Pragmatic Compendium

inspiring the pragmatic practice of intimacy with Christ

don’t file paper at home anymore. part 3.

In “don’t file paper at home anymore. part 1.” we learned about the Perfectly Organized Woman (POW), her perfect filing system and its inevitable deterioration.

Then, in The Underwear Principle we learned about the power of flexibility, acceptance and riding momentum.

In “don’t file paper at home anymore. part 2.” we read about POW’s transformation. After changing her name to Perfectly Organized Woman, Reformed (POWR), she created a flexible and successful replacement for the “perfect” filing system. This new system, while subject to multiple modifications over the years, is still working today!

But what happens to all that paper when it becomes outdated? Where is it stored for the 7 years required by Uncle Sam? Where does all that paper go while it waits for the shredder? Where is “death row” for the paper in her house?

Referring back to The Underwear Principle, she observed. What actually happened to the papers POW had obsessively filed in those old Archive Folders anyway?


Absolutely nothing. They were never touched again. Neglected. Ignored. For YEARS. Eventually shredded.

So WHY did she put so much time and effort into creating and maintaining them and their predecessors, the Active Files? Why? Why?


Flash forward to today. Picture a blue Rubbermaid tote. Inside are 7 expandable bucket folders. In each bucket folder you see a beautifully disorganized display of paper.

But here’s the beautiful part. Each bucket folder contains one year of paper. If POWR is ever audited, she has all the papers she needs for the friendly IRS auditor She can sort the paper then. If she’s not audited, she never has to sort and can shred with abandon. And shred she has – for the last 7 years. Amazingly, she has never been audited. And she never needed to look up a cell phone number she dialed in March of 2004. She never needed to search for an item listed on her credit card statement in October of 2003. She never needed to find out how much she paid for internet in April of 2002. She has never touched her Archive Folders until shred day. (cross cut, of course).

“But she doesn’t need to keep everything!”


But she also doesn’t want to spend one second sorting through the paper to extract the shreddable from the non-shreddable. Not. One. Second. If one blue Rubbermaid tote will hold it, why sort? Why not just put the lid on the box and every January, feed everything to the shredder?

But hey, if you want to sort paper, go for it. POWR’s too busy.

January 27, 2008 Posted by | freakishly organized, women | , , , , , , , , | 9 Comments

don’t file paper at home anymore. part 2.

In “don’t file paper at home anymore. part 1.” POWR had just remembered the Underwear Principle.

There had to be a way to apply the Underwear Principle to her filing situation. The filing system needed to be a two part system. First, what to do with “Current” paperwork? Secondly, she needed an easy but efficient “Archive” system.

First, the “Current” System. She had to watch. Evaluate. What was naturally happening with the paper in the house? It seemed to accumulate in the kitchen. Everywhere in the kitchen, but still, mostly in the kitchen. Paid bills stacked in one corner. Receipts in a drawer. The refrigerator wallpapered in paperwork from school. Recipes and telephone numbers taped to the inside of kitchen cabinets. A stack of papers to be shredded next to the garbage can. Paper. Paper everywhere.

POWR was on a quest. Organize the paper, but keep it in the kitchen. This new filing system had to be just as easy for her family to follow as it was for them to put the papers in their current locations. She went back to her books and articles, culled what she deemed to be the best ideas for her situation, made a decision, bought the necessary organizing paraphernalia, explained the new system to the family and implemented it.

Then she waited.

To see how it would fail.

So she could modify it.

See, that’s the key to any family organizing system. A successful organizing system will ALWAYS FAIL if it only works for the person who created it. It has to work for everyone else as well. So POWR watched her family. She watched the paper trail. She modified the system. And again. And again. And again. (you get the idea).

Finally Currently, the system works like this:

1. There are two large magnetic clips on the front of the fridge. One for each kid. These clips hold ACTIVE papers ONLY. Lunch order forms, project instructions, this week’s spelling words, upcoming birthday invitations, permission slips, etc.

2. There are two plastic bins in the laundry room (off the kitchen). One for each kid. These bins hold all inactive paper for the kid for that year. So there’s a “1st grade” box for her daughter and a “7th grade” box for her son. They put their papers in their own boxes. Whenever she sees paper, she can say “put this in your box” and it disappears! At the end of the year, the boxes get lids and are stacked in the top of the kiddo’s closet. Then, some time later when the papers aren’t as precious and the kids can bear to part with them, she can sort through the box with them. Great for a rainy summer afternoon.

3. There are cork boards on the inside of as many kitchen cabinet doors as will accommodate them. Tacked behind one door are frequently used recipes and measurement conversions, behind another one telephone numbers. One cork board is designated for her son, another for her daughter, who uses hers to keep track of every Webkinz card she owns.

4. There’s a tabletop hanging file folder box on a counter, right next to a cross cut shredder and the garbage can. There are no folders inside labeled with the names of vendors. There are no folders inside the hanging folders at all. Just the hanging folders, with generic labels like:

“Automobiles” for all family car info including insurance, repair, maintenance.

“Insurance – Health” for all medical, prescription, vision, dental paperwork for the entire family.

“House” for all things related to the house, like homeowner association info, pest control, security alarm, newspaper delivery, etc.

“Phone/Cable/Internet” which includes both cell and home phone records, cable and internet bills, cable repair records, etc.

“Banking” for well, all things bank related.

“Credit” for all credit card statements. (The fewer you have, the smaller the folder.)

“Instruction Manuals” for things used frequently, like the phone, the cameras, the DVD player, the camera.

And here’s a key component in the new filing system: papers are stuffed in the hanging folder in whatever order as long as it is within the same year. The papers inside each folder are NOT organized AT ALL. Not by vendor, by date, by person, or even by size. The order of the papers inside each folder doesn’t matter. When (if ever) a paper is needed, each folder is small enough to be searched in less than a minute. It’s essentially a “stuff it” system, similar to a “pile” system. Only vertical.

5. Receipts. Big issue in her house. They got tossed and stuffed EVERYWHERE. Last year’s system was a binder clip in a kitchen drawer. All receipts for the current month were added to the clip throughout the month. A 3×5 paper was in the front noting the name of the month. At the end of the month, the full clip was moved to an out of the way location (for her, in the laundry room in one of those plastic drawer units.) A new clip, a new 3×5 paper and they begin again. When they need a receipt, say for a return, they know exactly where to find the receipt and there was absolutely no organizing effort required in the process.

This year, POWR’s husband has asked for a change. The process of clipping receipts was annoying. He wants a “stuff it” system, similar to the one described in #4 above. So, they are trying a magnetized plastic box on the side of the fridge. No clip to squeeze, no drawer to open and close, no lid to remove and replace. Once a month, she’ll empty the box, rubber band that month’s receipts and put them in the plastic drawer unit in the laundry room as usual. Another modification.

fridge clips and receipt box

next up? The archive system.

January 21, 2008 Posted by | freakishly organized | , , , , , , | 4 Comments

The Underwear Principle

What exactly is The Underwear Principle?

I discovered it as a newlywed:

Expecting marital bliss, I was dismayed to discover my new husband would toss his underwear in the same spot on the floor every. single. day. After months of pleading, begging and withholding stimulating intellectual conversation (this is a family friendly blog), he still refused to put his underwear in the hamper! So, determined to win this battle over underwear, I did the unthinkable.

I moved the hamper to the underwear pile location.


The Underwear Principle:

First, I had to let my idea of the perfect hamper location GO. Let it go. I had to pry my white knuckled fingers off of “MY Way.” I just liked the hamper there. It didn’t have to stay there. MY Way is not always the BEST way. MY Way is not the ONLY way. It is just ONE way. A DIFFERENT way. (But different in a more aesthetically pleasing way. Come on, he’s a GUY.)

Secondly, I had to accept this “flaw” in my husband. What was really important here? It was a HAMPER. It was UNDERWEAR. I wasn’t going to divorce my new husband over underwear. I wasn’t even going to fight with my husband over underwear. (I was going to fight with him over money, like any normal newlywed).

Third, I had to pay attention. He didn’t want to carry his underwear across the room every day. He wanted to dump his underwear somewhere along his normal walking path. Watching what WAS happening and figuring out WHY was the key. I was able to modify MY Way to accommodate HIS Way.

Finally, I had to do it all over again when we moved into a new house. Circumstances changed and I had to adapt. Application of The Underwear Principle is never a done deal. Some changes don’t work. Some changes make improvements, but don’t work completely. It requires modification over time.

So, I had to adapt my way of doing things to accommodate his way of doing things. A compromise, to be sure, but still. A win-win situation. The Underwear Principle can be applied in so many other situations. In the coming weeks and months, I’ll post some of my experiences applying it. See below for post links.

So, what’s your “underwear?” It may not be a tangible item. It may be a way of doing something or a difference of opinion. Have you unknowingly applied the Underwear Principle in your life? Can you see any possibilities for application now?

January 16, 2008: “don’t file paper at home anymore. part 1

January 21, 2008: “don’t file paper at home anymore. part 2

January 27, 2008: “don’t file paper at home anymore. part 3

Check out my freakishly organized page for more examples!

January 20, 2008 Posted by | freakishly organized, till death | , , , | 11 Comments

don’t file paper at home anymore. part 1.

“crazy woman say what?” (yes. we watch Hannah Montana.)

Really. Don’t file paper any more. Let me tell you a little story.

Once up a time, the perfectly organized woman (POW) would meticulously label color coded folders. Then she would sort papers, first by vendor (to go with the folders of course) and then she would sort the papers again. This time, chronologically. (of course). She would then staple together anything that was numbered “X of XX” and punch holes in the top to load onto the prongs in the folders. Folders without prongs? NEVER!

The mail would come in, the bills would paid and the checkbook balanced. (By her husband of course – she married him so she would have someone to balance the check book and change the cat litter.) The POW’s husband would then stack up the remaining paperwork and the POW would file it neatly, according the perfect filing system previously described. At the end of the year, the contents of the pronged color coded folder would be moved into a matching folder behind it. The contents of this matching archive folder was arranged chronologically as well. Both the active folder and the archive folder were nested neatly in a matching, color coded hanging folder.

The POW would open her file drawer and angels would sing the Hallelujah chorus.

Then, one day, the POW and her husband had a baby. Then, a few years later, they had another baby. And after a time, for some reason or another, the POW needed a copy of the first baby’s birth certificate.


She suddenly realized she hadn’t filed in her perfect system for SIX YEARS. When she opened her file drawer, she heard screaming. Realizing the screaming was coming from her own body, and being the problem solver she is, (and confident that she would never find the original birth certificate in her own house) she ordered a new birth certificate from the State.

Then the POW filed for and was granted an official name change. She is now known as
Perfectly Organized Woman Reformed (POWR). She purchased 47 books on organization (second hand, of course), read 2413 articles entitled “100 Ways to Organize Your Home” and then had an epiphany.

She remembered the Underwear Principle.

again with the “crazy woman say what?”

to be continued.

(thanks to Charlene over at Busy Mom’s Recipes for inspiring this post.)

January 16, 2008 Posted by | books, freakishly organized, women | , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments

how many kids . . .

. . . just need a snack? How many kids are disciplined for poor behavior when they really just need a complex carb? We spent a few years giving time outs and taking away privileges before we figured it out.

Recently, our 1st grader’s teacher was diagnosed with “really bad germs in her chest.” She’ll be taking “really strong medicine” to kill the “bad germs” and some of the medicine will kill the good germs too, which will make her very tired and she won’t feel well. (PLEASE add her to your prayers.)

Among other things, this means PinkGirl has a different teacher for the rest of the year. I had to write this letter to the new teacher tonight and it got me thinking. Before you get frustrated at your child’s behavior or issue the time out, check the clock. You know your kid. When is the last time they ate? Could it really be this simple? Here’s the letter I wrote:

Mrs. L,

PinkGirl mentioned that she cried yesterday after recess, which we understand is just before lunch. I’ve sent a box of unsweetened fruit juice with her today for snack and would like her to have it at that time. It should prevent another problem such as the one she had yesterday. She was very embarrassed that she cried in front of her friends. We know the other children are drinking water, so anything you can do to minimize the fact that PinkGirl has juice would be very much appreciated.

PinkGirl has hypoglycemia and we have been successfully managing it for nearly 3 years. She can usually make it from snack to lunch, but when she is excited, has physically overextended herself or is under stress, that window of time diminishes. Her symptoms vary, but the big thing to watch for is emotional instability. She may cry and not be able to tell you why, she may find tragedy in an inconvenience or she may just simply display irritability. These are the mild symptoms.

When she exhibits any of these or similar behaviors, our first response is to check the clock. Nine times out of ten she needs some “energy.” It is very important to us that PinkGirl not internalize this as “I feel bad, I need to eat something.” We call it energy and are teaching her to recognize when she needs some. We are also teaching her which foods will help her (and which foods will not).

It’s important to understand that she cannot, by sheer will alone, modify her behavior. If not addressed, her symptoms can escalate. An extreme episode is very rare, but is characterized by uncontrollable crying, difficulty catching her breath, excessive yawning and extremely negative self-talk. Again, this is very rare, and she would be crushed if this happened to her in front of her friends.

In an emergency, sweetened juice or soda can provide an immediate relief, but she needs a complex carbohydrate very soon after to maintain a steady blood sugar level or she crashes again.

I’ll send the juice for snack for a while. We believe this will help PinkGirl during this time of adjustment. After we switch back to water, I’ll still send the juice in her lunch box, just in case you need it.

I’m sorry to inconvenience you. PinkGirl seemed to be doing so well with this, we weren’t expecting a problem.

Thanks for your help.

Recognize anything? If so, give a hug and a snack instead of a reprimand and a time out. I’m going to go kiss my daughter now.

January 15, 2008 Posted by | health, pragmatic parenting | , , , , , | 5 Comments

okay. i’m strong willed.

A few days ago, I posted a link to a poll over at Lux Venit. Leslie is reading and reviewing a book entitled Redefining the Strong-Willed Woman by Cynthia Tobias. The first question in Leslie’s poll is “Would you call yourself a strong-willed woman?” I immediately commented and asked Leslie if Cynthia had defined a “strong willed woman.” I said I wasn’t sure how to answer without clarifying the term. “Strong-willed” may mean different things to different people. I’m not the only person who felt the term needed to be defined before the questions were answered. Check out Mrs. M at A Mother’s Musings. Leslie wanted me to answer the questions according to my own definition of a strong will.”

My own definition of a strong will. Problem. I didn’t have one. Never really thought about it before. I didn’t have time to go to the drawing board on this one. We had a birthday party, two basketball games and three solos at church this weekend. Not a lot of time for quiet introspection. I needed starting point. I had read another book by Cynthia Tobias a few years ago entitled You Can’t Make Me (But I Can Be Persuaded) and it actually helped me deal with my strong-willed pre-school daughter. I pulled it off the shelf, hoping for some insight into Cynthia’s definition of the term “strong-willed.”

In the first few pages of the book, she describes a conversation she had with a man named Bob. They were seated next to each other on an airplane and began discussing the difference in learning styles. He was frustrated with his children because the way they did things was very different from the way he did things. Given the title of my page above (“i sort my m&m’s by color”) I had to smile when I read what Cynthia asked him:

“Bob, how do you eat M&M’s?”

He replied without hesitation. “Oh, I always eat the primary colors first.” He looked puzzled. “Why? How do you eat them?”

“Well, I just sort of pour them in my hand and pop them in my mouth.”

“Oh no! Don’t you realize the Mars Candy Company has no specific formula for how many of each color go in each individual bag? You just can’t consume them randomly before you know what you’ve got!”

She laughed and said, “Bob, you are a sick man!”

A few pages later, Cynthia provides a test to check your child’s strong-willed “quotient.” I wondered if Cynthia offered a similar quiz in this new book, Redefining the Strong Willed Woman. I Googled (“cynthia tobias” quotient) and the third link led me right to it. I found the quiz in an article on Go on over and take it! (But don’t forget to come back!)

I checked 5 statements in the quiz which describe me. So when determining how much “strong-will” I have, I scored a 5. Scoring between 4-7 points means “You use it when you need to, but not on a daily basis.” I think that’s about right.

At the risk of making myself look bad, I checked:

When given the ultimatum “Do it or else,” I will often just “else.”
(I don’t give ultimatums and my husband and I don’t allow our children to EVER give them – to us or anyone else. They are disrespectful. I wrote 3 paragraphs on this and then deleted each one. Just don’t get me started.)

I consider rules to be guidelines. (I’m abiding by the spirit of the law; why are you being so picky?) (I agree with the statement, but not with the parenthetical reasoning.) My reasons for seeing rules as guidelines are usually reversed. “You are abiding by the spirit of the law, I’m not going to be picky.” I see the bigger picture. I see the main objective. I see the motivation. I’m not concerned with dotting the “i” or crossing the “t” and I will bend the rules in a second if it helps someone without hurting someone else. I consider myself to be a reasonable person. A pragmatic person. There’s a reason for every rule created. I look at the reason more than the rule. Nobody freak out. I said RULE, not LAW. I don’t break the law.)

I can show great creativity and resourcefulness; I always seem to find a way to accomplish the goal. (I believe more things are possible than impossible. Something may not be possible if you follow one course of action to achieve a goal, but I believe it’s possible to modify the course of action and still achieve the intended goal. There are often multiple ways to do solve a problem or accomplish a goal, the successful way just hasn’t been thought of yet.)

I don’t do things just because “you’re supposed to”; it needs to matter to me personally. (Who decides what I’m “supposed to” do? I need to spend my time on things which support my own priorities, which I strive to keep in line with God’s will. I can’t abdicate my activity schedule or my priorities to anyone.)

I’m not afraid to try the unknown, to conquer the unfamiliar (but I’ll choose my own risks.) (I am risk averse, but I’m not afraid of learning something new. I love learning something new.)

So what is my definition of a strong-willed woman? Here we go:

I like all the adjectives Mrs. M used in her post: opinionated, articulate, brave, direct, confident and in control of their emotions. I would add educated (formal or informal), competitive (most often with myself), intentional (not reactionary) and open-minded (convince me, I may be wrong). I would also add some examples from my own life and perspective:

I removed the words, “and obey” from my wedding vows, but I would never make a big commitment (financial or otherwise) without a heart to heart with my husband.

I’m not afraid of being wrong or saying I’m wrong, but I do want to discuss it first. Make no mistake, I REALLY like it when I’m right. I just don’t freak out when I’m wrong.

Do not say the words, “Good enough.” to me if you want my respect. A job worth doing is worth doing well. (Both my kids just rolled their eyes. In their sleep.)

I don’t reject criticism in it’s entirety. I consider, after extracting emotional baggage, is there any truth to the criticism I receive? Probably. I try to find the truth and face it. No fun, but necessary.

So according to that fragmented definition, here are my answers to Leslie’s poll:

1. Would you call yourself a strong-willed woman?


2. Do you view the possession of a strong-will as a positive or negative characteristic?

Possession? Positive. Remember the phrase, “That which does not kill you makes you stronger?” I believe my strong will is answer to prayer during my times of struggle. So, I believe possession of a strong-will is a positive characteristic. It is a gift from God. Our gifts are to be used for His glory. So, possession? Positive.

However, the exercise of a strong-will is a different thing altogether. I believe it is a positive characteristic when exercised in some situations. Negative when employed in others. The trick is knowing when to stand strong and when to employ passivity. In my opinion, both standing strong and being passive are necessary in life. Seeking God’s direction in making that determination is my responsibility.

3. Do you feel like your strong-will hinders or enhances your walk with Jesus?

Enhances. Being strong-willed doesn’t mean I can’t or won’t submit that will to Him. He gave me my gifts. I need him to lead me when it comes to using them. He needs to be my guide when I choose between exercising strong-will and being passive. I just need to work on seeking His will.

4. Do you believe a woman has to give up her strong-will in order to follow Christ?

No. I believe my strong-will is a gift. Submitting it to Him is one way I obey him.

5. Strong-willed women have a more difficult time fitting in with the rest of the women at church. Agree or disagree.

The thing is, referring to a woman as “strong-willed” seems to infer that she is different or unusual somehow. Speaking from an American perspective, I don’t think a strong-willed women is all that unique in 2008. The last question of the poll seems to be based on the premise that the “rest” of the women in the church are not strong-willed. I wonder if strong will in women can be grouped into three categories:

1. How to I phrase this first one? Women without strong-will? Weak willed women? Passive women? Submissive women? Pick your term.

2. Strong-willed women. (I still have my button which reads, “I failed submission school.”)

3. Stubborn, controlling, unreasonable, sometimes narcissistic women. (is that too harsh?)

I do feel awkward with some women. With others, I’ve found true sisters. Guess who the sisters are? Women in the second category. It’s natural for people to gravitate toward those who are like them. I fit in more easily with women who are like me.

I believe that my way can be different without being wrong. More importantly, I believe that your way can be different without being wrong. If you want to eat your m&m’s by the handful, without even looking at the colors, that would be different than me. But it wouldn’t be wrong. It would be sick, but not wrong.

January 12, 2008 Posted by | books, intentional living, pragmatic parenting, women | , , , | 4 Comments

are you a strong willed woman?

Leslie, over at Lux Venit has inspired a post I’m working on. She’s reviewing a book for Discerning Reader entitled Redefining the Strong Willed Woman by Cynthia Tobias and she’s posted a poll asking the following questions:

1. Would you call yourself a strong-willed woman?
2. Do you view the possession of a strong-will as a positive or negative characteristic?
3. Do you feel like your strong-will hinders or enhances your walk with Jesus?
4. Do you believe a woman has to give up her strong-will in order to follow Christ?
5. Strong-willed women have a more difficult time fitting in with the rest of the women at church. Agree or disagree.

She’s hoping to post the results on Monday, so head on over and respond before then if you can. Hopefully you’ll come back here and check out my answers later. (I’m not finished thinking about the questions yet.)

January 11, 2008 Posted by | books, memes, women | , , , | Leave a comment

Mom Overture

Thanks to Tamara for reminding me of the Mom Overture by Anita Renfroe (I think this is the one she was talking about.  If there’s another “mom” song, PLEASE let me know!)

I have GOT got to sing this one!

January 9, 2008 Posted by | laugh!, pragmatic parenting | , , | Leave a comment

Pachelbel Bedtime

I saw this over at yoga gumbo and laughed till I cried.

We have the same reaction when we hear the cat. LOVED it. Watch till the end for tear jerking sweetness.

January 8, 2008 Posted by | laugh!, pragmatic parenting | , | 1 Comment

what’s your word?

Jenn over at “Mommy Needs Coffee” posted a unique challenge. Instead of a list of resolutions (or as I like to call it, a premature list of failures), just summarize all your resolutions in one word. one. (like bloggers can ever type just one word. Pass me that bag of Lays potato chips.) It’s like a theme for the year. I came up with my word pretty quick.


from everything to damaged relationships to home projects to the purging of excess stuff from my house to the learning of new software for work to . . . just closure. I wondered how that word came to me so quickly and then I remembered. A book. (anyone who knows me is thinking, “what else?”) I started it sometime mid 2006 and it’s been sitting in my “reading spot” (low in the stack) ever since. I got busy reading to learn (again). It’s a book called “Guilt Free Living” by Robert Jeffress. He talks about closure extensively and says:

“closure is the feeling that you have done everything that needs to be done at that time. Therefore you are free to relax and enjoy yourself without any guilt.”

This is a Christian based book and I wrote more about it on my devotions blog, but non-Christians, don’t freak out. If I can read a non-Christian book and filter it through my Christian perspective, non-Christians can read a Christian book and filter it through their own perspective. There’s a LOT of good stuff in here. Like Marcia K. Hornok’s paraphrase of Psalm 23:

The clock is my dictator, I shall not rest

It makes me lie down only when exhausted

It leads me to deep depression, it hounds my soul

It leads me in circles of frenzy for activities sake.

Even though I run frantically from task to task,

I will never get it all done, for my “ideal” is with me

Deadlines and my need for approval, they drive me.

They demand performance from me, beyond the limits of my schedule.

They anoint my head with migraines, my in-basket overflows.

Surely fatigue and time pressure shall follow me all the days of my life,

And I will dwell in the bonds of frustration forever.


what’s your word?

January 5, 2008 Posted by | books, intentional living | 6 Comments



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