Drowning in Paper: Melissa's* Story

Organization does not come naturally to everyone and we all have different thresholds of the amount of clutter we can handle in our lives. But when we don't have good systems in place, we can become buried when hit with a life tragedy or a few years of depression/anxiety.


When Melissa suffered a series of losses, she became unable to manage the paper that flowed constantly into her life. Pictured above is her completely-covered dining room table; but the issue didn't stop at the edges of the table. The surrounding floor and her living room floor were eventually hidden by a sea of mail, flyers, and documents. She stopped having friends over, got rid of furniture, and lived in sadness and shame. With the passage of time and help from a good therapist, Melissa's cloud of depression began to lift and she was ready to live again. Enter the feeling of overwhelm and the question of "where do I start?"


If you can relate to Melissa's situation, our process might also help you:

  • Together we made a list of categories we'd find among the piles.

  • Melissa purchased plastic tubs and placed them around the perimeter of the living room; above every bin she taped a label for each of our categories (photos/ keepsakes, letter-writing supplies, important documents, shred, recycle, etc.)

  • We picked a starting spot and, one small pile at a time, moved methodically around the living room sorting the papers into their appropriate tub.

  • When the stacks on the living room floor were sorted, we moved next to the dining room floor and finally, the table.


With 95% of the paper sent to shredding/recycling, and the remaining sorted into categories, it was time to put systems in place to prevent future paper overload.


  • It's important to begin with a design to manage the daily inflow of mail and other paper. Melissa liked the desktop organizer below to corral office supplies, as well as incoming mail, bills to be paid, and other documents she'll reference on a very regular basis.



  • The final step in the process is sorting all the papers collected in each tub into appropriate sub-categories. Are you an "out of sight, out of mind" person? So is Melissa! The above filing cart allowed us to create an easy to maintain and visual system so she won't worry that important items will be "lost" in a traditional filing cabinet. The drawers provide a space for Melissa's stationary and other correspondence supplies.


The dining room table will remain Melissa's main "home office" location. The desktop and wheeled file cart ensure portability, allowing everything to be handy on a daily basis, yet easy to move when guests are coming (without disturbing the system and creating a new mess!) daily basis, but easy to hide away when company is coming over.


The idea of crawling out from an avalanche of paper can feel paralyzing. It may take a long time, but slow forward progress is better than no forward progress. Follow these steps and reward yourself along the way. You CAN do it!


*Name changed to protect my client's privacy.

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