How to get organized?

I for one don’t know how to get organized.

It can be pretty complicated, between not knowing what to do, a lot of extra stuff arriving in the mail, or stuff not arriving in the mail, and different ways of thinking, and for some folks executive processing issues, and so on.

I have a bunch of old boxes of important documents, personal notes, research notes, and unfinished projects. I have tried scanning things, but that worsens my arm injuries. I have tried keeping track of more things on the computer, but that also worsens my arm injuries. I have tried keeping track of more things on paper, but the notes can be hard to find, or hard to sort through, and they accumulate.

I have found file folders and a cardboard organizer with 8 sections fairly useful.

Any thoughts/advice?


Ugh… I struggle with this, too, especially now with my dissertation work. How do I organize my sources, some of which are digital, some of which are physical copies of documents. I do try to keep notes on the documents I’ve read, but then I need to keep those organized! It can be a pain.

I like the whole file folders in a box, that seems to help. I currently have a box next to my desk with some of my documents, organized by archive, and then by the box, file, etc. I know when I’m writing and I need them, I can just turn and get them.

Also, I find that at some point, you just got to purge the mass. We can’t just hold onto everything, and it’s good to go through and get rid of what you don’t need at some point… But of course, that can be a massive project all on it’s own, first just deciding what needs to go, and second, putting that into action, which might include shredding, hauling, etc.

It’s amazing how much stuff our modern lives accumulate. Maybe an important thing to address is how to take in less in the first place, and get things organized as they come in?

Well, when it comes to bureaucratic docs such as paid bills, I don’t know which ones I’ll ever need.

In a box doesn’t work well for me, even if I label the boxes. Or bins.

1 Like

I keep stuff organized, usually, by ruthlessly throwing out and getting rid of stuff. It is a KISS (Keep It Simple Stupid) view and a anti-materialistic view that gives a commitment to value in memory, heart, mind and sacrifices outside tokens. I actually think that process: a willingness to forego outside material tokens whatever they may be and a willingness to trust in one’s heart, mind is what is really required for removing clutter.

The opposite view is what I have seen in hoarding and ocd shows, where the person insists on keeping what really are emotional and intellectual ties with material items. They have not practiced making a commitment to trusting their own mind and heart.

In other words: throw out all the useless crap, and understand that yes, there is and almost always will be some kind of mental and emotional sacrifice type of feeling or leap of faith type of feeling – and that is good to trust in.

For stuff you have to keep, or whatever, really anything works. Currently I use a few designer boxes. Files and records we have to have, garage, in file boxes. What other members of my family do is up to them. When I am alone (before them or on long term business trips), my room will tend to clean. Clothes in closet, drawers, maybe a few books, computer… minimal dish usage, usually a full garbage bag. Roll out of bed, ready to go. Home is wherever I lay my head.

1 Like

Yeah, it’s hard to know. I’m guessing they aren’t needed after a few years, maybe 5 years? I can’t imagine anyone needs their water bill from 6 years ago, but maybe someone knows different? But hang onto tax documents probably longer.

Hm. That could be tricky then. Boxes tend to be the default method of organizing and storing. I know for our financial stuff, we slip them into an envelope at the end of the year, but pretty much everything up to then goes in a box.

I wonder if there is any sort of ready made solution for organizing for people with disabilities of various kinds? What’s the specific problem with boxes? Is it the lifting, bending down to sort into them, etc? Maybe that would help us come up with a workable alternative solution? I guess there is always an open sort of file holder? Would that be more useful?

1 Like

But how do you know what you need to keep? A strategy of keeping the important parts and tossing the rest can work if and only if we can reliably recognize the important parts.

But that doesn’t work with bureaucracy. And for some of us, it doesn’t always work with anything involving neurotypicals.

Sorry that was unclear but for me boxes aren’t a problem, it’s just that they aren’t a solution either. With enough boxes, and enough documents in the wrong boxes, and so on, they just don’t help.

But how do you know what you need to keep? A strategy of keeping the important parts and tossing the rest can work if and only if we can reliably recognize the important parts.
But that doesn’t work with bureaucracy. And for some of us, it doesn’t always work with anything involving neurotypicals.

You mean aneurotypicals (not sure the term there). People suffering from ocd actually is one thing, but it can be noted that ocd is simply an extreme condition of what everyone normally deals with.

The solution then tends to be similar: take that risk and do what you realize gives you anxiety but also know it should not. Seeing the effect, that the fears were unfounded creates internal change and wires pathways towards the new direction… which is being more capable without any manner of anxiety to rid excess material and therefore have less problems organizing what is left because you no longer have amounts of material which is excessive.

Cognitive behavioral therapy method, though also a really basic method: challenging your fears. Scared of highway driving, drive on highways, safely, and the anxiety dissipates. Scared of throwing away something important to an unreasonable level, dump it all. See if you are still alive. Or, okay, dump a lot which before you unreasonably kept.

Otherwise, you should have a manageable amount of material to deal with. You only need so much in terms of financial records and taxes. File cabinets and dated, numbered boxes in a garage should suffice.

Put another way: maybe you are not a full blown hoarder, but maybe you might have some anxiety issues with keeping too much you intellectually realize is unnecessary?

Which, I might note, is a totally normal reaction to have.

Not ocd.

I’m autistic.

I’m not any good at figuring out what bureaucratic systems will want or need, and that’s the issue here.

I just threw in a mention that I’m not much good at figuring out what neurotypical people will want or need, either.

I’ve also got a bunch of sensory issues, which make it much harder to go anywhere, impossible to go to the city or to distant appointments and offices, much harder to use the phone, and much harder to function around loud noises, bright lights, and/or flourescent lights.

I’ve moved all my recurring bills to e-billing, which is managed on one website, provided by my bank. So, insurances, mortgage, and utility billing records are all in one place. And I can also draft e-checks to a few places i go regularly like the dentist and the vet, too. I just had to ask if that was okay, and then remember to do it when I got home.



Unfortunately, it is hard to say what any organization may want in the future. The main issue I think of here is simply taxes. Otherwise, there are critical documents: leases, papers of ownership, records of citizenship.

I think I kept about ZERO until I was 30 or so and working serious jobs.

I would try and isolate and define what organizations you may have to provide information to, and do so by trying to define what organizations you have had to provide information to in the past. Write it down. Make a column. Then, try and remember what information you had to provide to them and write that down.

Next, on that table of data try and remember how far back they were asking for information from. Write that under each organization.

Finally, look at the time periods and see which is the longest. Throw away anything beyond that time period starting from this calendar date or so. Likewise, look at material being saved. Is that material found in any column? No? Then throw it out.

Unfortunately, however, I am aware that this might not be a method that would work best for you. I can give another option: hire an organizer. There are people in any major city who do this sort of thing for a living. Or you can simply ask help from a friend or relative.

I have moved to keeping a lot of info in 1Password, as notes - stuff like

  • my eyeglass and contact lens prescription numbers
  • dates of immunizations
  • membership numbers and license numbers
  • photo of my license plate and VIN number
  • all kinds of access codes - voice mail, copier at work, etc.

Dates I’ve worked various jobs and who my supervisor was are “stored” on my resume/curriculum vitae.

I would like to get to a system of photographing my paper bills and receipts, then storing them in Evernote, but I’m not there yet.

I have a backlog of boxes of photocopied journal articles from grad school that lurks in my storage closet. I don’t look forward to going through it. :frowning: I try to keep articles in .pdf format now that most journals make them available that way. Organizing them… well. The question for me is really how to LABEL them consistently and then making myself do it for hundreds, if not thousands, of articles - they are somewhat sorted into folders by topic but, yeah.

A friend helped me pare down my record keeping of paper stuff when she helped me set up a budget. For any given year, I have a set of folders in a filing box. Bank and credit card statements are in one folder. Investments, 401K statements, etc. are in another (and I have to OPEN them, not just throw the envelope in.) Utility bills in another, including phone, electric, etc. (most of which can be recycled after I do taxes as keeping them isn’t so important.) Documents related to taxes (1099s, W-2s, etc.) go in another folder, and are clipped together with a printout of my taxes once filed. Reciepts get put in a single folder all year, sorted by type now and then if I can manage it but usually I can’t until taxes.

The current year and the previous year’s folders are in a file box where I can get to them easily. Older stuff is in a filing cabinet in my closet. After 5 years, everything of the above except for the tax forms goes to my bank or work for confidential shredding. (Saving the tax forms might be helpful someday if Social Security records my annual income wrong or something.)

1 Like

I’m someone who appears to be rather disorganized, but generally knows where everything is within the mess. A trait shared by Sherlock Holmes, and many other real people too of course. The problem, as Holmes’ constant battles with Mrs. Hudson illustrate, is when something gets changed. Even if you change it yourself, the initial organization is what tends to stick in your mind, so you forget where you moved something to.

So, when I get to the point where I really need to organize things, I have a choice. Do everything over in an attempt to re-format that organizational memory, or make stop-gaps to quell the overwhelming untidy tide.

The problem with doing everything over is that for at least a month, I don’t know where anything is. Sometimes things get lost completely. But stop-gaps inevitably lead to complete organizational disaster, quite quickly.

So I’ve thought about this problem long and hard, though I haven’t put all my ideas to practice yet. I’m also on the autism spectrum, btw.

The first step has to be getting rid of everything you can. If you’re really not sure about a specific item (papers), save the crucial part but discard e.g. the envelope it came in and any extra sheets of paper without anything important, to reduce the bulk.

After that, the specific organizational method is up to your taste, but that’s not necessarily the most important part. For example, there’s a trope you occasionally see in fiction of people looking for something in an alphabetical filing system, but the thing they’re looking for could reasonably be in several different sections depending on the whim of the person at the time of filing.

So my solution is pretty much just more detailed labeling. I’d probably just go with alphabetical, but at the front of each alphabetical section, a more specific list of what goes in there - lists that have to be updated when something new is added, of course, which is probably the downfall of this method as that extra step is likely to be skipped often enough to let the whole system down.

But the idea is that instead of looking through several entire sections for something, you merely need to look at the index for each section.

And this way, you can use different sub-systems for organizing certain things if it makes more sense that way. For example, if you have printed journal articles you want to keep (sometimes your hand-written margin notes might be what you want to keep, for example, so just having the PDF isn’t enough), they can go in a big section under A (for articles) or J (for journal articles) or whatever, and then sub-organize by whatever means suits you (most likely alphabetical by first author, but also maybe by topic first).

Anyway, you point out that a big part of your issue is simply not knowing what you might need later, and others have offered good ideas about that. Something that helps with that is looking over every little thing you have, as a completely new filing system would force you to do (especially if you go through the process of eliminating envelopes and extra papers as I suggested). For me that means seeing a bunch of stuff I had no idea I had; years-old information I really don’t need and which nobody else is ever going to need from me.

You can also look at something you’re not sure about and think, “how difficult would getting a duplicate of this information be?” - anything that you can’t get a new copy of if you really needed to falls into one of two categories: either you probably don’t actually need it, or it’s a practically-unique item that should be in a fireproof safe or a safe-deposit box at a bank e.g. social security card, deed to your house, original birth certificate - even though all of those things would actually be replaceable if necessary it’s just better if you don’t need to replace them.

Everything else… do you really need it? Unless you’re legally bound to keep certain business or investment records (and you would know if you are) then probably not! Not that I advocate being too cavalier about it :wink:

One final thing… downsize everything as soon as possible, in most cases that means immediately upon receiving it. I mean like get rid of the envelopes and extra papers right away. So the clutter doesn’t pile up and you’re ready to file it away immediately.


Well, I have a folder for estimates of population size. I have another folder for histories of slave revolts. Each includes a combination of articles that I’ve printed out, and some of my own notes that I’ve printed out to work on. Either one could include the estimates of slave population size. Neither one could include the relevant sections of my various notebooks, or the other relevant files on my computer.

To be honest I started writing that several days ago and, not seeing a clear and concise way to explain myself, ended up quickly finishing it as a disorganized mess of my thoughts just now. In retrospect, ironic and probably not that useful, haha.

But, your example here is interesting. It reminds me of the (potential) power of tag-based databases. With tags, your estimate of slave population size would appear in both “folders”. But you can only do that digitally; I mean you could have duplicates (a copy of the slave population data in both folders) but that’s clearly not ideal and would end up adding confusion.

So then, I’m wondering if you attempt any organization on your computer. For example, it’s kind of awful software, but Endnote includes functionality for organizing physical files. You could create an entry in there (or in any similar software, there’s probably better, endnote is just well-known in academia) for each article, any other important printouts or whatever you may have, plus each notebook, basically anything. Add lots of tags, and add notes explaining anything you think may be helpful; maybe a short index of what’s in each notebook for example. And, if necessary a note on where each item is kept. Then when searching for something, there are multiple ways to find it (a variety of different search terms will bring up the slave population size article).

You then also have the additional benefit of having gone through every single thing you have collected for this project, reminding you of things you may have forgotten about, and giving you the chance to unload things you realize now are not useful (or at least setting those aside and decluttering).

Of course, this is always the problem for me… it’s a lot of work to be that organized :wink:

I have trouble with typing. In my experience using tags to organize posts on a website, rather than files on my computer, tags are painfully difficult to type, and on some sites they are impossible to use. Tumblr, for example.

I don’t know about Endnote. I take notes in LibreOffice. I tried other software, but got screwed over when after writing one note, with the right fonts and sizes, I took that note, and wrote another over it, and tried to Save As but the computer took that to Save OVER.

I have tried speech-to-text, but can’t afford Dragon, and even with an external microphone, can’t get the built-in software on my current computer to recognize such rare words as “a” and the like.

This topic was automatically closed after 732 days. New replies are no longer allowed.