (and hanging folders), and into the filing cabinet – if that’s your system.  This can also be the time to consider other approaches since using a filing cabinet is only one option for having a system for your papers.  Being at this stage means that you will know what your needs are for your papers – at least for this category – and what options are even possible.

After doing this with each category you’ve created, not only will the paper pyramid be gone – it will be organized.  By following this process you’ll have created a system that has been tailored to your own needs and will be easy to use – at least when you get around to putting those darn papers away! Yet, with having gone through this process, when the time comes for adding more papers to your system – there will be room and no additional dread.  Hopefully now there’s less dismay when you’re ready to tackle the paper pyramid.

4 Products from the NAPO Conference 2013

I think it’s my curiosity, but I really look forward to seeing what products are being offered.  The NAPO conference expo is a great place to discover new products.  It’s a convenient way to learn about the variations that can be hard to be aware of without doing research – like with my recent post about Hanging Folders.  And it’s already been another year and last week was our 2013 NAPO conference.  Here are 4 products that I found interesting – though stay tuned to see more details about their actual performance.

1. Staples Better Binder with Removable FileRings

These are reinforced 3 ring binders that have pull-tabs to remove it from the binder.  Once it has been removed from the binder, you can hang the 3-ring part in a filing cabinet.  It even comes with a label on the back of the 3-rings for labeling.  Other interesting aspects are that with the binder itself there is a convenient way to label the spine and for a page to be inserted on the front of the binder without traditional challenges.  Also, the pockets that are included in binders with this particular one appear to be much more user friendly.

Binder with removable rings

Binder with removable rings

2. Ampad Versa Crossover Notebook (from Pendaflex)

This is quite similar to the Arc Notebook from Staples that I reviewed from last year’s NAPO conference.  I’m intrigued with the smaller page dividers and looking into other features this specific notebook offers.

Versa Crossover Notebook

Versa Crossover Notebook

3. Erasable Hanging Folder Tabs, Hanging Folders, and File Folders (from Smead)

These have a surface that allows you to use a white eraser to remove your prior label and then re-label them.  The first thing I did when I saw these was to try to use my finger to smudge or erase the words – it had no impact.  If you like to hand-write your labels, this could be a great way to keep your files and hanging folders useful for much longer.

Erasable hanging folder tab and file folder

Erasable hanging folder tab and file folder

4. Ampad Shot Note

This is something that received a fair amount of attention from all the organizer’s attending the expo.  It’s a system for taking your notes and drawings from handwriting to handheld.  There is special paper with four corners that connect with their app and converts it into digital files for you.  I joked with the guy that you could avoid using their paper up by placing papers on top so that the 4 corners were still visible – as this is the most critical part for their system.

Ampad ShotNote

Ampad ShotNote


There were other products that were introduced which I might briefly share later.  These were the ones that I found to be the most different that could also offer more features for the users.  I’m intrigued with these and look forward to using them – seeing if I find more aspects to them as I implement using them.