Revive Our Hearts Podcast

Mountains of Paper

Leslie Basham: Do you have a mountainous pile of paperwork at home that’s threatening to topple at any moment? Here’s some advice from Donna Otto.

Donna Otto: Hold on now. Grab your seat like you’re on an airplane about to take off. Because what I’m about to say will make some of you gasp. Go home and take the pile straight out and drop it in the trashcan.

Leslie Basham: It’s Monday, May 15th, and you’re listening to Revive Our Hearts with Nancy Leigh DeMoss.

Last week we were inspired to glorify God through our homes. Our guest, Donna Otto, explained that there’s power in a peaceful home. She also gave us some practical advice on creating a peaceful home. We’ll hear from Nancy and from Donna Otto in just a minute.

First, as you can imagine, some of the women listening along in our audience had some questions and comments. We’ll start with mom and pastor’s wife, Holly Elliff.

Holly Elliff: We recently had our home on the market, and I have eight children (I have six still at home). So when they would suddenly call and say, “We’d like to show your house” . . . they don’t always have the concept of what that means to somebody who has a house full of children.

So we got really creative one day and sat down and made a list of places we could hide things when they were suddenly coming to show our house. One of those was the dryer—we realized we could put all the dirty dishes inside the clothes dryer because that was something nobody would open.

We would also throw things in laundry baskets and stuff them in the car. Of course, then we couldn’t get all the children in the car with the laundry baskets full of the stuff that we didn’t have time to pick up. So we found ourselves getting really creative. And, I’m sorry to say, it was not always orderly .

Nancy Leigh DeMoss: Thank you, Holly. Holly, say something about what you have learned about finding out what’s important to your husband, which affirms what Donna was saying earlier, because that’s helpful, I think.

Holly: I do think it’s really critical, if you’re married, to sit down at some point with your husband (maybe when your house is decent so he won’t have so many things to put on the list), but to say to your husband, “What really matters to you?”

I sat down with Billy one day and said, “Okay, I can do meals, and I can do school, and I can do the house; I can be a pastor’s wife. I can do maybe two and a half of those. I cannot do all four of those well, so what matters the most to you?”

Well, basically, my husband doesn’t care if it’s a peanut butter sandwich that we’re all eating around the table if he has clean underwear. So the things that mattered to him, I made sure got done.

I think it’s very critical to know what matters. He may not notice if the chandelier has been dusted, but he will notice if he’s trying to get dressed and what he needs is not there.

So find out what will matter to him and make sure those things get done first, especially if you have a bunch of children. I think priorities are very important.

Nancy: In the back.

Woman: Something that I really struggle with as far as orderliness is—when the mail comes in, it sits in a big stack on the kitchen table and gets left there, as someone might need to look at this later. How do you deal with that pile of mail on the kitchen table that just grows and grows?

Donna: I had a pile of paper for 30 years of my life, and the pile was very secure for me. I knew if you asked me, “Where is the bill?” In the pile. “Where is the letter from my grandmother?” In the pile. “Where is the plane ticket?” In the pile. It was very secure for me.

I had to learn that that security issue was first of all a part of my difficulty in learning how to deal with paper. Secondly, I had to assess that, for one more time, I had just spent 30 minutes of God’s time, which I believe I’m a steward of, looking through the pile to find something. I remember doing that one time too many.

So I created a system (it is in that book Get More Done in Less Time), but the only rule I made for myself—and I know we don’t like the word rule; we don’t like the word law. We don’t like it because we have to obey it, and we don’t like it because we don’t like somebody telling us what to do.

I had to tell myself what to do. And here was my rule: I never opened any of the mail until I could open all of it and process it.

Not write the check, not answer the letter, not go to the school and sign up or buy my daughter’s pictures for her classroom. Just open it, slit it, and sort it; process it.

Now, I sorted it and processed it into files. But when we open the mail, when we get the pile of mail—and at my house I walked down a walkway, around our little cul-de-sac, and there’s my big mailbox full of wonderful mail and letters from women who write me and say, “I loved your book. Help me with this.” I mean, I get great mail.

People tell me there are two kinds of great mail: letters and checks. We go through the pile—you’re all nodding to me—we go through the pile looking for what? The great mail. And what do we do with the rest of it? We throw it in the corner somewhere.

So the only rule was, I would not open anything, anything, even a coveted letter from my daughter with her swirly handwriting, until I opened it all.

I found for myself, the longest I ever let anything sit on my desk or on my counter was for three days. Because, you see, we all have time to do what we want to do. God gives us enough time every day to do what matters to Him.

These are the choices we make, and I believe that in those choices we have to say no to something else. I can’t talk on the phone for an extra ten minutes. I can’t do whatever it is.

Now, there are days when you don’t have time to process the mail. I know that. Those are days when circumstances hit, and you can’t do it. But as the general rule of thumb, on a daily basis, six days a week, when the mail comes in I slit it; I open it; I throw all the trash away.

I take a new magazine, a weekly periodical to the basket that houses magazines, and I take last week’s out, and I put this week’s in. It takes ten seconds to do that. I throw last week’s away. If I’ve thrown a lot of magazines away that I haven’t read, I begin to think, “Lord, am I stewarding the cost of those subscriptions well?”

And the process continues. Every day I take that process of sorting and filing the mail. I had a file in a little sorter that sat on my counter for years. It had David’s name on it, Anissa’s name on it, my niece’s and nephews' names on it. It had our church name on it. It had the kids’ school’s name on it. When I opened up the mail I would drop in those files anything that belonged to those children or had regard to our church structure and schedule.

I had a file that was an expandable file folder that said “Reading” on it. I found myself many times as a young mother sitting in an orthodontics office, at a soccer game, at a baseball game with time to read. If I wanted to read something, I would look at the pile and think, “I know there’s something to read in that pile. The missionary newsletters are there.”

But by the time I’d go through the pile to get it out . . . I don’t have time to do that. I would read National Geographic from 1962 at the doctor’s office instead of reading something I really wanted to read.

So I have an expandable file folder that sits now on my desk. When I tear something out that I want to read, I drop it in that reading file. I never get on a plane or go someplace where I know I’ll have to wait—my hairdresser, the DMV—every one of us goes somewhere where we have to wait; and I pick that up. I have never been more current in my reading.

Yes, Holly.

Holly: Donna, just to give those of us who do have piles some hope—how long did it take you, from the point where God convicted you about your piles to the point where that became easy and a normal part of your life, to sort rather than pile?

Donna: Okay, I don’t know if you’re an avant-garde woman, and I don’t know if anyone else in the audience or our listening audience is, but here’s what I recommend. Okay, grab your seat like you’re on an airplane about to take off, because what I’m about to say will make some of you gasp.

Go home and take the pile straight out and drop it in the trashcan. Except for personal correspondence, everything in that pile is replaceable.

Nancy: Does that include bills?

Donna: Bills; they’ll send you another one. Insurance policies; in today’s culture with the technology, unless you believe in that pile there are some personal, irreplaceable letters, I promise you—everything in that pile is replaceable.

If you are behind in the pile, you’re not going to catch up with your reading plus integrate the new system. Throw it away and start fresh. Clear off the table and dust it and start fresh.

We need a surge of encouragement. We’re not very good about encouraging ourselves. We beat ourselves with sticks and say, “I’m so bad. Look at my pile.” I did it for years.

I took the pile and I threw it in the trashcan. Now I had a clean space and a system.

Now, system sounds like a complicated word, and you’re saying, “I’m just a mom at home.” You are a manager of a home, and mail comes every day. The larger the family, the more mail, the more events to juggle.

What I talk about in the Get More Done book is how to manage that paper. How long will it take? It will take as long as you’re determined to not open the mail, any piece of it, including the good stuff, and opening all the mail at the same time.

I think, till I felt comfortable about doing it, it took me a couple of weeks, 14 days. Now, I spent 6 months creating the system and researching if these things truly worked. Then I sent a two-cent piece of paper that’s in the front of my file sorter to everyone who sends me mail I don’t want.

Inside all that junk mail is usually an envelope that’s self-addressed, often postage paid. It takes seconds to put this letter in there that says, “Please take me off your mailing list.” It’s a felony in America not to take someone off the mailing list if they’ve requested. About 85% of the people we sent that to did take us off their mailing list.

So, it’s a process, and it’s maintenance, because every day the mailman comes, except Sundays and Christmas.

(Nancy laughs)

Donna: I know! That’s really encouraging.

Nancy: And aren’t we grateful for Sundays and Christmas!

Donna: Yes. When there’s a holiday when the mailman doesn’t come, you sort of take a deep breath and think, “Oh, tomorrow there’ll be more mail than the usual daily mail.”

Thank you for asking that.

Leslie Basham: It’s amazing that something like mail can take so much of our attention. Our guest, Donna Otto, has been talking with Nancy Leigh DeMoss about honoring God by taking care of what He’s given us, even piles of mail.

We’ve gotten some great advice for managing paper, and it’s made me thankful that the electronic age can help us manage paper a little bit better. To communicate with us, you don’t have to use paper at all.

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As you’ve heard today, Donna Otto likes to talk passionately and excitedly. But she has realized that she can better serve her husband by sometimes slowing down. She’ll tell us why tomorrow. I hope you can be back for Revive Our Hearts.

Revive Our Hearts with Nancy Leigh DeMoss is an outreach of Life Action Ministries.

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