That is, de-pile-ing*.

* Not to be confused with depilling, which is trimming off those annoying “pills” that form on knitted garments. Presumably those wee balls of fuzz form due to the blasted orneryness of the universe, especially with regards to the cosmos’ dreaded knack for providing supplemental stress to anyone with OCD tendencies.

Depiling means to systematically remove piles of clutter.  On my desk, that means not just the usual bills, statements and paperwork, but also:

  • documents to be scanned,
  • Copy Center requisition forms,
  • old appointment cards and unnecessary receipts unloaded from my pockets and other ephemera,
  • 35mm slides to be scanned,
  • an empty postage-stamp strip,
  • wire twist-ties,
  • caps to ball-point pens I don’t even use,
  • hort industry infomercials masquerading as press releases or “educational materials”,
  • spare tins of lip balm and cuticle salve,
  • important receipts to file,
  • a really cool concave rock to use as a water dish when I refresh Rosie’s habitat,
  • the booklet on Inservice courses for Job #2 that I cannot attend because of Job #1,
  • beads that are still surfacing from when the curtain tie-back snapped last month,
  • the previous week’s market and dinner menu list,
  • the catalog that lists the non-credit classes I teach (Job #3),
  • fluffs of white, tan, brown or orange hair from our four cats,
  • exam schedules for the two classes I’m teaching,
  • fragments of adhesive bandage wrappers and other débris,
  • my Immunization Record that needs to be updated (Pneumovax, hooray),
  • paperwork for a student’s disability accommodations,
  • a spare lint-roller to remove light cat hair from dark clothes & reversi-wise (vide infra),
  • music CDs to add to my iTunes,
  • a collection of pages of notes for teaching methods to integrate,
  • random paperclips,
  • the manilla folder of notes and drafts to a research paper for which I need to comment,
  • empty prescription bottles, the pages on Inservice courses for Job #1,
  • drained pens,
  • duplicate bills to magazines I love but can’t really afford to renew and don’t have time to read anyway (not even at the library where they’re free),
  • a button that may or may not go to a garment any of us currently wears,
  • Personnel Absence Report receipts,
  • my weekly pill-minder that I set on my MacBook when I go to bed to remind myself when I wake up,
  • blank index cards that I use for my To Do lists I keep in my pocket,
  • and of course, the assorted no-longer-sticky notes, some of which still list things I need to do, and a couple that bear tantalizingly cryptic notes for blog-post ideas.

For anyone out there who is chronically cluttered or ADHD, none of these things is surprising.  That I manage to keep track of three different jobs in addition to various other personal and professional responsibilities is nothing short of amazing. That I also have chronic free-floating anxiety about forgetting something Very Important is also not surprising.

Back in the early 1980’s, I stayed home with our tots and was a free-lance writer.  Anyone who has done this knows that one never fills either role as well as they would like, and that the paying job doesn’t pay well because it’s part-time, and the non-parenting hours (and even the parenting hours) are filled with trying to cram in tasks edge-wise.

Because I was working for several employers simultaneously while also sending out queries to magazines, the sheer amount of paper to keep straight and deadlines to meet and the inevitable scheduling glitches (the can’t do This because I gotta do That but-before I can do That I gotta do The Other Thing) damn near drove me nuts.  I know my frantic moments and frustrations and disorganisation damn near drove my family nuts some days as well.

The number of times I forgot my hair cut appointments were an embarrassment. The number of times I would get home and then had to go back out to drop something off or pick something up were legion. At that time, ADHD had only recently hit the DSM, and people usually associated such with hyperactive boys.  I wouldn’t get my own diagnosis until 20 years later.

Like many people with ADHD, I felt terrible about my inability to stay organised.  It wasn’t that I didn’t care.  It wasn’t that I didn’t try.  I tried appointment books and made lists and made calendars and made lists and re-organised my paper filing system and made lists … and still I failed to keep track of stuff.  I even managed to lose track of a check by using it as a bookmark! (Reading that Einstein did the same thing was mollifying, but would not have impressed the bank.)

The problem of course is not a lack of willpower.  It’s not always a problem with writing things down — after all, I HAD that calendar and the lists.  The problem was “remembering to remember”, meaning remember to check the lists and the calendar at the appropriate times, especially with regards to calling people during “normal” business hours.  The problem was putting things into the Things To Do pile, and then not remembering to get them done before they were due.

Of course, the reason that everything I was using was piled on top of my desk was that out-of-sight meant out-of-mind.  (Plus, there were the random moments of putting Very Important Objects in Safe Places and then forgetting where they were.)  The only way to literally have everything in sight would have been to cover an entire wall in cork tiles and buy a gross of push-pins.  But other factors prevented this, including the fact that my first home “office” was nothing more than a shelf in the linen closet where I stored postal supplies, manilla folders, and an antique typewriter that was so painfully cranky it would have even given pause to a steampunk enthusiast.

Eventually I did learn how to develop enabling routines.  One of those is what I have spent the past half an hour doing, whilst also scanning various documents and slides, and working on this blogpost, because hey — multi-tasking is what we like to do!

I make it a point to de-clutter my desktop every Friday or weekend.

Not only do I remove the trashy bits, but I also rediscover things I need to attend to on a regular basis, refill my pill minder, pay any bills that are due, and I check my calendar and re-assess what my new To Do list needs to include.

Fortunately, the decluttering has gotten easier over the years, as I finally realised what general categories of clutter pile up.

  • I have the wastepaper basket at hand to dump rubbish into.
  • I have a place to set all the papers that simply need filing.
  • I have a desk hutch with shelves for each of my classes and jobs, and to improve upon that file-by-pile method I also have brightly-colored folders to fine-sort each pile.
  • I make a separate pile of things that need to go elsewhere, and not until everything is sorted do I make just one loop around the house to put those away.
  • If I have a set of papers that is turning into a new project to keep track of, I grab another folder to put them in.
  • I review my small bulletin board and remove old things I no longer need, and tack up new things I don’t want to lose — part of what makes a small board effective is that it does not stay the same week after week — constancy means a loss of apparency as it simply becomes part of the scenery and thus unnoticed.

Well, the scanning is done, so I need to wrap this up and make up a test for Monday (et cetera).  The other part of what makes the system work is to not get so wrapped up in tidying and organising that I don’t get back to the actual work!


  1. qw88nb88 said,

    27 August 2008 at 2:00

    No, set Odd Caps is not a function of set Dry Pens.

    One way you can do that is to install the cork tiles on the inside of cabinet doors, so you can close them off when you don’t want to look at everything.


  2. ange said,

    26 August 2008 at 15:35

    “The only way to literally have everything in sight would have been to cover an entire wall in cork tiles and buy a gross of push-pins.”

    I have seriously contemplated doing this to my kitchen and living room along with wall to wall open shelves for everything…only 1 foot deep, not too tall (I am 5 foot) so nothing could be hidden. And there would have to be a way to quickly hide or reveal everything–depending if I am in an OCD-type moment or an ADHD-type moment–at the push of a button.

    Organizing is my obsession (and favorite way to procrastinate)… reading blogs is my second favorite way to NOT get work completed.

  3. Anna said,

    26 August 2008 at 12:34

    Now, is it truly “caps to ball-point pens I don’t even use”


    “caps” + “drained pens” = CONNECTION?

  4. Naomi said,

    24 August 2008 at 21:32

    I thought my cat was the only one who got upset when the apartment gets too messy. Patches will pester me until I tidy up.

  5. andrea said,

    24 August 2008 at 13:25

    My cat makes an excellent back-up alarm! I just wish I could “turn her off” on the weekends when I need to sleep in a bit …


  6. Justthisguy said,

    24 August 2008 at 6:15

    Wow, I immediately thought of an engineering project; extracting previously-driven piles, somehow, because the underground needed to be free of them.

    As far as housekeeping goes, there’s bachelor housekeeping, and then there’s autistic housekeeping, but you do not even want to contemplate thinking about autistic bachelor (non)housekeeping.

    If it weren’t for my cat insisting from time to time, as he is doing right now, to pick up a bit, this place would be a horrible health hazard. He does shame me into acting right, at times.

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