Pilers, Filers and Messies: Home Organization Ideas

by Deborah Taylor-Hough

I have a friend, Karen Jogerst, who teaches classes on household management. She’s the author of the popular book, If I Could Just Get Organized! Home Management Hope for Pilers and Filers (currently out-of-print). Karen has a different twist on organizing techniques — and her ideas and methods have helped me more than anything else I’ve read on this topic.


Karen teaches that there are basically two types of personal organization styles: “Filers” and “Pilers.”Filers are the highly organized, “a-place-for-everything-and-everything-in-it’s-place” type of housekeepers. They’re the ones with the neat and tidy underwear drawers, their closets are color-coded, and their canned goods are alphabetized.And Pilers are . . . well . . . they’re Pilers (I’m a Piler extraordinaire, by the way!).

Karen teaches that “Messies” are Pilers who are attempting to be Filers. She says that if you try to organize things contrary to your personal organizational nature, you’re dooming yourself to frustration, and often failure. Pilers who try to be Filers often get frustrated, give up, and then let the piles over-run their homes, thus becoming Messies.


I asked Karen one day, “So, how do Pilers organize their things? I can’t live with all this clutter anymore; Mount Fold-Me in the laundry room is about to suffer a major landslide; and the paper piles are over-running every room! Help!”

She told me the secret to successful organization for Pilers is to “contain the piles,” and to keep up on sorting through your piles, looking for throw-away “trash” on a regular basis (she’s a Piler herself, so she understands firsthand how difficult this can be).

She gave an example of a Piler’s kitchen cupboards. The cupboards usually just have things thrown in helter-skelter, falling out everytime the door is opened (has she been peaking into my cupboards?!). Rather than trying to organize the madness, a Piler needs to contain the piles. If there are bags of dry beans falling over each other, get a small cardboard box that fits into the cupboard, cut a scoop out of the front of it, and then just toss dry beans into that container. The beans are still piled, but the pile is contained. Do the same for seasoning packets, baby food, whatever else is causing havoc in the cupboards. You’ll end up with a cupboard full of wonderfully “contained” piles.

If you find a place in your house that collects piles at an alarming rate, you’ll need to identify what you’ve piled there, and then make containers for the various piles.


My worst Piler nightmare has been the pile of stuff on top of the dryer in the laundry room. Not only is it probably a fire hazzard, it drives me NUTS! I have an itty-bitty laundry room with virtually no floor space, no counters, no nothing. It’s not a separate room, either — it’s right off my kitchen where we all have to look at it while we’re eating (not a pretty or appetizing sight, believe me).

When I’m standing in that cramped little corner doing laundry, what I’ve been doing is just pulling the clothes out of the dryer, folding things immediately, and then piling everything into a single laundry basket balanced on the top edge of the dryer’s control panel. But it wouldn’t take long before the pile overflowed onto the dryer itself. Then the pile would get so high, I couldn’t see the top of it — and neither could my six-foot-two hubby.

Someone in the family was always asking, “Do I have any clean socks?”

“Yes,” I’d say, “They’re in the pile on the dryer.”

The poor person who just wanted a clean pair of socks to wear would have to go digging through that precarious mountain of clothes. Invariably, some small unsuspecting child would end up with a pile of clothes on top of them. “Mom . . . ! Help me!”

Needless to say, this was NOT an efficient approach to laundry, but this frequently disorganized Piler was clueless about what to do differently.


Enter the idea about containing the piles. I stood in my laundry room one day for about an hour, analyzing what was in that ominous, leaning pile:

clothes for five peopleclean, folded clothesclean, unfolded clothesa myriad of unmatched, clean socksa few odds and ends of school suppliesclothes my kids have outgrown and needed to be taken to the garage for the charity bag

“Okay,” I thought, “I need to contain the piles. But HOW?”

I don’t have any floor space. Then I noticed the 1 and 1/2 foot wide spot behind the back door. Another ominous pile of things was accumulating there (assorted bags and boxes; paint cans; recycling bins; out-grown clothes). More things that needed to be contained somehow.

Then I realized that all the stuff behind the door was being piled in a wee bit of floor space. I wonder if a shelf would fit there? I measured. Sure enough, there was room for a steel shelving unit I’d seen at the store. Hmmmmm . . .

How many containers will I need? I figured it out. I’d need: one for my clothes, one for hubby’s clothes, one for each of three children, one for unmatched socks, one for recycling, one for odds and ends of school supplies, one for outgrown clothes. Nine (9) all together.


I went to the store to look at potential “pile containers.” I wanted something eye-pleasing since this shelf of pile containers was going to be within constant view of my kitchen/dining area. I found some narrow wicker laundry baskets. I took them over to the shelving unit I had in mind, and they fit perfectly–two baskets per shelf. I purchased the shelving and the baskets.

I came home, set up the shelving behind the back door (it JUST fit), labeled the baskets with little tags (Mommy’s, Daddy’s, sock’s, etc.), and then proceeded to sort through the pile on the dryer: Daddy’s shirt goes THERE, son’s underwear goes THERE, baby’s dress goes THERE, box of colored pencils goes THERE. I found I could just toss laundry items into their appropriate containers since the shelving was right next to the washer/dryer. Absolutely brainless and painless laundry sorting.

IT WORKS . . . !!

Later in the day, my son came up to me with the usual lament. “Mommy, I don’t have any clean socks.”

With a sense of satisfaction I said, “They’re in the sock basket, honey.” And you know what? Amazingly enough, they WERE! My son still needed to sort through and find a matching pair, but it just took a second or two, rather than the long process it was before the socks were contained in their own separate pile.

Now, when I have an extra few minutes, or when the kids are BORED (heaven forbid!), we can grab the Sock Basket and start sorting. And then we can just throw the sorted and folded socks into the appropriate pile container on the shelf.

When it’s time to put away laundry, I just have everyone come and pick up their respective laundry baskets, everyone takes their clothes to their rooms, puts their clothes away, and then brings back their basket to the shelf.


You have no idea how neat my laundry room looks right now! And because I’m working within the realm of my natural “Piler” tendencies, I think this just might work for the long haul.

Can you all say, “Hooray!”?

Next step for me — containing the piles in my kitchen cupboards . . .

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Deborah Taylor-Hough (free-lance writer and mother of three grown-up kiddos) is the author of Frugal Living For Dummies® (Wiley), A Simple Choice: A Practical Guide to Saving Your Time, Money and Sanity and the bestselling Frozen Assets: How to Cook for a Day and Eat for a Month (SourceBooks).

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10 responses to “Pilers, Filers and Messies: Home Organization Ideas

  1. I love this idea. I am a piler trying to be a filer. I had no idea. I have managed to “contain” some of my piles but I didn’t realize that’s what I had done. Now that I know, I will look for other opportunities to clean up other areas that are bugging me.


  2. Pingback: Nightmare No More! The Closet is Organized! | HomemakersDaily

  3. I am a Piler and have loved baskets for years for this very reason. I can totally resonate with this solution! Love it.


  4. Since this book is out of print, is there any chance she would sell it as an e-book?


  5. Just found your blog. Love the piler/filer thing! I have so many baskets with piles that I lovingly and humorously refer to myself as a basket case!


  6. The concept is very true that you have to work with how you think and process rather than trying to match some abstract idea or pattern or habit of organization. I’m a “piler” or a “station” keeper. I don’t like to put everything completely away that I’m working on because (being a homeschooler and interrupted a lot) I want to come back to it and have it just as I left it. But I do like clean horizontal spaces! So containing those horrible “little” things (like receipts, envelopes, stamps when doing finances) is a great idea and those lovely (expensive) wicker or natural fiber “cubby bins” are perfect AND pretty. The expense is worth it. But always, upkeep still has to happen. Schedule the time to dejunk those bins. Thankfully, like the sock basket, they are easy to pull out and do in your 10-minute tidy!! (I love your site by the way and glad that you are back. I’m a Charlotte Mason subscriber.)


  7. I love this idea!
    SO many times I find myself trying to be something I’m not, and I just end up frustrated.
    If I can just embrace the fact that I’m a piler, and work within that framework, I would be a lot more organized!
    Thanks for the article!


    • Hi, Renee …

      Thanks for commenting! I totally agree that embracing who and what you are is the first step toward conquering the clutter. I fought for many years with myself trying to be a Filer … but it wasn’t until I realized I was a Piler and found ways to work with that reality that I finally started gaining the upper hand. :-)



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