My box of ‘getting-to-done’ ~ By Nicole V

A box without hinges, key, or lid, yet golden treasure inside is hid. ~ JRR Tolkien

I have a box. Just. One. It contains no treasure but there is something hiding in it. It’s a plastic storage box measuring 60 by 35 by 42cm, which has helped me preserve my sanity, well, sort of preserve my sanity. It lives in the storeroom, sitting to the left of the entrance, looking harmless and, well, um, just like a plastic storage box. What it contains, however, is a Hydra of paper clutter and just like the creature in Greek mythology that grew two heads each time one was chopped off, this monster, I could almost swear, breeds and gives birth to multiple sheets of paper, in an act of defiant revenge, each time I process a batch.

So, how did this creature come to life? Echidna and Typhon played no part in its creation; I did it all by myself and I have been waging war against this paper serpent ever since. You could say that this is the Achilles’ heel in my decluttering battle. After decluttering a good deal of other stuff, I had paper clutter left to weed out. I found it annoying to have stacks of paper lounging around nonchalantly in an otherwise relatively uncluttered home and I corralled these stacks and dumped them unceremoniously into the box, and placed it in the storeroom. It was out of the way and yet in plain sight so that I could not forget its existence. The plan was to process a handful each time, to be filed, shredded or recycled, till the box was empty. But, what often looks good on (sigh!) paper doesn’t always turn out the way you want it to, in reality.

I’m pretty good in handling current incoming paper (I ensure that any junk mail, for instance, has a shorter lifespan than that of an adult mayfly and I try to file necessary papers as soon as I possibly can), it’s the paper from my pre-filing cabinet days that I’m still going through. Having it contained in the box allows me to tackle it a little at a time and if even that gets a bit too much, to take a breather and ignore it for a while, before coming back to it. And as I only remove papers from the box and do not add any, it should only be a matter of time before every single piece of paper is either rehoused or gone for good, right? Yeah, that’s what I used to think … I’m not so sure any more.

I have come across useful information regarding handling and reducing paper clutter, on this blog and elsewhere, and I employ the techniques that I’ve learnt in my ongoing battle. And I know that persistence, will, eventually pay off. And so, with Henry V’s battle cry of ‘Once more unto the breach, … once more;’ ringing in my ears, I will keep going till I finally defeat this monstrosity.

Do you have a clutter nemesis? Is it paper or something else? Do you have a battle plan for fighting it?

Today’s Mini Mission

Declutter excess furniture or stuff on your veranda, balcony or patio. Wind blows in leaves and dust which is harder to clear away when stuff needs moving to get at it.

“If we do not feel grateful for what we already have, what makes us think we’d be happy with more?” — Unknown

Eco Tip for the Day

Don’t leave your car idling for unnecessary periods of time such as when you pull over to use your cell phone. 10 seconds of idling uses more fuel than restarting your car.

For a full list of my eco tips so far click here

It matters not how fast I go, I hurry faster when I’m slow

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Continue reading with these posts:

  • Ringing Out the Old and Welcoming the New ~ By Deb J How many of you come to the end of the year with a bundle of paper you need to keep to prepare your taxes or because you have to be reimbursed for medical expenses or for who knows what […]
  • Clutter Maintenance Every time I have moved house I have had a reasonable length of notice. Although, sometimes the definite ~ "Yes we are moving." ~ may have come a little last minute but the maybe had been […]
  • In the moment Today's post has been brought out of the archives as a timely reminder to stay in the moment. We all spend far too much time "multi tasking" and thinking about what has to be done next, […]
About Colleen Madsen

Colleen is the founder of 365 Less Things and lives in Newcastle, Australia.


  1. Reading Marie Kondo’s book, I’ve been tackling it ALL for a week now, and oh holy hell, the improvement in our living space. 🙂

    • Way to go, Gwen!

    • Gwen – I’m actually re-reading Marie Kondo and catching different ideas this time around. So I am applying those ideas/methods to the sorting work I am doing at the moment and its giving me that ‘using a different set of muscles’ feeling. As we are changing to Winter clothes here, I have also been pondering her thoughts on storing away seasonal clothes ie if the weather turned back into Summer right now, would I be wearing this?

  2. I have a box like that too. Actually more than one. There is the paper one, the photos one and the small bits of cool, but mysterious “things”.

    • Ok, Creativeme, now you have me intrigued by the box that contains ‘the small bits of cool, but mysterious “things”.’

  3. Well Nicole V, you almost had me with coffee pouring down my nose! That’ll teach me to start reading your post with a mouthful of coffee.

    I laughed out loud at the “Hydra” of paper clutter … we have one in our house too. But now, I shall tackle it with a cry of “Once more unto the breach”.

    Clutter in the house is like weeds in the garden … both can be managed but rarely eradicated.

    • LOL, Kate!

      Keep going against your Hydra. I like this quote that I came across:

      “Difficult things take a long time, impossible things a little longer.”
      – Author Unknown

  4. Cindy Bogard

    Oh yes, I have The Box of Shame, which is actually a laundry basket full of a challenging amount of miscellaneous. The other day, I was seriously contemplating binning the whole thing, but as I know my Grandmother’s cookbook is in there, I couldn’t. Oh hate I hate it, oh how it shames me.

    • I totally get you when you say that you were “seriously contemplating binning the whole thing, but … couldn’t”, Cindy. I wish you well in tackling your box, and as for the shame, Nietzsche’s quote comes to mind:

      “Everyone needs a sense of shame, but no one needs to feel ashamed.”

  5. Not a box, but the open top of my bureau. I usually deal with papers as they come in, but if not ( or I’m not sure where they should be filed) they land on the bureau top, eventually creating a pile. Like your writer, I try to deal with a few papers at a time, usually ending with putting them back on the pile because I’m not sure where to file them! Earlier this year we were getting ready to go away on a long trip and I knew I couldn’t leave that pile as it was. Brainwave ! I got my husband to deal with it, as most of the papers were his or ones he knew where they should be filed. In a very short time the pile disappeared and I was able to close the bureau lid. Moral: Make sure this pile never builds again by always dealing with filing when my husband is in the room!

    • That’s a great solution to your paper problem, Linda. My husband offered to help and processed some stacks that I passed him but most of it is mine and I need to tackle it. I will get it done.

  6. Nicole,
    Taming the paper monster, a battle all of us deal with on a daily basis. Once paper is brought into the house via mail or flyers, school work etc., I adopted the “handle the piece of paper only once” attitude. It really works 🙂

    Decades ago, I remember during a visit to my workplace, a visiting executive from the corporate office asked my boss why we had so many file cabinets. My boss replied, “We keep everything….just in case”. Seems funny now, but back in the day it was to protect yourself from any kind of blow-back.

    • Your story made me smile, Kimberley. There are workplaces that still keep everything, just in case. The big difference is that they now keep both soft and hard copies. 🙂

      • Double your pleasure, Double your clutter, haha! Paper clutter and Electronic clutter. Both monsters that need to be tamed 🙂

  7. Nicole V, I love your sense of humor. I got a good laugh out of your post. Yes, I remember those days. It started out out when my father died and left a filing cabinet, a personal safe, and two huge packing boxes of paper. I had to handle each piece at least once and sometimes muptiple times as I worked on finding the really important things among the paper detritus of a long life. One thing I learned was to not let things get like that again.

    • Thank you, Deb J! I wrote this partly tongue in cheek and partly out of frustration.

      Yup, I have learnt not to let things get this way again, too. “(T)he paper detritus of a long life” – that’s a great, vivid, powerful phrase.

  8. This post is way too good! It sounds as if we all have something that is our decluttering nemesis! Mine was probably Christmas decorations and craft supplies. I KNOW I can do another purge through the Christmas stuff. As I keep seeing that half-completed lazy susan storage doohickey, I think I’m not going to finish it and just donate the stuff back. I also will release the guilt with that project. 😉

    • Thank you, Michelle! I think it’s great that you’ve made a conscious choice to release that guilt of unfinished business.

  9. Oh yes, I hate all the papers too! I have two more shoe boxes full of receipts that I should shred. Even that small amount will take me hours. I’m toying with the thought of just throwing them in a bag with used cat litter and coffee grounds….I don’t think I need to go through each of them. I still have way too many file folders with papers in them too.

    • Claire – what about a metal container and setting them on fire? Receipts don’t usually contain personal information so they’d probably be fine going in the bin but there is something satisfying about destroying receipts!

      • I’d love to do that, Moni! Quick and easy……but I live in a high rise apartment building in a big city! We have a gas fire pit here but it is decorative and all the apartment windows look onto it. I don’t think they’d approve of us doing burning in it! Thankfully we have a very handy trash chute. No limit to the amount we can dispose of any time of the day or day of the week. And once it goes down that chute, there is no getting it back! Very final! We also have recycling here and a huge dumpster for recyclables. So I have some advantages and some disadvantages. That is why I was trying to get creative. Of course, if I had just started shredding them a few weeks ago when we decided to get rid of them, I’d probably be done by now! I already did two boxes though and it was so tedious that it drove me to high blood pressure and days of muttering under my breath that I would never hoard receipts again! 🙂

    • Do let us know which path you take, Claire … especially if you take up Moni’s suggestion :-).

      • I had visions of just dumping the shoeboxes of receipts into a bag and pouring coffee, coffee grinds and cat litter over it all. But I ended up thumbing through all of the receipts in one box and taking out all the ones with information and signatures on them. That was pretty labor intensive. I shredded those and dumped the rest into a bag and poured the coffee, coffee grinds and dirt over it all. I’ll add the cat litter this evening and anything else I can think of! The coffee and grinds didn’t seem to do much so I’m going to add whatever I can think of just for good measure. All in all it took me about an hour and a half, and was faster than shredding all of them. Phew!

        • Doesn’t it feel good to have it gone, Claire? Well done!

          • Thanks Nicole! Yes, it does feel good, I still do have one shoebox full left though. I’m re-energizing myself for that one!

          • One step at a time in the right direction, Claire … and after several such steps, you will look back and see just how much ground you have covered.

  10. I employed a big plastic storage bin while we were painting the house and emptying each room, I reasoned that all the papers and jetsam and flotsam would be altogether and easily locatable. It was sitting there months after the painting had been finished and everything put back into the rooms. The problem with a container of paper is that it is nicely contained ie it isnt bothering us piled up on flat surfaces in plain sight.

    I remember a post on Ratitude a few years back on the topic and he said that when he went thru the all the papers, the cool thing was that most had passed out of being relevant while sitting in the bin which made it easy to deal with. I personally work with a one piece of paper policy but I think you should do something more dramatic to get some momentum happening. Empty it onto the living room floor. Take a photo just for fun. Quickly sort it into categories. Have the shredder handy and as you come across stuff no longer relevant (it will most likely be towards the bottom of the storage bin) shred as you go. Put some motivating music on, nothing relaxing, 80’s music seems to work the best. And just go for it!

    Right, I seem to have some sort of mental hold up getting my box of items to be donated, actually out the front door. I think I get too hung up on wanting to donate it to the ‘right’ place and also generating enough to make sure it justified a trip to the ‘right’ places. Today Im just going to load it up and get it out the door. If it ends up all going down a donation chute instead, here there and everywhere, so be it.

    • Update – I took everything and dumped it down the donation chute. A weight has lifted off my shoulders!

      • Having all that paper in the box actually helps me to go through it better than if it was “taunting” me from various places all over my home, Moni. It’s similar to Pandora’s Box … it’s easier for me to tackle “evil” when it’s contained than when it’s running amuck all around my home. 🙂 And after corralling those outlaws, I am loath to release them from the box … unless it is to send them to their final resting place. I find it mentally exhausting to go through the entire pile in one go, as there are important papers that I need to keep.

        Congrats on the donation … way to go!

  11. I have a specific type of paper pile under my bed – old calendars! You ask why? I was putting together a database with dates of stuff that happened since I got married and had kids (33 years worth), sort of like a digital diary… It didn’t seem like it would be that bad to do a little at a time… BUT it is entirely tedious!!! So I plan to rope my husband into helping me this summer (he is off work all summer every summer)… He can help me decide which things are worth including, etc. If this doesn’t work, I think I might visit my shredder with that breeding pile 🙂

    • Husbands are great as decluttering allies or cheerleaders, Peggy. I wish you all the best with your project. Do let us know how it goes.

  12. I’m not so bad with paper clutter, but my photos are a different story, I may never get those under control….

    • Deanna – I taking a break from my photo project, so I can sympathise. I will get back onto once I’ve caught up a few other jobs.

    • Keep going, Deanna. Find a rhythm that suits you and just keep at it. I wish you all the best, and do let us know how it goes.

  13. Heh. I have a similar box, and I love it. When I tackle the boxes of stuff stored in the basement, I always start with one empty box. If I struggle with something, I put it in the box and keep going. Otherwise I get stuck, get nowhere, and get frustrated. I know I’ll have to go back through those boxes, but it keeps the momentum going and means other stuff goes away much faster. When I don’t feel like a big project, I’ll go open a not-sure-box and poke around and see if I can do something with any of it. If a couple items leave the box (to go away or to go into use or into a better home) it’s a win. But when I need to see actual progress, then I let myself put some things into a it’s-hard-box and keep moving.

    • It looks like you have come up with a good system that works for you, Kayote. That’s half the battle won.

  14. Great post, Nicole V (and I loved all the classical references!) – and very timely for me as I have spent hours during the last two weeks clearing out our files and shredding mountains of old papers. I’m not sure how this got so bad as I usually try to go through the papers fairly regularly. The good thing is that I have been able to empty an entire filing cabinet and the one that is left now has space so the folders can be moved to find the things we need, whereas before they were jammed so tightly together that the whole thing was becoming unusable. I guess paperwork is one of those areas where that little “I might need it” voice speaks loudly to us, but this time my husband and I have decided to overcome that anxiety and just get rid of all these old papers. It reminds me of a movie I saw some years ago, I think it was called About Schmidt, and at the beginning the main character Schmidt is retiring from his job and leaves several neatly packed and labeled boxes, which will be “helpful” to his successor; a few days later he passes by his old office and sees all his boxes set out for trash. It’s a sad moment for the new retiree, but how true. I was also reading a blog post recently where the writer, an author and illustrator, showed the desks used by Louisa May Alcott and Jane Austen when writing their masterpieces – very small, unassuming pieces of furniture with no space at all to spread out their manuscripts – and then compared it to her cluttered desk with piles of paper everywhere, in fact paper everywhere in the room – despite the fact that we now live in the so-called paperless society!

    • Thank you, Christine! That sounds like really good work with regard to your filing cabinets … I’m sending you a virtual high five!

      I haven’t watched that movie but I think it’s the Jack Nicholson one … I’ll borrow the DVD the next time I’m at the library.

      I’ve seen photos of those desks (I especially love Jane Austen!) and was amazed.

  15. Hi Nicole et al,
    I too recently went through a few years of revising my approach to paper clutter.
    1st stage) I filed it all.
    2nd Stage) I realised most of it needed shredding and shred literally 15 bags of it. We killed 3 shredders in the process.
    3rd Stage ) I made a small important document file to take in the threat of a fire ( we live in a bushfire area) after stage 3 I realised how little was important paper and shredded a lot more or recycled it ( 4 full recycling bins )
    4th Stage) 19 years of kids art. Now as an artist I always found it excruciatingly hard to throw any of this away and kept every bit. Now after 3 children and 2 step children I had a mountain which suddenly became really glaring in the face of my newly decluttered home. As you all know it’s a journey and mine had taken years of trial and error, of emotional growth and of refining systems. The kids art for me was the hardest and I left it until last for that reason. I had read many articles and books on this topic and decided to attack it with full gusto and to be brave. Anything you wouldn’t frame – say goodbye and send it on its way. I kept one plastic box of all the gems and recycled the rest- another 3 full recycling bins!
    My technique involved setting aside 1 hour each Sunday afternoon after lunch to tackle a handful. Being me I ended up doing it in three sessions and my youngest daughter helped me decide the gems worth keeping which was an unexpected delight- to have an enthusiastic helper and to pass on the idea that we need not keep everything to the next generation. I wish you luck on your journey:)

    • Hi, Sarah. Thank you for sharing your inspiring story. It’s really cute that your daughter got involved. I’m sending you a virtual high five!

  16. Mine is paper too. I can manage to declutter everything but that. I have a file box for bills and things but it’s the other stuff…stock stuff, mortgage stuff, miscellaneous stuff, bank stuff that is out of control. I just don’t know where to put it even after I wade through it…hence the ignoring. Help.

  17. Hi, Debbie. With regard to your “out of control” stuff, could you check the paper retention guidelines with the relevant authorities? Then you’d be able to shred those really old papers and be rid of them. Try to establish a routine of editing your files that works for you. If you feel overwhelmed, try to do it in 15-minute periods and stop when the time is up. Keep at it and it’ll get done.

  18. Marina Pieretti

    It once happened to me that I was in the position of seriously contemplating moving out of my country due to my husband’s job. Finally the deal was never closed but in the meantime it had me thinking (for almost a month) about which items would I take with me. If we had actually moved, I would have had to stay away for at least 3 years. I was shocked to realize that under that light many things at home became clutter. This helped me a lot to sort out really needed stuff from pseudo- clutter and real clutter. Nowadays whenever I struggle to get rid of an item I do this mental exercise of imagining that I have to move away and either take it with me or come back to it 3 years later in my life…believe me when I tell you that paper rarely stands the test 🙂

    • That sounds like a pretty good test to me Marina. I have a similar test myself at times. Having moved several times doe to my husbands job sure made me pretty good a letting go of things even though our moves were paid for by his job.

    • Hi, Marina. Nice comment – things can indeed look clearer when viewed through the prism of an upcoming move … especially to another country.