Tax time a challenge to meaning of work space clutter

This column was originally published as part of my “From Where I Sit” series at in Towson Times.

I admit it: I’m a pack rat.

I am not, however, the hoarding, obsessive-compulsive, can’t-throw-anything-away person featured in some reality shows.

I am more like the well-intended person who makes stacks of to-do’s that never quite get done — and then multiply.

And, I do have a hard time discarding things that have sentimental value — probably taking up too much space in my life.

In general, though, I know where things are — I just couldn’t tell someone else exactly where to find them. Locating an errant piece of paper is almost a spiritual experience, where I close my eyes and envision the paper, then recreate the setting where I last saw it.

I’ve tried to motivate myself with fancy labelers, designer folders, and brightly-colored briefcase files. Yet the piles remain — a bit more festive and easier to spot — but still there, mocking me.

Beautified clutter.

I’ve tried in-boxes, out-boxes, action, urgent and pending folders, all with the same result: more piles.

Tax time challenges me each spring, sending me into the jungle of my paperwork in search of all the records that “must be around here somewhere.”

Through the years, I’ve made folders for each tax category in hopes to encourage a more systematic year-round collection of data.

This year, exasperated with the number of empty file folders, I pulled out the entire file drawer and discovered I had eight different tax files — six were duplicates.

Eventually, I tracked down all the necessary documents and submitted them with time to spare, as usual.

However, the time-consuming process needled me.

Was there a way to avoid this yearly stress? Would a clean desk help?

As I began to de-clutter my workspace, I stumbled on a few clever quotes I must have saved to justify my weakness.

“Creativity often resides in clutter.”

“The mark of a genius is a messy desk.”

I smiled at the affirmations as I dug further into the pile beside my keyboard and discovered a few returned Christmas card envelopes awaiting updated addresses.

I Googled one lost friend’s workplace and found his new address and his Web site, complete with photos, updates and a schedule of lecture podcasts.

I marked my calendar and three days later saw my friend speak; I hadn’t seen him for 30 years. He responded to my handwritten note with one of his own — a true treasure in this era of e-mail, wall posts and Tweets.

Thank goodness I hadn’t “filed” that envelope; I may never have found it. Then one more quote came to mind.

“An orderly desk reflects an orderly mind.”

Did I want an orderly mind? Is a rote life, void of spontaneity-sparked insight and tangential escapades, right for me? Would an empty desk result in an empty mind?

Suddenly my stacks of clutter gained a new purpose and respect. My steadfast piles were not albatrosses to bear — they were mountains of inspiration to be mined.

Precious discoveries await.

At least until next year’s tax season.