Taking Stock at the New Year

(Originally published in Main Line Life 1/16/08)

Every year at this time I vow that I will manage my time better and finally get organized. I have been working toward this elusive goal for decades, yet when I look around me it appears I haven’t made much progress. My biggest accomplishment seems to be that I move things from one pile to another pile, and then I move the piles around. Sometimes I even move the piles from one room to another room where they join – you guessed it – more piles.

My excuse is always the same. I simply don’t have enough time; enough hours in the day to go through the trivial stuff that needs to be taken care of. The stuff you can’t make yourself throw away until you look at it again to make sure you should throw it away. The stuff you save because someday you are magically going to have enough time to get organized. The problem is, I am never going to have more time – none of us are. Every single person I know; man, woman, and even child, is frantically busy, and we all have the same complaint – there’s just not enough time.

Benjamin Franklin said, “Dost thou love life? Then do not squander time; for that’s the stuff life is made of.” And therein lies my plight. I look at these organizing projects, these attempts at ordering the accumulated paraphernalia of my life, as a waste of my precious time. I would much rather go to a movie, or read a book, or write a short story, or go for a walk, or have lunch with a friend than sort through the enormous pile of holiday cards and correspondence, some of which needs to be kept and some of which can be thrown out. I have a difficult time throwing out holiday cards with family photos, even of people I don’t know, so I end up saving boxes of holiday cards from year to year. It’s not even that I will look at them again; it just seems rude to throw them away, even though nobody would know but me.

The same goes for magazines and newspapers. I can’t throw them away until I have read them from cover to cover, and clipped out any recipes I might need, or an articles I might want to send to family members who will then hate me for sending them because then they’ll have to save them in their own piles. I call the saving of magazines the National Geographic syndrome. We have years of National Geographic, and I have never, ever looked at a single one of them. My husband does look at them occasionally, but eventually they go into the stacks of past National Geographics that we simply must save because we might want to refer to them someday. You know, in case we ever decide to study the life cycle of the tsetse fly or the politics of sub-Saharan Africa. The same applies to Gourmet and Architectural Digest. All those great recipes you will prepare! All those home decorating ideas! You’ll look at them all, you’ll do them all…someday when you get organized.

Right now I am feeling, as Shakespeare said, “The inaudible and noiseless foot of time.” I am feeling that if I could only learn all the functions on my cell phone, my digital camera, and my laptop, I would be able to simplify my life greatly and have more time for the important things. However, it seems that all the gadgets and machines I purchased in order to simplify my life are causing me greater anxiety because they do so much I’ll never have time to learn all they do! (I know, it sounds like I’m a major candidate for therapy…)

Experts in time management often suggest starting with one project, and completing it, before moving on to the next. There are so many projects that beckon though, I can’t decide which one to do. Should I go through our closets and purge items that haven’t been worn in two or more years? And how did I end up with ten pairs of black shoes, all a slightly different variation of the same style? Should I go through the CDs, and alphabetize them by recording artist so that we can actually find a disc when we want it? What about the piles of books stacked on every table, and even on the floor? And the biggest task of all – photos that need to be organized and scanned and put in a computer scrapbook before you forget who all the people are, or how old your children were when the photos were taken.

My solution? I put most of my piles in plastic storage bins, which I buy every year at this time so I can get organized. Then I put the storage bins away to be gone through later, on that wonderfully elusive day when I have the time to get organized. Then I go for a walk.

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