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Writing about what really matters

Tag: organization

What’s not to love about that?


I find it fascinating how, when I feel compelled to organize and clean, so often some sort of insight or breakthrough follows right on its heels.

This past weekend, I did two clutter-clearing kinds of things. First, I bought and organized a filing cabinet I’d been wanting for a couple weeks or so. (Really it’s years that I’ve liked the look of these little cabinets, especially the bright red ones!)

I also got a massage. It became clear to me some years ago that I tend to store negative cell memories in my shoulders and neck. My aha moment came when I was getting a shoulder massage from a coworker who was also a massage therapist (and quite intuitive as well, as I think many of them are), and she immediately started picking up on information about my father. I hadn’t been thinking about him at all–but I had far less than normal range of motion when turning my head due to pain in my neck (ah, the much-discussed pain in the neck!) and shoulders.

Unfortunately when I called to make my weekend appointment, my semi-regular massage therapist had left my salon, and I made an appointment with someone I didn’t know who was available.

The massage seemed OK, but afterwards I could quickly feel what I think was (and is) toxicity and therefore pain (a painful, slightly burning and stagnant sensation) spreading around my shoulder muscles and lower back. This was unlike anything I’ve experienced with a massage before, but I’ve since talked to someone who used to work at a spa who’s heard of this type of reaction before. (My usual massage therapist would really go after it at certain points, and I’d often do breathwork in order to tolerate the intensity. By using breathwork, I wouldn’t need to ask her to back off. I’d be sore afterwards, but not like this.)

Before long, my digestion was out of whack. And Monday morning I woke up nauseated–an unusual sensation for me. Fortunately I’d finished all pressing assignments before leaving the office on Friday, so had no reason not to stay home sick. By mid-morning, the promise of the nausea was fulfilled, and it wasn’t long before no particle of anything I’d eaten in recent memory remained in my body. (Talk about your clutter clearing.)

Meanwhile the ache had spread from the parts of my body that had been massaged (upper body only) to those that hadn’t. Note to self: Think of massage as less a salon service, more holistic healthcare. I’d actually gotten a recommendation of a massage therapist who sounds much more skillful prior to keeping my appointment … live and learn.

In my world, there are two kinds of sick–too sick to read, and the other, better kind. For a good while, I was too sick to read.

But, once I felt better, I really felt better. I got a bit of a post-illness high. I spring-cleaned some more, I felt cheery. (The high continued today. I asserted myself; there was no getting me down.) I also realized, when there was very little in the house appropriate for a sick person to eat, that my diet–organic, unprocessed, and delicious though it may be–really is too rich. I’m feeling ready to do something about that.

And … I was ready to hear the guidance that yes, at last, it is time to go. I can see clearly that now I’m in the right frame of mind to set intentions and parameters, and make good decisions about what’s next. “Get me the hell out of here” isn’t the best launching pad to success, I do see that now.

I don’t exactly regret anything, and I feel pretty pleased with the eventual outcome, but I do believe I’ll think twice about the skill of anyone in whose hands I place my body in the future. I also realized while writing this that probably the reason I have felt so traumatized recently by being treated unfairly (and I think betrayed is not too strong a word) by authority figures was a connection to past-life issues in this area. (So many of us have lost our lives and loved ones unjustly in the past. If you tend to seize up a bit around the so-called “important” people of this world, you very likely have this in common with me.) So probably the toxicity I’m feeling has not to do just with recent and earlier experiences, but likely some past-life stuff as well. All part of the clutter I’m here to clear.

The toxicity is certainly not all gone–I can clearly feel it still in my body, there’s more work to do–but today I feel lighter, as well as having a mandate to move forward. And what’s not to love about that?

This post is illustrated by my SoulCollage card Persistence + Rosie the Riveter.

How to create a filing system

Bisley silver

When you finish clearing paper clutter, what to do with what remains? You need a filing system.

For me, the purpose of a good filing system is to be able to lay your hands on the paperwork you need immediately, with an absolute minimum of hassle or stress. When your formerly-photographic memory starts to curl around the edges, a good filing system comes to the rescue!

This weekend I bought this lovely little filing cabinet on sale, and today I labeled its drawers and began using it.

Because I dislike hanging files, this is the first filing cabinet I’ve ever owned. The beauty of this one, with its 10 equally-sized 9 3/8 x 14 1/2″ drawers, is that each fits a small stack of papers, including tearsheets from just about any size magazine–no folders necessary.

My existing system consisted primarily of document boxes. I have both large and letter-size document boxes. What I’m currently buying are from Bigso Box of Sweden. They’re made of 70% post-consumer recycled fiberboard, and my color of choice is hot pink. (Sadly, Bisley doesn’t make filing cabinets in hot pink! I’d be all over that.) I’ve used these boxes for many years now–they’re sturdy and attractive.

In the letter-size boxes, I keep the images I’ve saved for SoulCollage:

  • People
  • Animals
  • Divine
  • Flowers and nature
  • Architecture
  • Objects
  • Backgrounds

I use the larger document boxes for everything else. I keep one for each year. In these boxes are

  • Paid bills
  • Receipts (except for wardrobe and flexible spending)
  • The completed kitchen calendar for the year, which shows when I did what
  • Completed tax return

There are other document boxes for

  • Important papers, like birth certificates, Social Security cards, adoption papers for the dogs, etc.
  • Collections, which has receipts for collectibles
  • Wardrobe–This includes a large manila envelope for each season (fashion seasons, Spring and Fall). On the front I write what I bought–date, store or website, manufacturer/designer, item description, price. I also keep a running total of what I’ve spent for the season. On the back I write what wore out and had to be discarded. Inside go all receipts, hang tags, catalog pages, packing slips, etc. This makes returns nearly effortless.

I’m using the drawers of my new cabinet for the following:

  • Tax paperwork–W2s, mortgage statements, etc. Previously I kept a large manila envelope recording donations in my “year” boxes. On the outside I’d record the date, organization, and amount, and inside I’d keep receipts, acknowledgment letters, etc. These envelopes are a bit too large to fit in the drawers of the new cabinet, so I’m planning to get a smaller size envelope, and keep donation information for the previous and current year here–until the tax return is complete, at which time I’ll file it in the appropriate “year” box.
  • Flexible spending receipts–I never know just when my flexible spending program will demand documentation. I’ve filed current year receipts and health insurance claim reports here. I’ve learned to ask for what I’d need while I’m still at the healthcare provider’s office. A couple minutes’ effort there saves me a big headache later.
  • Cards–my own business cards, blank cards for my beautiful handmade address file, extra drawer labels.
  • Garden inspiration–tearsheets and articles.
  • Interior inspiration
  • Products to try
  • Home improvement–sketches, estimates, products, ideas, tearsheets.
  • Work-related paperwork such as hardcopy resumes, reviews, notes, memos.
  • Summer recipes–Except for baking, I cook without recipes, so these are for inspiration.
  • Winter recipes

Adding my new filing cabinet inspired me to spring-clean my office, and pitch out a number of papers that were once important, but no longer are. I’ve added others that I couldn’t identify immediately to my paper basket, where I’ll identify whether they’re still relevant, and if so, to which category they belong.

What you care about and want to keep may be different from my categories, but I hope these ideas and strategies will be useful to you and adaptable to your needs. Happy spring cleaning and filing!

How to eliminate and prevent clutter

Paper clutter was my weakness.

I’ve written before (in Letting go) about how important releasing clutter has been to making progress in my life. Sometimes I feel an urge to clean, purify, organize … and I always listen. Once when this happened I bought a beautiful vintage Deco sideboard for my dining room, and organized all my cloth and paper napkins and silver in its drawers.

Recently I got an invitation to a clothing exchange, and took the opportunity to purge my back closet of all the ‘too good to donate’ items I’d been hanging onto. At the exchange, I really enjoyed seeing someone fall in love with a vintage polka-dotted raincoat that didn’t work for me. That same day, I had a major breakthrough, realizing I needed to move on in another area of my life. Coincidence? I believe it was more of a chain reaction.

Several years ago, my paper clutter was so pervasive that it took persistent and sustained effort, organization, and systems to clear it and keep it at bay. Here’s what worked for me …

When I started, I had every magazine that had ever crossed my path, every paystub I’d ever received, every letter or card I’d ever been given. Thank you notes for doing things for people I couldn’t remember, never mind the favor I’d done. Boxes upon boxes of paper. Somehow I believed I needed all this stuff. As always, first my belief needed to change.

Eventually I realized that everything I’ve encountered, read, experienced is already part of me. I don’t need to hang onto the physical evidence, and in fact, doing so can hold me back from what’s next. I realized it’s to my advantage to slough off everything that isn’t currently serving me.

So I started making a bit of time to sort through it all. I’d set the timer for 5 minutes in the morning and evening, and sort papers into the recycling (the most common destination) or my filing system. Five minutes was my minimum commitment, but often I’d get into it and work longer.

I loved it when I’d have a breakthrough that allowed me to clear a bunch of things all at once. I had a whole cardboard box full of letters from a childhood frenemy with whom I’d corresponded into early adulthood. Reading some of them, I admitted to myself that this person hadn’t been a good friend to me, and we’d been thrown together–I’d never really liked her or chosen her as a friend. This realization allowed me to dump the whole lot into the recycling. Whee!

Printed information is so pervasive today that I believe having a system in place to deal with it is really necessary–at least for someone like me, who places such importance on the written word. It’s important for me to distinguish between written words that are life-changing, written words that are helpful, and written words that are of no value to me whatsoever.

My mail comes through a mail slot in my front door, and less than 10 feet away I have a basket whose designated purpose is recycling. I stand next to it or sit on the sofa, and toss in whatever I can decide about immediately, including circulars and opened envelopes. Bills go into the nearby bill drawer to be dealt with biweekly, and the rest goes into a basket in the bath. Every time I go in, I look at something in the basket. It then either goes into the recycling, the cross-cut shredder, on my to-do list, into the bill drawer for consideration when I make monthly charitable donations, or into my filing system.

Anytime I come across a stash of paper that appears to need sorting out, into the basket it goes. So without any extra commitment of time, I’m now able to ensure a paper clutter issue never develops again.

With the magazines, I started reading the covers and asking myself if I really wanted to read this content. Did it resonate with me now? When the answer was no, the magazine went into the recycling. (I filled a 64-gallon cart several times.) When it was yes, it went into a basket or onto a shelf for reading later. I typically read magazines when I’m taking a tea break or eating by myself. I read a mix of new ones and older ones, and when I finish one, I select another of the same type (new or older) to put into the rotation. The ones I’ve finished I now donate to a SoulCollage facilitator. I find it helps me let go of anything when I know it’s going to serve a useful purpose with someone else.

These books all inspired me at various times when I needed a clutter-clearing push, and challenged my beliefs about my stuff:

  • Karen Kingston’s Clear Your Clutter with Feng Shui
  • Brooks Palmer’s Clutter Busting: Letting Go of What’s Holding You Back
  • Peter Walsh’s It’s All Too Much

I hope they’re as helpful to you as they were to me!

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