If you look at what constitutes most piles of stuff or paper, you will likely find 90% of it is unnecessary or no longer useful and one or two things may be something of value. The lonely thing of value tends to be the glue that holds the rest of the useless items together–and useless items tend to proliferate. This is actually how most piles originate and grow. The pile then becomes a source of aggravation rather than a good place to return to find things.
Furthermore, if you tried to label this pile for longer-term keeping, it could not be described in one category or word. It would likely be called “Miscellaneous.” I seek to eliminate the Miscellaneous Label with clients as they generally represent a mishmash of things that aren’t valuable enough to be categorized. What might seem like a simple fix to store a few unrelated things over time becomes just another pile of unfound and unused items.
If you look inside your miscellaneous paper file for example, you might find a couple kept business cards, a few papers about upcoming events that have passed, an old list of things to do, some receipts, an advertisement with a coupon to your favorite store, a recipe, and the vaccination card for your child’s school records. They have been in there for over eight months now, and you had to review them again to remember what was placed in this catch-all file. There is one item of value–the vaccination card that should be filed away in a specific place such as Vital Records for that person. The other items can be managed in other ways or discarded/recycled: the business cards can be entered in your Contacts list and tossed; the recipe can be found online or can be photographed and kept in your favorite digital program i.e.; Evernote, the coupon is likely expired because it was forgotten; the to-do list is no longer relevant; and the receipts should be reviewed to see whether any impact taxes or should be kept for proof of ownership–most likely the receipts will be eliminated too.
From this example, you can also discern real file categories that might be needed, instead of the MISC label: Contacts, Recipes, Coupons, Receipts, Vital Records, etc. If something is important enough to keep, then it really should be important enough to have a category that won’t create a bottomless, mismatched pile.
So give it a try–attack one of your miscellaneous stacks and see what you come up with! Start by eliminating what isn’t needed/expired. Then apply categories to the items that remain and assign a better labeled home. Let us know how it went!