Monday, January 13, 2014

Over the Papers and Through the Piles

Sitting here in my office with its lovely, clear desk and newly reacquired counter space, I'm nevertheless drawing a blank about a blog topic. So, I stepped around the stacks on the floor (literally the last remaining obstacle between me and a de-cluttered office) and reached up for the notebook that contains my old Typepad blogs, hoping for some inspiration.

This notebook has come in handy on more than one occasion. In some ways, paging through it is a lot like reading an old journal, though the public nature of the posts has a tendency to make them less angst-driven than journal entries. There are quite a few written on the cusp of my return to work after Christmas break or summer vacation, lamenting the things I didn't get done (still a theme, despite the fact that my time is more flexible). There are many that reference my daughter, who was in elementary school at the time I began this blogging adventure, and who is now a sophomore in high school, filling the pages of her history midterm as I fill the space on this page.

 Sandwiched in between are responses to daily life. The story behind my choice to stop shopping at the Weis Markets two minutes from my house. Entries inspired by trips I've taken, visits to familiar places and books that have had an impact on me.

One of those books, read during the time when I devoured everything I could get my hands on on the topic of organization, took an entirely different perspective on the concept of organization and its importance. I first heard of A Perfect Mess when I was taking an online course on how to be a professional organizer. Written by a management (business) professor and a technology columnist, this book provided a fascinating counterpoint to its neatnik cousins.

Subtitled "The Hidden Benefits of Disorder," the book describes ways in which (according to the jacket copy) "crammed closets, cluttered offices and on-the-fly planning make the world a better place."  Authors Eric Abrahamson and David H. Freedman assert that not only does messiness have benefits (including the discovery of penicillin), but that "there are often significant cost savings to be had by tolerating a certain amount of messiness and disorder." They dedicate an entire chapter to the benefits of  messiness, using anecdotes about successful people to illustrate concepts such as completeness, robustness and efficiency. But for me, the two benefits that hit home were creativity and flexibility, both of which (the authors attest) can be squelched by neatness.

So, if I'm being honest, do I really believe that the remaining stacks of paper on my floor are encouraging flexibility and creativity? Not really (unless you count the physical flexibility that's required to move around them to get to the top of the bookshelf or the bottom drawer.) But, knowing what's in those piles (and I do -- for the most part), I do believe that their contents will contribute to future projects. That, in fact, is how they have earned their keep thus far.

I also know that closing those piles off into boxes and stashing them out of sight will hinder any inspiration they contain because I know myself well enough to know that I'm an "I need to see it" kind of girl.

So, while sorting through those papers and finding them homes (a domino effect in my cramped work space) is an important task, stashing them away so that things look neat will serve only to replace physical clutter with the mental clutter of remembering what might have been in those piles and where the "safe place" I decided to stash them might be located. Hardly an efficient choice in terms of either organization or time management.

But sort them I will because they'll be much more useful to me once I've extracted the necessary from the unnecessary, put them in an order that makes sense to me and recaptured essential floor space. And, having written this blog today, I think it's a safe bet that some of that sorting will happen today.
And while I'm loving the clear spaces that have come with my 2014 attack on my office, I will never be that stash it all away in files, bins and boxes girl. My office will always be a space that pairs clear spaces with the visual busyness that reflects my taste and connection to the world around me. My tools of choice are color-coded files, open bins and open shelves. And, while it's unlikely that I'll ever make any ground-breaking medical discoveries, it's equally unlikely that you'll ever find a petri dish with mold growing in it in here.

But it's very likely that you'll find Abrahamson and Freedman's book in its place of honor on the bookshelf in my mud room, where I can readily grab it as I did just a few minutes ago. Because every once in a while, I need to be reminded that messiness can serve a purpose.

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