Organization Takes Creativity and Science

DEEP THOUGHTS: Okay, some not so deep. But sometimes a muse comes upon and the immenseness of the thoughts must be preserved

The Science and Creativity of Being Organized

Introduction- Why even Bother?

"Does anyone here bother with a list when going to the grocery?" the message stated. Before even clicking open the post in the cooking newsgroup I had to pause.

No list when going to the grocery? How does one know what to buy?

"I just peruse the aisles, choosing hither and yon," one post began.

"I remember the time we kept buying jugs of catsup, always thinking we were out only to discover two more jugs in the pantry," yet another post proudly proclaimed.

"Sometimes I forget the aluminum foil and have to run back out," a third poster giggled.

Why, I was appalled.

Here are perfectly sane people admitting to spending more money than required and wasting more time than wise.

Even for the list-impaired I 'd think a scribbled notation on the barest of paper scraps to be almost mandatory for a grocery trip.

I, of course, have my grocery list on my Palm Pilot, sorted in aisle order and carefully itemized to include sizes required and sale items upon. My plastic bags are quickly pulled down from the hook and their container used as tote to return them to the store for recycling. In a pocket of the tote I stick a paper-clipped bound sheaf of green grocery tapes to stuff into the grocery store receptacle for same, said tapes allowing my high school to purchase computers and such. Yes, my grocery list indicates I should do these things first before scanning the aisles.

I'm in and out of there within a half hour, deli waits and all.

If the mood of the moment compels me to linger, than I can linger. It's small matter to quickly fold up that Palm Pilot and take mine time.

The other way I figure, there's no choice. It's glide down all grocery aisles to have memory jogged or risk forgetting a needed item. Even then needed items are forgotten and un-needed ones purchased.

This was a cooking newsgroup, of course. Participants in this forum could reasonably be expected to actually enjoy time spent in the grocery so such crimes against even this minimalist form of organization might be understandable.

Consider my neighbor, a fine woman and teacher of our county's children. Hardly a casual porch moment goes by that I don't see this wildly unorganized woman running up and down her sidewalk in a hurry going to and from somewhere.

"I forgot to get olives," she shouted out a hasty explanation to my sitting and garden-gazing self who didn't require an explanation as it is still a free country after all. If this woman wants to spend her life forever running out for a forgotten purchase, it is, of course, her choice.

"Pat, you never seem in a hurry. I'm really jealous. Me, I've got kids, a job, a husband and two dogs ..." at which point her tirade ended as she entered her vehicle. As I watched her pull from the driveway I tried to control my umbrage. It so happened at that time in my life I had no children living at home. I did, however, have a husband, eight cats and two dogs. And there were times in my life when I've had three constantly hungry teenagers and as I recall I still wasn't spending the better part of my life chasing errands. As for a job, well I had one too and my uncharitable umbrage couldn't quell my disdain that THIS woman's job allowed her to be home for the entire summer.

Put simply, NO. My porch times were not lucky events, the result of a life unfettered with bosses and husbands and deadlines. My porch times were carefully planned, a respite time without which my inner self would whither and die. Surely my neighbor had respite times even if not my choice of quiet garden gazing. A good book, maybe. A long bath, perhaps. Whatever, the woman certainly wasn't getting much of it as the constant errands had to be impinging upon the quiet time we all need.

Had the woman included a simple notation of 'olives' on her grocery list she'd have time for that book or bath is what I'm saying here. The act of grabbing the purse and sweater, locking the house, running to the car, driving to the grocery , searching for the olives, checking out and returning home probably cost her at a minimum one half hour of time. A half an hour for the novel and scented-oil bath, I figure. Add the half hours this woman probably wastes in a day and whew, I figure she could likely read War and Peace as the skin on her toes shrivels from the aromatic bath waters.

I often consider the uncharitable folks who poke fun at organized persons such as myself. They would never be slaves to schedules, I've heard them exclaim. To plan one's life so scrupulously eliminates the spontaneity, they argue. There's more to life than lists, they proclaim.

My organizational skills have led to a job teaching businesses this same art. Along with this full time business, I write novels and essays. Almost every Christmas I design, make and distribute my gifts. I regularly cook gourmet meals and share them with colleagues. I daily pet my cats and dogs, commune physically and mentally with my spouse, read and ruminate on national politics, give lectures on Backyard Wildlife Habitats, plant and plan the many gardens on my large lot, design and engineer the rehabilitation of the old house in which I live and yes, I love to curl up with a good book, reading as many as five a week.

It's a fine life and goodness, I still have to learn origami, master the art of the hand-made noodle and till my dying days figure out how to turn out a handsome loaf of home-made bread.

It is not to the posters of the food newsgroup for whom I write this book though I want to shake them silly that wouldn't they rather spend their time in the kitchen than in the grocery? And it's not to scatter-brained neighbors to whom I preach, unless, of course, they fall in the category of those who wish they had more time but know not where to begin. For the chosen, this book is but a compendium of suggestions on getting organized. More than this, the words within are designed to direct one to an organized lifestyle, starting with the impetus to get there.

It's like a diet. It might be well and good to starve and suffer a few weeks to shed a few unwanted pounds. But until one's eating lifestyle is changed by attitude, the pounds will come back. And so it is with the terminally unorganized. It's a day by day process, requiring both foresight and hindsight until the lifestyle is ingrained and no longer requiring constant monitoring.

Read on those who want control over your lives. For being organized is a state of mind and only related to labels and lists as a hammer is to a carpenter. Such as lists, labels and hammers are merely tools. And shoving a hammer into any outstretched hand does not a carpenter make. Nor will a pretty list make a disjointed human an organized marvel of humanity.

It comes from within and if willing, read on and give it a try.

Chapter 1-Start With the Little Things

My in-laws are about the most practical folks one might meet; solid, prairie-hardy Midwesterners who would never be involved in any action considered foolish. Yet, for the past ten years, they have had their kitchen trash can directly in front of their back door and so far I've been able to refrain from shouts of idiocy. Every time one wanted to exit the back door, the trash can had to be moved.

Some might argue it's small problem to push the thing out of the way and given an unusual circumstance requiring the rubbish can to sit in front of the door, it would be true. But in the routine natural order of things? Pushing the thing around some two to three times a day for almost a life time?

Now about that can opener.

Where is yours?

There are, of course, many types and designs of can openers. If yours is electric and sitting upon your counter, fine. If yours is a 'swingaway' hanging type, fine again. Assuming both of the aforementioned types are easily accessible, no problem. How about those of us with hand can openers? The kind that have to be pulled from a drawer for use? For whatever reason, many choose this type of opener.

It's no mind the type of can opener except that the darn thing is instantly accessible! For how many times a day must we open a can? Anyone out there who opens at least one can a day (and I'm betting most of us open far more than one in any given day) should look and see where their can opener is. If it's not within arm's reach (not in a drawer
or closet) of the area where we open the cans then we are stupid. After five years of wrestling my hand can opener out of a drawer full of gadgets I finally got a clue, pounded a nail somewhere unobtrusive and hung the thing over the nail by its crotch. I figure I've saved maybe five minutes a day fishing for the thing, which adds up to over a half an hour a week until we're getting close to a full day a year just pulling out a drawer, wrestling out a can opener, squeezing it back in the drawer and slamming it shut!

Which is the point. Don't be stupid. Begin a life of creative organization at the lowest denominator. Sit down and write a list of all the utensils, tools, implements and gadgets that you use at least once every day. Then go find that item and note if it is within easy access to the locale where it must be used.

If you dry your hair every day with a hair dryer, than the thing should be within arm's reach of where you usually dry your hair. At times aesthetics and taste might require some items to be behind closed doors. Which is fine but bear in mind that the closed door should still be somewhere within arm's reach and it might be time to re-visit your sense of aesthetics if a greater portion of your days are spent opening and closing drawers or closets. Plenty of hair dryers hang on wall brackets and look perfectly nice is what I'm saying here.

Car keys, goodness how many days a year do you suppose we spend looking for them, digging them out of purses, stuffing them back in, ad nauseam? Finally I got myself a big solid ring, rigged up my keys to hang securely from the thing, and looped the strap of my pocketbook through the ring. Now my keys hang directly from my pocketbook and always right there when I need them most. Sure they jangle around when I walk but so far as I know I don't offend anyone. No one's going to get those keys unless they steal the purse and if they were stealing my purse with the keys hanging outside they'd likely try to swipe the thing with the keys inside so either way I'd be without my purse or keys.

I liked this idea so much I shopped around and found me an inexpensive wallet with a velcro closure. All of my credit and bank cards are tucked carefully within its folds and I'll put a few dollars in the billfold. The thing came with a sturdy key ring sewn in so I attached it to my key ring hanging on the strap of my purse. Now I don't even have to search through my purse for my wallet! Just reach right on down and boom, credit cards and bank card are right there. I have a smaller change purse inside my pocketbook for those rare occasions when I might have more cash to carry then $20. Don't want some pick-pocket loosening up that velcro closure and helping themselves to easy pickings. Again, a purse snatcher would get these items whether or not they were hanging from my strap or not, so why not make it convenient for me at no increased risk?

Then there's the morning coffee. Or the morning whatever. Or the daily whatever. Let's stick to the time-honored American tradition of morning coffee. In your case it might be afternoon tea or some other ritual but the repetitiveness of it is the key here.

For many years I kept the canned coffee here, the coffee filters there, the cream, sugar and sweet and low in pretty containers over there. Spoons for stirring were in the drawer, naturally. One day I thought, why am I going all over the kitchen to prepare for a morning ritual that I do every day of my life?

I gathered the decorative creamer, sugar and sweet and low containers all together. I pulled the coffee filters from the low drawer as well as a can of coffee. I pulled down a plastic cup from the cupboard and got a spoon from the cutlery drawer.

It took some thought and creativity, but I dare say I have one of the most efficient coffee preparation areas as most anyone.

First, I looked around for a spot to handily store all of the items to prepare the coffee. And right there, directly above the coffee pot, was the cupboard containing my, well, my coffee cups. Though husband and I generally drink out of the same coffee cup every day I still had an entire cupboard full of cups that I rarely used. Quick as a flash I cleared all cups from the bottom shelf of that cupboard and put them in another cupboard, up in a high spot which was fine for things used seldom SHOULD be in the high spots. With that cleared shelf, I placed the creamer, sugar and sweet and low container, filled the plastic cup with clean water and stuck the spoon inside the cup of water. Close the cupboard and voila.....no mess in sight BUT....

"So where's the sugar?" husband sleepily asks the next morning.

"All sugar and creamer are in that cupboard."

"Which cupboard?"

"The cupboard directly above the coffee pot, right where it should be."

"This cupboard?" husband asks, pointing to the cabinet in an incredulous manner. For this was a kitchen cabinet which should hold dishes and such.

In disbelief he opens the cabinet and sure enough, all coffee condiments are on the lower shelf, in handy reach. After pouring sugar and cream in his cup, he pulls out the silverware drawer for a spoon.

"There's a spoon ready for stirring in the same cupboard," I stop him.

He peers in the cupboard again, curious.

"Right in the blue cup," I nudge him.

Husband pulls the spoon out of the cup, stirs his coffee, then starts to throw the spoon into the sink.

"Put the spoon back into the blue cup," I stop him again. "The cup has clean water in it. When we're done with coffee stuff for the day, I'll rinse out the cup and refill it again with clean water. This way we use ONE spoon all week to stir our coffee."

Of course, it's small matter to refill the cup with clean water because at the same time I am filling up the coffee pot for the following morning's coffee to begin with a touch of the switch.

With the individual coffee preparations now easily accessible, I had to figure out a way to prepare the entire pot of coffee with the same ease. First, I would need the filters handy. Then I would need the coffee can handy to dig out the scoops of coffee. I decided I didn't want to have to go digging, EVERY day, for coffee filters, the coffee scoop and the coffee can.

It made sense to scoop out coffee grounds and fill the filters once a week. This way I'd be availing myself of economies of scale by scooping from the can and filling the filter once a week for all seven days of the week.

What to store the prepared filters in, I pondered.

An old round ice bucket fit the bill perfectly. I spray painted it a pretty color to match my kitchen decor. Then I nailed a coat hook at the side of the cabinet under which the coffee pot sat and hung the ice bucket on it.

At days end I clean out the coffee pot and empty the used grounds. I then pull down the ice bucket, fish out a prepared filter and place it in the coffee basket. The coffee pot is filled to the appropriate line and the water poured into the coffee maker. While the water is running to fill the coffee pot, the cup of water is retrieved from the cabinet, rinsed clean along with the spoon. The cup is filled with fresh water and put back in the cupboard. A few seconds and coffee and all of the preparations are ready to go for the following day's busy morning. Since I was adding hooks, I put up two more to hold husband's and my favorite coffee cups, hung there after a rinsing along with the spoon-holding cup. They too are rinsed out during preparations for coffee the following morning.

I estimate I'm saving two to three days a year in coffee making preparation. Add another day for the can opener placement and already I've got an extra four days a year.

Begin the journey to creative organization this way. Get a jump on gaining the extra time the organizers promise by listing the daily tasks and rituals. Decide on a better way (and YES you can) to bring it all into focus, into one area, within one arm's reach. You'll quickly pick up extra time and be inspired to carry your creative organizational skills to higher levels.

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