One Size Does Not Fit All: Choose Your Own Organization

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When people think of organization, they tend to think one of two things: A.) I must clean my room/apartment/house stat! Or B.) I have this massive project, I need to break it up into smaller chunks!

But the guides I’ve found to organizingin either wayoffer very structured, very detailed guidance. Everything in its place, I suppose: some lines are familiar. Organize books by genre, if applicable, then alphabetically by author. Write essays by outlining each and every paragraph, every sentence having its delineated place. We were often taught these methods in school or grew up around them.

I refuse. It’s not that I refuse organization: it’s that my brain refuses to delineate and categorize every single book or figure out how to classify every single item, because that process of classification is often more difficult and time-consuming than the actual organization. I struggle with it—and have struggled, even in school, to fit all of my sentences into the neat five-paragraph essay order, each sentence carefully written and further diagrammed, thesis statement and supporting sentences for each single paragraph, and God forbid I try to break that format or write anything other than that style.

For organizing places, like bookshelves, rooms, and apartments, I turn to two things: frequency and theme. By “frequency” I mean what I would be likely to use over and over again; for example, pens and pencils have to be readily available and accessible from my desk. Same with a small notebook. If items aren’t within easy reach, I don’t use them. For bookshelves, books and magazines I use as reference material are first in the shelf and usually on a middle shelf (due to my height, I don’t want books I use frequently to be too high or too low to reach).

But from there? That’s where theme comes in. With bookshelves, as mentioned, I organize my books first based on frequency; i.e., how often I plan on reading or referring to them. But with books, I also order them by theme: signed books, if I have any autographed, then often religion/folklore books and graphic novels, then from there onto role-playing reference guides. Admittedly, my book organization has had to adapt due to frequent moves and the rise of the e-book (not as many heavy tomes on the shelves anymore!). But that’s the great thing about organizing based on frequency and theme: it’s adaptable. It’s not hard to change it around, to play with it, to find out what works for this time and in this place.

For organizing projects, theme again wins the day: I outline only infrequently, and when I do, it ends up looking like this instead:

Part A: Introduction to Horror

Part A: Media examples (most current first?)

Part B: Introduction to Americana

Part C: What makes it American? A bit on identity

Part D: Final Questions

I rarely use subheadings, and I recoil at the use of detailing the outline to such an extent, the first sentences of each paragraph are given in the outline.

Even in my media projects, I tend to group via theme: whether my theme is A Midsummer Night’s Dream or “mix CD for significant other,” it’s still flexible enough to change if I need it to. Did I come up with some amazing idea in the shower? I can adapt it. Did I get my hands on some new music? I can change the playlist around and see what works better for the effect I’m going for. (Is it a sentimental mix? A mix of songs that remind me of them? A party mix? Again, themes are important here)

Want to try out different styles of organization? Books like How To Be Organized In Spite of Yourself detail how one size does not fit all in terms of organizational style, but feel free to experiment with your own organizational methods. If alphabetizing based on author last name works for you? Do it. Do you have a particular fondness for the Dewey Decimal System? Do it. I’ve learned my own methods through trial and error and years of chafing under the systems imposed on me. Trial and error do work, though it often takes the longest time to figure out what works for you; either way, work with your mind, and with your style, not against it.

Refuse systems, and refuse to be intimidated, but do not refuse organization.