Image by lotyloty

Lately I feel like my life consists of piles.

On the ledge next to the staircase: triaged mail.  Thank you notes to write, bills to pay, correspondence that needs attention.

On the kitchen counter: child art work.  The preschool apple unit, the bear unit, the pumpkin unit.  Worksheets with handwriting practice.  The number 1, the number 2, the number 3.

On the floor of the pantry: detritus. Dust bunnies, Goldfish crumbs, green sprinkles.

On the coffee table: New York Times crossword puzzles.  Abandoned.  Semi-abandoned.  Complete.

On the couch: borrowed Halloween costumes.  Too small.  Too big.  Just right.

Next to my bed: books.  Christmas gifts from 2009.  Loaned from friends.  Borrowed from the library.

On the chair next to my dresser: clothes.  Clean and draped.  Clean and folded.  Semi-worn and tossed in a heap on top.

Next to my desk: more books.  Read and annotated.  To be read and to be annotated.

In our playroom: my children’s piles.  Legos, dinosaurs, blocks.  Highlights magazines, library books, puzzles.  Couch cushions and Pillow Pets jury-rigged into a fort.

Outside my window: leaves.  Rusty red, sunburst orange, being raked by the kids next door.  They gather them up and then leap into them, scattering them into the air and then back down on the ground.

Dispatching their piles without a care.

I’m jealous of those kids, not only because I am inside working while my kids nap on this magnificent – perfect really – autumn afternoon.  I’m jealous because they seem to know how to get rid of their piles.  If only I could get rid of mine so easily: lifting them lightly onto my palm, making a wish, and blowing them away.

Piles or no piles, I am one of the lucky ones.  I know that.  A majority of working mothers say that they would prefer to work part time.  That is my preference too – for now, at least – and that’s what I get to do: I work part time, from home.  I get to spend lots of time with my kids and I get to do work that I love.

But what I haven’t figured is how to deal with all of those piles, how to keep track of the rest of the stuff that makes up a life.  All of that household management that I used to sneak in between naps and meal preparation and my turn in Candy Land.

I’ve heard it said that you can have it all, just not all at once.  But I have to disagree; you can have it all: you can have a family and a career.

And, apparently, piles.

What’s in your piles?  Are you an efficient household manager?


43 responses to “Piles

  1. laughing too hard to respond.

    what’s in my piles? everything!

    and no, I am not a particularly efficient household manager, although I expect myself to be, and push myself ridiculously hard to do just that.

    and then I remember who I really am, and I laugh at myself…


  2. Great piece! Great way to start the day.

    I feel accomplished if I manage to recycle the junk mail! And I believe anyone who has no piles is clearly ignoring some important facet of their life. I have clothing piles, book/magazine piles, so-called “important” paper files, and a pile of dishes waiting for me in the kitchen sink…. Sometimes I trick myself by putting some of those paper piles into leftover gift bags to sort through “later”. There’s one that’s been sitting under my nightstand for several months now. Then I wonder if I hid my piles in cabinets, would it be okay?

    My husband denies having piles (although he clearly does) and I often contemplate revenge as he tends to COMBINE my piles without telling me. Oh, the chaos….

    Whenever I feel overwhelmed, I just make sure I’ve made the bed that day and then I feel a little bit better.

  3. Yes, this. Jason and I were just talking about our many, many (many) piles this morning.

    They’re disconcerting.

    And necessary.

    But disconcerting, nonetheless.

    Have you seen my daughter’s leg warmers? They’re in one pile or another- I’m sure of it!


  4. Ugh, the piles. Currently, the pile in the laundry room is causing me the most anxiety. WHY can I never seem to get a handle on it?

  5. Yes, the piles.
    Everywhere in my home. We gave up the coffee table because it’s only purpose was to accumulate piles of stuff. We haven’t decided about the dining room table yet.

  6. I work in piles as well. As long as an item gets placed in the correct pile, I can stay generally productive while juggling the hats that we parents do.

    It is when the pile gets “organized” by someone else. Then I am lost for weeks.

    • Despite all the piles that I leave around the house, I do sometimes try to “organize” my husband’s piles. Now that I read your comment, I realize that it’s probably not helpful to him and, indeed, I would be totally lost if someone tried to organize mine!

  7. Just got rid of a pile of magazines that I had already read and turned over certain pages to which I should return. But when I returned, I realized I should have just ripped the recipe (into another pile), or the picture of the perfect kitchen that I want (into another pile), or the interesting article that I want to save (into another pile) out the first time I went through the magazine. Alas, I create more unnecessary work for myself and then even more piles which I must later go through. My recipe pile is out of control. And am I ever going to make any of these awesome sounding recipes I wonder. But at least I got rid of one pile!

    • I have a giant recipe pile too. I kind of forgot about it because it’s resting precariously on my cookbooks and I only ever notice it when I take one of the cookbooks off the shelf and upset the entire pile. What good is a pile of recipes I’m never going to make and only think about when I’m accidentally scattering it? Sounds like you can relate! 🙂

  8. Let’s see, there’s the pile of outgrown clothes that sit around because the storage unit is full and we are moving soon, so not worth creating space, right? Then there are the magazines I am going to read someday (but probably not). There is the dry cleaning pile, the shredding pile that is so large we moved it into a crate. The vast pile of school work that we can’t get rid of when the kid is around. Because I do work full time and commute two hours a day, I try not to give myself a hard time about the chaos, but the truth is I end up feeling like a failure for not addressing it.

    • I can’t even imagine how this problem is intensified when you have less time at home to deal with (or, in my case, ignore completely) the piles. I wonder if the answer for all of us is just to have less stuff so that there’s less of it to pile up?

      • You are on to something, because the stuff that remains in the piles is often not even missed, which means we could easily do without it. As for having less time at home, it’s probably the same because it’s not like you are at home sitting around eating bonbons. You are probably busier than I am!

  9. Piles. Part and parcel of life with kids.

    A few weeks ago, I reduced the 28 piles in my bedroom (of books, papers, files) to seven. This has been ongoing for the past 2 years! (Tons of files and papers from my sons’ college app & financial aid processes made everything worse.)

    Chaos? Manageable. Piles? Inevitable. Family life? Worth all of it.

  10. Piles on the kitchen table– with items I’m sacred to sort. Piles of mail on the ledge in the kitchen. Piles of dishes in the counter. Piles of laundry in the bonus room. Piles of toys and books everywhere.

    I gave it a millisecond’s worth of consideration and decided that I am not an effective household manager. I’m okay with that. As least they know we actually live here!

  11. Depends on what you mean by “efficient’. If you mean sorting my piles well and tending to them later (which could mean anytime between in two minutes or in two years) then yes, I’m efficient.

    I was just looking around yesterday and thinking about my own piles and when I can tackle them, except I’m in Book 2 of the Hunger Games series so the piles will have to wait. After working, cooking, bathing and putting my kids to bed I only get a couple of hours to myself to write and/or read. Seems terrible to waste it on housework 😉

  12. Ugh. Piles. I have my piles and my husband has his piles. His piles are bigger and more numerous. His piles drive me nuts because I don’t know what’s in them. Must be a control issue on my part… I feel like I manage my piles ok. Well, at least the junk mail goes in the recycling bin before it ever makes it inside the house.

    Oh, and I don’t make my bed either.

  13. I’m not a piles person. Things are either scattered about or put away. One of two states. I am a list person though – I make the list to deal with the scatter and check each item off one by one. It feels good.

  14. I smiled as I read, Kristen. I have piles of paperwork and piles of things to look at when I have the time (which I don’t) . Once in awhile I get organized and I am so happy until I search for something but I can’t find it because I now put it where it belongs…only I don’t remember where. 🙂

  15. My garage, I fear, is one enormous pile behind an automatic door. Sigh. If we just stay out of there…

  16. I save things, intending to deal with them. They pile up on my desk, by my bed, in my computer. Later I admit to myself that I’m not going to deal with them. If they are computer files they languish in digital basements and attics, but if they are on my desk I throw them away and feel much better. Later, new things pile up. At night the tide comes in and in the morning all sorts of things lay strewn upon the beach. I love to walk amongst the seaweed and the sand flies because I don’t have to deal with what the sea throws upon the shore. That’s when I feel like those lucky kids. And then again sometimes I write, or read, a post and feel connected to lives lived in some mysterious relationship to my own and all our mutual kids and projects and dreams and purgings… and I also feel fortunate.

  17. Kristen, very well put. Love the tour through the piles of your house, especially the Halloween costumes and how they seem somewhat like Goldilock’s porridge!

    I have piles. They’re getting a little better because I keep stacking them on top of each other (to get some counter or desk or dresser space) and then I have to go through them. There could be an avalanche, after all.

  18. There’s a notebook in my room. It’s presently on top of the pile of catalogs I want to drool over. The notebook seems to have no home except in the piles. Last Tuesday it got put on the pile of mail after traveling to the gym. When the mail pile was sorted it didn’t belong and moved to the find-a-home pile that lives on the buffet at the top of the stairs when company isn’t expected. But come Saturday, company came and the find-a-home pile got evicted. I’m not quite sure how it ended up int he drool pile as I found the evicted pile in a box in the basement last night.

  19. Thank God for posts like this that make me feel so normal. There are piles all over my house. I work full time outside the home, and I simply don’t think there are enough hours in the day to manage the clutter AND spend time with my family at night. I usually choose the people over the stuff, but it’s hard, because I need a certain amount of order to maintain my sanity.

  20. I think you’ve really hit upon something here: We can have it all and have it right now, so long as the “it” in question is piles! 🙂 🙂 🙂
    I’ve come a long way in my relationship to stockpiling things. I used to do it and think I was organizing it. Later, my husband persuaded me of the fact that piles are not, in fact, a legitimate system of organization. Over the years I’ve cultivated a ruthlessness in dealing with paper clutter in order to cut out the step where you keep something around thinking you are going to do something with it and then you don’t because you don’t really have time or it isn’t really that important to you. But it’s worth noting that I do sometimes regret throwing things out and that my child is not yet old enough to create art that I need to keep or else throw out when he is not looking.

    • It’s that intermediary step that does me in every time. For awhile, I was doing a great job of practicing Gretchen Rubin’s “one minute rule” (if you can accomplish a task in less than one minute, do it right away), but I’ve let that go since my daughter was born in February. So now it’s piles all over the place.

  21. You forgot to mention piles of breakfast dishes on the counter and in the sink … at 1:45pm (just cleaned them up)! 🙂

    I am a big fan of bins and baskets – knowing my tendencies to collect piles, I’ve moved toward bins and baskets (basket at the bottom of the stairs for things to go up, bins for toys that it’s okay to toss in at random) because that way at least the piles have some nice-looking outerwear! 🙂

  22. I have piles of projects that are stacked and stocked all over my office. Sometimes I think that I am in danger of becoming a star on Hoarders but than I realize that there are huge amounts of space between the piles so I am still ok…for now. 😉

  23. I was contemplating purchasing a ping pong table, but I had no where to put it. I was talking to a friend and casually mentioned that I could get rid of our dining room table and put it there because we never use that. Her response was, “Then where would you keep your laundry?”
    My life is piles. Thank you for this oh so real post.

  24. OMG we have piles too! Mostly bills, paperwork work, school papers, etc. They are piled on the kitchen counter and in my bedroom…I can’t stand it! I need to get rid of these piles too 🙂

  25. Piles are all over my housee, to. I used to think I was an efficient household manager. But I have recently realized that I’m a slave to the piles, which never end, and are constantly changing in size and shape.

  26. To make things worse, apparently at our house , we’re passing on the propensity for creating piles to our children. When my husband and I were out this weekend, the boys “cleaned up” for us. Essentially, they moved everything from the counters, coffee tables, and desks into piles on the dining room floor. But, oh, it did look nice for that brief moment when we walked through the door!

  27. I recently read a NY Times article that stated that both SAHM and working mothers felt guilty about having a messy house. That was the only guilt they shared out of the top three “mom guilt’s.”

    And yes, we have piles everywhere and I often feel miserable and guilty. (The ones you listed – it sounded like it was from my house).

    • I saw that piece in the Times too. It made me feel good that I’m not alone in my fixation on my piles, but also sad that so many women are beating themselves up over housework. I suspect the answer lies in downsizing: the less stuff I have, the fewer piles I’ll have. But how to get the world (e.g. junk mail) to cooperate with me?

  28. One thing about moving every 2 years is that I have learned to throw most things out. I have a drawer I chuck everything into (my husbands’ – ha!!)

  29. So it appears what all us moms can learn is that if you don’t have piles, you’re not normal 🙂 I made a New Year’s resolution several years back that we were going to have more casual get-togethers at our home (much easier on kids and adults). So we invited others over even if our house has piles, some dust and nerf guns on the sofa. Our friends (just like yours) will feel more at home, and probably not notice! So have the piles, but also have the company over and raise a glass of wine (or root beer) in honor of piles!

    • We’re also lucky to have friends who don’t seem to notice the piles (or are kind enough not to care – or at least not to comment – if they do!). I appreciate your gentle reminder that the life that goes on around the piles is far more important than the piles themselves.

      Thanks for stopping by!

  30. I learned this trick from an organizing book I read once, then threw out.

    Make three piles of things.

    1. Things with sentimental or large monetary value
    2. Things you’ve actually used within the past year
    3. Things you haven’t used in a year, but which you may have use for someday.

    Throw out the third pile.

    Whenever I’ve done it, I’ve never had cause to regret it.

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