The Tyranny of the Tidy
January 6, 2003 4:34 PM   Subscribe

The Tyranny of the Tidy: In college, after months of being chided by my roommate for an exceedingly messy room, I finally silenced her by repeatedly demonstrating my ability to quickly and easily retrieve any desired implement from the clutter without leaving my desk. Trying to be tidy always served only to make me inefficient. I understand that for others it may not be so, but is cleanliness really always a virtue?
posted by grrarrgh00 (49 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
in my experience, desk clutter is good, until bills get lost and go unpaid. room clutter is fine, until your floor becomes a clothes hamper. as much as i might've championed clutter in my past, i have come to realize that organization saves an abundance of time and energy.

and that's my two cents... though there might be more 'tween the cushions of my couch...
posted by grabbingsand at 4:47 PM on January 6, 2003

This idea has also been applied to human-computer interaction, through the concept of pile-based organization. Take a look at the computer of somone who is new to MS Windows, and you'll likely see that they save everything to the desktop and group their documents by context. It's because they haven't been trained to the notion of files and folders, and instead follow the 'desktop' metaphor to a T :^)

That said, my physical desktop is a dump!
posted by krunk at 4:49 PM on January 6, 2003

Great article! I'm going to print it out and file it.
posted by Wet Spot at 4:51 PM on January 6, 2003

A cluttered workspace reflects a cluttered mind. Untidy crime scenes are the earmark of a disorganized schizophrenic serial killer, for example.

Sometimes I do let the place get a little messy, but that's usually when I've been on a week-long drinking and hard drugs binge. Especially after frying my brain on so many drugs, I am extremely sensitive to the environment, the feng shui or what have you. Being inside a messy room actually makes it hard for me to concentrate, and it markedly decreases my motivation.

Your roommate isn't helping, because she's actually damaging your perception of the ownership of your personal space. This is something my roommate used to do, before I relinquished all material possessions and turned the furniture upside-down. If it's not yours, why should you care about it? You could easily fall into a downward cycle of untidiness and self-loathing. Sadly, this is how many college suicides occur.

I don't get all psychological on you, though. This all comes down to some very basic old-fashioned common sense. You need to stop thinking about your roommate nagging you, and spend a little more time thinking about how you really feel living in a pig sty.
posted by son_of_minya at 5:04 PM on January 6, 2003

Great article! I'm going to print it out and file it.

Great article! I'm going to print it out and put it somewhere in the 35 piles of stuff on my desk (and on the floor, on top of the scanner, piled up on the windowsills and bookshelves, etc.) that I am going to file / mail / sort / rearrange someday.
posted by LeLiLo at 5:10 PM on January 6, 2003

It all depends on what the natural stqate of your room is. If you keep it organized and tidy for a ocuple of months it will be just as easy to find things, and not having to step around piles of crap on the floor is always a bonus. It just takes a while for you to remember where you've put things, but it's just a matter of adapting.
posted by Space Coyote at 5:11 PM on January 6, 2003

I lived for years off the idea that my mess was a beautiful, spontaneous, abundant flora -- that my idiosyncratic was vastly superior to any mere organizational scheme.

Now I at least know that's bollocks even if I don't always act on that recognition. No matter how fast you find things in your pile, a coherent organization is better.

The hardest thing, though, is confronting your objects one at a time and demanding that they go where they belong. It's so very, very easy to believe that they don't really belong anywhere -- and since nowhere is better than their current location they might as well stay there. Right now, for instance, my desk has an old 20G hard drive I have to reformat, a pair of forceps, a loupe (a.k.a. a printer's eye), an empty CD case ready for re-use, and a cup-and-ball toy shaped like a carrot.

Now where do those go, exactly?
posted by argybarg at 5:11 PM on January 6, 2003

As a coda to my little anecdote, I'll add that my roommate and I both graduated at the same time with the same honors in the same degree, she in her neat room and me in my cluttered one. Neither of us teetered on the edge of deep psychological distress, son_of_minya (yikes!), and messy as I was, I enjoyed writing a thesis. I never could study in libraries, and although I did sometimes escape the clutter of my room to study someplace tidier, many an exam was successfully prepared for in that same morass of academic equipment and junk that was only comprehensible to me.

So what I want to know is why a neat system is always better, argybarg? If the organization of the pile is coherent to me, and I'm perfectly content in it, what is it that I have to gain by converting to your method of things? Is it impossible that there are actually different types of people who (maybe even at various stages of their life) prefer to function as pilers, rather than filers?
posted by grrarrgh00 at 5:28 PM on January 6, 2003

it never ceases to amaze me that people stop by and criticize my unkempt desk. every once in a while i'll clean my cubicle and organize all the paperwork.

people will come by afterward and be all smiley saying "isn't it better being organized?" it never is because i can never find anything. when it is in the piles on the desk or bookshelf i know where i can find things.

entropy takes over and my piles return. it is my system. it works for me.

most of the paper on my desk came from somewhere else. other people's reports and printouts. i rarely print stuff out. i'd rather keep it on the computer so i know where it in in my neat little folders. my spotless desktop have 4 icons on it and from those icons i can access anything i need.

when people at the office comment about my desk and system i often times exclaim "celebrate my diversity!"
posted by birdherder at 5:46 PM on January 6, 2003

I'm normaly very organized in my life and work. I prefer a tidy space to a cluttered one anyday. My desk is clean of papers and scraps and files get, well, filed. This is just my process. One the other side of things I have this CD collection. Over the years I've aquired hundreds of CD's but I've never put them in order, or even in a rack. Instead I basically made a huge pyramid-like structure that sits against a wall for stability. To pull out a CD, or find one I'm looking for, I've got to pull the CD's out and rotate them around in order to not disturbe the structural integrity and have them all come crashing down. This constant reshuffling causes CDs I've not heard in years to slowly bubble their way to the top. It's a big fractal of music, really. It's good to be organized, but I try to let chaos have it's space too. Besides it just looks cool.
posted by elwoodwiles at 5:53 PM on January 6, 2003

son_of_minya: A cluttered workspace reflects a cluttered mind.

I beg to differ. It's the opposite. My mind is clear enough to work inside any physical environment.

I don't actually like my clutter, but I'm comfortable in it, and productive too. The time and effort put into constant filing and organizing is rarely considered when comparing clutter to order. personally, I file/thrash what is done, once in a while. What is being done should be readily available on my desk.

The biggest problem with clutter is other people's perception of it. My mess is bound to offend some of the "cleanliness is close to godliness" people. Usually, their intolerance will upset me. So the problem, as always, is interaction with others who are different from you. L'enfer, c'est les autres.
posted by qbert72 at 5:56 PM on January 6, 2003

Slobs suck.

"The perception of beauty is a moral test." --Henry David Thoreau. I'd say the same applies to those utterly blind to aesthetics.
posted by rushmc at 6:04 PM on January 6, 2003

According to Mr Whittaker and Ms Hirschberg, the assumption that filers can find stuff more quickly is wrong. . . . Filers have two problems finding stuff: they tend to file too much, because they have put so much effort into building a filing system, and they often find it hard to remember how they categorised things.

This is the most interesting part of the piece to me. I have problems with this all the time: if I find an article, for example, about how Lewis & Clark planned to eat a lot of powdered soup on their expedition, but it was so bad that they ended up mostly eating dogs, do you file that under D (dogs, eating), L (Lewis & Clark, food), or S (soup, powdered, history of)?

Even a biography of Clark, do you put that under C or L? Because he's better known as "Lewis & Clark" than he is as just Clark.

Similarly, I just wrote an article (to be published in April) about these people who want to dig up Lewis and test his DNA, to prove that he was murdered along the Natchez Trace back in 1809. Do you stick that under D (DNA, investigations) or L (Lewis, death of)? I put it under N, because I have most of the information in my files under Natchez Trace.
posted by LeLiLo at 6:17 PM on January 6, 2003

Um, well, my bookcases are organized (by separate categories and alphabetized).

Of course, my desk is a different issue. For a while, I could justify the state of the desk in my office by using a threat borrowed from one of my own professors: "All late papers go on my desk." (Trust me: it struck and still strikes terror into the heart of even the most hardened student.) But since I've switched to electronic dropboxes, I no longer have that excuse. I'd better think of another one...
posted by thomas j wise at 6:20 PM on January 6, 2003

Play the sims with a low cleanliness setting and ask the question again.
posted by rudyfink at 6:35 PM on January 6, 2003

Do you stick that under D (DNA, investigations) or L (Lewis, death of)?

You don't have to choose: an alternative to the hierarchical file system (via slashdot).
posted by Wet Spot at 7:17 PM on January 6, 2003 [1 favorite]

There seem to be three organizational issues here:

1. work space
2. storage space
3. storage and retrieval systems

All need to serve a diferent purpose. For example my work-at-home desk (1) is a disaster while I'm working on a project because stuff is out where I can use it, see many papers at one, reach my coffee and whatnot. Once the project is done, it goes into filing cabinets (2) that are fairly organized because, well I never touch them. The desk gets cleaned, bills get paid, coffee mugs washed [this is a weekly event mostly] Then there's the headers on the folders in the cabinet (3) which show me where everything goes into, and where everything comes out of. These help assure the neatness of the files (2). The factors in choosing what to keep neat and what to keep messy seem to involve:

a) do you want to spend time on the front end making up a system, or time on the back end looking for junk [people make vastly differing choices here]?

b) do you have any one you need to impress, or not piss off (boss, partner, roomate) that is worth making the effort for?

c) do you tend towards being organized, or away from it?

knowing the correct answer to this last question can save you lots and lots of time and effort because you can, even if poorly organized, at least recognize that fact and prepare systems in advance, or better yet, ask for help (the "good spellers just know how to use the dictionary" argument).

And then, of course, there's organized writing......
posted by jessamyn at 7:18 PM on January 6, 2003

Narrowing the parameters a bit, I must say that my messiness is confined to a purely personal space. It's always only my room that's messy. When I'm living with people, I do my part to keep the common areas neat, and at work, my desk is immaculate. I can exercise the effort necessary to keep things clean, but when it only affects me, I choose not to. Is there anything blameable in that?
posted by grrarrgh00 at 7:58 PM on January 6, 2003

For the much-needed computer geek perspective, my upper-year algorithms prof likened desk maintenance to an amortized analysis problem. He suggested that the best way to maintain one's desk is to let the items fall as they may, with a systematic but effortless attempt to categorize (say, piles of paper there, CD's there, dishes there, etc), and then after n items are on the desk, perform a full cleanup. The hard part is finding the optimal n to minimize search time. I felt as if one day computer geeks might ruin everything.
posted by Succa at 8:26 PM on January 6, 2003

Considering the amount of brain in a human head oriented to spatial interpretation and memory versus the amount oriented towards higher-order reasoning, spatial storage systems ("clutter") make far more sense. This is similar to the cognitive reasoning about why GUIs are easier than command-line interfaces. Personally, I am considered "incredibly disorganised" (to quote an old elementary teacher), and yet, despite this seeming disorganisation, I can point instantly to the location of any one of the thousand-plus books currently sitting in piles in my room.

In fact, if one were to consult the historical record, one would note that filing systems in oral cultures typically try and take advantage of this prejudice for spatial knowledge. The idea of a "memory palace" is to associate specific mental artefacts (facts, speeches, processes, skills) with vividly imagined locations so that when one imagines one's self visiting these places, one interpolates the necessary details as part of one's day-dream. You might imagine that a speech you need to recall is in the desk-drawer of your memory palace, so that when you need to remember it, you simply imagine yourself opening the desk, pulling out the speech and reading it. It sounds fantastic, and yet it was taught throughout antiquity and the middle ages to allow students to memorse huge chunks of texts verbatim.
posted by Pseudoephedrine at 8:36 PM on January 6, 2003

(" Lisa Whelchel... why is that name familiar? OMG it's Blair!!")

son_of_minya, How did "cluttered" become "pig sty"? Why did "workplace" become "crime scene" in your mind? I kind of resent the implication that I'm a self-loathing suicidal serial killer in the making because I don't fold my socks before putting them away.

Yes, I'm one of those people whose room looks like a tornado hit it sometimes: books, letters, cds everywhere (even then I know where everything is). I'm supposed to clean up to make you feel better? What're you, my wife?

When you have a roommate, I suppose some sort of compromise may be in order, but even then I'd say it's a matter of personal preference more than it is some "there's a right way and a wrong way" issue. To each his own.
posted by tyro urge at 8:36 PM on January 6, 2003

I typically work in cycles of chaos and control, not unlike Succa's algorithm. The periods of cleanup (control) generally happen prior to an upcoming intense period of work such as a project finale or deadline (or in my student days, a test). I am not sure why I do it that way, but this has been true as long as I can remember, and I certainly feel a greater sense of ease and sharper focus after tidying up prior to a few days of diligent work.

My wife, on the other hand, is a constant filing junky--and a junky filer, to boot. Amazingly, she never misses a payment, loses a warranty or insurance policy, or misplaces an owner's manual. Just give her a day to find it. So it takes all kinds. I do think, however, that it would be much easier for son_of_minya to organize and store those hard drugs with the furniture right side up.
posted by samuelad at 9:11 PM on January 6, 2003

son_of_minya, How did "cluttered" become "pig sty"?

Cluttered never became pig sty. The poster said that he was chided for his "exceedingly messy room." He said he was living in a pig sty (or at least his roommate thought so). I said that a cluttered workspace reflects a cluttered mind.

Why did "workplace" become "crime scene" in your mind?

Workplace didn't become crime scene in my mind. One topic was related to the other. I thought it was kind of a humorous example of how -- according to experts -- clutter and untidiness reflects clouded thinking.

I kind of resent the implication that I'm a self-loathing suicidal serial killer in the making because I don't fold my socks before putting them away.

Well, Ted Bundy folded his socks before putting them away. I really didn't mean to imply that you're a maniac. Sometimes you must feel like there's a big red sticker that says "PSYCHO" pasted right on your forehead, because everybody on the street is looking at you funny. That doesn't mean they're right, though. It certainly does not mean they can read your thoughts. I am really, sincerely sorry that I made you uncomfortable, and I ask you to please accept my humble apology...please don't kill me, I beg you.
posted by son_of_minya at 9:15 PM on January 6, 2003

All I can say is I've felt both ends of the spectrum -- extreme disorder (which I rationalized as non-linear unpatriarchal blah blah) and, well, not extreme organization but a big engine that gets humming on my atrocious minor stuff (phone numbers on scraps of paper, bills both paid and unpaid, fragmentary notes on books, plus actually potentially painful shit like AC adapters -- step on one and you'll know).

The difference is that when I was in chaos there were pockets of my time that, although unnoticed, were ridiculously heavy with a) looking for things and b) making arbitrary (non-linear unpatriarchal blah blah) decisions about where things should go. As Jessamyn pointed out, a minor amount of advance planning could have killed off clusters of later work at the stem.

This becomes especially true as the number of things proliferates; in college, the clutter was desk-oriented, and it was bearable (sometimes). But now my clutter is made of art supplies, prescription drugs, foodstuffs, dog leashes, plant food, old photographs -- stuff that has to occupy a space wider than a desk.

How many things in our lives that we tell ourselves are cool and funky and signs of genius are actually little self-defeating binds generated by our psyches? (If you're lucky you're not 85 when you discover this -- it clears up your life.) My brilliantly messy apartment kept my life on a very long hold -- I couldn't have people over, my projects never really got started because the setup was so awkward, I deferred my life to what it would be instead of what it was -- all of which were exactly the point. I just wanted a different (yes, better) point after a while.

Just bearing down, dealing with the chaos and getting it to a manageable size in your life prepares you for areas in which chaotic thinking is actually valuable. It doesn't make you dull -- or, if it does, big whoop. Being impressed with a tortuous but flashy external setting is, well, a bit of a collegiate affliction.

Flaubert said (paraphrased): "Be regular and orderly in your life, like a bourgeois, so that you may be violent and original in your work." Sounds right to me.
posted by argybarg at 10:18 PM on January 6, 2003

I was a hopelessly messy kid. Somehow, I wound up as a personal assistant for a terminally disorganized man. I was a PA for a year and a half and I was really good at it. What gives?!

(I left because it was making me nuts.)
posted by swerve at 10:50 PM on January 6, 2003

The actual quote is "Live like a bourgeois, so you may think like a demigod." That's in the little pile of oats on the floor of my mental representation of my bedroom. ;P As I said above, I lose almost nothing unless it's moved by someone else, and save much time that would otherwise be spent filing and checking my files. My anecdotal evidence therefore cancels yours out (and is indicative of just how useless anecdotal evidence is for that matter).

It's not the statement that you personally prefer tidy things that's risible, it's the statement that this is somehow empirically a better way to live. son_of_minya is talking about "cluttered minds", which is a pejorative phrase at the least, while you (argybarg) seem to consider it a mental block of some sort that prevents people from filing everything away. Neither one of these is supported in fact, and indeed, they even contradict points made in the linked article without adequate factual grounding to do so.
posted by Pseudoephedrine at 10:51 PM on January 6, 2003

I wasn't killing mad... besides, that sounds like too much work. If anything, I'm less likely to be a serial killer. How could I hide a body and clean up bloodstains when I don't even like making my bed in the morning?

This most likely isn't everyone's experience, but I find that people most likely to harp on your cleaning your room also get upset if you clean it "wrong" by putting things in places counterintuitive to their way of thinking. My parents were great for rearranging my things in a way that made sense to them but not to me: part and parcel of this "my sense of order should be the standard" attitude. Gave me a sore spot for that kind of thing. Sorry.
posted by tyro urge at 10:54 PM on January 6, 2003

Pseudoephedrine:Considering the amount of brain in a human head oriented to spatial interpretation and memory versus the amount oriented towards higher-order reasoning, spatial storage systems ("clutter") make far more sense. This is similar to the cognitive reasoning about why GUIs are easier than command-line interfaces.

Pseudoephredine, I think I love you. Either that or I just had one too many glasses of wine with dinner.
posted by echolalia67 at 10:56 PM on January 6, 2003

Slobs suck.

"The perception of beauty is a moral test." --Henry David Thoreau. I'd say the same applies to those utterly blind to aesthetics.

posted by rushmc at 9:04 PM EST on January 6

Now where's the logic in that, I ask you?

posted by hippugeek at 11:00 PM on January 6, 2003

I'd comment more extensively if I could find my fucking keyboard...
posted by Opus Dark at 11:25 PM on January 6, 2003

From the Half Bakery: The Home Chaos Meter

"Before I was a Discordian, when I entered my room only to be reminded by its disarray that it was a mess, I felt a sense of defeat. These days when that happens I just say, "Hail Eris!" - our customary salute to any embodiment of chaos - and then I cheerfully carry on, secure in the knowledge that the constellations look no better."

"Biology is rooted in the messiness of real life. The messiness is a result of systems being embedded in other systems."

Level I Graduates:
Certificate of Study in Chronic Disorganization
Graduates at this level have completed 6 hours of training in Chronic Disorganization.
Level II Graduates:
Chronic Disorganization Specialists
posted by sheauga at 11:59 PM on January 6, 2003

I can't see the surface of my desk, but I know everything that is under there. Stuff just gets messy again, so why tidy? I can never find anything after I tidy...
posted by Orange Goblin at 12:30 AM on January 7, 2003

There's a big difference between being disorganized and being messy. Reading all these crazy suggestions for how best to organize, I realize I've got a pretty odd system that more closely resembles the "pile" than the "file." I organize conceptually...items grouped together by topic or association, and then in order of name or size from there, depending on what type of objects they are.

Right now, its just clothing and computer files. I gave away everything I own. Usually do that once a year or so. Sometimes, if I feel overwhelmed, I'll take the money out of my pockets and throw it away. It's a way to distance myself from material connections to this world, and associations with the past. About the closest I can come to drinking magic wine that causes amnesia.

Not having furniture, or turning the furniture upside-down, serves the same purpose. Objects, especially a lot of objects, depress me. I try to make the environment as "pure" as possible. Now that I think about it, organization is not really the right word for's more about cleanliness. When you go out in nature, you don't say the grass is "organized," but it is pure and clean.

So when I go into someone's home and there are old pizza boxes, coke bottles, used condoms, bambookuses, and schnoozles, all over the floor, it's not the disorganization that bothers me. It's the complete "trashing" of the space. You have to wonder what is going on in a person's mind for them to live like that. The lack of respect for their own environment. There's a lot of negative energy in that physical manifestation of a person's mental chaos.
posted by son_of_minya at 12:43 AM on January 7, 2003

From a purely anecdotal point of view, I’ve found that forcing myself to be organised serves as an effective substitute for actually doing things. If I had a penny for each of the times that I’ve found myself tidying in preference to revising for an exam…
posted by dmt at 3:25 AM on January 7, 2003

You'd have 26 pennies?
posted by son_of_minya at 7:02 AM on January 7, 2003

A cornerstone of the Montessori method is teaching the child to play with one thing at a time and to return the object to storage before reaching for a new toy. This goes against the grain. Modern child psychology teaches that children feel most comfortable when surrounded by their processions. There is a reason why your toddler feels happiest when he has pulled everything out of the toy box.

While I personally revel in bare surfaces, I get a bit aggrieved by the smug superiority of the early risers. What is so virtuous about getting out of bed at 6:00 am?
posted by Secret Life of Gravy at 7:08 AM on January 7, 2003

There is a fine line between cluttered and filthy. Shudder. I have to dust my pristine desk top now.
posted by rainbaby at 7:21 AM on January 7, 2003

Every now and then on Oprah or PBS you can catch an appearance by this woman Julie Morgenstern, who wrote a book called "Organizing from the Inside Out." What I like about her is that she draws some valuable distinctions - like, there's a difference between "organized" and "everything put away out of sight in drawers and files." Organized simply means everything has a "home" so you can always find it right when you need it. So a space that looks cluttered to one person may in fact be perfectly organized to the person who's using it. (She even has an anecdote about being hired to organize someone's space, but when she talked to the person about how they worked she said "you don't really need me - you're already organized.") If you're someone who likes to have things out where you can see them as reminders, then there are ways to organize them so they're still in sight.

Her other big point is make things have their "homes" where you actually use them. If you always pay your bills sitting at the kitchen table, then "organizing" your bills by putting them away in another room won't work.

I usually don't like these Oprah-type self-help gurus, but Morgenstern's stuff is actually valuable. Her book is worth a look, if not a purchase.
posted by dnash at 7:41 AM on January 7, 2003

Funny, this. My roommates recently left town for a week, and the state they left the house in was atrocious. In preparation for the momentous task before me, I decided I needed some storage bins. After my GF forced me to look in the papers for deals on these supplies, I'd recognized that there were clearances on all of this organizational stuff( the things I needed ). Whereupon I was informed:

"This happens every year at this time. January is the time when everyone organizes things. That's why there's clearances on this stuff."

She and her family have worked in retail for years. So I take her as authority on this.

Just a tidbit.
posted by mnology at 7:54 AM on January 7, 2003

Different people arrange their possessions differently and what works for them is what works for them. Obvious.

To me, it comes down to this: how do you feel about your stuff? When you look at your cluttered desk, is your energy drained because you have too much to do and haven't gotten around to doing it? Or do you feel happy that your stuff is accessible and easy to find by you?

Personally, I keep my desk and home and life in general as clutter-free and organized as possible. I like having an empty canvas, ready for creating. However, I've known many who prefer huge stacks of stuff around them and feel that that maximizes their creativity. It all comes down to how you feel about it. As with everything else, really.
posted by widdershins at 7:57 AM on January 7, 2003

What is so virtuous about getting out of bed at 6:00 am?

As someone whose job requires early waking, am I still allowed to agree with this point? I never really hit my stride til mid-afternoon, no matter when I wake up; if I ran the world I'd get out of bed at noon and return to it shortly before dawn. In fact, I did just that for about a year, and I wrote more code during that year than at any other time in my life.

As far as keeping one's work area neat: well, I have a mostly paperless office. My desk contains a computer, a stack of CDs, a coaster with a coffee mug, two speakers, and a screw that used to hold the faceplate onto the electrical outlet my gear plugs into. This is no grand design, mind you - at my last job there were three computers and stacks of paper - but nobody sends me paper anymore so there's nothing to clutter up the desk with. I suppose you could call it "supply-side organization"...
posted by Mars Saxman at 8:04 AM on January 7, 2003

I agree with a synthesis of what son of minya and dnash said: "put away" in alphabetical order and hidden from sight may not be oranized in any useful way; ditto the expanse of bare white surfaces.

The book Tokyo: A Certain Style is a good tour of tiny apartments that (for the most part) have been packed so tight with goods that the purpose of every object has been thought down to the last inch, with lots of rational forethought that looks, at the quickest glance, like clutter. If that's a way of doing it, then grand.

I don't think the mountain on the desk and, especially, the thick layer of jagged stuff on the floor really qualifies, though.
posted by argybarg at 9:08 AM on January 7, 2003

Late comment: I side with the untidy. I don't see how some tasks - especially collation - can be efficiently performed without having everything out.

I'm currently taking a tea break from writing a comparative review of image processing software. I need several pages of notes, four software manuals (which have associated boxes) and a couple of large-format books, all readily to hand for cross-checking; and it makes sense to have them around me on any available space within reach, including the floor. Why waste time putting them away this evening when I'm going to get them out again in exactly the same locations tomorow morning?
posted by raygirvan at 9:37 AM on January 7, 2003

Enjoy being a slob while you can. When you get older and can't remember things like you used to, you have to neaten up in simple selfdefense.
posted by konolia at 12:59 PM on January 7, 2003

Wonderful little footnote to my rant: I just arrived home (to my apartment in Boston) from a long vacation in Orlando. My roommate left a ribbon on my doorknob and a note saying "surprise." When I entered it, you guessed it, the entire room was immaculate. She had cleaned the whole thing, and put post-it notes on various piles of randomnalia to indicate what was there. This I actually love. Of course, it'll stay clean for all of two seconds, but now I have to think of a commensurate present ...
posted by grrarrgh00 at 1:06 PM on January 7, 2003

I hate tidying up so i wish I could say I love messiness, but the truth is I start to feel vaguely depressed when I live in disarray. I think part of the problem is just not having enough space for all the stuff (I don't have that much stuff but I live in a NY apartment...) and part of it is not feeling like i have the time to put it all away. Sure, if you're working on one project, having all the items out in front of you makes sense, but the trouble is what happens when you've got a few different "projects" going on - all the books I'm in the middle of, various personal notebooks, bills that have to be paid or called about, magazines, certain items of clothes you wear a lot, etc etc - there are always plenty of things that you don't feel you need to put away 'cause you'll just be taking them out later, but then your whole place is covered in junk, and it's not junk that's related to itself so it isn't its own "ecosystem" or whatever the author was discussing in the article.

Speaking of the article, there was an interesting piece about a year ago in the New Yorker about using paper as a spatial representation (esp for air traffic controllers iirc) and how it's only because paper was invented first that it's seen as a subordinate technology to digital systems.
posted by mdn at 3:05 PM on January 7, 2003

"good spellers just know how to use the dictionary"
What the heck is this supposed to mean?

Forgive my ignorance, hehe, but it cannot make sense to me.

uh, as for the topic, I am of the untidy persuasion.

As for my mental state, it is a combination of the toddler and son of minya; I must have everything just so and perfectly placed as I foresee - this looks like neat maniac but I am the opposite. Let me clarify.

What I mean is that I never, ever organize. But *IF* I were to, I would treat the organization as some sort of grand design/architectural/interior decorating (lol) project done my way in my style.

I am still in college and of course at home my parents like to put things around their way so I guess I have become accustomed to not ever embarking on these grand arrangement projects.

Not that it bothers me one bit ^^
posted by firestorm at 4:56 AM on January 8, 2003

it may well be there are 2 or more kinds of spelling.

As a good speller myself, I am biased, boastful, etc etc but I need to do this to make the point ;)

My kind of spelling is based very much either on visual recall of words or the feel that the word is right. This feel occurs in realtime and extremely rapidly and may well be relying on visual congruence between the word in front of me and whatever mental remembrance I have stored.

However, on a site somewhere I read of a different kind of spelling, a sequential spelling, which I surmise (it did not get into it extensively) relies on the stringing together of the letters, remembering one letter's neighbors; so that one letter may be presented to the mind correctly after the other and a word might be spelt.

This kind of strung together letters seems to be reminiscent of strung together memories which are a technique for remembering. What I wonder for the strung together memories however is, does it rely more on visual 'orientation' (in quotes since there might not be a consistent space) as in the old visual mnemonic techniques or is it really all sequence and does the sequence arise from the left hemisphere. Strung together memories may be a combination of both.

Strung together letters, however, are different, perhaps not importantly so. This may well be the 'feel' way stated previously, which is not really a feel but rather a 'harmony'. Spelling requires very little effort so I cannot distill exactly what is happening aside from state of mind it accesses.
I do know that I can easily pick out words and find mistakes, and since these are visually oriented, perhaps I can be sure that on an individual word scale my spelling is also visual.

And this is my daily off topic lazy winter break morning post - ah, fulfilled my quota, thanks for reading. ^^
posted by firestorm at 5:08 AM on January 8, 2003

"good spellers just know how to use the dictionary"

What the heck is this supposed to mean?

It means that good spelling, like good organizational ability, has a lot to do with force of will. If you know enough to know that you can't spell words well in your head, and you use a dictionary, or spellcheck, or have a friend proofread, and your written work is all spelled correctly, then you are a good speller, almost all the time. It's similar to the messy room. You have a messy room, but know where to find things, then the room isn't really messy the same way the as the person who can't find anything.
posted by jessamyn at 3:44 PM on January 8, 2003

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