Keeping paper under control

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Kelly and Katie McMenamin are two sisters who run a home and life organization service called Pixies Did It. Their philosophy: if your life is not organized around your own habits and personality, it won’t run smoothly. Here, the Pixies talk about a subject I suspect is close to many of our hearts: organizing paper

Your personality tells you more about how you should organize than you think. Use your natural strengths to get a quick Pixie Fix and bring order & serenity into your life. We offer online Myers-Briggs personality assessments through our business, PixiesDidIt! You should recognize which fix is for you without taking the test, but if you want more personality specific organization help, give us a call or an email.

When it comes to paper, we break the 16 Meyers-Briggs personality types into four major groups, NJ, NP, and SJ, SP. What unites us? No matter who you are it seems to never stop coming and it can get unruly. Whether you are in an office or at home, you need to create the right structure for you. We all get overwhelmed by paper and find ourselves asking, Weren’t computers supposed to make us paperless?

Click through to read the fixes (and see pictures!) for realistic decision makers, visionary decision makers, adaptable realists, and adaptable innovators

You guys designed the modern office organizational structure. It’s like ducks in water. You work best with everything in its place and prefer things to be put away in homes that are contained and hidden from view. Often, organizing entails formalizing structure you’ve already put in place, but have put together quickly (to cross it off your list!) and looks chock a block.


1. Inbox. Have one. You will go through it regularly. In a home environment, you’ll find it’s nice to have two, one for household mail and one for you. Inboxes can be traditional or when short on space, wall mount.

2. Outbox. Have one or two. Again, we know you go through them regularly. One outbox can be a to file and one a to mail or whatever main categories you have.

3. Consider adding an Active box. It’s an intermediate spot to put paper and files when you run out of time or things are in process, i.e., invitations. Make it a physical one or just officialize the pile on your desk. In your drive to put everything away, you can misplace papers when you don’t have an official spot for the subject or are in a rush.

4. You love attending to details (files) and creating structure (file drawers). You are born natural filers. Embrace it. If you don’t have a filing cabinet, get one. We suggest at least two, one for daily use, and one for deeper storage. Maybe a mini cabinet within reach that hides away or wall pockets for frequent filing and a bigger cabinet nearby for the deeper, less frequent stuff.

5. No matter what the size of your workspace, everything must have real homes (pens in a pen cup, if you collect souvenirs like conference badges or programs, create real homes for them). In your rush to get it done, you’ll often create temporary homes that are not permanent homes. If things don’t have real homes, it gets messy and you’ll have trouble getting things done in your office.

6. You often eschew style & beauty in favor of getting things done, i.e., you use what’s on hand or go to Staples and buy the most basic folders and accessories. Don’t short yourself on style, it matters in creating a serene environment. Ask someone else how your desk or office solutions looks in terms of style.

7. Realize that even when you create a perfect solution, over time you’ll need to reassess, make changes, get rid of things as your demands and responsibilities change.

NJ’s like structure as much as an SJ, so NJ’s can adapt to a regimented office environment. But it would be a mistake to organize as an SJ. Your visual N is a critical difference. You like to see things. You are natural pilers, not filers. You do file, especially in the office environment but at home, you are more yourself and tend toward multiple piles for current filing. (Interestingly, SJs do this as well when they don’t have enough structure, space or filing cabinets). We say embrace your inner piler and formalize with labeled bins/letter trays that are named however you think about each pile.


If your desk is covered in piles with no room to work, think vertical. Consider installing or buying shelves or bookcase for your piles and then use a filing cabinet for long-term storage. You can have the inbox outbox system like an SJ but make sure you can see everything in it, i.e., don’t do the traditional stacked inbox outbox system where the bottom pile is hidden.

Another idea to consider is a nice looking bulletin board for things in process that you want to remember but don’t fit into your piling system. At home, you might already be using your fridge as a bulletin board of sorts.

If it’s something an SP loves, they’ll tend to be hyper organized about it but who loves paper? So, where you can start to get excited about paper is coordinating desk accessories (things that an SJ might think frivolous or silly).


Because SP’s are realistic and usually willing to adapt to other people’s structure, most systems will work for them, but for two exceptions. The system needs to work for their lifestyle and it needs to be attractive. With no need to reinvent the wheel, an SP can adapt to the SJ system quite easily. In fact, an SP could be mistaken for an SJ when it comes to going through mail and papers, but for style & setting up a system. Where the SJ sacrifices style for efficiency, the SP pays attention to the style detail aspect of organizing papers over the getting it done SJ. We tell SP’s that while style IS important, it shouldn’t hold you back from setting up a formal system. It’s very easy today to find attractive file drawers. Or even fancy ones. If you can’t hassle with a file cabinet or don’t like the look of one for short term storage use closed desk top files systems.

If you’re stuffing things in your purse or briefcase to have on hand (so you don’t forget them) consider keeping a lightweight plastic folder in your bag for said things. Keeps things from getting lost.

As the NP’s downfalls are clean, open surfaces and closed unclear containers, we tell you to be very careful with the SJ system. One inbox doesn’t work for you because it can become a dumping ground. Whether it’s mail, a notice, a piece of paper to file, it becomes a place to put postponed decisions and actions. Filing cabinets are a mausoleum for you. You should only file things that you can’t lose but don’t need frequently. Instead, keep an accordion or open desk file for short-term filing’. And keep all can’t lose things like Passports, etc., in the same place. Like an NJ, you are very visual with your memory and so your filing system needs to be seen and piles are your natural tendency. So embrace your inner visual piler, formalize it with multiple bins.


One way that you might even know you are an NP is that your home desk usually becomes one massive pile of paper on your desk. To organize: go through it all at once with someone else and do an archeological dig. Find out what categories of paper you have (to send, to give to other people, to file, to write etc.) then create inboxes for each category that is in your life. Set them up in boxes with labels on a bookcase. Those inboxes will be inboxes, outboxes and intermediate boxes for you but they’ll have the broad categories that match the type of paper that flows into your life so the decision will be made for you. In the end of the day, you’ll always end up with a pile on your desk of ??? that didn’t fit into one of your 6-8 inboxes but that pile will be MUCH less daunting and you’ll be able to go through it more often. They key is to make this system your own. It’ll be different for each NP but don’t feel bad if you don’t go through your In Box Piles more than twice a year. Aim for monthly, settle for quarterly, and live with bi-annually. If it’s really important, it will be in your desktop collator and you will already have dealt with it.


One last tip on paper & personality How we make decisions also plays into how we recall information. Either you make decisions using mostly objective logic or you analyze more subjectively. If you’re subjective but force yourself to use pure logic when filing, you might have trouble recalling where things are, i.e., P for Passports might be obvious, but you search under Travel, can’t find it and panic. A logical filer will file health insurance alphabetically in either H or I but if a subjective filer goes to retrieve it they think Medical Stuff and are at a loss. We know one SJ who is a subjective decision maker who has a drawer called Things I can lose but might need at a moment’s notice that includes wills, proof of jury duty, birth certificates, passports, insurance policy, stocks, etc. it’s like a Panic Room for files.

(On the flip side, a logical filer might have their own version of a Panic file, except it’s kept in a fire proof safe, or in their emergency backpack for quick retrieval in case of catastrophe) If you’re a logical filer, keep on doing what you’ve been doing naming your files logically, but if you are among those who make decisions subjectively then label files by how you think and feel about it no matter how œnutty and you’ll have an easier time retrieving it.

We hope you find something that works for you here and would love to hear about the organizational solutions in your life that are easy and work. Personality preference isn’t about who you aspire to be or even who you can be when you have to (ie. at work, managing kids’ schedules, dealing with family)it’s about your shoes off self and it’s as innate as being right or left handed. So when it comes to keeping organized, take the easy route. Learn who you are, find the solution that works for your type, and let life be easy!

2 thoughts on “Keeping paper under control

  1. I’m an NP (very strong N, less so on the P) and looking around, yep, I see piles. But I don’t like piles. I just have them. I still like to have a clean desk. Now and then.

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