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Paper Organizing Tricks From JOYS Creator Cathy Anderson

I met Cathy Anderson a few years ago at a NAPO conference after falling in love with her Just Organize Your Stuff (JOYS) filing system; it’s such a beautiful-looking home filing system that I couldn’t help being curious about her, as a person, and her creative process.

We have been electronic pals since meeting. Here is the scoop on how her creative mind works.

GT: How do you organize your own stuff? 
CA: There was nothing in my life that was organized when I started creating my product. In fact it was my total lack of organization (at home) that sparked the idea. That and the realization that good records provided the details necessary to plan and achieve my goals.

Frankly, had I not failed so miserably with keeping my papers organized, I’m not sure I would have had all the inspiration I needed to spend three years refining my twist on home filing. In fact, I would have never tried or studied the variety of filing systems and techniques others were using. Nor would I have realized the traditional, logical, index approach to filing wouldn’t really be the best long-term solution for my creative right-brain personality.

Traditional filing systems tend to be designed more analytically and use words as the foundation, with color and graphics as decoration. Perfect for those left-brainers. But, as a graphic designer, I realized these types of systems were missing key elements that could make filing and retrieving papers effortless. Colors and graphics trigger your memory, much quicker than words. If used consistently, they make filing more intuitive. In addition, most systems where set in stone. It was hard to modify them to make them work for me.

I knew I had to get creative if I was ever going to get a real handle on my papers. I had to start seeing the not-so obvious ideas or options to solve my filing problem.

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GT: What was that creative process like?

CA: First I had to let go. I realized the best way is not always the tried and true way. There’s always more than one solution to any problem. Letting go of traditional ideas opened the door to fresh possibilities.

Then I allowed myself to be curious. I started asking why. As a matter of fact, I asked why over and over until there were no more whys. What’s the problem? The papers piles are everywhere. Why? I don’t have a filing system. Why? Everything I try falls apart? Why? It’s too time consuming and difficult to maintain. Why? I never know what to keep or for how long? I didn’t just settle for one answer. After the why’s, I moved into who, what, where, when and how’s. I think that is why it took three years. No stone was left un-turned.

Finally, I learned to ignore perfection (kind of). I strived for it. I still do struggle with it often. But I can’t let it keep me from making progress. Nothing is ever done, it’s just done for now. Everything is forever a work in progress. Everything. Kinda like life.

GT: Why do you think it is so easy to get overwhelmed by paper?

CA: I can’t speak for everyone, but to start, there was never a life management class in high-school. Which I guess is a good thing, because it would have definitely taken a logical left-brained approach. I’m not saying don’t look at those approaches, I’m just suggesting you keep your mind open for creative twists. Because your lifestyle and personal style needs to be addressed if a solution is going to work for you. Creativity is super important when it comes to getting and staying organized. I think that is particularly true with papers.

GT: Can you describe how your unique filing solution works?

CA: The most obvious feature is the five colorful categories and one more to collect the important stuff. The categories help you find and file consistently in a variety of containers without the need for an index. Subjects can be added seamlessly. So the filing system can easily grow.

The less obvious feature is the flexibility of the containers. There is no need to have one filing cabinet for all your household papers-unless of course, one filing cabinet fits your style and your space. The containers are based on paper retention rules. How long do I need to keep this is apparent because papers are stored based on how long you have decided to keep them. Which differs for everyone.

Generally speaking we keep papers because they are vital documents, important records or everyday references. Most vital documents need to be kept forever, safe and secure. Records are kept based on individual lifestyle needs, usually IRS or legal requirements. References are kept for use and can be tossed at will.

The idea was to keep vital documents safe in their own container. Ready to grab and go in an emergency. Important records are out of the way. There is no reason to have 3, 7 or 10 years of support papers you will never touch interacting with daily activities and space. That being said, for efficiency and peace-of-mind, those support records should be carefully filed just in case you need them. Organizing them with the colorful categories helps you find and file them effortlessly.

GT: What is the one thing people can do that will help them get a grip on their papers?

CA: That’s easy. Think differently. Ok, changing your thinking is not really that easy. But being more conscious of how you feel is really important. Stop thinking negative. I used to look at my papers as an annoyance. But papers represented my responsibilities. How could that be an annoyance? That was my life. My choices. I had to start thinking about them differently if anything was going to change.

Knowing what important papers to keep and deciding how long you will keep them runs a very close second. This will eliminate the fear in tossing. That’s a biggie too.

GT: Do you have a favorite quote you’d like to share?

CA: “We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.” ~ Albert Einstein

Cathy Anderson designs and writes to inspire an organized life at justorganizeyourstuff.com. Her e-book, Blueprint : JOYS A Creative Outline for an Inspiring Home Filing System that Organizes All Life Puts on the Table is available for download. It’s FREE! 

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