Saturday, August 27, 2016

Too Organized

"Organization" is one those words that we live by these days, one that gets used and overused, like "simplify" and "connected" and "balance." It's a mantra that can be applied to just about anything. You can organize for something (Greenpeace), against something (Occupy Wall Street) or just to share ideas and approaches with like-minded individuals (National Association of Professional Pet Sitters).

It's also a guiding principle that you can practice individually. There are best sellers aimed at helping you figure out how to do it ("The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up") and retail stores to sell you stuff to make it happen (The Container Store). There are products to help you organize your desk, your closet, even your handbag. And then there are tips, more than you can count. Buzzfeed offers "52 Meticulous Organizing Tips To Rein In The Chaos," Entrepreneur has "10 Simple Productivity Tips for Organizing Your Work Life," while Style at Home has "99 Low-Cost Organizing Tips." With all that you actually need a way to organize the ways to organize.  

As for me, I try to keep most things in their place. Not everything: my dresser is a mess and so is the garage. But you never know when you need to be able to find the instructions that came with the microwave, or the American Express bill from December, or the checking account statement from last May. And so I had file folders for everything: receipts, taxes, insurance. I had a box for maps and one for manuals. And I had place to put bank statements, one to put retirement account statements and one for credit card statements.

And I just loaded all of it into the car, and took it to the recycling and shredding center.

That's because that was then. And while it might have made some sense whenever "then" was, "now" it really doesn't. Anything and everything is available digitally. True, it's an acquired skill to know exactly what to type into the search field. But once you get the hang of it, it's like having a master key to the kingdom, with access to everything in the known and even unknown universe. And in that light, the best organization might be no organization.  

Or at least that's the conclusion to which I came. You see, even in this electronic world I can't break old habits. And so I set up electronic folders and organize computer drives into projects and interests and needs. In some cases it's by date, other times by type of file. I have groups of photos I took last year, or tax info from the year before that. And yes, if for some reason I want to take a trip down memory lane, and relive those great restaurant receipts from June of 2014, I know just where to look.

More likely, though, I want to find one. Or more specially, I want to recall a restaurant at which we ate. Or know the type of filter I bought for our well, or find the note from my old high school buddy. And it turns out that all that organization is not only unnecessary, but actually a hindrance. With the ability to search the haystack, all I have to do is type in a few words describing a particular needle, and up it pops.  

It's even starting to happen proactively. When a friend sent us a note with the address of a restaurant, my computer quickly informed we had been there two years ago. It reminded me of the directions, updated the hours and told me what we paid last time. All I was left with was to remember not to order the baked clam appetizer. Too much breading.

That's what computers do best, and so we're better off letting them do it. Whether on a keyboard, a pad or a phone, all it takes is a few taps to dig through piles that would take humans years to tunnel through. Google's says its mission is "to organize the world's information and make it universally accessible and useful." A minor quibble: they actually catalog it more than organize it, but the effect is the same. But they do make it accessible. I'll leave it to you to decide the usefulness of being able to easily retrieve a list of the "Top Five Crimes Committed by Squirrels."


Marc Wollin of Bedford is cleaning out his office. His column appears regularly in The Record-Review, The Scarsdale Inquirer and online at, as well as via Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter.

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