How do you store your messy papers? I must (!) solve this.

elizabeth10029November 24, 2005

I have a life-long struggle with controlling my work mess and am hoping for some serious help from this forum's generous participants. I am too old to bite my nails and too old to have such a messy desk. I really want to fix this problem.

Mostly I work at home (writing) and I am lucky enough to have staked out a corner of my living room which has light/view/music. I want to come into a clean LR each morning and leave the desk surface clean at the end of the day. This dream is in contrast to piles of printed research/drafts/notes) which for years have been left in layers on desk/floor/radiator.

I have learned to control past projects which are filed in vertical files in another room but it is the ongoing current work that bedevils me.

Here is as far as I have gotten:

Veritical files are not possible. I seem to require (temperamentally/visually/or ??) my current work to be horizontal because I like things spread out on surfaces.

Personal and professional projects start out in different spots but end up mingled because I can't keep them separate.

I can generally find things I need, so that is not the problem; it is the visual chaos that I am trying to solve when the room is used as a living room. (Others have suggested I work in a second bedroom and shut the door but I resist because if I spend my days at a desk why shouldn't it be in the best natural light. Evenings DH and I often work in this room as well and I would like it orderly for that reason too.

I have gotten as far as thinking if I had 6-8 inch deep document-sized boxes I could swoop up each project at the end of the day and put it in a separate box. I might fill 3 boxes. Then in the morning, I would lift out the piles, spread them out and begin work. Where to store these boxes is another issue, but until I settle on whether boxes are a good solution, it won't matter. A new desk can be part of that solution.

I am open to any other ideas. Any help would be appreciated.

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I personally prefer binders. A while back I was doing some major reorganizing and was going to buy more drawers. I realized that I needed to see what projects I have to still work on so I put everything into binders, divided by subject.

There was a thread about papers that might help you. It is at: (sorry, I don't know how to make a quick link)

    Bookmark   November 24, 2005 at 10:25PM
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Personal and professional projects start out in different spots but end up mingled because I can't keep them separate.

Could you keep them in color-coded folders (one color for work; another for personal projects) (or expand that to one color family [yellow, orange, red for work projects and blue, green, and purple for personal projects])? Or, if you go for those document boxes, keep them in different boxes until you're ready to work on them?

Others have suggested I work in a second bedroom and shut the door but I resist because if I spend my days at a desk why shouldn't it be in the best natural light.

I think the question here is if the second bedroom offers at least some natural light. There are legions of us who do excellent work in cubicle-land, where natural light is fairly rare. Not to say that having a view and some sunlight isn't welcome or important -- just that having the most natural light may not compensate for some of the other shortcomings of a work site.

And you don't say if you have conquered this issue, but many people have problems with separating work and personal life. Separating where one works and where one lives the rest of one's life helps many people. It might resolve some of the issues you're having with being able to work in your preferred way and keep your home looking nice.

    Bookmark   November 25, 2005 at 8:08AM
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Although I understand your resistance, I would move all the "work" stuff in the extra bedroom.

*Don't let personal papers ever enter the room, and that problem is solved.

*You can close the door when you're finished working for the day, and you'll save a ton of time swooping up paper piles at the end of the day and unpacking them the next day (that will get old REALLY fast).

*Set up the new office room with a folding banquet table or something to hold work in progress. This will keep it off your desk (giving the "clean" illusion in the morning) and you won't have to step around it on the floor or unpack it every day.

Good luck!

    Bookmark   November 25, 2005 at 9:16AM
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Steve brought up some excellent points. I know that if I was working at home, I would prefer to be in a separate room because in the evenings I could be "home" & not have to look at my office all evening. Having my desk clean when I leave work is always a goal. Sadly, it's never cleaned to the extent I'd like.

With regards to the lighting, I have provided a link below to Ott-Lite. If you consider moving into the second bedroom, this could help. The light from them really is different. I don't own one yet, but I'm planning on it for my sewing & painting. I've seen them at fabric stores.

Are you working on more than one project at a time? If so, could you put away one (at least temporarily - in a stacker, document box, whatever) while working on the other? If your personal & business papers are getting mingled, this might help. I've had to create lots of files in my office at work. I frequently have to switch quickly from one thing to another, which results in LOTS of papers on my desk. Some of this can't be helped to a certain extent, because I might have to go right back to those papers in a few minutes. I've had to learn that with other things, I need a place to file it immediately or it gets lost in the shuffle. So with some papers that I'll need in a few days but not immediately, I've created files & just drop them in as soon as I'm done.

Since you're working at home, perhaps you could take a few minutes a couple of times a day to organize your papers so that it's easier in the evenings finish tidying up.

Here is a link that might be useful: Ott-Lite

    Bookmark   November 25, 2005 at 9:27AM
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I see this organizational forum as a conversation so I will respond as such because it will help me focus. Forgive its length.

Marie -- I did see that link in the summer. I was blown away with how helpful everyone was. I learned from that link it is possible to think in detail about routines and infrastructure. In fact it was that link that helped me to figure out document boxes might be a solution.

On binders. Binders are SOOOO much a higher level of organization than I could submit to that I can't even consider such an organized solution yet. I have to start with baby steps. Binders might be in my future, but not until I get better at this organization thing. I manipulate papers frequently as I work and a binder is too rigid a system for me. (Self-disclosure -- in my first kitchen re-do 25 years ago I conveniently forgot to make drawers -- I really like having all my kitchen tools where I can see them always. I have the same need to see my work spread out in non-linear order.) I have a pretty good memory for where things are. Plus sometimes it is helpful to go through things randomly because new ideas occur.

Steve -- a lot of substance to think about. I do envision keeping each project in a separate box so even if things get mingled during the day I could separate them during the "maintenance" time I will now build into my routine. I learned from above post (or somewhere on this forum) that things should be easy to put away because you will work harder to find something you need at the start. In my head it seems doable for me to do a sort at the end of the day into two or three boxes (labelled by project) than to break down a project into more than one folder. One folder not would hold the stacks of papers I work with. Example: I might have a hard copy of an article in front of me and call it up on-line to copy a quote and bibliographic info into what I am writing. But there is the hard copy on my desk along with other articles to be ordered at the end of the day.

The personal/work life split. Example: my FIL's estate papers I might need intermittently throughout the work day. Fact of life (and death). The separation is not a problem in my life -- just on my desk. Different boxes may help. (Yet to be tested, but I'm trying to get a plan in my head that I can follow.)

The second bedroom option. Always there are competing values in life. I have made the decision that I care more about the light than I do about anything else. So I have narrowed the issue down to how to organize the LR in the most orderly way I can. My work quality wouldn't suffer just as food cooked in a beautiful kitchen isn't necessarily better, but it more fun to work in a pleasurable surround if it is possible. Don't you agree? (Just finished reading the "Did your kitchen pass the test?" thread).

    Bookmark   November 25, 2005 at 9:33AM
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my suggestion would have also been binders.. but since you are talking baby steps how about ONE binder... you mentioned estate papers.. how about just getting one pretty nice large binder and some of those clear document slips... load the binder to 20 or so of them... and each time you handle one of those estate papers or anything having to do with your FIL then slip it into one of those clear slips.. soon and without much hassle you will have it all in there. For the rest of the stuff.. how about a few bankers boxes?.. then when you are done with the FIL stuff... get a new binder, this time for another steps!

maddiemom, who just consolidated 5 file drawers into three binders and is quite proud of herself!

    Bookmark   November 25, 2005 at 11:41AM
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Maddie mom-- there's an idea I might be able to follow. I think I'm getting the idea. Just do it gradually. Like this? Example: I put all the house renovation documents in one "shlep" all jumbled. But I need to call the fiber seal people, so I take that piece of paper with that info and slip it in a binder; then I go on to the next task and when I handle the paper, I slip in in the binder. (Maybe at the end of the several months anything not in a binder gets trashed because I really didn't need it. Hmm.) But why do things need to be in a binder at all except it looks more orderly in the binder? I don't mind looking through a box instead of a binder. And if it is in a box, I can just rifle through. If in a binder, then I have to have a filing system--which could be more than a baby step.

Kiddiemom -- thanks for the ott light suggestion.
If I could learn to create files immediately for papers that I have finished with but cannot yet discard, that would help. At the moment, anything which slows me down like making a file doesn't work, especially since I don't like vertical. Dropping it in a pre-labelled box might be okay if I filed it at the end of a week. It's a thought.

    Bookmark   November 25, 2005 at 3:34PM
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My DH works from home and has a separate room. The room is total choas and that's the way he has always worked, even when having an out of home office. He also doesn't care about things like natural light.

I would never choose to be in a less light area if I had the option. I think people would be much more productive if they weren't put in little cubes. Now, in middle age, I find there are many activities such as sewing, that I need a great deal of natural light.

Since you are just looking for visual calm, I would just get on those under the bed boxes, put the papers in at the end of the day and put it under the couch. I too seem to need the papers spread out horizonally when working on something like a research paper. Another option I would use is to make a couple of trays with rollers on the bottom. These could roll in and out under the couch and leave the papers in place.

I haven't been successful in getting things into binders. I have two hanging file holder systems which allow me a great deal of flexibilty with papers I don't always need available. I can utilize a hanging folder until I'm done with that type of paperwork and it then goes into a large manila folder with the throw away date or note that it's something we have to keep.


    Bookmark   November 25, 2005 at 4:13PM
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Visual calm -- that's what I am looking for. Nice phrase. So if I adopt the three box solution of sorted but randomly organized papers, where do the boxes live at the end of the day? (This is the fun part because the unfun part is to make sure I take the time to get the papers into the boxes.)

They could live under a skirted table. Couch is too low --I just checked. But wheels on the boxes is a great idea. Never thought of that.

I was thinking of giving up the skirted table I've had for 25 years next to my desktop, but I might change my mind. The mess under that table (now in storage--papers and table) is too embarrassing to re-live. When I needed a clean LR, all the papers --not in boxes-- went under the skirt. Stacks and stacks of them. (I did buy a rolling cart but didn't take file tabs into the measurements and so the cart didn't go under table. In any case, from that experiment I learned that files fail me. ) I must say it is very appealing to think of just wheeling three boxes in and out of the skirted table.

The downside of that is that our current renov. was designed for the rest of our life and I went out of my way to make sure I didn't have to crawl around on the floor for anything. But I can imagine a pull cord or something to move those boxes.

For an unskirted solution, I have been considering investing in three beautiful boxes which will be a pleasure to use as well as an incentive to organize. I would store them either on our LR bookshelves or in an "under desk" series of three glass shelves in a yet to be designed desk.

As for the actual boxes, I am considering hollow leather books (DD says that is "too fake") or Japanese laqueur boxes or ??.

But until I get the function sorted out, the aesthetics will take a back seat. Already the posts have made me feel that visual calm may be possible in my LR. Keep the conversation going please.

    Bookmark   November 25, 2005 at 4:42PM
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elizabeth, could you store the boxes in the kneehole of the desk each evening? Or would you consider getting a desk with a kneehole or other underdesk storage?

Another option for storage would be those plastic drawer towers (example link below) or even storage boxes in a color which complements your decor (or is close to the color of your desk).

Here is a link that might be useful: Drawer tower

    Bookmark   November 26, 2005 at 1:16AM
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I wrote a message in the middle of the night and obviously didn't post it properly. I'll skip it and tell you what your drawer tower and comments provoked in my morning shower. First I realized that maybe I could have boxes made out the same wood as the table which would contribute to visual calm. And then I began to think about my desk like a prep sink with an undermount trash receptacle. Sweep a project into an undermount top loading drawer, put the cover on and end up with a clean surface. That might really work for me. (That would deprive me of the chance to choose those Japanese laqueur boxes, but would contribute to the calm.)

My goal is to have my desk be as non office-like as possible -- a simple table that accomodates/disguises the photo printer and the small laser printer and perhaps the boxes. I'll leave the desk top computer out except when I need the surface to serve from. Supplies go in small covered baskets. I'm beginning to see the possibilities.

    Bookmark   November 26, 2005 at 4:40PM
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At work I have color-coded folders for different subjects. Red for daily in-work, blue for mail going out, yellow for notes on ongoing projects, green for addresses and contacts, etc. Color coding helps because it's easy to associate a task or subject with a color. At the end of the day, stack the folders and put them in an artist's portfolio. Artists portfolios are available at art or office supply stores,come in different sizes, are expandable, and close with a string or ribbon-like tie. They look neat and take up very little room.Good luck in your organizing.

    Bookmark   November 27, 2005 at 8:50PM
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Jannie, I like the idea of having color coded files for ongoing daily stuff. And I like the idea of putting them in a portfolio. But I'm talking about 8 linear inches of 8 by 11 paper that needs to be disposed of and I am not willing to break it down into smaller file units.

I have an old, ugly, but highly sentimental box that I just freed up from something else. I put all my renovation stuff in it and I'll test out how I do. Maybe I'll even get some binder pages to use as I go forward this week.

    Bookmark   November 27, 2005 at 10:03PM
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Elizabeth, i don't think you should abandon your "boxes" idea for binders. It sounds like you've already figured out how you organize yoru work--horizontally. So don't fight that--fighting it is a sure recipe for a failed organizing system.

Start w/ trial boxes. See if they work; then you can figure out how to come up w/ "visually calm' (one of my fave phrases, too) ways to create more attractive boxes.

Just get some boxes somewhere. Even if you use copier-paper boxes, or banker's boxes from Staples--try it out, and see how it goes. Once you know it WORKS, you can spend some money on some stuff.

I like the idea of using drawers as your boxes; so your desk itself is the storage area, instead of having boxes *also*. You may need to move some of the traditional desk-drawer stuff out (like, store the paper clips & envelopes some other way) to make room, but you can cross that bridge when you get to it.

So now the idea is to find enough not-too-expensive boxes to put the plan COMPLETELY into action--not just one project at a time, but all at once.

Are you in NYC? (if you're not, the rest won't apply to you) I'm wondering if Jam Paper or Kate's Paperie would have something. Or maybe a store on Canal Street, one of the semi-industrial ones?

Or any box place from the yellow pages? Esp. from the
"business to business" yellow pages, maybe.

I have in my office an archive-quality box that's just about perfect--maybe too short, if you think you really need 8 inches. But an idea.

Rubbermaid makes
This one that's 3.9 x 14 x 10.6 in

or This one that's 6.207 x 17.43 x 14.107 in

Not the cheapest, nor the most visually calming, but they'd get you started, perhaps.

Then, you'll have a starting point to help you figure out the most useful depth, width, etc. And if you had you, you could get someone to make you boxes our of cardboard or foam core or papier-mâché, and cover them in wallpaper you like.

Here is a link that might be useful: 9x12x3 inches box for $16, but you need cheaper than tat

    Bookmark   November 28, 2005 at 11:27AM
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Another possible source for those boxes: an art supply store (like A.B. Dick, or A.I. Friedman, or something).

Artists often have sketches to store, etc., And the archival boxes are more expensive ( has short-top boxes for $16) and often less sturdy, but I've seen some interesting box sizes at art-supply stores.

    Bookmark   November 28, 2005 at 11:40AM
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Don't know if this helps on a small scale (not the master plan)--

I've been thrilled lately to have done something I thought about for a long time. I bought a bunch of clear plastic 9x12 envelopes, similar to those interoffice envelopes that used to be ubiquitous. With a piece of string that wraps around two round things to keep the envelope closed. From Staples.

I put all my slippery papers in them first, like magazine articles and pictures. I can see what's in there, and that makes me much happier and action-prone than a traditional file folder and label. Then I started on my regular papers. I love organizing so folders, envelopes, index cards are taller rather than wider. But binders are too bulky for me, except for specific things like scripts.

Don't know if this is clear. It's like when you go to a photo store and they flip through the envelopes to find your order--all the info is on the flap of the envelope, or across the top of the other side. Either way, nothing falls out. I can put all different sizes of paper in there. And I can control the amount of stimulus in my environment without cluttering up the joint.

    Bookmark   November 28, 2005 at 12:49PM
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Forgot to say: you can look at envelopes horizonally or vertically. It's the clearness, and the enclosed-ness, of those envelopes that helped me get organized in a happy way.

    Bookmark   November 28, 2005 at 12:53PM
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Talley Sue -- I was hoping you'd weigh in. The idea of getting cardboard boxes and trying things out is fabulous. I will use archive boxes from Talas which come in all sizes and depths, and then use them to put my family archives in.

Family archives is another topic, but I do have a handle on that organization. In fact, I never connected the two parts of my life before, but it is worth saying that photos of my family are stored in those archive boxes, in archival sleeves, but NOT in binders/scrapbooks. So clearly this is my preferred way of organizing. Comes a big birthday or other occasion, and I can just flip though, find some appropriate pictures, do a little rearranging, and put the sleeves in the one leather binder that we use for all occasions. We just rotate the sleeves.

That said, I did get two colored 1/2 in binders this morning and because my "work" right now is the renovation, I thought I would try to see how it felt to put those papers into binders as I handle the pages. It is worth a try. However, you are right about my real work. That has to go in boxes.

I'll think about the clear envelopes. I am seeing that many systems to choose from may help me break down what works for each kind of task.

My plan for desk supplies is to keep what I need in some small pretty covered objects I already own. Those supplies are not a problem.

The drawer with boxes or boxes *also* is still going through a thinking process. I've gerry-rigged a desk all my life and this time I want one that really works for me. However, the challenge right now is that if I am to have drawers deep enough for the boxes I need, I will crowd my knees. And if I move them to either side of my knees like a traditional desk, it will be too "heavy" and desk-like for the living room. So the boxes *also* might be the right solution. (I *also* found out on Wed. that I will have to have my printer near my desktop rather than wireless on the other side of the room because the bookshelf isn't wide enough for the printer, so all these variables have to come together.) I will have a good workspace.

    Bookmark   November 28, 2005 at 2:21PM
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If you end up liking the boxes, maybe you can get a "shelving" look by having a desk w/ open shelves or cubbies, and each cubby area beng just big enough to slide the box in. So it looks like this

May I suggest a 12-inch-square box?

Bcs then you won't have to worry about whether your stack is straight, and you can get both hands in to pick up the roughly-8.5-inch-wide stack
Only with boxes instead (or maybe with baskets, though those are hard to clean).

If you pick the box size, you might be able to have a bookcase made to fit the box you pick. (If you are in NYC, I've heard of some less-expensive cabinetry places who'd make it for you). You could go w/ basic shelves, and then get some desk-like surface.

Each "pedestal" really only needs to be 2 inches wider than whatever box you pick (3/4-inch lumber in each side, plus a skinny margin). You might put the boxes in from the end, so you can have two front-to-back. Or do one, and put it in from the front--whichever.

as for the visual calm--if all your boxes are the same material, that ought to help a lot.

    Bookmark   November 28, 2005 at 3:07PM
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Talley Sue -- I saw some of the 12 inch square boxes today on sale -- but I thought NO, wait until i figure out exactly what I need before I spend that $$. I also realize that I can dothe same testing out with cardboard in my closets before I takethe plunge. This is such an obvious idea, but I had never thought of it.

You are right about the size of the box and that I should be able to get both hands in the box. I hadn't verbalized that before, but now I will make sure to try nothing smaller than that.

One of the idea from the guy who is building the desk is that I have two door-like openings on either side of the computer. So in order to access my boxes, I would have to keep the surface tidy and it would be an incentive.

I'm moving forward. (I also have to factor in how tired I am at the end of a day -- right now the thought of organizing anything is odious, but I have lots of decisions to make tonight. Ugh.

    Bookmark   November 28, 2005 at 8:44PM
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Is he suggesting door-like openings where the doors swing over the desktop? And you have to keep the desk tidy, or you won't be able to open the door?

I vote no!

Bcs I know I would find that I'd just then never use the space behind; if *one day* I was too rushed or whatever to pick up, then that space behind the door becomes instantly useless.

I vote for finding a way to keep all the boxes below the surface of the desk. Or to have open cubbies, w/ perfectly matching boxes inside, beside the computer screeen on the upper area.

But I think I'd still want the bulky boxes below.

I was going to say I'd like open shelves for dictionaries, reference books, up above, but in fact, that would look more cluttered and maybe they'd be better down below. Just not too far down, though.

But if you want a living-room look, I vote for open or semi-open space above. Maybe a door on the top half of those desk-top spaces? So you'd never be blocking the doors w/ the stuff on the desk?

Bcs I can see you wanting stuff like stapler, scissors, bill-paying stuff, etc., behind those doors. So you can get 'em easily for times when you're NOT working but just living in your home, but you also don't have to look at them. And maybe the area below can hold boxes, or stuff.

    Bookmark   November 29, 2005 at 11:21AM
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I've been reluctant to weigh in because Elizabeth and I are so alike in our approach, and two Eliz/sabeth's in this conversation are bound to confuse.

I am so happy to have found someone else who doesn't want to make a small extra bedroom into the office! I have never been able to make that work either. My work area has always had to be in the main living area - I didn't like the isolation.

The plastic envelopes have worked beautifully for me for recipes, once a disaster area. I have one each for meats, vegetables, desserts, soups, appetizers. In fact, it's one of the very few organizing solutions that has worked!

I'm also a horizontal person, so I am going to try your document box idea - in fact, at work I have some I'm not using in our library and I may try them at my desk there. Piles work pretty well for me, but they can get awfully messed up after a while.

This has been fascinating - thanks, all!

    Bookmark   November 29, 2005 at 11:50AM
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To clarify for those who are so kindly helping me think this through, the "door" option would be under the surface of the desk, and hinged like a door. I imagine it that on my left side of computer would be one door and on the right hand side another hinged door. So if my papers are all messy at the end of the day I have to sort them to put them into the box. I can't just sweep everything under a table skirt. I'm ambivilent about this forced tidiness.

As for anything over the desk, the answer is can't do that. This is a visual thing. There are already enough big pieces of furniture in the room that one more wall of shelves/cabinets is not ok. That's a constraint.

Reference books go on opposite wall of floor to ceiling bookshelves. In truth, we hardly use them because of google. Can't part with our multi-volume OED, though.

Here's a new idea from desk builder: Have a narrowish surface underneath a wall-mounted computer screen and a wireless keyboard. That is mind boggling concept -- haven't a clue whether it would work. The storage issues still stand, but it is giving up the idea of a conventional work surface. What do you think?

    Bookmark   November 29, 2005 at 1:37PM
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I had never thought of papers as being a horizontal/vertical dilemna but I realized with my latest purge that I am a vertical person, thus the binder system. The hanging files definitely did not work for me. And thinking back to my various office jobs, I always ended up using more binders than filing cabinets for organizing the paperwork.

I think deciding if you are a horizontal or vertical person is very important, especially at the beginning stages of organization.

    Bookmark   November 29, 2005 at 1:44PM
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what else do you do on your desktop, elizabeth w/ a Z?

Do you pay bills? Do you write by hand all over the drafts you've printed out from the computer? (I still do this from time to time, despite the computerness of my world.)

Do you spread out several pieces of paper in order to look at them while you write? (travel article: 4 resort or attraction brochures, atlas, Chamber of Commerce info, Nat'l Geo. article from 5 years ago, history book, etc.?) Information-design expert Edward Tufte disapproves of the computer for handling info from multiple sources; he points out that usually you can only clearly see one thing at a time, and people usually handle multiple concepts, etc., several at a time. It's a flaw of the computer, and one that people should be aware of, he said at a short course of his I once attended.

So be sure you have workspace for that sort of stuff, based on what you actually do.

That said, I once saw a neato-sneato desk in the Pottery Barn Kids catalog (one issue--never saw it again!) that had a second desk surface snug beneath the main one. The main desk surface was sort of narrow--about 12 inches, maybe 18, and this second desk surface rolled out, to make the work surface larger. That way, you had a large-enough area to work, but you could shrink it back down. The difference in the two heights was about 3/4 inches--as I said, that second desk surface was closecloseclose to the upper one (not dropped down like a keyboard tray would be). (Your carpenter might be able to do a pull-out that will rise up slightly once it's pulled out; I think there are drawer slides like that).

I liked that idea, and considered it for my kids' desk. The room is really tight in one corner, and being able to "shrink" their desk would be really useful. But they'd still have a full-depth area to work with.

But I do like that wall-mounted computer screen! And the wireless keyboard, if they truly work nowadays and you can spring for one.

So if my papers are all messy at the end of the day I have to sort them to put them into the box.

Why? Why must you sort them?

OK, by project, yes--you don't want to end up w/ FIL's estate papers buried under that article you're writing, so that you can't find it the next day. But don't you sort of do that anyway?

And beyond that, the beauty of the "document box" system (thanks for that term, ElisabethP w/ an S! I couldn't think of it!) is that you DON'T sort. You scoop up all the papers on a specific topic, and sort of straighten them roughly out, and plop them in the box!

That tidies the paper away without very much extra work.

    Bookmark   November 29, 2005 at 2:12PM
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The desk Talley Sue just mentioned does work, at least for my grown daughter. I gave her my oversized desk that I had purchased for a particular space in a particular rental. Big mistake. Anyways, I purchased a plastic 3 drawer cabinet on wheels and put it underneath on one side of the desk. She now pulls it out to get into the hidden drawers and for the extra space on the top.

The document box sounds like a perfect solution for you. And until you are ready to sort what's needed inside the box, you can have a clear conscience that the projects are already sorted, which is really what's important anyways.

    Bookmark   November 29, 2005 at 2:48PM
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Love this process -- I am going forward. To answer Talley Sue's questions:

I don't pay many bills -- automatic pay. DH helps with this -- not a problem.

Do you write by hand all over the drafts you've printed out from the computer? (I still do this from time to time, despite the computerness of my world.)
YES to writing by hand over drafts. Yes, also to sometime needing to start a list/paragraph/outline by hand sometimes. Yes I spread things out just as you have outlined above. I like Tufte's work ( should I take a workshop? Is he alive? ) I certainly can't keep everything on my screen. I like to shuffle things.

I am going to pass along the neato desk idea to desk guy, just as you wrote it. Also today KD suggested a sliding device that would reveal my boxes if I pulled the surface of the desk to the right.

On sorting: "OK, by project, yes--you don't want to end up w/ FIL's estate papers buried under that article you're writing, so that you can't find it the next day. But don't you sort of do that anyway?"

Self-disclosure -- that's the problem. I do end up with all those papers mingled. Does this clarify how truly deep my paper mess is literally and figuratively? My thought is that if I sorted estate papers into one box and article into other, I would be so ahead of the game the next day it would be new me.

I like my computer and screen (MAC) but this is so interesting an idea I might think about a new computer. I have to so some more research. It probably isn't so easy as it sounds to break the desk mold.

    Bookmark   November 29, 2005 at 6:04PM
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Hi Elizabeth. I am just wondering, if you had boxes to keep your work in, would you be able to put things away as you work? Would you be able to put all the estate papers in their box before you got out another box to do other work? Instead of having to sort at the end of the day? This might help with keeping the visual clutter down.

When I first read this post, I thought of plastic drawers also - I have some next to my computer with shallow drawers (about 3"). I got them for working on my web page. I would have a lot of information, and just wanted a place to throw it all. The drawers come out of the stand, so they are like a box themselves.

I definitely think that you know yourself best, and what you think will work probably will be the best solution, and it would be best to give it a trial run before investing in a lot of stuff.

    Bookmark   November 30, 2005 at 6:20AM
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My thought is that if I sorted estate papers into one box and article into other, I would be so ahead of the game the next day it would be new me.

This is where I think document boxes would help horizontally thinking you.

You could tidy your desk at clean-up time by picking up a stack, and "dealing them like cards." Put on lid, you're done.

And if you could invent a way to have the 3 boxes (travel article, FIL's estate, women's service article) out while you're working (like a ledge just above the desktop, to hold boxes and a new flat-panel monitor?), then you could just set them "down" IN the box, instead of on the desk itself.

but if that didn't work, just HAVING the boxes available to put stuff into, would be a big help.

Remember that adage: "A place for everything, and everything in its place"? It's no accident that the FIRST part of it is: "a place."

Right now, you do not have a place that works. Bcs you don't have a horizontal system available to you.

I'm waiting to hear that you've started using some flat boxes....

So you can start shopping for some NICE ones, once you know this works. (I love to spend other people's money, have you noticed?

ooh, this one's leather!

and this one is very generously sized--would "sage" or "eggplant" work in your living room?

Here is a link that might be useful: document box

    Bookmark   November 30, 2005 at 1:31PM
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Check out the new iMac G5.
It's a one piece (that is, all the components are in the monitor). I have last year's model, and this year's is apparently even better. I have the wireless keyboard and mouse, though the mouse konks out occasionally so I have to keep a wired one as backup. I stuff them in a drawer when I'm not using them.
The G5s come with Bluetooth so you could have a wireless printer, play music wirelessly over your room speakers, etc (even fewer wires). I play DVDs on mine all the time, and they now come with a cool little remote (I haven't seen the new ones in person yet, but it's probably what my brother's getting).
You could, as you said, wall-mount, if you left enough room to give you finger and cable room behind it. And you're already a Mac person, so the disruption is minimal.

I don't have any relationship, financial or otherwise, to the company. I just have a tiny house where every room has to serve more than one purpose, so I try to make electronics etc. as small and unobtrusive as possible. And I have a terrible problem with papers as well! I could no more put things in a drawer or folder than my neighbor's dog could. No matter how many colored tabs it had on it.

You also might look at the Levengers Web site/catalog. They have nice-looking wooden vertical trays, cubbies and things for working with papers -- and lots of toys for writers and editors!

    Bookmark   November 30, 2005 at 3:55PM
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GroweIry -- I have not looked at the G5 -- though I know it has everything in it. Frankly, I'm a little nervous about being pathbreaking on this wall-mounted thing since my IMAC with the rotating screen works really well for me ergonomically. (I really missed my chair and desktop while I was away during renov. That said, I am sitting in my unfinished kitchen on a lap top because I haven't "registered" here on my other machine and don't know how to do it with the same name. (I can probably figure it out, but it might push me over the edge today.)

Thanks, Talley Sue, for the box suggestions. If I go with visible boxes (though I am leaning toward wood the same color as the desk, thanks to the visual calm idea), I have in mind something extremely decorative. My reward to myself --in advance--for being so organized. Your hint at 12 by 12 as the right size will necessarily constrain me, but you are right about that size. I have in mind some "serious" boxes. But in the meantime, it will be cardboard archive boxes to try out -- I may even take out some of my photos from the ones I have and just try out different options; that is, if I am not putting them in my closet for tryouts there.

    Bookmark   November 30, 2005 at 5:18PM
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RV."I am just wondering, if you had boxes to keep your work in, would you be able to put things away as you work? Would you be able to put all the estate papers in their box before you got out another box to do other work? Instead of having to sort at the end of the day? This might help with keeping the visual clutter down."

There is no way I work that organized. It does remind of the admonition to children to "put away one toy before you start with another." That is definitely not me. The phone calls for FIL estate come intermitently and need attention at the same time I am writing, and that I need to make vacation plans based on all those travel articles at the bottom of the pile, and that I need to do something about that service stuff that I've been neglecting. Would that could manage to take the time to keep everything sorted as I worked. Maybe (I am fantasizing here) if I think about it enough, that when I actually get back to real work, I will have incorporated all this good advice and my life-long bad habits will disappear.

    Bookmark   November 30, 2005 at 5:50PM
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They actually have wall mounts that swivel on a couple of axes, like a dentist's light, so you can pull it out to exactly where you want it, adjust the angle, then push it back when you're done. Haven't used one, but am considering it for when I do my kitchen.

    Bookmark   December 1, 2005 at 10:38AM
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re: RJVT's comment, and mine. If you had boxes, and had them out, you could sort as you go, but just not put them away. Then the papers would still be there when those people finally called you back.

You might find that adds enough benefit (not flipping through every paper on the desk--just grab it off the top of the box, or just flip through the papers in that box) to be worth the energy.

But i'm w/ you--I can't put them all away while I'm midstream (and I'm often midstream on several projects at once).

    Bookmark   December 1, 2005 at 11:42AM
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I want to report that I put my first paper in a binder -- all my fridge warranty info. for my now-connected fridge. So far so good. And it only took me four days of having the bnder in the house to begin to use it. Ohhh the fantasy of living an organized life....

    Bookmark   December 1, 2005 at 4:15PM
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Another source of boxes: cheap wooden boxes from craft stores. I read about this in a Debbie Travis column today. This appeals to me since my boxes are going to have to be stored on some piece of furniture. YOu can paint these boxes, decoupage them, cover them with fabric - whatever. I am best at organizing things when I can make it fun and the containers beautiful. Maybe I'll visit Hobby Lobby this weekend and see if they have any that are the right size (thanks, Talley Sue, for making the point that the boxes have to be big enough to let you get your hands in, not just the same size as the paper).

    Bookmark   December 2, 2005 at 9:57AM
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another reason not to have a snug fit on those boxes:
When you scoop up th epile of papers from the desk, you don't want to have to neaten the stack precisely; just sort of roughly line them all up, is all the effort you want to expend.

is a person has a tendency to be messy, it's important to make "putting away" be a little bit easy.

Congrats on that binder!

    Bookmark   December 2, 2005 at 10:19AM
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There is a book called Organizing for the Creative Person that offers help for people who have a need for the HORIZONTAL. (This is evidently a right-brain thing).

    Bookmark   December 2, 2005 at 12:50PM
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The folks in the 43 Folders group have come up with some great ideas for piles.

Pendaflex has a guide to pile organization, along with the information that 43% of people say they are pilers:

I'm going to get some of their pile labels, because with the nuimber of ongoing projects I have at any time, I get mixed up about which pile is which:

The rest of Pendaflex's PileSmart products are mostly folders more adapted for piling. It's very similar to what I already use for recipes. These will not, however, accommodate the huge project piles I develop.

    Bookmark   December 2, 2005 at 2:10PM
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I'll look into that Organizing for the Creative person book -- are there any remedies or just some explanation?

On box size: I mentioned early on that I put my renovation papers into an old (and sentimental) print box -- black, hard, hinged on the back, frayed (had my DH's grandfather's sketch books in it once upon a time and the label is still in place.) It is approximately 16 by 20 by 3 and allows two side by side piles of documents. Might even be better than a 6 inch deep box because it is easier to shuffle through three inches than six inches -- at least when some of the papers are small, and no document is more than 10 pages long. Anyway it pleases me to use it, but I was thinking about retrieving a phone number from it and used the internet instead. That is another variable: How paperless can I (we) go?

    Bookmark   December 2, 2005 at 4:49PM
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Marie26 --early in this thread you suggested binders and I bought sleeves and two cheap binders. Then I took Talley Sue's idea of trial boxes. I would like to report that I just finished putting all my renovation documents in sleeves and had a revelation: This works for me w/o the binder. I just have the sleeves in a box and I can shuffle them. I feel like I've made a breakthough. This is the way I keep my family archives and so why not tranfer that to other things. Thank you all for the help and allowing me to think things through on-line. (The serious work-related stuff is still being thought through, but I am making progress.)

    Bookmark   December 5, 2005 at 5:41PM
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ooh, how's this thought?

If you are "visually oriented," which I think horizontally oriented people are--they need the actual thing, not the abstract step of the word--then those sleeves are essentially see-through file folders!

Good luck, and keep us posted

    Bookmark   December 5, 2005 at 6:44PM
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elizabeth10029, Please keep posting. I've been fascinated by your story and the great suggestions you've received. Your continuing analysis of how you think and organize has taught me so much about my DH. I finally understand why his desk and office look they way they do. He told me; I just didn't get it. This thread has been a revelation. Thank you so much.

    Bookmark   December 7, 2005 at 9:25AM
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I don't want to hijack Elizabeth's thread, but I am going through the same, only have a much worse problem. My projects get really big, and I realize that in the past the boxes or baskets I have used haven't been deep enough.

I was a The Old Time Pottery last weekend, - they've got a number of stores in Atlanta and I don't know if they are elsewhere. They were selling "lingerie chests" with drawers that are about the size needed for 8.5 x 11 papers, or folded legal size paper. So I bought the only 2 they had (one was their floor sample, already assembled!) and have started sticking projects in that. I have already realized I'll probably need paperweights to keep the larger piles from getting out of control and sticking so the drawers can't open. The chest is about 45" high, and the drawers look square - I would say about 14" x 14".

I am planning on using these drawers and maybe if I need them some boxes. I've tried baskets before, and realize that one reason they don't work for me is that they are so heavily textured that the papers get caught by the woven strips, or it's uncomfortable for me to stick my hands in.

So far, I've scoooped up the project piles on my morning room table, which serves as a desk. As long as the drawers remain easy to open (i.e., good, lasting construction of cheap furniture, as well as controlling the piles by dividing into sub-projects, if needed), this might work for me.

    Bookmark   December 7, 2005 at 11:00AM
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Booky -- here is something I learned years ago about the difference between me and DH. "I am a person of more; he is a person of less." That profound comment came after I described (pre computer) what my workspace looked like at the end of the day and his. The floor was littered with my drafts --every time I revised I put another piece of paper in the typewriter and then dropped the old page on the floor. He dictated then and now he still does. He doesn't use a desk at home -- just a dictophone and a few pages that he is working on. (That difference also applies to differences in what we eat, alas. He has weighed the same since I've known him.)

Liz/S -- no one could hijack this thread. I know no drawers for me. But the document sleeves are working for my renovation/estate papers/christmas lists. I am trying very hard to keep things that go together in a document sleeve, ready to go in boxes at the end of the day. (I broke down and bought a couple of cardboard Container Store Boxes in a color that matches a piece of wood furniture. (I"m trying out the visual calm.) So far so good. But I agree I need at least 6-8 inches of depth just for a beginning in my serious projects.

I agree about baskets for the same reason --- though some baskets are now particularly smooth on the inside--and out, but less visually interesting for that very reason.

    Bookmark   December 7, 2005 at 10:27PM
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