SLT 024: Simplicity Can Be Complicated & Tackling Piles of Files


Simplicity Can Be Complicated & Tackling Piles of Files with Smiles

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Dan’s Topic: Sometimes Simplicity Can Be Pretty Complicated

One of the major topics people talk to us about is how it seems that a good portion of society has given up or lost their way when it comes to choices they make and and even seems like they’ve given up on taking responsibility for shaping their lives.

  • On last week’s show I mentioned Stephen Covey’s classic The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.
  • Covey addresses at the beginning of his book that responsibility is our “ability to respond.”
  • When it comes to living out our decision to pursue a more simple life, we exercise our ability to respond in the choices we make.
    • Choices on what to let into our lives, and choices on what to let go of.
    • In doing that, we exercise that responsibility at many levels..first in our choice to live simply and then with each decision we make to support that choice.

Simplicity is a completely personal choice. No one, including us, has all the right answers on how to make your life simple. Like most things in life that are truly important, there is no:

  • magic pill
  • definitive blueprint
  • roadmap
  • or treasure map to find the simple life that perfectly suits you.

The answer can only be found by truly contemplating your desires, formulating your life plan and tweaking it along the way as you get wiser. Matter of fact, listening to gurus and experts will often run contrary to your goals because it limits your ability to respond…to be response-able.

Responsibility is a like a muscle, if you don’t exercise it, it will atrophy over time and you won’t be able to use it.

That is the path a huge part of society has chosen to follow these days and their decision muscles become more and more atrophied every single day.

 So how did this happen? Well, I’ve thought a lot about it and wanted to share some things with you.

  • So, as you’ve heard me mention before, many sources tell us that the average adult is exposed to as many as 5000 advertisements per day.
  • Now, I think this number might be a little high, but who knows.
  • I’ve done some research on it and to me there’s definitely a ballpark figure range from 1800 to 5000.
  • Still, the crux of the matter is that we’re inundated with advertisements, and heck, traditional media for that matter, that are designed at their best to influence our decisions, and at worst, to replace our decision making process all together!
  • Advertising tells us what we’re supposed to drive, what we’re supossed to look like, wear, live, what medicines we need to take if we want to be 70 and hold hands with our significant other as we sit in separate bathtubs after a long day’s motorcycle ride.

If you’re new to simplifying your life, I just want to reinforce the decision you’ve made to give this a shot. I wanted to start out by just going over what decision making was like back in the day and what it’s like now. I’m not going to get into what’s better and what’s not…just sort of present some realities and how our options have changed. Like “stuff” in our lives, more options isn’t always better. So let’s compare some available options of a few things between an era we’ll call “back in the day” to now:

  • First off, television.
    • Back in the day we had about 3-4 TV channels to choose from.
      • If you’re like me and lived near Canada, maybe you were able to pull in 2 more, and maybe your town had a VHF channel to watch reruns of shows that were off the Big 3 here in the States of ABC, CBS, and NBC.
      • If you lived outside the States, then maybe you have even fewer options.
      • If you wanted some advice about what to watch, you asked your friends. The sample was small and just by asking a handful of friends would give you all the info you needed.
      • The advertising model was a holdover from the radio days. Products sponsored shows and trusted spokespeople told us what products were right for us.
      • But even then you were exposed to so few Ads that you could discern for yourself whether coffee A was better than B, or if more doctors really did smoke Camel cigarettes.
    • Today, most of us probably have access to 300+ channels
      • We say there’s still nothing on
      • There’s no way we could ask friends to sample all the options.
      • Many people just accept at face value the advertising they see as true.
      • They suffer from analysis paralyisis and have just given up.
      • Sure, it’s easier…but it won’t lead to the simple life you’re trying to build.

Tip: As a minimum, we should try to crowdsource our feedback by doing things like reading reviews on Amazon, checking site like Consumer Reports, and yes…still asking friends that we trust are informed. But taking things at face value from ads?  No way!

Tip: I’d be pretty skeptical that the celebrity spokespeople actually use these products. Here in the States you see a lot of ads for reverse mortgages that are hawked by celebrities.  Do you really think they’re using a reverse mortgage?  Doubt it.

  • Now when it comes to food it gets even more deceptive, and I’m just going to hit a couple examples and I’ll have reference links in the shownotes at
    • Did you know that here in the States, the Food and Drug Administration has no definition for “natural” or “organic”?
    • The US Dept of Agriculture does have an organic program which specifies how organic items are supposed to be grown.
    • So even taking for granted that labels such as natural and all natural lead you to healthy choice may not in fact be the case.  And that’s where sticking with your simple goals can get tough.
    • Advertisements by companies can be even more deceptive. Remember, these are publicly traded companies and their boards have a fiduciary responsibility to make more profit. “Trust but verify.”
    • Here’s an example…here in the States we have a popular “healthy cereal” (put that in air quotes) called TOTAL.  Well, Total came out with Blueberry Pomegranate cereal. Sounds delicious right? Well, the truth is, it contains no blueberries and no pomegranates. Seriously!  Here’s a quote I verified the ingredients right from the box labels on Amazon:

Quote from “Yet it is called “Total Blueberry Pomegranate Cereal” and positioned as a highly nutritious cereal with the words “100% nutrition,” “Blueberry” and “Pomegranate” appearing prominently on the front of the box, in a very large font size. While the cereal contains no actual blueberries or pomegranates, it does contain eight different sweeteners: Sugar, Corn Syrup, Barley Malt Extract, Brown Sugar Syrup, Malt Syrup, Sucralose, Molasses and Honey.”

  • Another thing I want to address briefly about advertisements and reality is this…how can a teenage girl compete with the advertisements that show what she’s “supposed to look like”?  I don’t want my daughter to spend her life trying living up to an impossible standard that has no basis in reality.

So, more options have given us a lot more to juggle around in our minds and have put the responsibility…like it or not…where it always has been, on our own shoulders. And when it comes to our self image, we need to know ourselves and help others see that if they’re going to measure themselves against someone or something else, be sure to use the yardstick of reality and not the Photoshopped version of reality that no one can compete with. Since any rant should include at least one dead guy quote, I think Teddy Roosevelt’s comments that  “Comparison is the thief of joy”, apply pretty well here.

And I think the most insidious thing is that, because there are so many options, because it’s hard to know what decision to make without taking the incredible amount of time it takes to research every option, people just give up.  They opt to relinquish their ability to respond, set their decision processes to “Receive Mode” and simply accept as truth what these media sources feed the. Worse yet, they typically take the next logical step and adopt a victim mentality when something doesn’t go their way. Why wouldn’t they? And that’s when things really start to break down for us…when we accept we can’t do anything about our circumstance.

Well for those new to the show, I can tell you this. You won’t find that mentality here from other listeners or from Vanessa and me. Sure, we all have our moments, but if you take some time to read through the reviews on iTunes, comments on the blog, or if you’re an Edit & Forget It Challenge member on the Facebook Page, what you’ll hear is people taking control of their complex lives and making them simpler for themselves. Nobody’s doing it for them…not me, not Vanessa, and certainly not society. They’re doing it themselves and we all care enough about each others’ success to offer some help, advice, tips and shared experiences…but certainly not the blueprint or the magic pill. When people send us notes they don’t say Dan or Vanessa can you tell me how to, “whatever.” They ask, “What are your thoughts on this?” or “Do you have any recommendation about that?” And of course, we’re happy to share what works for us. If it works for them, too, then great! The folks over on the Edit & Forget It Challenge page have been the same way…generously offering options and experiences so others can choose. And that’s awesome.

So when it comes to simplifying your life, the decisions you make during your life planning will help you limit the seemingly endless options you have. For instance, if health and fitness is one of the pillars of your life plan then it should follow that the food decisions you make are in line with that goal. Instead of having to choose between the 31 original flavors of ice cream, maybe it’s easier to be true to your goal and decide to stay away from ice cream all together?

So in the end, which is opposite of “back in the day”, yes…sometimes it’ll take a little bit more effort to find the answers or a trusted source for yourself, but one thing’s for sure…take the recommendations of conventional experts, gurus and advertisement with a grain of salt. But please, just pick a salt…because if you ask the “so called experts” which salt to pick you’ll have to decide between:

Rock Salt, Fleur de Sel, Flaked Sea Salt, Crystalline Sea Salt
Kosher Salt, Table Salt, Pickling Salt, Sel Gris, Grey or Celtic
Coarse, Gale Grosso, or Gros Sel, Hawaiian Sea Salt
Smoked Salt (in every wood variety), Seasoned Salt
Himalayan Salt, Truffle Salt, Black Salt, Lemon salt
Iodized, Popcorn Salt


Or you could choose products like No Salt/Lite Salt/ExSalt, which aren’t salt at all. But don’t worry, they must be good for you, they’re labeled “all natural” and are made out of pure MSG.

Vanessa Topic: Tackling Piles of Files with Smiles

So, with our Edit & Forget It Challenge, there’s been a lot of buzz about folks digitizing their paper files. I think after Episode 6 Going Paperless with Brooks Duncan and Episode 15 Living Without a Printer…folks got totally motivated to banish their paper piles. I think it’s great to get those old files digitized.  And if you haven’t listened to Episode 6 with Brooks Duncan, you may want to go back and get some basic tips on how to organize your digital files.

You know what’s really neat is how liberated folks feel after letting go of piles and piles of files!  I have to tell you, paper clutter is one of the most common complaints I get from my clients.  Everyone has to deal with paper and sometimes folks just get lost in it!

One thing I’ve noticed is that sometimes, folks will get super motivated and get their digital and paper files all  organized….but then they struggle with managing the daily flow of new papers coming in!  Because isn’t it crazy how much paper we deal with everyday?

Well, guess what?  I’ve come to the rescue.  I got some really easy tips here to help you out.  And regardless if you’ve already gone paperless….or if you are trying to go paperless…or if you’re still keeping the hard copies which is totally ok…I’ve got a few ideas for you on how to control and maintain your daily influx of papers.  Because like I eluded to earlier, the fact of the matter is…we deal with paper on a daily basis and we’ve got to come up with ways to control it before it controls us!

So, here’s what I’m going to discuss with you today:

  •  I’m going to talk a little about creating an overall paper plan.
  • Then I want to discuss some tips on how to slow the flow of papers and stopping them at the source.
  • And lastly, I’ll wrap up with a step by step guide on how to create a simple…but oh so powerful…daily paper management system called…an Action File.

Creating an Overall Paper Plan. Just like every other project or goal, what is it that Dan and I always say you have to start with first?  Yup!  The End State!  It’s that end state that’s going to drive your action steps and routines to manage your paper.

Please note….I’m just talking about one facet of paper organization. There are books solely dedicated

to managing paper alone, so just keep in mind I’m tackling just one facet of that today.

Think about having two general categories of paper: Permanent and Temporary.

  • Your Permanent Files are files you want to keep permanently and be able to reference later.  These are the ones you keep in filing cabinets or bins.
  • Then you have your Temporary Files… which are things you have yet to go through or things you need take action on right? Like bills, RSVPs, to-dos, appointments to make, etc….some of which may become permanent files later. Yeah….these are the ones that end up in little piles all over the house like the kitchen counter, dining table, coffee table, end tables and dressers, right?  Well, don’t worry, we’re going to solve that problem a little later.

Permanent  Files:  I want you to think about how you envision organizing them? Do you want primarily digital files or paper files?  Or maybe you need both?  How and where do you want to store them?  In your office, in your kitchen, out of the way, locked up, in a pretty cabinet, cardboard boxes, plastic bins?  Just think about it because all of these factors are going to affect how you set up your routines, how you organize your storage space and how you setup your action file….which we’ll get to in a bit.  Again, really think through that end state so that you can properly plan.

Temporary Files and Slowing the Flow. Again, these are things that you have yet to get to or need to take action on.  The thing about temporary files…especially the mail…is that half of it is junk!  It’s stuff that we really don’t need…and most of the time didn’t even ask for yet it’s made it’s way into our lives for us to deal with.

Well, the good news is that you can help slow the flow by stopping it at it’s source.

  • Stop all those credit card and insurance company offers by going to
  • Under the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) the Consumer Credit Reporting Companies are permitted to include your name on lists used by creditors or insurers to make firm offers of credit or insurance even if you don’t initiate it.
    • But the FCRA provides you the right to Opt -Out (how nece of them).
    • Now this is good if you no longer want or need those offer.
    • If you opt out you can always opt back in.
  • Stop unwanted magazines and other mail by going to DMAChoice.Org.
    • DMA choice is a on online tool developed by the Direct Marketing Association to help you manage your mail. It allows you to manage catalog, magazine, credit card and other mail offers.
    • I always choose to unsubscribe to all of them, but you can be selective
  • Unsubscribe from email.  Yes, once you order something from Harry and David just as an example…even if it was an online order….you’re bound to get a magazine from them.  So  unsubscribing from email offers is helpful too.
  • Other ways to cut down on the paper in our lives is to do auto bill pay, cut down on printing and don’t give your information out to the cute guy or gal at the register.

 Let’s Create an Action File. Ok, let’s talk about how to tame those Temporary Files. 

  • First things first…an action file is just as the name suggests….its a file for you to take action on.
    • This is not a permanent filing system.
    • It’s simply a holding facility for you to house your papers until you can take the appropriate action on them.
    • The idea here is to prevent paper piles from piling up and to give those random papers a home.
  • Here’s what you need: a desktop file sorter and file folders
    • You’ll want a vertical desktop file sorter to either put plain manilla folders or hanging file folders in.
    • The idea is to File Not Pile so you can quickly.
    • You probably don’t want one deeper than 10 inches because it’ll take up too much space on your desk plus you want ones that’s portable.
    • There are all types: clear plastic, silver or black mesh, colored metal designed one, leather and linen wrapped ones.
    • They range in all sorts of prices but just remember: Function First…Aesthetics Second.
  •  Now what you need to do is label your files.
    • At a minimum I recommend having a To Do, To Pay and To File.
    • You may consider other files: one for to read, for receipts, for coupons, for schedules, for each family member, or for take out menus, etc.
    • You can modify this to meet your needs.  For example, Dan and I have separate files for receipts and tax receipts.
    • Since we have both digital and paper files we have folders labeled: To Scan Then File and To Scan Then Shred.
  • Next you need to put it in the right location.
    • Put it where you naturally dump or sort your mail.
    • A place that’s easy to access.
    • If it’s too far out of the way then you’re not going to use it and you’ll end up with paper piles again.
    • You’ll also want it in a spot that has the right supplies nearby like: a shredder, recycle bin, pen, sticky notes, calendar, checkbook, calculator, stamps, etc).
  • Once it’s in the right spot, now you can use it. Here’s what I recommend:
    • Check your mail daily!
    • Sort your mail and any other papers and make decisions on each item
    • Check it daily for To Do’s or To Pay…or know that you can do right there because they now have a home!
    • Remember, this is a temporary paper home…you’ve got to take action.  So…you need an action plan!

Now, don’t forget…Check it Daily….or Weekly…or at the very least…clear it out Monthly!!!!  That’s it!

I have some pretty comprehensive videos for setting up your Action File on my GetSimplifized website. Be sure to check these out for a step by step guide to setting up your Action File!

How To Create An Action File Quick Tip

Paper Piles, Paper Piles…Here’s An Easy Way To Control The Clutter

OK…and here’s a bonus video on the basics of working with hanging files. Check out the “Handy Count” in the video:

Working with Hanging Files and File Folders

Thing Segment

  • Dan’s Thing: Feedly as a Replacement for Google Reader
  • Vanessa’s Thing: Oh How I Love My iPhone Camera!


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To Create An Action File Quick Tip

Paper Piles, Paper Piles…Here’s An Easy Way To Control The Clutter

Working with Hanging Files and File Folders

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9 thoughts on “SLT 024: Simplicity Can Be Complicated & Tackling Piles of Files

  1. I can’t tell you guys how much I love listening to your podcasts! I have learned so much from the entertaining way you present simple solutions to every day challenges. You have made my minimalism path more fun and I feel more liberated from all the “stuff” every day. Again, thanks so much! Keep up the great work! And Vanessa, I am loving your tips from Youtube! Your little girl singing on one of them was precious! Take care!

    • Why thank you, Pat! So glad you like the show…we really enjoy recording it, too! It is amazing how it feels to get rid of “stuff” isn’t it? We love it and will never backslide into mainstream consumerism again. And I’m so glad you like my videos, too! I’ve been working so much lately that I’ve fallen a bit behind on those and our little girl is itching to star in another one 😉 Thanks for taking the time to listen, watch, and comment! Hope you stick around, Pat!

  2. I need to switch to Feedly (think you have a typo above? says feedler? there is a feddler but I think it feeds of google reader) too, thanks for mentioning it imports google reader feeds (I hope it imports categories too because I spent valuable time in December categorizing all the blogs and media I follow). This is the 2nd time google has axed something I use daily so I’m not a happy camper.

    The discussion on GTD vs 7 Habits was interesting. I’ve read both books (this might’ve been the last podcast, I did some catching up today w/ y’all). I had the GTD book forever and I never read it. Then I listened to the audio book last year as I was drowning at my job and GTD using the Things App changed my life. I’ve always been organized but the idea of capturing and tagging everything helped me immensely because I’m much busier now and run with a leaner team than I’ve had in the past. GTD does address higher level goal and life direction but I’d agree the core is task management but I’d also add store creative ideas as well. The higher level tie-in is just glossed over in the initial book anyway. I’m a financial controller and I can now sort my tasks for work by project or group of tasks for later (budget, cost review, month end closing). Committing to the weekly review has kept many things falling through the cracks. I also moved to a more rural area in the past few years where things a bit spread out so I now have an area for errands and tags for geographical area so I now spend less on gas and free up time because if I’m headed to one part of the island I can check my list for other errands in that area. I also manage my volunteer work using GTD and Things. For example, scheduling silent auction pick-ups, phone calls to potential vendors, that kind of thing. I also keep areas and tags for blog post ideas, books I’d like to read, new restraunts to try and documentaries to watch. Things people would keep in evernote are more or less in my things app instead.

    If I had a different kind of job, I definitely could make do with just lists for my other areas but since my job is so task oriented and many of the tasks can’t be eliminated (I’m all for eliminating unnecessary stuff!) GTD along with the Things App has been my lifesaver. But I agree, it all depends on each individual’s needs. For my higher level thinking of what supports my life goals, I’d say I do this by journaling. I journal about where I want to be, why I want to get there and then I map out steps to take in life. The GTD thing is more for task, idea and things to try management for me.

    • Yes, I DID have a typo there…I used Feedler before too, but I corrected the post. Thx so much! I know GTD most certainly has its place and I think you nailed it with your use-case and have been able to really tap into the system. I’ve never used things but I did attempt “The Secret Weapon” aka the GTD/Evernote mashup. Maybe I just didn’t give it to much of a chance but I’m eliminating so many things/tasks/etc from my life right now that it all just seems so easier to manage! Thanks so much, Tania!

    • I knew where you were goin’ with it! Don’t you hate when you can’t go back and edit? Like on Facebook…ugh!

  3. I found this episode very helpful! I’ve set up my action file and now just need to make sure I use it. Slowly creating the habit. My husband was very happy when he came home and saw the kitchen “mailbox” cleaned out.
    But I have to say, Dan, I was disappointed… I was waiting and waiting for you to jump on the “toupee” file, and you didn’t once! LOL 😉

    • Why, Mrs. Smith, you’re absolutely right! Vanessa had no right telling everyone where I keep my toupees! 😉

  4. Thank you Dan and Vanessa both for all of podcasts and blog. A “busy” (yes I just listened to your podcast on a busy life) mom of 4 and am needing simplicity in the midst of the chaos. Your podcast on files really spurred me on with my Family Command Center. Plus, listening to you while cleaning out my basement, has encouraged me to start my own blog journaling our family’s quest to organization and simplicity. Check out my blog if you get a chance and you’ll see my first step to organizing:
    Thanks again!!

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