Saturday, November 15, 2008

Organizational Genius

74. Organizational Genius

I am probably not the person to be writing this essay. Certainly I am no expert, no role model. However, over the years I have struggled mightily with this issue and maybe I can give you some tips about my old enemy.
In this case, the organization I want to discuss is that of objects and spaces. Organizing people, thoughts, and time are all separate, lengthy issues.
In the beginning, like many teenagers, my system of organization was archaeological and anecdotal. In looking for a particular possession I would dredge up my freshest memory of the object. Where did I see it last? What was it near? How long ago was that? I would then go to the correct area, look under the appropriate layers of subsequent stuff and find the object. W.C. Fields played an office clerk once with just such an infallible filing system and a stacked-to-the-ceiling roll-top desk. Hilarious.
Advancing age brought out several inherent problems with this system. 1) It only works in a space you do not share. Otherwise, someone else is moving your stuff, or adding to the layers, or stepping where they should not step. 2) If your memory fades (or gets over-loaded) you lose that vital element, “the freshest memory.” 3) This is absolutely not child-proof or child-safe. A toddler loose in your piles will destroy your ability to find anything. 4) It’s a mess and, sooner or later, an embarrassing mess.
And then I read something that changed my whole view of the subject. It’s very simple. Look at the object. Where’s the first place you would look for that object? Milk goes in the refrigerator. Winter coats in the closet by the front door. Kiln furniture next to the kiln. Clay tools next to the wheel. Then, always put the object where it goes, where you will look for it first.
When you’re in a strange kitchen, do you have trouble finding the silverware drawer or the cabinet with the drinking glasses? Isn’t it satisfying when the spoons are just where they ought to be, right there in the first drawer you open?
Your studio (your office, your home) can be the same way. What is it? Where does it go? Put it there.
Now, some objects defy organization and some spaces are inadequate or poorly sub-divided. No system is perfect and I still have a lot of trouble with papers and filing cabinets, but I’m doing better. And if things start getting a little messy again a simple question (often asked by my wife) puts it right. “Is that where that goes?”
In a shared space it’s the only way to function. A friend of mine runs a shared shop space professionally and he’s taken this need for efficiency and order very seriously. If someone can’t find a tool right away, all work stops until the object is found. Whatever the reason it wasn’t in its proper place, it’s better for four people to lose a few minutes work time than it is for one person to lose half an hour. Further, it reminds everyone to maintain good habits about putting things away when they’re no longer being used.
When you are sharing someone else’s space you will have to learn and respect their system. When the space is yours you will be the expert. You expect to find the welder under the bed? Fine. Just be sure to put it back when you’re done so you can find it quickly next time. When it comes to organizing your stuff, you are the resident genius. Find your system and stick to it.

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