Friday, January 6, 2012

How NOT to Be a Pack-Rat...

By Amber Leigh Williams

My Husband & I
Christmas 2010
Confession: I’m somewhat of a pack rat. It goes back to my roots. My father never liked to throw away anything on paper. This summer while going through his attic, we found stacks of boxes filled with documents and paperwork from years and years ago. My attic would probably look much the same if I hadn’t married a man who hates the very idea of clutter. His upbringing was the opposite of mine. Even with six children, his parents never kept anything unless they absolutely had to, probably because they moved around quite a bit.

So what happens when a pack rat marries a bohemian by nature? At first there was patience and mutual understanding. Then there was friction. And finally, an education. I taught him the value of saving not only what was important but what was also sentimental. He taught me that I don’t need to cling to everything I’ve ever touched in order to survive. Soon I had him filing things alphabetically and he had me throwing away bags of magazine cut-outs I had been hoarding since eighth grade. And you know what else I learned? Organization and life in general is easier without clutter.

I thought organization was a brilliant topic for January because it’s the perfect time to declutter, to start fresh. Another important thing to note here is that I’m messy, and my husband is a neat-freak. (Can you guess who the early bird vs. the night owl is?) If we can make organization work together, I’m convinced that everyone can. So here are a few tricks I use to stay uncluttered and organized….

My Office

#5 – Pick one day out of every month for organization alone. For me, it’s the fifteenth of every month. Not only do I do a clean sweep of my office and make sure everything in my filing cabinet is compiled neatly and accurately; I also back up the hard drives on both of my computers and do full system virus scans on both machines. If the fifteenth just happens to be a busy day outside of the house, I have a strict rescheduling policy. Me being the messy sort that I am, by the fourteenth of every month my office can be a disaster area. My monthly organizational spree helps to keep the clutter under control and life with the bohemian even merrier!

#4 – Keep a bulletin board. I tear pages out of newspapers and magazines. I print out a great deal of things I see online. I hoard them for future ideas and/or inspiration. When all these loose leaf pieces of paper accumulate, they amount to 80% of the clutter in my office. Though I haven’t limited myself to the number of things that I do keep, on the fifteenth I attack this mess with an iron fist, filing things with my writing notes for concrete stories ideas only. The rest goes in the trash or on my bulletin board. The things that make the bulletin board are the items I can get the most creativity out of. The bulletin board keeps them out of my filing cabinet – where they seem to multiply much more easily – and off my desk. But they’re still visible and reassuring.

My Office

#3 – Write down ideas in spiral-bound notebooks. I’m a writer. Paper is my friend. But it can also be my enemy because it adds up. I have one filing cabinet and half of it is for bills, payment confirmations, and other important documents and nothing else. When I first began living with my husband, he solved my paper dilemma by buying me several notebooks of various sizes. The big ones I kept throughout the house to have close whenever an idea struck. The little ones I kept in my purse and traveling bag when we were away from the house. I haven’t quite learned how to make pens appear at will as my notebooks seem to, but my husband and I no longer have to worry about thousands of sheets of loose-leaf paper rising up in the middle of the night and leading a hostile takeover against us.

#2 – Organize computer files, too. I’ve learned that when I’m on the computer, even if I’m online, to write story notes on my hard drive. They’re easier to keep track of than rifling through a physical filing cabinet. And when they’re organized correctly, it makes for much better plotting and organization within the writing process itself. I have a folder for every manuscript. Inside every folder are all the drafts, notes, and promotional materials needed for that manuscript at one time or another. I have other separate digital compartments for story ideas, tax documents, and random things like quotes and blog articles. I rely more on my computer filing system than my filing cabinet and notebooks on a daily basis.

Sassy watching me organize on the 15th. 

#1 – It was Henry David Thoreau that said once that Our life is frittered away by detail... Simplify, simplify, simplify! ... Simplicity of life and elevation of purpose.” In all the years since I studied Thoreau, his words have stuck with me, particularly in the seven happy years I’ve spent with my husband. Even from the beginning, I couldn’t write properly unless there were no bills and no textbooks in sight. Learning to organize and filter unnecessary clutter out of my office and home has helped to declutter my creative mind and made it easier for my muse to speak to me on a regular basis. Though many writers are rumored to be messy beings just like me, I’m convinced that simplicity is the best medicine for creative woes.

If you’re a writer who thrives in organization and simplicity as well, I would love to your ideas for decluttering your office, computer, and your creative mind!


Barbara Edwards said...

Nicw list. Sounds usable.

Jannine Gallant said...

Your way sounds neater. I have folders on my counter where they're handy. One for bills to pay. One for tax receipts. one for misc. crap. The "crap" file should be sorted regularly. It isn't. By Dec. the tax file looks like it might take over the world. Thankfully the bill file (smallest) is on top, so that's the one the girls knock on the floor when they're hunting for something. Of course if I wanted to fit these files into my filing cabinet, I'd have to get rid of my tax returns from the 80's. LOL I guess we're kindred spirits!

Laura Breck said...

Amber, what a cute couple you are!

I save everything on computer. If I have something in paper format, I scan it and save it digitally. I don't have room to keep paper.

Thanks for the great tips!

Judy said...

Great post, Amber, with doable ideas! I particularly liked the de-clutter/organize day--I can keep my desk clean, but I have to periodically clean up my computer files--so dedicating one day to that alone sounds less stressful!