Tag Archives: paper piles

Paperholics Anonymous

Hi, My name is Joy and I am a Paperholic.

I’m grateful to be here with you today at Paperholics Anonymous. I don’t know where else I can turn.

My addiction began innocently enough. I was in college, writing an essay on feminist thought in early Ibsen. I had notes on index cards, notes on scrap paper, notes on the backs of envelopes and in the margins of books.

It was 6 a.m. and I’d been working on this !@#$% since noon the previous day. It was due in two hours and I COULD NOT FIND the scrap on which the perfect ending quote was scrawled.

I pawed pathetically through the papers till my desk looked like the bottom of a hamster’s cage. Minutes before my deadline the note surfaced and I typed my brilliant conclusion.

But ever since that day I’ve had a Paper Problem.

I LOVE paper. Books, magazines and newspapers, of course. But even better I like articles clipped from magazines and ripped from newspapers. I read the newspaper like I’m on an easter egg hunt. I scan to rule out all the drivel I don’t want to read, but when I find an interesting article, I tear it out and set it aside to read later.

The pile on which I place it grows ever taller, because every day there’s more to read. The pile must compete with a steady influx of the New Yorker and Newsweek magazines (both relentless weeklies – I get only one monthly, National Geographic.)

The New Yorker is especially challenging because I like to rip out the good cartoons to distribute to various acquaintances. Like here’s one for my son, the industrial designer:

And here’s one for a friend considering surgery:

The only good news is that I’ve managed to cut my junk mail and catalog intake to almost zero. (This demands dogged dialing to each company’s 800 number.)

Two spots compete to attract the most paper: the end of my kitchen counter, and the top of my desk. It’s an all or nothing proposition. If the space is clear, I can stay on the wagon… for awhile.

But then I have a little slip; maybe I get too busy to put things away before I rush off to the next thing. “I’ll just put it here for now…” I tell myself, as I set a piece of paper on the counter top.

I should know by now I can’t just save one piece of paper. Before I know what hit me I’m buried again.

How buried? Imagine an exhibit at the Natural History Museum, where you’ve got a cross-section of the earth’s layers…

The top-most layer is light and fluffy – mostly current newsprint, Toyota tuneup coupons and an occasional offer for a 2-for-1 dinner.  That’s about six inches deep.

The next 6” layer is more compressed – printouts of articles I read online, reports, manuals, magazines yet to be ripped into. Printer paper doesn’t fluff as nicely as ripped newsprint.

From time to time, I moisten the pile with a cup of spilled coffee or tea. Using both hands like salad tongs, I turn the pile as I seek some piece of wisdom I know is about halfway down. This serves to aerate the pile nicely. Over time, the lowest layers begin to heat up and decompose.

The bottom six inches is where my addiction begins to pay off. That’s where I’ve got dark brown crumbly compost, complete with happy earthworms. It grows great tomatoes.

You may ask, what have I tried to cure my addiction?

I had great hopes when it was rumored that the advent of computers would bring us the paperless office. This didn’t work for me: my computer just brought me in contact with MORE articles I wanted to print.

I tried taping my eyes shut so I could no longer read. I tried going cold turkey – installing a paper detection/rejection system at the door.

But then I found myself rifling through my neighbor’s recycle bins in the middle of the night seeking day-old paper.

So, now I’ve hit bottom and I’m here at Paperholics Anonymous. Can you help me?

P-Touch Power!

David Allen, the productivity guru and author of the perennial best-seller, Getting Things Done, recommends that followers of his organizing principles get themselves a little device known as the P-Touch labeler. It’s a hand-held battery-operated gizmo with a miniature QWERTYUIOP keyboard that produces crisp black letters on white sticky tape and can be used for affixing labels on just about anything, but especially file folders.

I have had the PT-65 (now replaced by the PT-80 or PT-1000) for several years.

One long weekend a few years ago I holed up with my P-Touch and labeled every single file (as well as a bunch of binders and boxes). Everything was so legible that they could be read at ten feet by a blind man.

My youngest son found my P-touch passion incredibly amusing. When I wasn’t looking one night, he made labels for other things around the house “refrigerator” “toilet” “closet” and even one for the cat: “Fritz” and himself: “Wylie”.

Oh, and he labeled the labeler “Nerd Mobile.”

I don’t mind being ridiculed – these labels keep in place the façade of order. Even if the file folders fill up with useless outmoded information over time I feel good when I open the drawer.

This week I did clutter-clearings for two separate clients, one new, and the other a return visit. When I first walked into the new client’s home I was wondering what the problem was. The entry way, living room, dining room, master bedroom and bath were spare and in perfect order.

But then we entered the family room. The big round coffee table was heaped with books, papers and exercise DVDs. The couch was similarly covered.

“I like to work here because I don’t really like my office,” she said. “I just feel less scattered here.”

So then we went into her office.

No wonder she felt scattered! Paper everywhere. Piles on the floor, piles on the table, piles nearly burying her computer. One corner was filled with boxes of photos, clippings for future collages, and magazines to be clipped for future collages. A basket held mail she hadn’t opened in a week.

I wish I could say that after two hours we made major headway. But she was so petrified by her piles that it took an hour of tea and talking for her even to touch the first pile.

Then I brought out the P-Touch. We labeled a few file folders with it and stood them upright in her file drawer. She was so happy.  Suddenly she could imagine order, control.

She’s buying her own P-Touch.

Yesterday I revisited a couple I’d seen before Christmas. Both of them had major paper issues. The husband got hooked on the P-Touch and has been tossing crap and labeling the rest ever since. The wife was finally willing to move ahead herself.

We talked about how she’d like her office to be once she was done, and with that vision in mind she became a tossing fool. We filled three big boxes with paper of every sort. Then we labeled a few files with her husband’s P-Touch. Another convert. She’s buying her OWN.

Brother should give me a commission.