Wednesday, June 4, 2008

A Place for Everything

There are two kinds of people in the world: those who keep things and those who throw things out.

Me, I'm a pack rat. I look at a notecard, catalog or newspaper article, and if there is a remote possibility I might someday want to look at some part of it again, I keep it.

My good friend, on the other hand, is a thrower outer. She looks at a piece of paper and if it is not of immediate import, she throws it away. This has included even the directions for things she doesn't know how to use or put together. "Oh, Jim will figure it out when he gets home," she explained when I asked her how on earth she planned to assemble a multi-piece something without the instructions.

I once had a roommate who wouldn't allow a newspaper to remain in the apartment for more than an hour — extreme by even the most fastidious standards. Clearly, there needs to be a happy medium.

My parents are the ultimate accumulators. They have a passion for garage sales, auctions and flea markets. Over the years they have accumulated an astounding collection of … well, everything. Recently, my father has become addicted to ultra clearance sales: you know, the bright orange signs advertising "(up to) 90% off EVERYTHING." He's gotten some great bargains, like bathing suits for my boys for six bits apiece. He's also gotten some great bargains on things no one could ever possibly use, like matching suede vests for my brother and husband (yikes!). 

This is not to say that my folks are disorganized. My mother, a retired school librarian, alphabetized our spice rack and medicine cabinet. Most kids moan when they ask how to spell a word and are told to "look it up in the dictionary." My mother always followed that admonishment with: "You'll find it in the 400s." Not every household can boast such a comprehensive understanding of the Dewey Decimal System. Even the talented Mr. Dewey, however, could not have devised a system capable of cataloging the sheer volume of artifacts housed by my parents.

I'm placing no value judgment on either keepers or eliminators, here. The trouble seems to come when a saver hooks up with a tosser, as in my marriage. My husband comes from a long line of neat freaks and complains that he is being edged out of every room in our house. He simply doesn't understand that paper can take on a life of its own.

He can't stand the apparent disorganization of my various piles. He thinks if it's not in a labeled file in a labeled hanging folder in a labeled file drawer, it's lost. And I loathe when he makes any attempt to organize my stuff. As every keeper understands, we can trace back in our minds exactly where everything is and, if anything is moved, the whole system falls apart.

Ironically, I love all the accouterments of organization — the sharpies and labelers and fancy filing systems. But, no matter how hard I try to organize it, there's always more stuff.

I've spent days whipping my office into shape, vowing never to let it get messy again. But then, a stack of mail comes or a flood of forms from school, and I can't get to it right that minute, so I start a pile. Just one, that I will get to tomorrow — maybe even tonight, once the kids are in bed. Then, a few more papers come in and I divide everything into two piles: the "hot" pile (which I will get to tomorrow) and the "soon, but not an emergency" pile, with things like that great new catalog from The Container Store.

Sure, I've watched the professional organizers on Oprah who teach you "how to organize things the way you use them." They advise you not to "containerize" until you have organized your belongings and lived with them for a while. What fun is that? I mean, there is nothing better than buying a cool new container or beautiful basket. So what if it doesn't work for your stuff. You'll eventually find a use for it. As every saver knows, it's the minute you throw something away that you need it.

So, do you want to keep it or throw it out? File your opinion here or email me at

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Anonymous said...

Oh just throw the stuff away! If you ever need it again it's the perfect excuse to go shopping. By the way how about that for your new topic?

Anonymous said...

I can't find any errors except for the lies you told
about me. Of course, the things you said about your father are true, although understated.

Peter Rozovsky said...

Don't you get the feeling that there are more people who keep things than there are who throw everything out?
Detectives Beyond Borders
"Because Murder Is More Fun Away From Home"

Susan Bearman said...

I did feel that way, but recent research has proved that there seem to be an equal number of (crazy) people on each side of this issue. For example, my brother's girl friend doesn't like stuff — her apartment is clean and Zen. I couldn't create Zen if my house was stripped clean by a bunch of French burglars.

Beck said...

MY parents are hoarders. It's scary.

Anonymous said...

I'm a purger. Move it or lose it. I hate mess, although if you touch anything of mine - you die!

Love your blog. I'm bookmarking as well. Thanks for checking me out.

Anonymous said...

Well there's the errors I found (although I dunno if they were there on purpose or not).

***=the error

1:She looks at a piece of paper and if it is not of immediate ***import***
Correction: Importance

2:bathing suits for my boys for six bits ***apiece***
Correction: A piece

Now, for the actual comment... Ummm... Well, I got nothin'except that I'm an *eh hem!* Keeps-everything-that-he-thinks-will-ever-be-needed-by-anyone-I-know-or-love-or-even-for-my-own-amusement-against-those-who-I-despise-er!

Yes I am!