Essays on Technology and Culture

A Place for Most Things, and Most Things in Their Place

I’ve always been bad about putting things away—especially laundry. During my bachelor days, it was common for me to haul my laundry back into my apartment, up three flights of stairs, hang up my shirts and pants, and leave a clean pile of unmatched socks, t-shirts, undershirts, and underpants at the foot of the bed. However, I avoided the bachelor problem of not knowing which clothes were clean and which were dirty. Dirty clothes always ended up in the vicinity of the hamper, which I kept in my bedroom closet. Rarely, if ever, did these two piles collide. Obviously, this wouldn’t cut it forever— especially now that I’m sharing my living space again. There’s an old axiom: “A place for everything, and everything in its place.” Rarely is that place “the floor,” unless we’re talking about area rugs.

My current living arrangement doesn’t afford me a lot of space for my stuff. I already reduced the amount of stuff I have a fair amount before I moved up here—or rather, the amount of stuff I took up here is a reduced amount of what I had. What I didn’t sell or donate is in storage back in Philadelphia. I have two plastic containers that I keep my clothes in, save for the stuff that gets to hang in the closet. Two plastic containers aren’t the most ideal place to store clothes. So, for a month or so, clean clothes ended up neatly folded and stacked on top of one of the containers.

These neat stacks lasted about a day. When I got dressed in the mornings, the stacks fell apart. Neatly folded clothes became crumpled balls, and so it was until I’d worn a week’s worth, and laundry day came back around. Sometimes my button-down shirts got hung on hangers off a shelf. Sometimes they got folded and stacked on the container. Wherever they were, it was all a cluttered mess. Once they were put away, I felt a sense of great relief. Something I hope to keep feeling.

The laundry is just one aspect of learning to find a place for things, and put them there. As I mentioned last week, I have trouble putting things into my system, in much the same way as I have trouble putting my clothes away. And books. And anything else. The point of having a system is to know not only that something is in it, but that you have a place to put things. Events go on a calendar, tasks and projects go into a task manager, my clothes go into the closet, or the plastic containers. It’s not hard, at least in theory.

I used to wake up many mornings, get ready for work, and be unable to find my keys. Why? Because I didn’t have a specific place for them. Sometimes, they ended up on my dining table. Sometimes, they ended up on the desk, or occasionally on the end table, or the dresser, or the kitchen counter. In the haze of the morning, it was impossible to remember where I put them, so unless the keys were in the first place I thought to look, I’d panic. Now, my keys go right next to me, on top of the short bookshelf in the bedroom. Recently, we put an organizer on top of the bookshelf, which holds all sorts of stuff. It holds my wallet, my pocket notebook, pen, pocket knife, and wristwatch. Now, there’s no need to fumble around in the morning trying to remember where any of these things are, if they’re buried under papers, got knocked off and into the trash can, or anything else.

For a chronically disorganized guy like me, this is a revelation. It’s one less thing to worry about. Every disorganized person can tell you they know where everything is in their mysterious piles of stuff. I could. Until I couldn’t. One minute you’re confident in your lack of a system, and the next moment, you’re desperately looking for your W–2 form, cursing, and messing up all your piles. If there were a letters column for people who experienced this phenomenon, they would all start out like something from Penthouse Forum: “Dear Disorganized Forum, I never thought this would happen to me…” For the skeptics, I suggest you try it, just as an experiment. For the true believers, keep it up, but spread the gospel gently. Us disorganized are slow to change and easily backslide. The harder you push, the more we will resist, until that moment of clarity occurs.