Organizing for the Visual Person

September 23, 2008 at 9:53 pm 6 comments

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.

Entry filed under: Organization.

How to Customize Plastic Drawer Storage Units Taming the Paper Piles


  • 1. Taming the Paper Piles « Barbara J Carter  |  September 26, 2008 at 9:36 am

    […] bugaboo is papers, so I adapted their bin method for sorting my papers. As I mentioned previously, I tend to pile up my papers. I usually (though not always) pile related papers together, which does simplify the sorting […]

  • 2. Connie  |  April 2, 2009 at 3:06 pm

    How has your stacking system been working out? I’m a piler, too, and it’s horrible. I have files galore but I also have piles galore. It’s frustrating yet somehow normal…lol.

  • 3. barbarajcarter  |  April 3, 2009 at 1:10 pm

    It’s working very well… at least for the categories on the sorting boxes! (Miscellaneous, one-of-a-kind papers still seem to pile up on my desk.) But I do love the horizontal sorting boxes. They work very well for the worst of the piles. I no longer have any piles on the floor! Progress!

  • 4. Lenore Reid  |  April 6, 2010 at 3:38 pm

    I’m a visual person. This article struck me very funny. At 75 I still havn’t solved it. I’m a perfectionalist who gave up as to what is the best system. I use all of them..

  • 5. Kary  |  May 20, 2012 at 5:46 am

    Just found this post and even though it is from four years ago it answered a question I’ve had for a long time – what to do with paper clutter to organize, but still be able to see it! Where did you find your horizontal sorting boxes? I’ve looked on the internet, but haven’t located any yet? Thanks!

    • 6. barbarajcarter  |  May 21, 2012 at 11:09 am

      Hi Kary, thanks for stopping by and reading this older post! I’m still using those horizontal boxes, years later, so they definitely were the right system for me! I bought them online, but I don’t remember exactly where. It was either Amazon or one of the big-box office supply stores like Staples or Office Depot. Ikea might have something that could work, maybe with a little tweaking. Good luck!

Barbara J Carter

I'm an artist. I make paintings with dots.

I work in acrylic paint, in a couple of distinct styles: landscapes and abstracts.

Native to California, I've lived elsewhere and only recently returned to my home state. I now live in Los Angeles.

I mostly show my art in outdoor festivals in California. I also occasionally show my work in art galleries or open studio events. You can see an up-to-date list of upcoming shows on my website (click here).

I invite you to sign up to receive my free email newsletter, in which I list my upcoming shows and talk about my latest work. I send it irregularly, a few times a year.

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Why I call my landscapes neo-Pointillist landscape paintings

A bunch of my abstract dot paintings

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