[Book Review] File… Don’t Pile!

Antiquatedness and needless wordiness prevent File… Don’t Pile! from being a fantastic paperwork filing system. The book is best approached as a casual guide to skim through when you need some organizing inspiration, rather than anything that could significantly help you improve messy paperwork piles. Computer technology from just after this book’s 1986 publication has rendered sections of solutions woefully so-so. Still, there is more substance here than not, so let’s clip out some useful suggestions.

Rating: ★★★☆☆ [3/5]

Paper recycling was my biggest gain from reading this book.

“Rather than crumple up a piece of paper,” the quote went with some additional purple prose about the effort involved to crumple up paper thrown in for good measure, “merely fold up the piece of paper and throw it away!” It’s an innocent thought that when brought to center stage reveals the general tone and weight of the organizational system.

“Brainstorm what you have, bring it all together, then catalog.”

Those 10 words summarized around 6 pages. Sure, there were myriad nuances edited out. Everything else was merely anecdotal that at best could help the reader empathize with a need to get motivated to organize, but I’ve already packed 8+ boxes full of paperwork that I will need to catalog completely before deciding if I want to keep or recycle.

I’m fully invested in getting organized. Why so much ado?

I suspect the book needed to fill an obligatory page length for publication because the cataloging systems are easy. One focuses on an empirical alphabetical system if you have a fixed number of topics, the other is more flexible. The “paperdex” indexing system seems to be an effective way to catalog paperwork and its variations could be useful.

But all that could have been in a 10-page pamphlet!

Another anecdote, along with the exquisite evocation that deduced the time and effort savings of folding recycling paper rather than crumpling up the paper, was the Law of the Packrat: “junk will accumulate proportionately to the storage room available for it.” The idea, introduced too late into the book, was to collect paperwork in relevant locations.

Move your tax mail into the business inbox, for example.

Rather than have piles of miscellanea consume your home, the book’s crux is catching clutter and rerouting it into more manageable sections before it settles. The less useful notions are always outdated. My parody example: It’s too time-consuming to frequently reprint pages with new headers after each major addition to your paper collection, so write it in pencil instead!

We take it for granted how little we need paper anymore.

We can pay bills with credit cards online. We can learn how to do almost anything online, from cooking to repairing esoteric machines, with our access to this information usually being free. Books, themselves, are even becoming antiquated. Rather than being a necessity like it was back in the 80s, paper – and even clutter, itself – is almost a silly luxury.

Still, File… Don’t Pile! is a decent read for learning or for humor.

[new section:]

My reading notes during 10-minute sessions:

[01] Dec 19th – 3/5 – From “the front cover” to page 1
Good start. Maybe a bit too much fluff.

[02] Dec 20th – 3/5 – From page 1 to 5
Too much ado. Already found a typo. Distracted three times. I wanted to count those as penalties and read longer, but I decided against it.

[03] Dec 22nd – 4/5 – From page 5 to 10
Good questions about why we keep stuff. The 10 questions are like the lists I write. They’re a way to systematize the chaos. Also, the bit about the dollhouse was a little poignant for me, but it’s not mine anymore. I’m sure the author will get into these tough choices later.

[04] Dec 24th – 2/5 – From page 10 to 24
Terrible personification of the Myers-Briggs Jung typology test as a way to psychoanalyze hoarding. Terrible. The author argues certain types will be more likely to hoard with no evidence or no conclusion other than as a fun exercise to engage the reader.

[05] Dec 25th – 4/5 – From page 29 to 35… [I can’t find my summary of pages 24 to 29…]
Good informational structure about organizing. Brainstorm what you have, bring it all together, then catalog.

[06] Dec 31st – 4/5 – From page 35 to 40
A good structure for decluttering, focused mainly around antiquated paperwork, but the methodology is the same for anything: consider what you have, bring them together, roughly sort, then refine that sort prioritized by least organized or most important to you.

[07] Jan 1st – 4/5 – From page 40 to 51
More in-depth cataloging. I will need to do something similar with my collections once I move. This book is starting to get into the meat of the decluttering process and I’m finally starting to see its value.

[08] Jan 2nd – 3/5 – From page 51 to 56
The organizational system technique here is painfully antiquated, and even though the logic behind it can be helpful for other things than just printed things, it’s still not as strong as the attempt to get organized.

[09] Jan 3rd – 3/5 – From page 56 to 66, then skipped through this section to page 83.
There is some good logic here and the system would be sound, were it not for being almost completely out of date now thanks to technology. As a side note, I am currently filling my 7th box of paperwork to sort through later, so it might seem like I might need a system like this, but honestly, I intend to photograph a majority of these papers and for the remaining, I’ll broadly categorize them, maybe using a system similar to this?

[10] Jan 4th – 2/5 – From page 66 to 83, in maybe less than 5 minutes, because I skimmed over it yesterday and thought it was irrelevant; reading confirmed that. Then I read pages 83 to 90.
This part drags from the antiquated pre-digital era. There are just so many easier ways to go now. The cross-referencing can be useful, but with digital folders, you can just throw in a little shortcut or something.

[11] Jan 5th – 3/5 – From page 90 to 100.
I’m about 75% of the way through all the papers I’ve collected over the years, from old school work to writings to the card-backs of toys, so this system should be right up my alley. I’m off and on between whether or not I can use or adapt either of the systems written about in the book. I’m trying to figure out why I have a block on adapting to it…

[12] Jan 6th – 4/5 – From page 100 to 107.
The author talks about the Law of the Packrat: “junk will accumulate proportionately to the storage room available for it.” I can believe it. I’ve been reducing the number of surface areas available for clutter to accumulate and it is helpful, but a large majority of my problem more relates to the influx of new information [digital or physical]. Stuff will pile up but I won’t do anything about processing it or filing it away. The book talks about how it’s important to consistently and gently go through and discard things on a schedule, rather than just a “fever-pitch.”

[13] Jan 7th – 4/5 – From page 107 to 114.
More good material, focusing on retention policies for clutter. That might have been my major downfall with this hoarding mentality that spiraled out of control to the point where I have boxes and boxes left – 6 weeks into a 40+-hour-per-week move – that I still haven’t addressed yet. I never went back through my stuff. I just let it pile up and kept on going. That was more of an aside but there are parts to this book that remind me of stuff like that and are pretty good. Other parts… could use an editor.

[14] Jan 8th – 3/5 – From page 114 to 124.
I don’t know how much of this book is just not relevant to me because the digital age has removed the need for much of this, or if it’s me denying that this is much of an issue for me. I’d like to assume closer to the former than the latter, but here we are, considering this thought. I have some paper dividers that might be useful on the other end of this move… I’ll keep them, just in case between finishing this book and unpacking my paperwork boxes, I find a use for them.

[15] Jan 9th – 2/5 – From page 124 to 146.
I skipped over more than a few pages of this from the rolodex to sorting out things in very particular orders. It’s unfortunate how these sections are outdated, because the methodology is explained very patiently, and I try to glean as much as I can from this, but now I’m OK with skipping over parts. Maybe I’ll return through the whole book including these skipped sections once I’ve moved somewhere more permanent and can sort through my paperwork?

[16] Jan 10th – 4/5 – From page 146 to 154.
This tax stuff is really interesting. I mean, I’m moving from somewhere I’ve lived for over seven years. It’s weird. Now I’ll have to worry about all sorts of different things then I have been worried about until now. Having some kind of organized structure like this should help me focus on being less stressed.

[17] Jan 13th – 4/5 – From page 154 to 162.
Concluding section about organizing your tax and important paperwork with a 4-part strategy for organizing incoming paperwork into piles. I like this sort of reduction of surface area idea into manageable areas. I’ve nearly finished my first book of the year, too.

[18] Jan 14th – 3/5 – From page 162 to “the back cover.”
Overall, the book is good enough to keep and provides some useful instructions on getting organized. It’s tedious and antiquated, but I’ll probably refer to it for future organizing, especially when I begin to sort through my paperwork again. I’ll just skip to the relevant parts and won’t read through it all again.

Quotes: The first quote was a memory. The second was a direct quote. The italicized section was my evocation of the book’s tone.
Sources: Reading the book and my experiences with decluttering.
Inspirations: I want to start reviewing books more. Though I took a harsh approach to the book, it’s not terrible. I’m just disappointed with it for what it could have been…
Related: My other Book Reviews and my Moving Zeal essays.
Photo: The book atop my eighth box of papers. Red-tined because the lighting wasn’t great.
Written On: January 22nd [2 hours – oops]
Last Edited: First draft; final draft.
My big goal is to write. My important goal is to write "The Story." My proudest moment is the most recent time I overcame a fear, which should have been today. I'm a better zombie than I was yesterday. Let's strive to be better everyday. (Avatar)