Making Chaos out of Order

Is anyone ever really organized?

By Nancy Oakley

At least once a week — OK, make that once a day — I’ll have a conversation with myself that goes something like this: Where’d I put it? I just had it in my hand a minute ago. Did I throw it away? Did I ever have it in hand at all or am I just dreaming? I must be losing my mind? All the while, I’m scurrying from room to room in search of whatever “it” happens to be at the moment  — cell phone, keys, sunglasses, dry cleaning slip — wondering why it is that as soon as I establish a place for objects, they seem to disappear.

Or accumulate. Like that stack of papers on the dining room table consisting of retirement statements, pleas for money from my college alumni association, explanation of health benefits. You know, the stuff that seems vitally important when you get it in the mail, so you set it aside, if not on the dining room table, then in one of those free canvas tote bags you got as a swag bag at a charity auction or in one of the Amazon boxes that you keep handy, because who knows when you might need to mail a package to somebody? (For the record, there are about three of them in my utility closet.)

Not that I’m pathologically messy, such as those poor souls you’d see on Hoarders, but I do live with what my mother would call a “happy mess.” (So does she, for that matter.) And I’ve always envied those smoothly efficient people who have a place for everything. One friend, for example, has a lovely chest of drawers that she uses for storing wrapping paper, bags of all sizes, ribbon tape, scissors and gift cards. I, on the other hand, jam remnants of paper and ribbon into a shopping bag into said utility closet with said Amazon boxes. And inevitably, whenever I need to wrap a gift for any of the guys in my life, all I can find is a roll of pastel pinks and blues left over from a coworker’s baby shower gift.

I’ve simply got to get more organized.

I comb Houzz or Pinterest or Ikea’s website. For some reason, I get a kick out of looking at all the inventive, design-y ways of storing things: in cute little baskets or crates, or pegboards or floating shelves. I wander the isles of box stores, looking at what are called “home office solutions,” color-coordinated file folders and fabric-covered containers in various shapes and sizes for holding pencils, bills, Post-Its, and dream of a similar setup where all my office accouterments would be arranged neatly in little divided trays. Except that would mean having to get rid of a chipped, ceramic mug with my old high school crest where I keep broken pencils, inkless souvenir pens from places I’ve traveled to, a pair of dull scissors and an American flag that someone gave me when I chanced upon a Veteran’s Day parade. And I couldn’t part with the funky wire basket that I picked up in a market in South Africa, now could I? It’s so handy for pesky paper clips, and rubber bands that multiply with every take-out meal from the grocery store.

The truth is, if I’m to be more organized, I have no choice but to start by tackling those stacks of paper, and relegating some to the recycling bin and others to my only filing system, a set of bulging notebooks that, now that I look at them, could really use a good dusting. I’ll be ruthless and toss as much as I can, just like I did a few years ago, in advance of a move. I’ll pick a miserable, rainy Sunday afternoon and dump all the papers, including Christmas cards, in a pile and start sorting. 

I’ve got it all figured out: I’ll separate the business-y stuff — those statements and insurance policies and the like — from the Christmas cards I’ve received. Those are so much fun to reread, by the way: the pretty one with holly and a cardinal from my best friend since third grade, the one with the angel and a trumpet from one sister, the one with the snowman from my other sister, the cute little forest animals gathered around the tree from another set of friends, the photo of my young cousins whose mom distinguished among the “sinners” and “saints” in her brood, the messages of peace on Earth, goodwill toward men — and many more of holiday conviviality.  So many of them are keepers — along with the Valentines and birthday cards that have somehow made their way into the mix. I mean, you can’t part with things that make you feel loved, right? And honestly, they don’t take up that much room on a bookshelf; besides, I can always shuffle some books around and start a double row of them on another shelf. As for the business-y stuff, well, I can toss it into one of those fat notebooks for now. And boy, that layer of dust on those is thicker than I realized!

Yes, that’s what I’ll do to get organized. As soon as Christmas is over. Maybe on January 1st. Then again, they say how you start the year is how you’ll spend the rest of it, and I do have an invitation to hang out with some friends that afternoon, and I’d like to think that’s how the rest of 2019 will go. For the time being, I might as well stick with my happy mess. And a happy — if somewhat disorganized — New Year.

Nancy Oakley is the senior editor of Seasons and its flagship, O.Henry.

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