The only good that comes from tallying up my annual contribution to the MX missile is that, each April, I have to get organized. I have discovered over the years that the IRS doesn't really care what you did, as long as you can prove that you did it.
This means that I spend frantic hours every tax season rummaging through the assorted briefcases, desk drawers and pockets of my work life in search of evidence: any scraps of paper that pass for receipts instead of confetti. This year, I turned up an old airplane ticket recycled as a bookmark. I found a month of canceled checks -- July's -- in the zipper compartment of my tennis racquet case. I will not discuss what was in my car, which I dubbed an unfiling cabinet.
This annual IRS treasure hunt is accompanied by an attack of self-loathing, followed by an abject impulse toward reform. This year, yea verily, THIS year, I will keep proper records.
Such resolve lasts somewhere between six and eight weeks. I know, because the following spring I find the most pristine, stapled, calculated, inscribed records for April and May. By June, I am once again missing in action.
I confess all this only because my urge to get it together invariably and dutifully begins with the purchase of yet another organizer. You name it, I have bought it. Colorful files, multiple datebooks, calendars, a wall of pigeonholes, a thousand color-coded stickers, in-and-out boxes. The basic paraphernalia in the life of an organizer addict.
My problem peaks at tax time, but to be frank, it can strike anytime. Other people fill their kitchen shelves with yogurt makers, fondue pots and ice-cream machines. I am a sucker for organizers. I buy them the way a dieter buys an expensive dress one size too small, convinced that she will thus be shamed into slimness. I buy them out of the hope that the fault lies not in myself but in my system.
I am not the only person who has gotten hooked. I'm not even hard-core. A true Organizer Addict is someone who bought the $150 Filofax and has papers sticking out the edges. She bought the leather album for listing possessions in case of fire and only filled in the first page.
The true O. A. has an eyeglass holder attached to the sun visor. It is empty. He has a fancy shampoo holder that attaches to the shower head. The shampoo itself is on the edge of the bathtub. She has a complete set of Tupperware for the refrigerator. It keeps the moldy food in order. She has an elaborate tool chest. On any given day the screwdrivers are scattered throughout the house.
A true O. A. has, at one time or another, purchased an elaborate makeup tray, a paper-bag holder, several mail racks, a garden-hose holder, and a credit- card container -- all of which are stashed near the unused address books. And those are the O. A.s who are out of the closet.
What goes on behind closed doors, I hate to think about. The state of most closets can drive even a moderate user to hooks, hangers, shelves, drawers, shoe racks, tie racks, hat racks, jewelry boxes, dividers, plastic bags.
I have a friend who went so far as to have her closet professionally organized. It was a project that took eight days to complete and three weeks to defeat. The cost, even when you add in the shirt rack on rollers, didn't come close to the price of a home computer she bought for doing her bills.
The O. A. is not, you must understand, a slob. The difference between a slob and an O. A. is one of intentions. The O. A. believes in order, even lusts after order. The O. A. has faith that somewhere out there, a system has been devised that will bring this order out of her internal chaos.
Her disillusionment follows the discovery that she has to "filo" her own "fax," that the shoe rack does not pick up her shoes, that the home computer doesn't actually pay the bills. The inanimate organizer is thwarted by the human disorganizer -- every time.
Up against the human factor, what does the O. A. do? Give up? Never. I remain convinced that once I discover the right briefcase with the proper number of pockets, my IRS troubles will be over. After all, in the words of the O. A. motto: a place for everything and nothing in its place.