Piles of My Life

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A number of years ago, I had a friend, Karen Jogerst, who taught classes on household management. She’s the author of the popular book, If I Could Just Get Organized! Home Management Hope for Pilers and Filers (sadly now out-of-print although used copies can sometimes be found).

Karen had a different twist on organizing techniques, and her ideas and methods helped me more than anything else I’d ever read on this topic.


Karen taught that there are basically two types of personal organization styles: “Filers” and “Pilers.”Filers are the highly organized, “a-place-for-everything-and-everything-in-it’s-place” type of housekeepers. They’re the ones with the neat and tidy underwear drawers, their closets are color-coded, and their canned goods are alphabetized. And Pilers are . . . well . . . they’re Pilers (I’m a Piler extraordinaire, by the way!).  😉

Karen taught that “Messies” are Pilers who are attempting to be Filers. She said that if you try to organize things contrary to your personal organizational nature, you’re dooming yourself to frustration, and often failure. Pilers who try to be Filers often get frustrated, give up, and then let the piles over-run their homes, thus becoming Messies.


I asked Karen one day, “So, how do Pilers organize their things? I can’t live with all this clutter anymore; Mount Fold-Me in the laundry room is about to suffer a major landslide; and the paper piles are over-running every room! Help!”

She told me the secret to successful organization for Pilers is to “contain the piles,” and to keep up on sorting through your piles, looking for throw-away “trash” on a regular basis (she’s a Piler herself, so she understands firsthand how difficult this can be).

She gave an example of a Piler’s kitchen cupboards. The cupboards usually just have things thrown in helter-skelter, falling out every time the door is opened (has she been peaking into my cupboards?!).

Rather than trying to organize the madness, a Piler needs to contain the piles. If there are bags of dry beans falling over each other, get a small cardboard box that fits into the cupboard, cut a scoop out of the front of it, and then just toss dry beans into that container. The beans are still piled, but the pile is contained. Do the same for seasoning packets, baby food, whatever else is causing havoc in the cupboards. You’ll end up with a cupboard full of wonderfully “contained” piles.

If you find a place in your house that collects piles at an alarming rate, you’ll need to identify what you’ve piled there, and then make containers for the various piles.


When I first discovered these ideas, my worst Piler nightmare had been the pile of stuff on top of the dryer in the laundry room. Not only was it probably a fire hazard, it drove me NUTS! At the time, I had an itty-bitty laundry room with virtually no floor space, no counters, no nothing. It wasn’t even a separate room — it was right off my kitchen where we all had to look at it while we were eating (wasn’t a pretty or appetizing sight, believe me).

When I’d be standing in that cramped little corner doing laundry, what I’d been doing was just pulling the clothes out of the dryer, folding things immediately, and then piling everything into a single laundry basket balanced on the top edge of the dryer’s control panel. But it wouldn’t take long before the pile overflowed onto the dryer itself. Then the pile would get so high, I couldn’t see the top of it — and neither could six-foot-two hubby.

Someone in the family was always asking, “Do I have any clean socks?”

“Yes,” I’d say, “They’re in the pile on the dryer.”

The poor person who just wanted a clean pair of socks to wear would have to go digging through that precarious mountain of clothes. Invariably some small unsuspecting child would end up with a pile of clothes on top of them. “Mom . . . ! Help me!”

Needless to say, this was NOT an efficient approach to laundry, but this frequently disorganized Piler was clueless about what to do differently.


Enter the idea about containing the piles. I stood in my laundry room one day for about an hour, analyzing what was in that ominous, leaning pile:

  • clothes for five people
  • clean, folded clothes
  • clean, unfolded clothes
  • a myriad of unmatched, clean socks
  • a few odds and ends of school supplies
  • clothes my kids have outgrown and needed to be taken to the garage for the charity bag

“Okay,” I thought, “I need to contain the piles. But HOW?”

I didn’t have any floor space. But then I noticed the 1 and 1/2 foot wide spot behind the back door. Another ominous pile of things was accumulating there, too (assorted bags and boxes; paint cans; recycling bins; out-grown clothes). More things that needed to be contained somehow.

Then I realized that all the stuff behind the door was being piled in a wee bit of floor space. I wondered if a shelf would fit there.  So I measured. Sure enough, there was room for a steel shelving unit I’d seen at the store.

Hmmmmm . . .

How many containers would I need? I figured it out. I’d need: one for my clothes, one for hubby’s clothes, one for each of three children, one for unmatched socks, one for recycling, one for odds and ends of school supplies, one for outgrown clothes. Nine (9) all together.


I went to the store to look at potential “pile containers.” I wanted something eye-pleasing since this shelf full of pile containers was going to be within constant view of my kitchen/dining area. I found some narrow wicker laundry baskets. I took them over to the shelving unit I had in mind, and they fit perfectly–two baskets per shelf. I purchased the shelving and the baskets.

I came home, set up the shelving behind the back door (it JUST fit), labeled the baskets with little tags (Mommy’s, Daddy’s, sock’s, etc.), and then proceeded to sort through the pile on the dryer: Daddy’s shirt goes THERE, son’s underwear goes THERE, baby’s dress goes THERE, box of colored pencils goes THERE. I found I could just toss laundry items into their appropriate containers since the shelving was right next to the washer/dryer.

Absolutely brainless and painless laundry sorting.

IT WORKED . . . !!

Later in the day, my son came up to me with the usual lament. “Mommy, I don’t have any clean socks.”

With a sense of satisfaction I said, “They’re in the sock basket, honey.” And you know what? Amazingly enough, they WERE! My son still needed to sort through and find a matching pair, but it just took a second or two, rather than the long process it was before the socks were contained in their own separate pile.

When I had an extra few minutes, or when the kids were BORED (heaven forbid!), we could grab the sock basket and start sorting. And then we could just throw the sorted and folded socks into the appropriate person’s pile container on the shelf.

When it came time to put away laundry, I just had everyone come and pick up their respective laundry baskets, everyone took their clothes to their rooms, put their clothes away, and then brought back their empty basket to the shelf.


You have no idea how neat my laundry room looked after adding the shelf and baskets! And because I was working within the realm of my natural Piler tendencies, this system worked as long as we lived in that house.  I needed to rethink the system when we moved, however.

Success!  Can you all say, “Hooray!”?

NEXT UP:  The Ten Minute Tidy

Excerpted and adapted from A Simple Choice: A Practical Guide to Saving Your Time, Money and Sanity (by me!).  🙂

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Deborah Taylor-Hough is the author of Frugal Living For Dummies® (Wiley), A Simple Choice: A Practical Guide to Saving Your Time, Money and Sanity and the bestselling Frozen Assets: How to Cook for a Day and Eat for a Month (SourceBooks).

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4 responses to “Piles of My Life

  1. I love the idea of contained piles! I can think of at least three places this piler can go try out that idea on.


    • That’s great, Kathy! I’m glad you’re inspired to try it out. Report back how it works, if you have a chance. I’d love to hear. 🙂


  2. Inspiring! I collect boxes and containers of various sizes just for this purpose. Amazing what a difference it makes to contain whatever-it-is in a suitably-sized box.


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