Thursday, March 11, 2010

A Place for Everything, and Everything in its Place

I know a number of people for whom this title seems to be very true:  my sister, Elizabeth; my sister-in-law, Lesley; a number of friends.  These are the people whose homes I've been in many times and where I always see the same thing:  the ultimate in organization and efficiency at work.  They actually seem to live by my dad's old adage about never touching a piece of paper more than once...a rule that I've never been able to adhere to.  By contrast, I pick up a piece of paper, wonder what to do with it and, more often than not, put it down again until I can figure out what to do with it.  You'd think, after years of seeing these folks' homes, I'd know at least a few of their dirty (and I mean that literally) little secrets by now, wouldn't you?

Actually, I wish I did know a few of their secrets because I could use some help.  By contrast, I struggle to keep my house organized (tidy, yes; clean, mostly; but organized, not so much); I have about a hundred organization projects that need working on at any given time.  Whenever I finish one project, I remember another one that needs adding to the list.  I never know quite what to do with the week's pile of mail waiting on the front table, or the foot-high stack of old visa bills and retirement savings statements that I've stored in a little cupboard that would be far more useful if filled with other things.

I look at these things with something like a sense of wonder, and I know that I should do something about them; but then I shrug my shoulders and go do something else that is of more interest.  My sister, who is in my home regularly and who sees the things not yet ticked off on my list of projects, regularly comments that I need her to spend two days in my house to organize everything that needs organizing.  Frankly, I'd be happy to take her up on her offer - I could be ready at a moment's notice to take my family to a hotel for a couple of nights, to enable her to go to it.

Yesterday morning, at the weekly playgroup that Matthew and I have been going to for the past four years, I was reminded of Lesley and Elizabeth - in fact, I thought, ahhhh, this could be their next business venture - they'd make a ton of money at it.  You see, the speaker who came to talk to us was an organizer - she runs a business called "Clutter Denied" or something like that.  We moms all pooled our loonies and twoonies to collect the $50 she charged, and we - or at least I - listened with something like awe...and consternation.

She came last year to playgroup, too (she probably pegged me then already as someone who needs help). Within a week of her presentation, I was inspired to do something about my piles of mail and paper, and so I ran out  and bought what she called a "tickle file."  Anyone else ever heard of that?  It's basically a plastic tub about the size of a banker's box (but much prettier!) in which you store hanging file folders marked with the months of the year and the thirty-one days of the month; when a piece of paper comes in through your front door, you deal with it immediately by putting it into the right folder, to be dealt with at the right time.  It's a lovely thing.  Following her suggestions (which I'd meticulously copied into the little notebook I always carry in my purse for just this sort of thing), I filled my tub with the right folders and labelled them all appropriately.  I even filed a bunch of papers into the appropriate spots, closed the lid, and put it in a visible spot on the floor of my den (where I pay bills, etc).  And there the container found its lonely sat there.  Two weeks ago, when I was reminded that this organizer woman was coming back to our playgroup, I opened up my beautifully organized tickle folder for the first time in the past eleven months and, sure enough, there were a few pieces of paper that, at different points over the past year, I have been looking for, unable to find them.  I probably tripped over that darn tub a dozen times as I roamed between rooms looking for those lost papers.  I also found in there the parking ticket that Geoff and I got last year, which we then had to pay extra money for because we got sent a reminder notice that we hadn't paid it on time!  Oh, to have kept that simple pile of papers on my desk, that somehow I managed to get through at the right time.  It would be too funny if it weren't so sad!

I just can't seem to get my act together when it comes to organizing things well.  It's kinda like my feelings toward birthday party planning (see I Need a Relaxation Massage) - I want to be good at it, can't quite understand why I'm not good at it, and it really stresses me out.  My house is usually fairly tidy at surface level, but I always know that beneath the surface lie a whole bunch of things that need dealing with.

Sigh. Maybe instead of blogging at night, or early in the morning, I should be going through those darn paper piles and the zillion other things that need organizing.  Hmmm - no, that wouldn't be nearly as much fun as writing about my projects!  I'm afraid that I shall have to continue to admire from afar people like Elizabeth and Lesley, and keep plugging away at my list when I'm inspired for a few moments here and there.


  1. OMG, you are hilarious. I am the same way!! My house could look amazing when we have company over, but god forbid anyone opens a desk drawer or the closet.....

    I long to be organized too, but it never seems to happen...I think I have my own little version of your plastic tub. The last one was a fireproof safe to keep our birth certificates/passports etc. in. Those are things we are always searching for last minute. Well, wouldn't you know I went to the US yesterday and my passport is sitting in a pile of stuff on the island in the kitchen!

  2. Wow, you are so talking about ME. I need & love order, and yet it is a constant battle. The stress of trying to stay organized (and tidy) consumes much of my time and thoughts. I do the surface thing so often...and yet the closets, drawers, etc., despite much effort, always end up cluttered and chaotic (even though things are more or less stored with like things). I go through my kitchen "stack" every week, and then it is there again the next week. What do other people do??? We have just started going through the closets, one area each weekend, to get going on things, but even that often ends up with me spending much of the day in a deep, useless state of despair and inertia. Organization (and keeping it up) = turmoil & a constant reminder that the natural (imperfect) way of the world is toward chaos and decay...and that is a strong force.

  3. Too funny Ruth! I love reading your posts.
    The top of my washing machine looks like the picture of your cupboard (at least yours is behind a closed door!) Like your house, mine is usually pretty tidy on the surface, just don't open certain drawers or the front closet. My mother (her house is neat/organized/efficient to the point of it being scary) lovingly tells me that my house looks "lived in". Sigh...I don't take that as a compliment! I too was inspired yesterday to buy a "tickle trunk"...hopefully mine gets more use than yours (haha)