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Conquering Paper Mountain: Part 1

Updated: Dec 30, 2020


Paper is normal, I kept telling myself. It’s fine. It’s not an eyesore. Everyone has a stack of paperwork, hidden away somewhere. I ignored the paper clutter.


… Even as it took over my living room.


While my roommates, friends, and guests kindly ignored my paper mountain, which had for sure become an eyesore, I was having a harder and harder time ignoring it. I couldn’t ignore the cluster f*ck of papers because the sheer magnitude of paperwork filled me with anxiety and dread.


I took the only logical step, I moved it to my bedroom where I could face my shame in silence.


It’s hard to say exactly how high my level of denial was. The chaotic levels of paper built up so high that it distracted me from watching tv.


Nothing glamifies a cooking show like the daily guest chef of paperwork that had for sure let itself go.


Or perhaps, it was fairer to say that I let it go to a place that exceeded what I or anyone else would consider normal.


Cute quotes like “Normal is all relative” didn’t help anymore.


I hated this paper mountain, but not just because it was ugly and distracting; I hated it because it was a constant visual reminder of my disorganization and my tendency to hide from my problems


Why deal with my problems when I can ignore them?


When I moved, I had two options - I told myself - (run) throw out the whole paper mountain or (denial) pack it up and take it like a precious heirloom from my great-great-great grandmother or someone else important that would pass down an heirloom. This way, I could continue to ignore it by putting it on display or hiding it like dirty laundry in a closet.


Over the course of my adulthood, I developed a fear of paperwork, mostly due to making some substantial (expensive) financial mistakes early on and ‘hiding’ from creditors. Right, because not opening any mailed bills stops any creditor in their tracks and eliminates all the debt, interest, and final notices. Fun fact, it also stops them from coming after you, calling you, and suing you. Have you ever had a dog pretend it can’t see you to keep sleeping on the couch?


That was me.


This fear was not rational, and neither were my actions, quite frankly. However, it took me years to face it. Decades really.


Slowly, I started to acknowledge that I had to deal with this. Frankly, I had no idea what else to do. Due to high stress levels and daily body pain, I’d lost 45 pounds. Let’s not forget the part I loved the most, biting off the heads of all those I loved who said anything to me or dared to be in my presence.


The ‘get it done’ seed was planted. It was the slowest growing seed in history. I didn’t even realize it had been planted.


The dreaded Paper Mountain sat there in it’s heap, taunting me, as it was in my bedroom. Even while I was sleeping, I couldn’t escape it.


Yet I still had no desire to deal with it. The seed hadn’t broken through the soil yet. So I tried a few other tactics.


First, I tried bullying myself:

  • Why are you so disorganized?

  • Can’t you get your shit together, even now?

  • That pile looks like the inside of your head, a bunch of random thoughts.

  • What is wrong with you that you don’t handle that?

  • You are so lazy with paperwork.


Hold onto your seats people, but for some strange reason, when we speak to ourselves (or anyone else) like this, it doesn’t motivate. If anything, it demotivates. Who knew.


Fast forward many months after that seed was planted.


Instead of berating myself, I flipped the script:

  • Imagine how much easier it will be to stay on top of this when you eliminate it.

  • You are moving soon, you want this done well before that!

  • Whatever is outside, is within, so why not see if you get more productive when this pile is in order?

  • What does this pile actually give you, outside of an ongoing headache?


Over the past year, I looked at climbing the mountain from every angle. I did so much thinking and planning that I planned as an excuse not to act.


I put culling Paper Mountain on my accountability list. Twice. Every month. For 6 months.


Again, I made very little movement.


Then, at long last, the seed sprouted.


The seed that grew in the garden of self care helped me to lower the wall: There is literally nothing scary about opening a piece of mail. Its not 2001 anymore.


Mind blown.


Nothing was scary about dealing with my mail. The worst thing that could happen was a paper cut, and how bad is a paper cut, really?


Okay, they’re terrible. However, now my self talk just mentioned I could wear gloves. Snarky bitch…


If I were to go into the experience dreading and convinced that the contents of the mail would scare the shit out of me and steal my socks, I was not going to enjoy myself or want to do anything. By thinking more positive, there was nothing scary about the act of opening what I had ignored for years.


I gave myself kindness and it worked. I embraced curiosity.


Asking myself why I continued to ignore the paper mountain and what it gave me. It took months to sort out.


Kindness encouraged me to take action.


Two purchases changed everything: a filing cabinet and paper shredder.


The filing cabinet was big enough for me to grow into it. The paper shredder was robust enough to handle the constant climb of Paper Mountain.


As simple as a filing cabinet and paper shredder sound, lacking these two things is one of the many things that caused me to repeatedly fail, even if I started to climb the mountain.


Granted, I took my time buying these things. I only had a trash bag full of paper to shred that lived in my closet for 18 months.


...okay, it was 2 industrial sized bags.


Resistance was that high. They sat in boxes next to the mountain for weeks, coaxing me into action.


While letting them sit in my room, I gave myself more flipped script self-talk:

  • You know you will feel great if you get that done.

  • Take baby steps...then when you are ready, knock it out one day!

  • I know you can.

  • You tried taking the paper in small doses but that didn’t work.

  • Work on your motivation and you can knock it out.


Alas, that was the magic combination. My purchases to handle the paperwork, plus all of that kind self talk topped with the knowledge that I can handle almost anything for just ONE day.


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