Organizing is fun.
My teenage self just recoiled at that thought. Isn’t “organizing” just parent code for “cleaning your room”? That’s not fun. Games are fun. “Organizing” isn’t fun.
Organization is not an end unto itself. We don’t organize for the sake of organization. We organize because of the effects that it has. What it does for us. What it does to us.
- You know where things are when you need them. Every year, we waste 2.5 days looking for lost items. We’re late for work, we miss meetings, and we miss the opening drive because we couldn’t find the remote. There is a measureable cost to not being able to find things when we need them.
- You know what you have on hand. We once discovered that we had three bottles of French’s yellow mustard in the pantry. Each had gradually been pushed to the back of the shelf, where it was forgotten. Then we picked up another bottle because we thought we might be getting low. At the rate we go through mustard, we easily had a year’s supply—possibly two—simply because we didn’t know what we had on hand.
- You know what you need to do. Eisenhower said that plans are worthless, but planning is everything. Why? Because you get clarity on your situation. Instead of an amorphous blob of stuff you need to do, you have a plan. Some things need done first, some things can wait, and some things don’t need done at all.
- You know what you need to be doing. When we leave things out, it creates open loops. We see the pair of scissors lying on our desk and remember the pizza coupon we clipped. Did we leave them out for a reason? Was there something else that we needed to clip? We did clip the coupon, didn’t we? Where did we put the coupon? Will we be able to find it again when it’s Pizza Night? Great, now I want pizza. What was I doing? Something without pizza, sadly.
- You know when you’re done. When we’re done with a task, we need to put our tools (and our toys) back where we got them from. We need to clean up the mess we’ve made. Not only will this make it easier to get started on the next task, but it sends a signal to your brain that you didn’t get interrupted—you really have finished. Over at Asian Efficiency, they call this practice “Clear to Neutral”.
Some of us, the only time we organize is when we should be doing something else. Clearing to neutral is a good habit to develop, but if we’re not careful, we let organization become a proxy for work. It’s a distraction and a form of procrastination, but at least it’s a procrastination with benefits.
At this point, my teenage self might ask, “What’s the point of organizing? Things are just going to get out of place again.”
And to an extent, he’s right. The universe gets more chaotic over time. Organization is maintenance. It’s how you fight against entropy. Think of it as taming the cosmos, bending the universe to your will. Starting in your bedroom, reaching out to every corner of your life.
Or you might ask what’s the point of eating? You’re just going to get hungry again. We don’t organize in spite of the fact things will get out of place again, we organize because they have gotten out of place. We end with the next beginning in mind.