Organization through Brutal Elimination, or: How to Defeat the Boogie Man in the Closet

"Organization" used to feel like a Boogie Man hiding in my closet. Some days I would be brave enough to whip him out of there, beat him into shape and make him take up proper hygiene. Other days, I would pretend not to notice that he existed at all, and would just keep hoping that the piles of papers and clothes I stacked nonchalantly outside the door would trap him, and he would never again emerge. But inevitably organization would emerge, wild and out of control, shrieking and knocking things over... and again I would be forced to admit that ignoring it in the first place had just caused myself all kinds of trouble.

It was especially bad because those tough, brave moments of hyper-organization were actually an expression of my need to structure reality when my life was chaotic, and weren't actually driven by any kind of discipline at all. So the instant the chaos faded, so did the organization. Plus, my home organizational system consisted of piles. A pile for the important papers, a pile for the things to be scrapbooked, a pile of books to be read, a pile of books to take back to the library, and so on. In a lot of cases the system worked fine, and it's actually typical of a lot of people with ADD, but piles are very easily knocked over... especially when the pile-maker is a klutz and owns two cats. The moment I stopped maintaining it, my "system" started to become "mess."

So for me, getting my life in order and keeping it that way requires desperate measures. It requires Brutal Organization, and nothing less.

I came to this conclusion after years of distress, lost papers, and wrinkled clothing, but it was specifically triggered after seven weeks studying abroad, living happily and even ecstatically, with only the very fewest of necessities. Clearly, most of the "stuff" filling my room at home wasn't as integral to daily life as I had thought it was. Shortly after I returned to the states, I took a week-long volunteer trip to post-Hurricane-Katrina New Orleans: a week spent gutting ruined, sodden houses and seeing just how easily the contents of those homes had become rubble. It was a perspective check in a big way, and I went home and completely emptied out my bathroom closet of every single forgotten half-empty bottle and expired prescription, and my closet of all the mis-sized, worn-out clothing that had been shoved to the back. It was cathartic and freeing, and as time past those experiences combined as the impetus that formed my philosophy of Brutal Organization.

The Brutal Organization Manifesto:

Part I: Many, if not most, of the possessions in the average American household are completely superfluous, and superfluous things only serve to weigh us down.Part II: There should be nothing around you that isn't ridiculously utilitarian, personally meaningful, or somehow beautiful.

After you have grappled with and accepted both parts of the manifesto, Brutal Organization then requires that you go through the things you own and reevaluate each with stark honesty. Is it ridiculously useful? Did it use to be meaningful, but now you don't really care any more? Is it beautiful? Could something lovely serve in its place while being just as utilitarian? Is the item a duplicate of something you already have, and could someone else benefit from it instead? Do you use it often enough to make keeping it worth-while?

Brutal Organization becomes a lot easier when you start to view your possessions as tenants in your house. They pay their rent with service, whether it is opening a bottle, cleaning your clothes, making you smile, or helping you remember what is important... but they either need to constantly serve you in small ways, or occasionally in huge ones. Obviously, the serving platter or heaviest coat may only be pulled out a few times a year, but they're going to more than earn their keep. On the other hand, the sweater that you haven't worn in two seasons or that CD you didn't actually like are both way behind on paying their rent. Don't be a pushover landlord! Use Brutal Organization and put some smack down, and make some worthy charitable organization glow with delight over the resulting discarded "stuff."

Brutal Organization doesn't mean getting rid of your ties to the past, by any means -- in fact if you've been reading my posts for very long you're aware of the high importance I place on continuation and physical mementos -- but sometimes values just shift. You should never hang on to something just because you're in the habit of keeping it. It must fall within Part II of the manifesto. Brutal Organization also doesn't necessarily mean getting rid of something just because you haven't used in it a year or two, because it's very likely that you should have been using it during that time. Exercise equipment for example, or perfectly good shoes lying forgotten in the back of your closet, or the crockpot that could save you both time and money if you ever remembered to lug it out of the cabinet... These things don't need to be eliminated, they need to be used! Make a list of the ingredients laying forgotten in the cupboard and post it on your fridge; pile the unwatched DVDs on top of the TV; move the older clothes to the front of the closet and wear them in rotation. If it still doesn't get eaten, watched, worn, or otherwise utilized, or if you remember that there was a stain down the front of that jacket anyway, that's when it's time to be rid of it.

Many times beautiful things can also serve utilitarian purposes, or vice versa. Brutal Organization prompted me to get rid of the ugly green desk organizer I had been using, and substitute a thrift store vase and mug to hold my desk supplies in its place. In their former lives those two objects had been merely decorative, since the mug was cracked and the vase was too short and wide to hold flowers easily; in their new lives they were valued and productive. I was able to use old things in a new way that eliminated a superfluous object and made something lovely also utilitarian. I like my desk a great deal more for the change, and I've doubled my benefit from those items.

We live in a culture of advertising and materialism, and it's easy to forget what's important. Brutal Organization can allow you to appreciate and value what you have that much more, while making life a little simpler. In my experience, it makes for a worthwhile pursuit, and a happier individual. Brutal Organization works for me! And it can work for you too. :)

For many more Works for Me Wednesday posts, check out We're That Family for a wide variety of other fun and useful ideas.

1 comment

  1. i'm looking at all these tenants and I'm thinking about serving them papers. LOVED this post and I'm going to send the link to a few friends.


I love to connect with new friends online! Please share your thoughts with me! :)

Back to Top