Organizing for the Visual Person
I’m a visual person. That’s pretty obvious, right? I mean, I am an artist after all. A visual artist.
It turns out that visual people often have trouble with common organization techniques. Take files, for example. For years, decades in fact, I dutifully made up file folders, labeled them sensible things like “auto insurance”, “medical”, “bank statements” and so on, and stashed them (alphabetically) in my filing cabinet. For a while I’d be very good about putting the right papers into the right file folders. But always something would go awry. The file cabinet would fill up and I’d start piling papers on the desk or the floor, meaning to file them “someday”. Of course someday never happened. Occasionally I’d get “temporary” file boxes like cardboard banker’s boxes or plastic file bins and stash some of the files in there. Sometimes I’d be really organized and put the older files in the boxes, making room in the file cabinet for more current files. But not always.
I can’t believe how long I struggled to use a filing cabinet. It just never worked very well for me. For me, the old saying is true:
“Out of sight, out of mind.”
I’d literally forget what file folders I had. Years would pass and through various moves I’d just lose track of them. Sometimes I made new folders that duplicated older ones I’d lost track of. Folders would get stuffed too full or jammed together, and trying to sort them out was too overwhelming. On top of all that, my filing cabinet was ugly: I hated dealing with it. So I avoided it. I procrastinated filing stuff. And the papers piled up.
A few years ago, I got the idea of using 3-ring binders as files. I began “filing” some things in binders. I labeled each one clearly on its spine, and stored them all on a bookshelf where I could easily see them all. This was a huge leap forward for my filing system. The binders were easily seen, and therefore I never lost track of them the way I did files at the back of the filing cabinet. I used only black binders, and the visual effect was very pleasing to me. I enjoyed using them, so I used them pretty consistently. At least for some things.
But still, there were some things that defied the binder filing system. You have to punch holes in papers to put them into binders. Not all paper is exactly the same size, especially things like receipts, medical bills, calendars, notecards, business cards, credit card bills, articles torn from magazines, and so on. Sometimes there’s too many papers to fit into a binder (I like to keep the binders small, mostly 1/2 inch wide, occasionally 1 inch). These things still piled up. The binders were part of the solution, but not the whole answer.
In the past few weeks I’ve been re-reading “Organizing from the Inside Out” and mulling over my organizational problems. The first thing I realized was that I make piles. That’s just who I am. Fighting this natural tendency doesn’t work. I’m visual, I need to see my stuff. I need to be able to easily grab my papers and quickly riffle through them on a moment’s notice. For some things, piles are actually very efficient, and I like efficiency.
I’ve decided to work with my piling habit instead of fighting it. I bought some horizontal sorting boxes to help contain the piles. Each “pile” gets its own slot. The papers are still easily accessed, yet each pile is distinct. The main difference is that they are no longer piled on the floor (or the ottoman, or the kitchen counters, or the dining table). Actually they’re on my desk, so they’re even closer to hand than before.
Will this completely cure my piling problem? I’m not sure, but it’s at least another big leap forward.
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