JessTrev responds to Beth's plea for paper clutter-busting ideas with empathy, at the very least.
What to do when you're tearing your hair out over a cluttered office? And you don't really want to turn the solution into a shopping spree at Plastic Containers R Us? Well, first of all, you need to figure out how you really work. What items do you really use on a daily basis? They need to be close at hand. The others? Those you use less frequently, but still need to access? Need to be tucked out of sight, away from your desk and maybe even out of your office. Now, those of us with small living spaces don't always have the essentials, like, say, an actual office-type space. But as someone who lived with a telecommuter who worked out of our closet, I can tell you that it's possible to work from home and not trip over papers constantly. Even if you're a horizontal piler. I think the key is figuring out what you really can have out of arm's reach and seeking clever hiding places (under the bed works well for me).
Now, I am not some super neat person. Faaaar from it. But I have observed my mathematician dad over the years, a man who has to work to swing the pendulum closer to my chaos every now and then in order to ease up (his motto: Be organized enough to live your life more easily. Don't let the organization become your life.) What have I learned from him?
Be slow and deliberate. Those folks who say to only touch a piece of paper once for efficiency's sake are onto something. Focusing intently on incoming information and really dealing with it thoroughly helps. I love the idea, for instance, of reading the mail near the recycling bin (and the scanner, perhaps, if you're going fully paperless). I have a large purple envelope for my bills and keep it by my front door so I never misplace one.
Have a place for everything. Nuff said. Try to make these organizational destinations match the way your own brain works. Don't try to change your habits; work with them.
Leave each room a little bit nicer than how you found it, every time. This spreads out the cleaning. Five minutes, every time you (fill in the blank: take a break, eat lunch, finish up for the day).
I also have a super organized aunt (and yes, I study these people like insects. I am trying to crack their code!) who has never lost anything, even a pencil (I am 100% not exaggerating). What have I learned from her?
It's ok to sweep things under the rug. Seriously, if you're going to be neat all the time on the surface, it's going to involve having places you can contain the chaos until ordering it fits with your schedule. So, messy stuff should get shoved into designated boxes or drawers that shut -- in categories that you can deal with later. Lots of folks recommended that Beth get more shelving for her office, which is a great idea, and that she repurpose baskets, cardboard boxes, and the like to contain her stuff (which she will have pared down to the absolute minimum). But my favorite final touch? Is to hide all that stuff away behind either doors or a fabric curtain. An old curtain rod and some pretty fabric (sew if you know how; use stapler or tape to hem if you don't) can hide a multitude of cluttery sins.
One last strategy tip: back when I was decluttering and fighting mess (ie in my pre-pristine open house days), I forced myself not to simply pick things up and put them away. I literally stopped routine cleaning and made myself, every time I had the impulse to clean, to redirect that energy, I'd figure out a new system of organization or give something away. I figured I had limited time and wanted maximum impact.
I just want to say, though, that as long as there is some type of order within your chaos, I might not sweat it (unless it's making you crazy, then by all means, tackle those piles). Our house is neat as a pin these days since it's on the market. I feel like I am constantly tidying, and that this focus on perfection is keeping me from doing more interesting (and greener) things. I don't want to mess up my pristine kitchen so I'm miles away from canning, which I want to explore. In fact, the whole experience is making me wonder if my tolerance for disorder (mismatched furniture, odd-looking cachements of bathwater or recycling stations or whatnot) might not even be a bonus if my priority is living simply instead of simply living neatly. Good luck, Beth! Can't wait to see what you decide to do....