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Paper Storms

There is a crazy amount of snow outside as I write this post. Now granted I live in Northwest Ohio so we are no strangers to snow and occasionally will get heavier storms coming off of Lake Erie, but we rarely get snowstorms where so much snow falls in such a short span of time combined with negative temperatures and high winds. While digging out from this storm was not fun, it did provide a great analogy for paper clutter in our lives. 

On a typical winter day, I am able to manage my driveway (which is obnoxiously long as it used to be used for Semi parking). I can shovel as the snow falls, salt, and generally maintain the usual amount of winter unpleasantries. However, a storm just hit us and hit us hard. In just a few hours sometime between midnight and 4 am over a foot of snow fell in my driveway which was compounded by the plows adding more snow as they cleared the streets and the wind creating snowdrifts waist-deep. I literally lost the freedom to safely leave my house, have anyone over, or drive my car until I made at least some headway into clearing this snow. In life, our paper can behave the same way. We typically have a manageable amount of paper that comes in and goes out of our home. We are able to stay on top of it and can even put in extra effort to improve the system, but we do not find the papers to be debilitating or cost us lost time or money. However, the storms of life do hit and they often bring a lot of paper with them. Maybe it’s a happy storm like a new career opportunity that requires a lot of research or a new baby or adoption. Perhaps, it’s a sad storm like closing an estate of a loved one or dealing with a medical situation. 

So what can we do when the storms of life (be them snowstorms or life events) hit us? 

Remain Calm: 

As hard as it may seem at the moment, all storms eventually clear and you will be able to pick up the pieces and move on. There is a saying that the best way to eat an elephant is to take it one bite at a time. In my literal snowstorm, I did this by just making a shovel-wide path from my door to the street so I could evacuate in case of an emergency and meet my dog’s need to go outside. In your paper, perhaps this is starting a Sunday Basket or finding a way to organize the most critical papers (like bills and permission slips) and leaving the rest until you have the time and energy to tackle those documents. 

Assess the Situation: 

What tools, support, and skills do you have? In my case, I had a basic snow shovel and some winter gear to protect myself. We do not have a snow blower or a plow. I didn’t have anyone else who could lend me support, but I did have community support because we were all feeling the same pains, and most importantly I had the skills from many winter storms before and I knew how to protect my home from freezing pipes, how to approach digging out, and the confidence that I can do it. 

Paper is the same way. What tools do you have to organize your paper? Who is willing to come and help you sort through the papers? What groups or resources can you connect to, to not feel so alone? What skills do you have to tackle the paper?

This assessment is what determines if you are able to do-it-yourself or if you should hire a professional organizer. When I was out there hand shoveling, I knew I was blessed to have the tools I did have, the physical ability, and the know-how to tackle the project even though it took me away from other activities (including creating revenue for my business). My town also had the tools and infrastructure to help clear the roads and essential areas. Contrast my situation to the unfortunate situation many people in the southern half of the United States are facing where they are not only clearing snow but dealing with a loss of power and having critical services inaccessible to them. 

After the moment of gratitude, I really wished I had a plow or snow blower and was like yep I need to get one of those! However, I realized I would once again not make this investment of time and money to acquire and learn those tools because I will not face this situation again for hopefully another four to five years and when it does happen I’ll use my shovel that has faithfully gotten me through. Some people will make the steep investment to acquire the DIY tools to organize their papers and spend hours upon hours learning the best systems and will eventually clear the paper, but would it be worth it? Would it be worth it to me to spend a day finding, buying, and learning how to use a snowplow versus taking the time to just shovel out? Would it not be better to just hire someone for a one-time fee that is much less than the value of the equipment, training, insurance, experience, etc. and have my goal of having my driveway cleared met and returned to a state where I can maintain it for the next several years until another big storm eventually hits? 

Consider the Cost of Your Decisions: 

I could have hired someone for $60 to come and clear my driveway, but at this time in my life, it was not worth the money for me to do so. I would not be able to make over $60 for the hour of labor it took to make a path, and I didn’t have to give up a precious resource like time with a dying loved one or hiring a sitter to care for a baby while I shoveled. It made sense to just suck it up and go do it. 

However, if I weren’t able to; if it caused me physical or mental harm or the opportunity cost was too great, then I would have definitely hired someone to plow. 

Conclusion:

If you are facing a paper storm, regardless of how the volume of paper got there, you too are likely feeling stuck. You may feel like you are less careful than someone else because it seems like you are the only one who can’t find a bill to pay on time, you have a room of shame with files, you don’t know where to start, and it all seems like so much. If this is you, please give yourself grace and realize that most people have been there at one time or another, because life catches up to all of us at some point. Paper, house cleaning, self-care, etc. are things we feel we should be able to do solo and if they are out of alignment it means we have failed. If you are feeling this way,  re-write the sentence! Am I a failure because a foot of snow randomly fell from the sky…no, that’s silly…likewise you are not a failure because a storm hit you and left you with a pile of work that you need to dig out. 

Take time to consider your options, your tools, and your abilities. You may find it’s much more affordable to hire an organizer than to keep living with the mess of the storm and trying to do it yourself. If it is more affordable then why not go for it!

If you economically cannot afford an organizer or a system at this time, then consider what options are available to you and create a plan to clear the path, maintain your freedom, and be okay with that until you are able to get to the rest. 

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