Like a tropical storm,
I, too, may one day become “better organized.”
—Lydia Davis, Varieties of Disturbance
There are many theories of organizing, and I like to learn from all of them. I probably will never tire of reading other organizing geeks’ tips and tricks. (See the end of the article for my very favorite resources.) But when MDK asked for a self-care piece on this topic, I really had to stop and ask, How DO I do it, actually?
Well, for one thing, I was raised by a Marine, and have been folding my socks and making my bed just so from a tender age. In a certain mood, I also admire color-coordinated filing systems and associated label-making hijinks. I vibe with those shirt-folding YouTubers, I love me a capsule wardrobe Pinterest board, and I will happily spend all day with you Dewey Decimaling your personal library.
But this style of organizing is kind of a shallow presentation layer and it actually includes, just for fun, a fair bit of needless complication. Which is fine, but at its foundation, organizing is about structure and principles. It’s about simplicity and repetition. (What I imagine are also the design foundations of knitting patterns.)
At the end of the day, organizing for me is about finding ways to do less. When I find myself saying Man, I have simply got to get more organized!, I’m usually trying to achieve one or two things:
- To not have to work so hard.
- To not have to think. At all.
Rest and recreation—more time to enjoy this precious Earth ride—is the usual motivation for Getting More Organized. But I think the bigger payoff with organizing is less cognitive load. Less dithering.
The tell-tale shilly shally
If I’m getting tripped up by life basics, and always asking myself things like Should I? Shouldn’t I? Maybe now? Also, golly, how? And is it worth it yet? Maybe it would be more efficient to postpone?, this is a sign that my little world has gotten needlessly complex.
The classic example at Daniels Ranch is trying to figure out the optimal time to run the dishwasher. It sounds like an insane thing to debate, but if you’re operating on a no-waste mandate (see above; raised by a really quite austere Marine), wow, you sure can get hung up. And the consequences of waiting until the dishwasher is truly packed before running it are, d’oh!, you don’t have what you need when you need it. Mornings are DISORGANIZED.
So I have eliminated that cognitive load and the inevitable (mild, but still: a functional drag on the proceedings of life) disorder that results. I willingly suffer a tiny bit of waste—occasionally—and run the dishwasher every night before bed no matter what.
And if that also sounds insane to you I understand, but the payoff is way out of proportion with the effort. There’s no thinking! No pothering! When dinner’s over, we push the button. Kind of like what a Marine might call “following orders.”
So relaxing. Wherever I can repeat something without thinking about it, life is made easier: laundry, smoke alarm batteries, etc.
Obviously, this is a way to approach odious tasks that must be done, and must be done regularly. Questioning whether a task really does have to be done is an article for another day.
But caveat: If it ain’t broke, don’t let some random internet self-care columnist tell you to fix it with a set of nesting baskets. As noted sock-folding enthusiast—not—Einstein said: Make things as simple as possible, but no simpler.
So if there’s an area of life that’s bugging you—grocery shopping, managing an elder’s medical care, your workout—see if there’s some way you can set that thing on repeat, and get a little more peace for yourself.
And as always, please share your own hacks for reducing cognitive load below!
Monsters of organization:
- Outer Order, Inner Calm, Gretchen Rubin
- Get Your Sh*t Together, Sarah Knight
- Sorted, Gillian Perkins
- How to Keep House While Drowning, KC Davis
- Discardia, Dinah Sanders
- and of course the OG guide … The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, Marie Kondo
And on MDK:
PHOTO CREDIT: Dekzicht van een VOC-schip naar de grote mast, Jan Brandes, 1778-1787, Rijksmuseum. Used with permission.
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