Are you a filer or a piler?

Tax season has again come to a close, bringing with it many firm resolutions to be better organized next time around. As I searched for receipts this year, it occurred to me that my organizational tendencies have evolved over time from that of a “filer” to a “piler.”


Einstein supposedly once said, "If a cluttered desk signs a cluttered mind, of what, then, is an empty desk a sign?"

Filers, as you might imagine, are more likely to put things away, either in an actual file folder or in a notebook or drawer. They’re also the ones who create Outlook folders and color-code their e-mails. We pilers like to spread out. Yes, we certainly make piles. But as I learned from doing a little research, we’re much more visual and like to be able to see everything in plain view.

I guess this explains why my dining room table is a repository for mail, receipts and papers, and the refrigerator is a place to display schedules and notes. Probably the most extreme thing I do—to the point of crashing my computer—is open dozens of windows at a time on my iMac desktop. It’s not unusual for me to be running Word (multiple documents), Excel, Firefox, Chrome, my calendar and a mail program at the same time. In each of the browsers, I’ll have 20 or 30 tabs started so I can toggle back and forth to see everything I want to see.

You know you’re a piler when you get a tinge of pleasure out of discovering a stack of papers squirreled away somewhere. Like an archeologist conducting a dig, I get a kick out of seeing all of the items associated with each layer of the pile. That’s because I’m a pure, free-form piler. I don’t organize my piles by category, at least not at first. So a raw, unaltered pile (in its natural state!) is a little slice of history. Often it triggers memories and connections and gets my creative juices flowing.

Many people associate piling with messiness and chaos. Not so! A company called Pendaflex (sellers of office-organizer products) commissioned a study on  “the psychology of stacking” and found that we pilers are pretty smart cookies. Pilers often know exactly which pile to find things in. They also tend to be “big-picture” people who don’t get lost in the details. According to Sharon Mann, an organizational expert who authored the study, pilers “adapt by either developing their own systems to handle the details, like piling, or surrounding themselves with people who can effectively implement details.”

Mann notes that “anxious individuals are likely to be filers. The act of maintaining order in their world—and their workspace—is soothing. It helps them feel like they’re in control of their environment and their feelings.”

Then there are the “tossers.” These are the people who just throw everything away. According to Mann, “They don’t have the skills to maintain organization, so these natural risk takers get rid of almost everything. To be successful, tossers need to learn how to identify what they’ll need in the future, and find a way to hang on to it.”

You can find plenty of books, magazines and advice online for better organizing yourself and your small business. A good start is to acknowledge your personality type and to work with it. It’s okay to be a piler, but you might want to at least organize your piles—for example, one for business expenses, another one for utility bills, etc. You can also buy organizers like baskets, trays and shelves that allow you to pile in a neat, visually pleasing way.

Not sure if you are a piler or a filer? Take this test from Better Homes and Gardens.

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4 Responses to Are you a filer or a piler?

  1. Marcella says:

    Definitely a piler also! Everything rings true for me about this. I have tried various organizing techniques and methods, but it always goes back to piling. I do know where everything is at all times. It’s fascinating that I almost never have an employee who is a piler (in fact, I’m not sure I’ve ever had one), but I have a lot of clients who are! I like the way you relate old piles–and for me it’s old untouched files, too–to archeological digs in the way they take you back to a moment in time.

    • Jay Morris says:

      I think it’s good to cycle through old piles periodically. That’s when I tend to toss. I’m not sure filers ever touch their files once they go into the filing cabinet. So could it be that pilers are actually more efficient?!

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