Fail Better: Folders Full of Chaos


In theory, I ought to be a really organized person. I was raised by a father who still uses the phrase: “There’s a place for everything, and for everything there is a place.” My dad is the definition of meticulous organization. He avoids clutter and can literally count on one hand how many times he’s been late in his seventy plus years. He might sound a little OCD, but I assure you he’s not. I’m certain that a person struggling with OCD could never have been married to my mother for fifty years. My mom kept a clean house, but lacked the meticulous level of organization that my dad maintains. The closest she came was planning her own funeral and, on her deathbed, informing us that there was a box containing instructions. We’re pretty proud of the celebration of her life that we put together, but we never did find The Box. We all went through the fire-hazard collection of notes and notebooks, newspaper clippings, photos, and other paraphernalia that had long since expanded from under her bed to various other drawers and boxes in the house, but we’re confident that mom was just trolling us. She wasn’t a hoarder, but she did hold on to memories and document her thoughts and prayers. She loved to post notes all over the place, from biblical quotes, to appointments, to suggestions on what we should get for her birthday.

Following my mom’s death, my dad moved into a condo of his own where he can, at last, keep everything neat and tidy, but he’s left one drawer of mom’s clutter alone and still has a few of her notes posted on the fridge. I’ve kept some too.

Opposites attract, they say. These opposites combined to create me, wherein my father’s penchant for organization and my mother’s clutter come together in a mighty package of controlled chaos.

There is something very visually satisfying in having everything all neat and tidy with edges aligned and everything in its place.

I love organization. I love to see files carefully housed in (preferably) colour-coordinated folders. There is something very visually satisfying in having everything all neat and tidy with edges aligned and everything in its place. I colour-code events on my calendar. I like justified paragraphs. I make to-do lists organized by category. I love the organizational section of the IKEA catelogue. I am motivated to maintain my exercise routine because of colourful charts and statistics and their consistency gives me a sense of accomplishment.

These are the things that make my brain happy, and I love to throw myself into the initial process of setting everything up to be juuuuust right.

I always have projects on the go, usually for writing, but sometimes domestic projects require a little more attention as well, especially now when we’re in the middle of selling our house. There are a lot of organizational tools available to help stay organized and fulfill my foldering needs. One of my favourites is Evernote:

Evernote is a notebook organizational program that serves as a catch-all for my various ideas, lists, and notes. It’s a cross platform app, which means I can jot down notes on my phone while chatting with a client, or gather research for an article on my laptop, or wake up from a particularly strange dream to scribble thoughts on my tablet. I have a bad habit of getting an idea and not writing it down immediately due to the erroneous belief that I will remember it later. I have no excuse for this now since Evernote is readily available. I do keep an actual notepad with me at all times and make frequent use of it, but my notes are scattered throughout along with lots of my daughters’ drawings. Sometimes, depending on where or how I’m taking notes, my once-neat handwritten shorthand can devolve into illigible jklajdfuinaf whu?

Any.Do appI recently started using Evernote’s to-do list option, which allows you to set reminders, but will probably return to the Any.Do app for my task lists. Through the iCal app, Any.Do’s tasks can be incorporated into your calendar. I prefer Google Calendar for my day-to-day planning, but I do like Any.Do’s task list function, which can be neatly organized by category. I work most efficiently when presented with deadlines, so Any.Do keeps me on track with reminders and a daily “plan your day” prompt.

For my one-day-I-will-publish-this writing, I use Scrivener, which I learned about through science fiction author, Jason M. Hough. He sings the praises of Scrivener on his blog and has even run tutorials for its use. Hough recommends that the app be used for future projects, rather than attempting to re-organize current ones. But oh man, when I read about being able to not only group entire works by project but break those down by chapter or even scene, I purchased it from Literature and Latte immediately. Later, I discovered that there was a discount available for those who win NANOWRIMO, but I didn’t mind. Scrivener had already paid for itself as far as I was concerned.


I’ve also used programs like Trello and Basecamp, which are great for organizing group projects. I love the process of setting all of these things up and finding the right place for everything, all the while thinking about how proud my dad would be.

But I am just as much my mother’s child.

I love to see everything in a straight line. But then I look away for a moment. I get distracted by shinies. I get lazy. I say things like, “I’ll file that later.” Any.Do pops up with a “plan your day” reminder every morning, and I quietly whisper “not right now.” Before I know it, “later” becomes a massive pile of bills and letters tossed on the floor of an empty bedroom. The crawlspace my husband and I thought was so big when we first bought our house is now filled with junk. My folders all look great on the outside, but inside, they are a mess.

So, I quietly close the door or folder and turn away. The disorder doesn’t bother me if I don’t see it.

We’re moving in a few months, and I have come to the realization that this is when I get to utilize the best, most cathartic organizational tool yet: purging all the things.

Well, not all of them. But I am pretty stringent on what constitutes “need” and don’t buy my husband’s belief that we “might” use such-and-such in the new house. Memories stay sorted in their neatly labeled folders and boxes, but everything else can go.

Then I can start the organizational process all over again. But for now, I will cross “write that Fail Better article for WWAC” off my to-do list.

Wendy Browne

Wendy Browne

Publisher, mother, geek, executive assistant sith, gamer, writer, lazy succubus, blogger, bibliophile. Not necessarily in that order.

2 thoughts on “Fail Better: Folders Full of Chaos

  1. So true Sis! Mom and Dad have imparted their traits to all of us to our advantage. Dad’s need for organization and Mom’s need for beautiful and colourful chaos! all things in balance they say – Love Ingrid

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