What's in the gallery?

We dissolve stuck and rewrite patterns. We apply radical playfulness to life (when we feel like it!), embarking on internal adventures (credo of Safety First). We have a fake band called Solved By Cake. We build invisible sanctuaries, invent words and worlds, breathe awe and wonder.

We are not impressed by monsters. Except when we are. We explore the connections between internal territories and surrounding environment to learn what marvelously supportive delicious space feels like, and how to take exquisite care of ourselves. We transform things.* We glow wild.**

* For example: Desire, fear, worry, pain-and-trauma, boundaries, that problematic word which rhymes with flaweductivity.

** Fair warning: Self-fluency has been known to lead to extremely subversive behavior, including treasuring yourself unconditionally, unapologetically taking up space, experiencing outrageously improbable levels of self-acceptance, and general rejoicing in aliveness.


The Gigantic Scary Pile Of Iguanas and Doom.


I signed up for Cairene’s fantastic Bite The Candy class (it’s today but you can do it next month) because I was tired of being intimidated by the Gigantic Scary Pile of Doom that was taking over my office/life.

But then in a fit of something or other I grabbed Selma and we disappeared it.

Which is good. Because now I can use the class to work on the scary bits hiding out inside the pile instead of on the pile itself.

So. A collection of things I noticed while pile-storming.

Some might be true about piles in general, but they’re definitely true for this Gigantic Scary Pile in particular.

Some of these are new to me. And some are things I thought I’d already learned.

All of them are going straight into the Book of You. Well, in this case, the Book of Me.

If something is useful for you, take it. If not, ignore it. Assume the “people vary” rule.

Here’s what I’ve got:

My pile is like my monsters.

Just like with the monsters, I think the pile is out to get me when it’s not.

I assume malicious intent and vindictiveness (gah, just look at the way it eyes me when I’m trying to work).

I build walls of guilt around it. I barricade myself out of my space.

Until it isn’t just collected bits of information and ideas. It’s a Gigantic Scary Pile of Epic Proportions of Doom.

All that monster guilt is trying (though not very effectively) to motivate me. To get me to interact with the pile. And then it’s all confused when it doesn’t work.

At least half of any given pile goes straight to the recycling bin.

This has been true of every single pile I’ve dealt with in the past three years.

A useful experiment (at least theoretically)? To go through Giant Scary Pile with no intention other than shrinking it in half. That could have made the last few weeks a lot more bearable.

Anything that feels familiar is a clue.

The thing that kept coming up with this particular doom pile was my god I keep a lot of crap I don’t need.

And I know I’ve said that before.

My pile is old.

It may only have formed over the last few months, but it is old. In some ways, it has nothing to do with now.

My pile is (at least partially) inherited.

I come from a long line of pilers and compilers.

The first time my gentleman friend visited the house I grew up in, he said ohhhhhhhhhhh. And I said what’s THAT supposed to mean?!

It was the piles. He recognized the piles.

Part of my own stuck is that I don’t want to have this in common with anyone. I resist the pile because there is too much symbolism there. Too much heaviness.

Not enough sovereignty. Yet.

Having a costume really helps.

If you don’t have a pile-jumping costume, you should get one.

I just use the same sparkly rhinestone arm-warmers that I use for filing treasure-mapping.

And the tiara to remind me that I am the pirate queen.

That way you can take the costume off. It gives you a stopping point.

Changing your words helps even more.

When I stopped saying the word “filing”, my life got about seven thousand times better.

God bless Metaphor Mouse for helping me with that.

The main thing that gives a pile its power is the iguanas.

An iguana is any [stupid, crappy, annoying] thing you don’t feel like doing.

Usually I think of the pile itself as the iguana. But that’s not what’s actually going on.

The thing is, there are generally three or four things in the pile that I really, really do not want to deal with.

And so the entire pile gets neglected because I’m walling off the painful stuff with resistance.

So the most important thing for me is to isolate the iguanas. Get the painful bits out of the pile.

Those iguanas need a place to go.

Like their own folder. In this case, I’m taking them to Cairene to help me with.

I can also take them to Drunk Pirate Council or work on them with an iguanability buddy or get a Twitter friend to check in with me.

The point is, it’s not helpful to let the iguanas live in the general pile because then I won’t go near the pile.

No pile can resist the lure of colored index cards!

The way I de-pile piles is this:

As something comes up, I give it a category.

Like: iguanas, stuff to file treasure-map, product ideas, things for a wish list.

Each category gets a card.

That way, if the de-piling gets derailed by a pirate ship emergency or an anxiety attack or whatever, I know what the parts and components are.

I also use sticky notes on papers to briefly state what the next step is, because half the nightmare of the pile is trying to read my pages of mad scribblings.

Big chunks = requests for system tweaks.

Anything composing more than 10% of a Gigantic Scary Pile means a system isn’t working.

Example. If a quarter of my pile is client session notes that haven’t been filed treasure-mapped, dammit … , something isn’t working. What is it?

One: taking session notes on loose paper instead of in the designated notebook, which means putting stuff in the binder which is one more step that I never feel like doing.

Two: These end up in the pile because they have blog post ideas in them that I’m afraid of forgetting.

go through the client notebook with a yellow highlighter before Drunk Pirate Council, and make a list of the post ideas. No more piling.

It helps to have a duck.

And helper mice.

Knowing that Selma is beaming at me adoringly while I do something hard and uncomfortable makes the whole thing less annoying.

It’s astonishing how much it helps to have people cheer me on when I’m in the hard. So I go to my Deguiltified Chicken Board so people will say yay.

There are treasures.

I found all sorts of great and surprising things in that pile.

Including that book I’d been looking for.

So if I can think more about treasure-hunting and less about being ambushed by iguanas, this is good.

Piles are a sign of creativity. A monument to what I believe is possible.

This is something I learned from Jen Hofmann.

Huge resistance to this concept. But I think she’s right.

There is some part of me who truly believes I can accomplish all the things represented in that pile. A part of me who is excited about the things in the pile.

A pile doesn’t say anything bad at me.

It says human. It says wishful. It says hopeful.

I still don’t have to like it though.

And I don’t. Most of the time.

The important piece is more about interacting with the part of me that fears and distrusts the pile so I can learn more about meeting myself where I am with kindness. And rhinestone arm-warmers.

So. That’s some of what I got from the Great Depiling of April 2010.

And now I’m off to learn more about my iguanas. And about my relationship with them.

Maybe there will be some unexpected treasures in there too.

And comment zen for today…

We’re all working on our stuff.

And we respect each other’s stuff-working-on process by acknowledging the hard and not giving advice.

That said, if there are things that work for you that you think the hive mind might appreciate, share away.

We remember that people vary and that what works for one of us might not work for everyone. Use what helps. Ignore what doesn’t. Trying things is good!

28 Responses to The Gigantic Scary Pile Of Iguanas and Doom.

  1. Elizabeth Howell
    Twitter: howellspace

    I adore your system. Filing is one of the things that I’m worst at and I also get piles if I’m not careful. I particularly love your colourful card idea in case you get distracted in the middle (which I do).

    Question — do you feel the same way about sorting computer files? Some offices are asking for fewer papers and are moving towards receiving electronic papers.

    I’ve been scanning in old papers lately on the computer and find it’s much easier to find things, but of course that’s what works in my Book of You. (Which is to say, I wouldn’t foist it on anyone else unless it also worked for them.)
    .-= Elizabeth Howell´s last post … Hubble: What has it taught us? =-.

  2. Elizabeth Howell
    Twitter: howellspace

    Oh, also, it’s more like a game for me to have it on the computer. And to scan it. Which makes filing more fun. :)
    .-= Elizabeth Howell´s last post … Hubble: What has it taught us? =-.

  3. Dawn says:

    Thanks for this. I was just peeking in on the home office last night and turned away in horror, thinking, *man,* didn’t I *just* organize in there?

    I used to be super organized. I’d file everything. Everything had a place. I even did a side gig where I helped people organize spaces.

    But mine’s a mess currently. Now that life has gotten more interesting, and there are all new things to obsess about, the filing falls by the wayside.

    But it still totally bugs me that it’s not getting done. And I too am avoiding that space. A space I need to be in to get work I want done done. It really does set off a MONSTER chain reaction of ugh, this is so messy, why am I such a slacker, how come I can’t get it together, and now I have to organize before I can start my *real* work… blah blah blah.

    So anyway, thanks for this. I want to put on the calendar time to organize my own piles. I also appreciate how you model ways to interact with the stuff that comes up around piles.
    .-= Dawn´s last post … The Briefing: It’s(me)! =-.

  4. Barbara J Carter
    Twitter: barbarajcarter

    Oh, the piles. Yes, I’m a piler too. You should see my desk. Actually, you can’t see my desk, it’s buried in piles.

    It got so bad I finally had to invent a different kind of filing system (excuse me, treasure mapping) to work with my piling habit instead of fighting it. (I wrote about it here: http://barbarajcarter.wordpress.com/2008/09/23/organizing-for-the-visual-person/ ) It works for my most-important-papers-that-I-really-can’t-afford-to-lose. But things of lesser importance still end up in piles.

    Lots of piles.

    If I went through it I’m sure 50% of it would go straight into the recycle bin. I think that’s part of the system. If something sits in a pile long enough, eventually it becomes obsolete and you don’t have to do anything with it. It’s another form of procrastination!
    .-= Barbara J Carter´s last post … Art show in Sierra Madre May 1-2, 2010 =-.

  5. Melissa Dinwiddie
    Twitter: a_creative_life

    First, it’s a huge relief to know that other people, really *cool* people, have the SAME DAMN PILING PROBLEM that I struggle with.

    So thanks for that.

    And the COSTUMING! How did I ever get along without a costume for depiling?? And of course it would have to be a costume that’s easy to put on and take off (otherwise it becomes yet one more hoop to jump through). I have a pair of long, lace totally handless gloves that might be perfect…
    .-= Melissa Dinwiddie´s last post … On Headstands and Broken Hearts =-.

  6. Hiro Boga
    Twitter: HiroBoga

    I’m a Virgo (yep, one of Those!) so my De-piling Costume is neatly folded in my closet after every use. ;-)

    It was such an education for me, to watch you work! There are patterns in your piles and they emerge miraculously through the structures you’ve built to support them. Your notebook and pen. Your laptop. Sticky Notes. Dance of Shiva. Metaphor Mice and Iguanas and all the creative ferment that adds yeast and fizz and fun.

    Three thousand points for your Piles!

    Love, Hiro
    .-= Hiro Boga´s last post … Slay the Ice-Cream Dragon: Healing Internet Hangover =-.

  7. Marisa
    Twitter: MarisaDebowsky

    Hi, @havi. I’m Marisa (@neatlynoted). I’m a blog lurker, but I feel compelled to comment on this post because there’s a Big And Doom-y Thing (BAD Thing) on my to-do list right now: a Pile.

    In my case, the Pile is not physically big—I’ve done the ‘remove the 50% which is just recyclable’ and ‘sort’ and ‘handle the small stuff’ steps—but it’s mentally Big, and very Scary, because all that’s left to do is the hard stuff. (Letters from the IRS to my non-profit about 941 forms! Letters from the Department of Labor to my non-profit about having insurance in a state in which we no longer have employees! Requiring phone calls, UGH, and paperwork, ugh, and looking things up in old files, ugh. All of which is important, and none of which feels like it contributes at all towards what we’re actually trying to do. It’s just the necessary evils.)

    So: I’m definitely going to try your costuming approach. (I think it’s better than my current approach, which is “hide and hope it goes away.”)

    And if there were a part II to this blog post in which we attack The Gigantic Tiny Scary Pile Of Iguanas and Doom, I’d be interested to hear your take on that phase of the de-piling process.

  8. Riin
    Twitter: happyfuzzyyarn

    Ooh…I really need to clean off my desk. Don’t wanna.
    .-= Riin´s last post … Marbles =-.

  9. Briana
    Twitter: brianaaldrich

    A big sticky mess in my pile always has to do with letting things go – ideas, or shoulds, or even iguanas that I think I’m gonna do, but in reality? Are just not ever going to happen.

    And… I must have silly arm-warmers. (Not that yours are silly. Not saying that at all :) Then when I reach for a pile, I’ll be able to see the silliness right there in front of me. And lighten up a bit. (Or a lot.)

    Piles say wishful and hopeful? Sweetest thing ever.
    .-= Briana´s last post … The Talent Code. (Or, why I’m trying to suck at stuff.) =-.

  10. Eric Normand
    Twitter: ericnormand

    I love piles. Why would sheets of paper be so flat if you weren’t meant to stack them up?

    But piles also start to take over my apartment. Hmm. I think I might need to depile myself. Pile is another word for hemorrhoids. TMI.

    A costume? Hmm. I prefer not to wear clothes. Maybe I could fetch a special hat out of my hat pile.

    I like how you’re thinking about systems! If it’s in a pile, maybe it needs a home. I like that, but I’d be worried I’d just have a pile of homes. Big thoughtful hmmmmmm….. on that one.

    Have a good one!
    .-= Eric Normand´s last post … Pyramid power! =-.

  11. LaShae
    Twitter: LaShaeDorsey

    It’s funny, when I was young, my piles and I were friends. I could stand in front of them and almost like magic each one would tell me exactly where the thing I wanted was located within itself.

    My entire bedroom was arranged in piles.

    What I realize now, looking back is I was always mindful of what I added to the piles. There was no randomness. It was always deliberate and considered.

    To the clothes pile went all my favorite, much loved colorful shirts and skirts and socks and unmentionables. Everything I was forced to wear for conventions sake but that did not make me comfortable was hung away in the closet. I believed in the clothes that made me comfortable. They believed in me and held powers of their own.

    The shoe pile worked the same way. And so did the paper pile and the pile that was waiting for their real owners, while they hung out with me.

    Maybe I forgot how to speak the language of piles, I don’t know exactly. I’m not sure when it happened but we feel out of contact or I was convinced by other people that my piles absolutely couldn’t talk to me or hold their own power or something.

    Now we don’t work well together anymore. Although I still have them.

    Thank you for these ideas about how to work with them again. Maybe my piles and I, we can strike up an old friendship.

    Maybe I can use some of these practices to clear the piles of should haves and regrets and if I’d onlies, cluttering up my mental space as well.


  12. Mikelann Valterra
    Twitter: mikelann

    Love it! I “de-piled” in December in a huge way, but they seem to be creeping back. My face-to-face clients love the cleaner office, but I feel like I’m just barely keeping the piles from re-appearing. I like the 10% rule. If 10% of that stuff is related, then some system isn’t working. That is awesome food for thought. Systems do work!
    .-= Mikelann Valterra´s last post … Financial Recovery Coaching =-.

  13. Andi
    Twitter: annaline_39

    Thank you for saying that Eric, because it was going through my mind, too. :)

    I had to clean out both my grandparents’ homes after they passed away. Oh, the piles! And yet I still manage to create my own.

    To me, it is like an archaeological excavation, I remember where/when things were put into the stack (sorry I can’t keep saying “pile” I am giggling too much), and so I know how far down to excavate to find certain information. (“don’t bother digging past that layer, what you’re looking for won’t be there, it’s from the Early April Era”)

    The problem comes when I do organize, etc. All of a sudden things aren’t where they were in space. And I get lost. I still work on them, because it gets too be too much and I know what can happen if I don’t.

    The stacks are slowly getting smaller, because Marty finishes school in November and I am not sure what happens after that. I want to be prepared for any eventuality. I also want more space in my life for what I do want.

    Maybe I will get a pith helmet or Indiana Jones hat (for my costume).
    .-= Andi´s last post … You Gotta Give A Little =-.

  14. Kirsty Hall
    Twitter: kirstymhall

    Just thinking about the piles on my study and bedroom floor makes me panic – perhaps I am not ready to deal with them quite yet. With me it’s the ‘oh no, I will have to make decisions, lots and lots of scary decisions’ thing.
    .-= Kirsty Hall´s last post … Still Life =-.

  15. Lisa Baldwin
    Twitter: zenatplay

    “Anything composing more than 10% of a Gigantic Scary Pile means a system isn’t working.”

    Bing! Oh, how I love a good Rule of Thumb. So helpful.

    Also, hooray for cutting piles in half. I swear by Emergency Crap/Not-Crap Speed-Sorting when an avalanche is looming. Even though there’s still a pile at the end of it, at least the pile is way smaller and I know it is a Good Pile.

    Love you, Havi.
    .-= Lisa Baldwin´s last post … Choose your own treasures =-.

  16. claire
    Twitter: claireofRA

    This post makes me miss my old house. Living there from age 4-12 permanently skewed my sense of space, but I wouldn’t change it for anything. There was almost always enough room to spread everything out to avoid piles. In 8 years, we all managed to accumulate a lot but it didn’t feel that way.

    Now, no matter how much I get rid of, my room never has that open feel.

    Also reminds me of an old boss. Her inbox was a precarious stack of papers at least 2 feet high. She considered it filed, archaeologically.

    Good luck with your pile!
    .-= claire´s last post … Interrupted Golf: j’accuse le printemps! =-.

  17. Susan
    Twitter: susangiurleo

    Thanks for sharing about piles–I’m embarrassed by mine, run by the office and look away. They are monsters to me. So stuck on getting started, but maybe just 15 min a day will get me going. If feel like I need a week to plow through, but that isn’t going to happen.
    *sigh* piles. I do trust that the process will come. It always does…
    .-= Susan´s last post … Marketing Private Practice: Start Here =-.

  18. Sherron
    Twitter: sherronann

    @LaShae – Me, too! When I was married, my husband would move my piles and then I would look for things and couldn’t find them because he’d moved my pile! I’d ask him what he did with the pile, and he didn’t know. Gah! And then he had the audacity to wonder aloud if I really knew that what I was looking for was in the pile he’d moved. Yes, Buster, I sure did! I knew where everything was. I even knew how far into the pile something was.

    But, my relationship with my piles has changed for the worse. I don’t know what’s in my piles anymore. I move things and forget where I put them. My piles mock me. I feel ashamed in their presence. I keep taking one baby-step forward and two giant steps backward. So frustrating!
    .-= Sherron´s last post … “Cooooooooookies!!!” =-.

  19. Havi Brooks
    Twitter: havi

    Hey guys!

    @Melissa – those gloves sound AMAZING. Hot hot hot. Definitely pile-costume-worthy.

    @Marisa – oh right, the hard part! The last remaining iguanas that become their own (hellish) piles. So painful.

    I usually use some sort of external structure. Like Cairene’s Bite The Candy class. Or having a buddy to hold my hand and check in with every half hour. And I put on my rhinestone gloves, set a timer and plunge. But sometimes it still doesn’t happen. Ugh. Sorry for all the hard. That is no fun at all.

    @Eric – so you’re naked but wearing a cool hat and stacking papers on top of each other? AWESOME. Your life is more fun than mine! That should be some kind of niche. :)

    @LaShae – I adore you. Just love the way you describe things.

    @Andi – pith helmet! pith helmet! pith helmet!

    @Kirsty – oh that’s so hard. I know the feeling. Ugh. Awful. Sending you time and support and maybe a magic tumble drier. Tumble!

    @Susan and Sherron – hugs. We need to have a “how come our piles don’t love us anymore” party. Or something.


  20. Willie Hewes
    Twitter: williehewes

    Ooh, I like “stack” for piles. Not because piles is too funny, (although it is) but it feels much more like a thing of real value.

    At a university I went to, The Stack (Y Stack in Welsh) was the basement room of the library. They had bookshelves that you had to wheel away from each other to create an isle before you could get to the books. I *loved* those shelves.

    I need to get a “The Stack/Y Stack” sign for my inbox. Maybe I could learn to love and respect it.

  21. Kathleen Avins
    Twitter: spiralsongkat

    Oh, this is super helpful; thank you!

    I’m going to have fun thinking about my Pile-Jumping costume. I suspect gloves are key.
    .-= Kathleen Avins´s last post … Liberation =-.

  22. Hilary
    Twitter: i_ching

    You mean, the Piles are actually not an integral part of the desk? I’d forgotten. (And Willie, love the idea of promoting them to stacks!)

    The part that makes me not just grin broadly but jump up and down waving:

    “Just like with the monsters, I think the pile is out to get me when it’s not.

    I assume malicious intent and vindictiveness (gah, just look at the way it eyes me when I’m trying to work).”

    I only just noticed how I tell myself that unresponsive computer programs are ignoring me

  23. Inge
    Twitter: _i_n_g_e_

    Not a Virgo here, but still no physical Piles can be found in my cabin. I’m not a Filer either, I’d sooner suffer from my ‘Filed for eternity’ (thrown away) tendencies than anything else.

    I do have a Pile, though, but it is in my head. Maybe my Pile is actually a Monster disguised as a Pile. It is hard to shrink a Pile that only exists in your head, though, so maybe I can get it out of my head and possibly discover it is not even half as big and scary as perceived. I sense an experiment coming up…

    Thanks for showing how you deal with your Piles, Havi. I think nothing can resist the power of the coloured index cards.

  24. judehanlon says:

    This is cool. I like the costumes and the re-naming. Something else for the Book Of Me.

  25. […] so armed and ready, I skipped on over to Havi’s post on dealing with the de-piling-ness of a mess of iguanas. Except she’s more succinct than […]

  26. Jana
    Twitter: holajana

    1: I have to find out where those kitschy lace wrist warmers are or get new PINK ones to start the de-piling!
    (I’d also like to wear a costume while cleaning the house. Thinking of myself with those ridiculous orange sunglasses and feathers in my hair. Where is the mop???)

    2: Finally I have a good, pragmatical reason to go to that store I love that sells everything an artist needs, except that I’m not a painter. I I simply love the blank paper sheets and all those pencils and brushes and all you could paint or draw if I would only paint or draw!
    –> Will go there and buy something like artist post its, but way more beautiful. Having beautiful things helping me organize stuff is great!

    Thanks Havi for the Inspiräischn! ?

  27. […] bit of a productivity wall, probably because of the sneaky beer at lunch, so I did some sorting and de-piling and paid some attention to my plants on the windowsill. Then I did a bit more thinking and writing […]

  28. […] If you ask me to do something unpleasant I am instantly a thousand-million times less likely to do it than if you had just left me alone.  I like to feel like I’m giving gifts, not completing obligations.  If you don’t ask me to do it, it’s a gift.  Once you’ve asked (or worse, told) then I hafeta.  Only I donwanna.  Iguana. […]

Leave a reply

CommentLuv badge