THIS WEEKEND, everyone else will make an attempt to get organized. That is what the New Year's for, isn't it? A fresh start, a chance for one more effort to get everything under control at last, so a lifetime of chaos will be channeled into managability?
Only a few of us will not be participating in this pathetic annual frenzy: those charming people who have the grace to admit that the organized life is an illusion and no longer pursue it, and me. My reason for not getting organized this weekend is not considered a charming one.
I am organized. Perfectly organized. I always have been.
It's a paradox that while hardly anyone is exempt from the desire to be organized himself, just about everyone regards the truly organized person as dangerous. They don't call it that, because they've been taught to use such words as "compulsive" or "sick" or "insane," but it's clear that they recoil from organization with fear and horror. At best, being organized is considered, like correct spelling or the ability to get all the fried chicken
Off the bones with knife and fork, as a sign of creative drought. No doubt this is bitterness from having participated in those annual failures. Where the rest of humanity fails, the one who succeeds can't be quite regarded as human. They needn't worry. Being organized is not a question of such unnatural attributes as determination and willpower; it's simply a matter of genes. My father before me was the most organized person who ever lived, and my son shows signs of it. (Is your 12-year-old's idea of fun to invent and carry out a new system for classifying his books?)
Here then, is one plan for the organized life. It is not offered with the intention of foisting this kind of living on people unsuited for it. Use it to rejoice in your own carefree, loveable, creative and disorganized life. And have a nice, free weekend knowing that it's not worth your trying.
Here's where everyone starts out with good intentions, only to falter.Few such books make it through February. Mine do. And there are several of them:
1. POCKET ENGAGEMENT CALENDAR. Always carried, and every scheduled event, both business and personal, goes into it in tiny writing, leaving space for jotting down daily expenditures (see MONEY). It's used as a transition between home and office, and as a back-up in case of the error of omission (which has never occurred).
2. OFFICE CALENDAR. Office-hour events only are jotted on a blotter type of calendar with the whole month visible (if only the cleaning people would stop spilling my flower vase on it) to coworkers who may need to make dates for me.
3. FAMILY CALENDAR (KITCHEN). This comes from the school, with school events and holidays printed on it, and is used for non-office-hour engagements of all family members so conflicts and carpool requirements can be spotted immediately.
4. PERSONAL HOME DESK ENGAGEMENT BOOK, used for writing down the day's events each evening. This is only factual information -- no sentimental notations; see MEMOIRS -- and is a permanent record of such things as whom I had lunch with where, a good reference if you are hauled into court and asked where you were at such at such a time. Invitation cards are put inside the pages, the next day's to be taken out each evening when I am filling in the current day's information. All the above books are thrown away at the end of the year, but this is saved. (See MEMOIRS.)
1. DAILY NOTATIONS in a pocket engagment book are made immediately after each expenditure, no matter what size. If you skip the 15-cent telephone calls on the ground that they are insignificant, or the $300 luxury splurge on the ground that it will not recur, your records will be worthless.
2. FINANCIAL SUMMARY BOOK. At the end of each week, expenditures are classified by such categories as transportation, food and clothing, and entered into a record book. Summaries are done at the end of each month and the end of each year, so you know where your money is going.
1. Copies of a mimeographed shopping list are kept on a clipboard in the pantry, and when a freezable or canned item runs down it's circled on the list. I buy these in a mammoth shopping expedition every six or eight weeks, taking this list with me and circling any items I can't find on the next copy of the list when I return.A similar list, for drugstore items, is kept upstairs.
2. Eggs, fresh fruits and vegetables are bought once a week, and there's a wipe-off memo pad on the refrigerator for listing what's needed.
3. Each category of can or jar has its own place on the cupboard shelves, and one can see immediately which supplies are low. The refrigerator and the freezer are similarly organized, and a wipe-off memo on the front of the freezer lists its contents. Non perishable food is kept in huge quantities and variety, in case of unexpected guests or war.
4. Recipes that have been clipped are glued onto index cards and kept in a small card box in the pantry until they have been successfully made (if unsuccessful, they are thrown out). Then they are transfered, with whatever adjustments needed noted on the card, to a long cardfile in the kitchen that also contains:
5. Index cards listing, by food category, recipes I have made from cookbooks, with the page number. Thus, if I want to cook something new, I go to the card box of untried recipes or leaf through cookbooks for unchecked pages, but if I want to cook something that was successful before, I look in the big file under the name of the major ingredient -- the cards are color-coded -- where I find clipped recipes or page references for all the dishes I have enjoyed making.
6. Party-planning book, which has forms for planning menu, guests and seating arrangements for dinner parties, and sections with the names of new people I would like to invite when I get around to it and old friends' allergies or favorite foods.
7. Party record book. After the party, the planning sheet is thrown away, and the information transfered to a permanent record. A friend who's writing his autobiography recently asked me who else was at the dinner party at which I introduced him to the woman who is now his wife. Not only can I tell him all the guests, but my records also show who sat where, what was eaten, what kind of flowers were on the table, and what I wore (should he be interested).
1. My entire wardrobe is listed by season, type of clothing, with a brief description of each item including the year it was bought (example: green wool skirt '75) in an index book that is miniaturized so it may easily be slipped in the purse for shopping expeditions. If, for instance, I set out to buy a navy suit but discover that the only suit I like is wine, I can immediately check to see how many blouses, sweaters and accessories I have to go with a wine suit, with their vintages, and how many additional purchases or replacements of coordinates it might require.
2. The current shopping list is, of course, kept in the purse, but I also have a small desk book with a shopping list of things that are not needed urgently and may be bought when I spot something particularly nice or at a bargain price. Because this is kept up, there's rarely much on the urgent list. Of course items that are on sale seasonally, such as underwear and stockings, are bought at the appropriate time.
3. There's an attic closet for out-of-season clothes and a downstairs closet for in-season ones, with shelves at different levels for blouses, dresses and evening clothes. All clothing that has been unworn for a year is given away, except especially beloved things that lie fallow until they come back into fashion, and those that can be turned into costumes for the children's plays.
1. A household inventory lists the stores where each piece of furniture was bought, with prices paid and insurance value. The silver, paintings and linens are also itemized here.
2. A looseleaf household book holds cards of workmen who have done repairs and salesmen who have handled large purchases. Pages for each room contain paint and fabric samples of its materials, along with the names and makes. This book can be taken along for major shopping, though I also keep in my purse a small card with a sample, clipped from the paint company's book, of the chief color used in the house, a hard-to-remember apricot.
3. All instruction booklets and warranties that come with appliances or other household items are put into a file in the filing cabinet.
1. The upstairs address book lists any friends whom I might normally call.
2. Downstairs, by the telephone, is an abbreviated version: only frequently called numbers.
3. A special book has categories for names and numbers of stores, theaters and other commercial establishments, and a separate category for the Christmas card, or once-a-year-letter; listings of birthdays and anniversaries; and records of gifts given or thought of to be given in the future.
4. In an index box, there are cards for friends who are less often seen, one section local and the other out of town. Information from wedding, divorce or baby announcements is entered here; if a long lost friend shows up, I can quickly check the name of a spouse or the age of a child.
5. A purse-size address book with "home" and "away" sections is taken on trips, so the addresses of people to be called on, or those at home to be written to, is handy. See TRAVEL.
6. In a loose-leaf office book, all names and telephone numbers are jotted down while I am on telephone calls. Many of these will never be used again, but it's as satisfying as doodling, and you never know when you might want one.
1. Letters are filed in one of four slots in my desk, depending on the urgency with which they must be answered. Those that require immediate attention, such as bills or cries for advice from desperate friends, never land there at all, because they are answered when they arrive.
2. Answered correspondence from friends is filed in letter boxes marked with the year, with each box finding its way to the attic at the year's end.
3. There's a separate folder for receipts of merchandise ordered, film sent out to be developed, and clippings of things I might want to buy.
1. Clippings about hotels and restaurants in favorite countries go into a file in the filing cabinet.
2. A small card case with out-of-town credit cards (such as charge plates for New York stores that do not have branches in Washington) is put in the purse only when traveling, along with the home-away address book. The case also contains calling cards, used abroad but rarely in this country. There's also a travel wallet, larger than my everyday one, to hold my passport and oversized foreign money.
3. Two separate travel cases, each with miniature supplies of cosmetics (these come free with certain purchases; I also keep a miniature set of them in my purse), as well as hairbrush and comb, toothbrush and miniature mirror are kept ready to go: one for overnight trips and the other, with slightly larger supplies, for vacations.
4. A travel notebook is kept just for observations or thoughts jotted down on vacations; by using the same book, I have the information handy when revisiting the same spot or finding time to continue the same ruminations.
1. Diaries are meant to record those sweet and precious thoughts that will otherwise drift away like dreams, but the trouble is that nobody has such thoughts on every calendar day, so they soon give up. Mine are recorded in an undated leather notebook, with no regularity required; I simply add the date when making an entry. (All books in this category are luxurious leather volumes, to encourage spirituality and hard work.)
2. Clustered thoughts, such as will someday make a sterling essay, are collected in another leather book, with detachable pages in case the essay is ever written.
3. Favorite poems and other quotations are copied into another volume, so they may be found quickly for reflection or quotation.
4. Separate books are kept for each activity: in my case one for column ideas with a dated subject index of what has run, another for notes for fiction, and a full-size leather looseleaf class notebook with pockets for students' papers.
5. Souvenirs, such as children's handmade Valentines, graduation programs and citations are clipped into a large scrapbook.
6. Snapshots are dated on the back and put into an album with pockets; duplicates are tucked into the same pockets, and may be given out if other people ask for copies.
7. A different album holds serious photographs, such as formal portraits and old family pictures.
8. Separate albums, with photographs and souvenirs, are kept for the children's activities and may or may not be given to them when they grow up.
9. There's a file for each child, with report cards, camp information and such, in the filing cabinet.
This isn't the half of it. I have four containers in my bathroom for hairpins of different sizes, and I put each one back in the correct place as I take it out of my hair at night. My closets and bureau drawers are perfect at all times. There's a separate section in my wallet for 50-cent pieces (the correct change for the bus) and for $2 bills (a good basis for Washington taxi fares, when $1 disappears too quickly and the drivers won't change large bills). I keep a pin cushion in each closet for the pins from dry cleaners' tickets. The books are so exquisitely organized that although there are shelves all over the house, I can describe the location of any volume without even looking. For example, guest-room categories include travel books, in case the guests want to move on, and books by friends, so the other friends staying overnight may be inspired to go out and buy their own copies.
JACOB'S LAWS OF ORGANIZATION
All of these methods of organization are personal -- every organized person, or rather both of us, has to invent his own. But there are principles that help. Jacob's Laws -- Jacob was my father -- were either issued or inspired by a man who kept his shirts filed, each one in a separate leaf of a special case, in his bureau drawer.
1. NEVER PUT ANYTHING AWAY TEMPORARILY.
Suppose you come home tired, and dump your coat on a chair. If you put it in the closet when you feel up to it -- we won't even think about people who don't -- you will have used twice as much time and energy than if you had put it in the closet immediately. A dish that is taken in from the dining room and put on the sink, instead of directly into the dishwasher, ends up being put away twice.
2. TAKE PITY ON YOUR POOR BIOGRAPHER. It's only decent to organize and date your diaries and albums in case you become famous and scholars of the future devote their energies to reconstructing your life and thoughts. In fact, they may be encouraged to undertake the project if you make it easy for them.
3. WHY ARE PEOPLE ALWAYS COMPLAINING ABOUT BEING BEHIND WHEN ALL YOU HAVE TO DO TO KEEP UP IS A LITTLE EVERY DAY? Ten minutes at one's home desk, answering letters and bills, means never having to sit down with a big stack of apologies to write.
4. THROWING THINGS AWAY IS AS GREAT A JOY AS ACQUIRING THINGS. Everything that's not being used and cannot be filed should be pitched. This is particularly true of things that continue to come in, such as newspapers and magazines. Only the current issue of anything should be around. You say you haven't read it yet, but if you can't do so in its proper time, you never will. Keep your reading material near the bathroom, and you'll read it.
5. IF IT'S WORTH GOING, THERE'S SOMETHING WORTH TAKING WITH YOU. This does not refer to the great beyond, but to any movement -- from one room to another, from upstairs to down, from home to office. Each time you leave one place, cast your eye about to find the empty glass, book or sweater that should make the trip with you, and then nothing will remain where it should not be.
6. IF YOU ARE NO GOOD AT THIS, GIVE UP -- AND CHERISH THE NEAREST ORGANIZED PERSON.
This is the advice my father gave my mother.