Keeping things simple

Sometimes we get bogged down when uncluttering or organizing because we make things too complicated. The following are some examples of ways to avoid complexity and get things done.


C. G. P. Grey said in one of his podcasts that he shreds all papers he’s decided not to keep. This saves him sorting through papers and deciding which ones need to be shredded and which ones don’t. We know people hit “decision fatigue,” so there’s definitely some logic to avoiding unnecessary decision-making and saving one’s mental energy for where it’s really needed.

Using simple tools, when that’s all you need

I used to be intrigued by all the fancy apps for creating and managing to-do lists, and those apps certainly make sense for some people. But at some point, I realized that for me a simple text file was sufficient, and going back to that basic tool made my life easier. Sometimes extra features are a distraction, not a benefit.

Label makers provide another example of a tool that might be overly complicated for you. I happen to like using one, but two of my fellow professional organizers recently explained why they don’t use label makers. If handwritten labels meet your needs, go for it! They’re certainly simpler to create.

Sorting papers and naming files

Many files are easy to sort and name. Most people don’t struggle with how to file financial or medical information, for example.

But for random papers that fall outside the standard categories, things aren’t as obvious, and it’s easy to get hung up on how to file those papers. I’ve found it simplifies my filing to have one file named “Fingertips” for all that unrelated information I use the most often — the things I want to have at my fingertips. In The Organized Mind, author Daniel J. Levitin mentioned someone who found it useful to create the filing equivalent of a junk drawer. He called that file “Stuff I don’t know where to file.” And Judith Kolberg wrote in Conquering Chronic Disorganization about someone who created files named “Why can’t I find this when I need it?” and “Things clients bug me for.”

Once we create these simple but less conventional types of files, many filing dilemmas disappear.

Giving things away

It can be easy to get caught up in trying to find the perfect new homes for things we’re getting rid of, and sometimes (especially for sentimental things) that can be worth the time and effort. But other times the easiest answer is the best.

I have a large serving platter that was a gift; it’s something I don’t need or particularly like, so I know I want to get rid of it. (I also know it isn’t valuable enough to be worth my time to sell it.) I enjoy giving things away on freecycle, since I’m part of a great freecycle community, but I didn’t have any luck when I tried to freecycle the platter months ago. I was about to try again, but then I realized it would be simpler to just take it to the nonprofit thrift store that’s five minutes from my home. It’s going there tomorrow.

7 Comments for “Keeping things simple”

  1. posted by Sandra on

    My husband has a medium-sized Rubbermaid bin on a shelf in the garage. It is full of bits and pieces (left-over plumbing, electrical, odds and ends of other things, e.g. curtain rod parts, etc.). It is labelled “Look in Here, You Will Find It”. It’s surprising how many times I find a missing part in that bin!!!

  2. posted by liz on

    I bought three small plastic buckets that nest together. When I am working in the office, I can set them up and use one for trash, one for recycle bin and one for shred. when I am finished working through the project, I empty the bins, restack and good to go. When in doubt, it all goes to the shredder.

    For filing those mystery papers, I use a single folder labeled “2014”. If I need to look for an item, I use the time to cull out stuff. If I am on hold for a phone call, I can check out what’s in there and toss more stuff. At tax time, I review the file again. After about two years, it’s usually down to a card or two. I might be handling the paper more than once, but I am not spending much time per item. I am letting the passage of time cull out the items.

  3. posted by Nancy Nino on

    Great thought regarding labelers. I too love the labeler for my own stuff but some of my organizing clients are simply not going to be bothered with it. A client this week decided to buy those chalkboard labels (chalkboard looking background that comes with a white pen) and she loves them. They look aesthetically pleasing to her and there’s no tech skill needed!

    Best file name ever that lived in a dear client’s file systems: “Jerks that owe me money”!

  4. posted by Vicki on

    I really appreciate reading about options and choices when it comes to organizing. I tend to feel a little suspicious when I read that a specific way of organizing or a specific organizing tool is necessary.

    And, by the way, I love naming “junk” files. I personally have a magazine holder with a label: “Stuff NOT TO DO.” There are only a few files in it, but, in case I want to do those things (right now I don’t), I have the files. The date on the label is March of this year. Probably by the end of the year I can get rid of it all (or, maybe do it).

  5. posted by Pat Reble on

    I have a folder labelled “Glitter Bombs.” It contains letters from my daughter, who uses the stuff liberally. It’s a reminder to me to open it with caution, as glitter isn’t known as “the herpes of the craft world” for nothing!

  6. posted by Molly on

    The one about giving stuff to the thrift shop rang bells for me, I had a big thing about ebaying stuff for ages but then realised it was more stress than it was worth for the majority of items. Now everything goes in a big bag that periodically gets taken to the charity shop (as we call them here in the UK).

  7. posted by Miriam Ortiz y Pino on

    Great ideas! It is always so surprising how hard it is to keep things simple sometimes. I keep an old fashioned metal letter tray for the pieces of paper that I just can’t decide about yet. When it gets full I have to weed it out – most of it is self correcting and has expired by the time I look. Thanks for putting this together Jeri.

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