Things I’ve been organizing lately: The paper-stuffed backpack that kept her up at night

A couple of weeks ago I was poignantly reminded of how organizing is never about the “stuff.” A client from two years previous called with a new, urgent project.  Since we had worked together, her husband had been placed into hospice care at home.  In addition, they had sold their home, moved into a rental, and now had just purchased and moved into a new home, all while maintaining as much normalcy as possible for their little boy.  

In the midst of unimaginable stress and upheaval, she confessed what had been keeping her up at night: the backpack full of paper.  

With so many nurses, caretakers, and family members in and out of the rental, the paper was as scattered as she felt.  Amongst the stashes, she had just discovered a backpack packed solid with a couple months’ worth of unopened mail.  The mystery of bills, missed deadlines, and who knows what else made that bag weightier than the sum of its parts.  The paper had been mounting for some time, but this bag put her over the edge and was literally stealing precious hours of sleep.

She needed me to work independently, so I did.  After taking two solid hours to dissect the contents of the bag into trash, action, file, bills to pay, and a few other categories, I was given keys to the rental that needed to be emptied.  These photos are from the rental.  Two hours at a time I picked through files made by my client, her husband, and me two years ago.

In addition was paper in a plastic bag containing file drawer contents and a canvas bin of loose paper and receipts mixed in with other tossings-in from the first move:


As if organizing paper isn’t taxing enough, her capacity to focus on most things had been understandably compromised since we met last.  To face a backpack of mystery mail, let alone the dining room piles and all other stashes, proved to be paralyzing.  She was overwhelmed with relief as I sent her photos after every solo session, even though they were just status shots. This bottom photo is of the process, showing her “how the sausage is made!”  I brought piles into the adjacent kitchen and used all surfaces to sort.  That’s my trash pile on the floor. For many clients, this photo would cause panic.  I had a feeling she would appreciate it though:

And she did….

Her text says it all.  I like to think I don’t just provide neater files, or even a beautified space, bur rather, relief.  “Relief” is my most favorite word to hear from a client who has just experienced a taste of order. She and her family still have so much to face, but to seek and find relief anywhere we can find it is a lesson for all of us that sometimes hope is only a file away.

Have you ever found yourself seeking physical order in the midst of a crisis?  What did you do?  How much did you have to organize, purge, or sort to regain a sense of control and peace of mind?  Please share in the comments!

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Office Organizing Expert Kacy Paide loves to do what most people hate: organize offices & paper.

She works with folks who are desperate for a more functional, more beautiful, more inspiring office. Kacy has been a Professional Organizer since 2001 and has worked with over 500 clients. Call her crazy, but she loves a good mess and wants to fix yours. Learn her time-tested solutions in her eBook, The Inspired Office: Organize Your Life One Paper at a Time. Based in Silver Spring, MD, Kacy is nationally available for consulting & speaking.