When Your Files Have Piles
I will cut to the chase, for
those of you who read the last episode in this saga. Yes I did make a dent in that pile of
To Dos, even though I am stil far from completely done. I am also almost at the point
where my unfiled piles have grown so tall, I'm going to have one of my Major Muck Outs.
Meanwhile, we are having a
good natured debate in one of my online haunts about whether people like us can ever get
enough space for our stuff.
where everything stays in sight, works best for fast-moving minds, we agree. Not just
because it's too big a pain to stand in place long enough to put things in folders with
labels, but because out of sight is too easily forgotten. "If I have to step over it,
I'm less likely to ignore it," one of our chat pals said.
But you know you're out of
control, another one sighed, when your piles get so bad they're spilling on to your mouse
Six months after moving, one friend's new place is filled
to the brim, after adding "just one more" little table time and again, each
intended to hold just one more stack. She's decided it's useless to pretend it will ever
end; no matter how much room we have it's never enough, she says.
I've been holding on to the opposite thought: that
"enough' is not impossible, even for packrats who always stir too many spoons in too
many pots. It's the ratio of people-to-space that counts.
Problem is, that ratio gets darn high in any home filled
with leaping minds.
What 'Enough' Looks Like: I achieved that balance once. It lasted for almost five years,
until I moved. I don't think my operating system was different; I just had plenty of space
to spread out and separate.
So did my husband before we were married. Neither one of us
lived with eye-high piles when we were dating. We didn't pass critical mass on that until
we moved in with each other.
But the part of the story I haven't filled in yet is how
much space it took to keep things from building up underfoot.
We married in mid-life after having been married before. At
the time we met, each of us had a whole single family residence to ourselves, plus a
separate office away from home for each of our self-owned businesses. Never before or
since, I must admit, have I lived (or worked) in a place without piles.
Today, we each have less than half of the personal space we
had before. The house we live in together is bigger than the houses we owned separately,
but nowhere near double. Meanwhile, he's back in the corporate rat race, with a cubby in
Silicon Valley, while I am working from home in what was formerly the dining room, which I
share with my homeschooling son.
In other words, there is a context for the current chaos.
But there is also a sobering bottom line: to get back the space we each used to have, we'd
need a house of 6,000 square feet or so.
Preferably with a full basement.
Slice yourself a break today: If piles are one of your problems, it may be time to cut yourself a
personal break and look at some constructive reframing. If you're attaching labels like
"lazy" to your stacks, consider how much they also say about how busy you are,
and let yourself feel good about what is getting done.
You undoubtedly have your people-to-space ratio too, but
you don't live in a palace any more than I do. Sometimes we are lucky to find a balance in
our available space, at least for awhile, as I did during the years between marriages. But
does that mean I'd swap today's spouse for yesterday's space?
No way, as they say, Jose.
That's not to say we can't progress. We might give up our
illusions about how likely it is old magazines will be read or old catalogues will be used
or old clippings cited in that yet unwritten article. We can really hold those garage
sales instead of just promising. We can make pacts with significant others and perhaps
(nicely) prod each other to follow through. But just as there is only so much space under
our roofs, there is only so much time in our lives.
Some things just aren't going to get handled, no matter
what, and guilt-tripping about it might only just keep you more stuck.