Sunday, May 6, 2012

Spring Cleaning for a Writer

by Stephanie McPherson

     Scanning my bookshelves is an adventure. Most of my shelves are two books deep and interspersed with magazines, files, and plastic boxes full of Google articles on everything from Sicilian Easter customs to the Hubble Telescope. Like undergrowth in the jungle, my shelves have a way of spreading out slowly, but inexorably. Give me a foot or two of wall space, and I’ll find a way to squeeze books in.

     That can make it a real challenge when I’m looking for a particular item. Yesterday persistence finally paid off. I found the treasure I sought – a gem of a book coauthored by three people, two of them dear friends of mine: File…Don’t Pile! For People Who Write: Handling the Paper Flow in the Workspace or Home Office by Pat Dorff, Edith Fine, and Judith Josephson. Every few years, I try to reread that book. It was my cat Pablo who convinced me I was overdue. He jumped onto one of the taller piles on my desk, felt the pages slip under him, and slid to the floor in a landslide of papers.

     Edith, Judith, and Pat know the scenario. “Do you have an uncanny ability to misplace papers without leaving your desk chair?” they write in the first chapter. “Do you jam file folders until they bulge, clip piles of articles and save every draft? Is your side of the mountain poised for a paper avalanche?” Yes, yes, and yes.

     Armed with File … Don’t Pile, I began dividing my towering piles into sub-piles. I went through my cabinets and pulled out boxes, brimming with paper, from the closet. Needless to say, it was an all-day project. My sub-piles began to multiply like toadstools sprouting after a spring rain.  They took over my kitchen table and countertops, proving that old adage, “Things have to get worse before they get better.

     But they did get better. After a day of filing, I’m sitting at a clean desk. My countertops and kitchen table have become a paper-free zone. Well, at least temporarily I find that clearing out physical clutter helps clear out mental clutter too.  I feel energized, and my ideas flow more easily. My back doesn’t hurt from leaning against a lumpy folder on my chair. I feel so good that I think I’ll make spring housecleaning my papers an annual affair.  (Maybe -- gulp! -- I’ll even do it with my books too). Thanks, Edith, Judith, and Pat for reminding me to file – NOT pile.


  1. I realized I had a serious pile issue going on when it was income tax time. Once I started going through papers I noticed a theme: everything I had was from September of 2009 or later. And that was when my last child was born! Apparently after her birth I just gave up, so I had 2 1/2 years of paperwork to catch up on. Yikes! Luckily I managed to wade through it all...and then I found ANOTHER stack in the bottom drawer of the filing cabinet. I started laughing hysterically, then I got back to work. Now everything is filed away, but I still have a stack of stuff to be shredded- my husband got a little carried away and tried to put a dozen sheets in the shredder at once and killed it. *sigh*

  2. I'm with you! Tackling paper piles is an overwhelming task.