Too bad that Miss Manners cannot in good conscience claim that being organized is a requirement of being polite. If she could, she would collect double credit for being both.

What she can say--with fear of contradiction--is that being disorganized is not charming.

That fear of contradiction arises from the annoying habit that disorganized people have of taking pride in themselves and scoffing at people who manage to keep track of their own lives. Artists who don't clean up their paints have a lot to answer for. They have inspired untold millions to take pride in creating a mess and defining it as creativity.

Disorganization, while not itself rude, is excellent at inspiring rudeness. It is not rude to be forgetful, but it is rude not to congratulate, commiserate or show up when expected. It is not rude to be forever losing your glasses and keys, but it is rude to be forever accusing your housemates of having taken them. It is not rude to run out of supplies, but it is rude to be in the habit of borrowing other people's supplies.

Therefore, the polite person keeps track of things--if not in the head, then in the small six-ring notebook, the handheld computer, the desktop computer, the refrigerator door, the little slips of paper in the pocket, the spouse's head, the parent's head or some combination.

Here are a few of them:


If you don't care where it's going, others do, and sometimes require you to prove it for purposes of taxes, insurance, charge accounts, credit rating, prenuptial contracts, property divisions, child support, grants, loans, expense accounts and donations. Past, current and future (it's called a budget) ones are needed.


You know you have to answer all invitations immediately (don't you?), but also letters and e-mail must be acknowledged in good time, bills paid on time, and the rest of that huge volume of paper given whatever attention it deserves and then tossed out before the piles get on other people's nerves (but after they are no longer wandering around angrily demanding to know what happened to whatever they were reading).

The Future

You can't be trusted to make an appointment unless you keep track of the ones you already have, as well as those of your spouse, children and other intimates, along with their birthdays, anniversaries, medical routines, medical emergencies and vacation times; and any appointments of your boss, employees and co-workers that might involve you, along with their trips, meetings, vacations, medical routines and medical emergencies; and by the way, where are all the tickets, directions and memos that go with these?

The Past

What are you going to say when you are hauled into court and asked exactly where you were when the crime was committed, considering that justice moves so slowly that it's several years later and you don't remember where you were last week? Is anybody going to bother writing your biography when you're gone without leaving any interesting materials behind? And what about your descendents who don't know what stuff is worth keeping and who all those people are in the photograph albums? The organized person keeps and labels it all.


Here's what you need to keep track of the few people you really care about, not to mention the ones who keep sending Christmas cards: numbers and/or addresses for their homes, workplaces, vacation houses, cars, cellular telephones, faxes, pagers, beepers, e-mail, Web sites, private lines and children's lines. Oh, and the way they like to be addressed--by first name, nickname, birth name, married name or name from former marriage, with which honorific, if any.


You not only want to know what you have and what you need to pick up--or can justify buying when you see a bargain--but where the instructions and warranties are, as well as proof of purchase, what the maintenance schedule is, where to get replacement parts and to whom you lent what you can't find.


All potential guests go on a list coded as to whether they are owed, required for state occasions such as weddings and wakes, or actually enjoyed for their own sake; noting their allergies and weaknesses, and what was served to them before.

Other leisure lists include schedules for sports events, what movie to rent when the one everybody asked for is out, and out-of-town sights, addresses, hotels and restaurants, along with a list of things to pack and precautions to take before leaving.

1999, Judith Martin