(This made more sense when I still had a preschooler.)

A List of Lists; Or, How I Organize the Fu(n) Out of Life

Everybody’s Nightstand Looks Like This, Right? Yes? No?

Since I was a child, people have commented on how organized I am.  Oh yes, they have said cruel words, or mocked me by presenting books on the topic of obsessive compulsive disorder to me as birthday gifts.  Yet, whose assistance is requested when my grandmother needs help figuring out how many jars of marshmallow crème she owns, or organizing her pantry so as to more easily rid it of canned goods when they expire?  When my grandmother hands a cousin a single-serve container of butterscotch pudding circa 1995, eyes lock and mouths mumble in unison, “Call Emily!”

While it has been suggested to me that I use my talents to help others professionally, via career as travel agent, executive assistant, or professional organizer, I find that I am unfortunately drawn toward the less lucrative vocation of writing.  Therefore, behold my

List of Ways I Organize Everything:

1)   Notes

When things cycle around my brain until their force becomes a mental tornado, writing them down lessens the tornado’s velocity.  Most notes are eventually grouped into lists. An example of a note I’ve created lately is my “note to my future self regarding how to influence grandchildren in terrible ways in order to impose one hellacious man-made karmic sentence upon my own children” (this particular note may ultimately become a marketable book).

2)   Lists

These are notes that are grouped together.  Lists I’ve made include:

  • Annual, quarterly, weekly, and hourly housecleaning tasks
  • Inventory of my children’s toys; separate lists of toys bought for holidays/birthdays but not yet given; lists of toys to make myself or submit as ideas to toy brands
  • Index of kid-friendly recipes, and the cookbook volume in which to find them (with asterisks noting recipes for which I’m still working for kid approval and have not yet succeeded)

3)   Folders

Around age 9 I discovered the joy of the manila folder.  I found it especially helpful in organizing all the travel brochures I’d been collecting.  “Going to Sea World?”  I’d ask a relative, “Oh, could you be sure and bring me back a souvenir?  Just a brochure is swell.  I’ll file it under Florida.  Thanks!”  (And no, I wasn’t a nerd, so you hush.  Brochure collecting is a reputable hobby, somewhere.)

These days the folders hold groupings of boring adult things, such as:

  • Things to Do in the Next 2 Weeks.  Maybe.
  • Things to Procrastinate More than 3 Months from Now
  • Letters Pending Response.  From the White House.
  • Things to Consider Making into Lists

4)   Binders

When folders get too big for their britches, and the manila fold starts to split under the weight of its contents, it’s time for a binder! Binders and transparent sheet protectors have been my lifesavers.  I have binders such as:

  • Recipes (different volumes for each course)
  • Local restaurant menus and coupons
  • Travel destinations (Local, domestic US and international volumes)
  • Fun things to do with kids who claim to be bored (*this also references aforementioned toy inventory lists)
  • Crafts that look amazing but I’ll never do.  Sort of a physical Pinterest, if you will (kept in case Martha Stewart ever visits and also claims to be bored)
Everybody's Nightstand Looks Like This, Right?  Yes?  No?

Everybody’s Nightstand Looks Like This, Right? Yes? No?

5)   Planners and calendars

I rely on a combination of timekeepers to keep myself structured and ward off the temptations of spontaneity.

  • My iPhone has alarms that differ by day, that alert me to pick up a child from school, put another down for nap; as well as a weeknight pre-alarm and true alarm to go to sleep. (Note to self:  both alarms are consistently ignored; write on to-do list to create third alarm that is a self-imposed penalty reminder…)
  • Family calendar on the wall near the house entrance, with blurry photos of us having fun with things like camping in the backyard (“See?  Look how spontaneous we are!”) Or making snow offices (snow forts are SO impractical; I mean, is there a war from which that fort provides real shelter?) and gentle reminders of all the other things we have to get done
  • A big, fat 18-month paper planner organized by both month and week, with enough room for to-do lists by date. Always in my possession, even on vacations.

Really the only drawback to all this organization is that it itself takes up space.  Manchild will ask, “Can I help you move this pile taking over the entire kitchen island?”  To which I will calmly respond, “DO NOT TOUCH THAT PILE!!!”  He sighs and exits, trying to find a surface on which he can put his plate.

Such exemplary organization I demonstrate, that my tot children are taking after me and speaking my language!  Why, just last month both of them asked me for a personal binder to store clippings of interest for themselves.  And imagine my surprise when, instead of merely nagging me to play with them (I was shuffling paper, folder and binders around), they spoke these sweet words to me:  “Mama?  Can you put it on your list in your planner tomorrow to spend time with me?”

Why, of course I can!  Item 1A, scheduled for 9:00 a.m.

Click here to participate in the WordPress Weekly Writing Challenge (7/8/2013).

89 Responses to “A List of Lists; Or, How I Organize the Fu(n) Out of Life”

  1. The Lily and The Marrow

    That’s awesome – organization is NOT one of my strong points and I’m often envious of those who organize with ease. It seems that right about the time I start to get organized, something major changes in my life and throws is all out the window – lol.
    Thanks for sharing and congrats on being Freshly Pressed!

    • dontrepeatthisinpreschool

      Thanks! I must admit the organization actually LOOKED organized in the pre-kids era. Now it doesn’t necessarily LOOK like it makes sense around the house, but usually it makes sense to ME. It’s sort of going the absent-minded professor route.

  2. awax1217

    I like an organized person. A messy person indicates a messy mind. Your writing indicates how well you are organized. You make your point one step at a time.

  3. Soltech Security

    Organization is definitely one of those underappreciated talents and those who bash on it are somewhat unorganized themselves. At a younger age, it may definitely be a source of ridicule or maybe even be the butt of a joke, but in the end, who knows where their receipts are? Who doesn’t have to dig through a box of receipts when tax time comes around? Atleast you’ll never have to be confused as to where you put something because it will probably be exactly where you put it. Great post. loved it!

    • dontrepeatthisinpreschool

      Thanks! And yes, even in the end, my organization will speak from the grave with a folder of what to do when I’m gone, right? Which is pretty convenient for everyone else. So I guess that makes me selfless too…. 😉

  4. Bailey Mikell

    Congrats on being freshly pressed! I go through phases when it comes to organization. For a few months I carry my planner with me, highlight things off my to-do lists, and I’m never late. Then I fall off that train randomly and it’s tough to get back on… but certainly worth it. Great post, cheers!

  5. her30s

    I’m right there with you. I was once called the goddess of organization and wore the badge proudly. Congrats on being FP!

  6. jamieahughes

    Huzzah for organization! I’m right there with you on the need to organize. Thankfully, I have had not one but TWO jobs where it is a useful skill (high school teacher and managing editor). People may mock us, but they secretly know they need us. And they, my friend, are ashamed. Congrats and file on!

  7. Laura

    I always love when people use paper planners – sometimes I feel like I’m the only holdout left, and everybody else is just using calendars on their phones/computers!

    • dontrepeatthisinpreschool

      Ahh, YES, you understand! I barely have enough space on paper much less a tiny phone for all the to-do’s I’ll never complete in a day! I have tried different apps, but find I’m spending more time trying to make them work for me than just writing the stuff on paper! 🙂

  8. Elle Knowles

    Don’t touch my desk! Even though it looks a mess every piece on it is important and I know where it is. And yes, my nightstand looks like that! Isn’t that what they are for?

  9. scentfragrance

    I want to be organised like you! This post is so informative for someone like me who wants to be more organised! I’ve been trying to find a way to organise my travel ideas and thanks to you, I’ve found one!
    And congratulations on being FP!

  10. Jenny

    Ha, thanks for cracking me up. Also: I Love Binders. And folders. Omg.


  11. bernasvibe

    I never can understand how folks that aren’t organized; can be productive. On this end I can’t seem to think right; if I’m not organized and things are UNcluttered in my world. I also am a list writer! Thats how I can get so much done accomplished . It works if you work it..Cute write! 2 thumbs UP

  12. 11point5

    This was a great read! 🙂 I’m an organizational kindred spirit – my kryptonite is grocery lists! I have itemized lists (by grocery department) for all the items we ever buy from the 4 grocery stores we shop at and how much those things cost, so that every week when I make the shopping list I can refer to my grocery price list and calculate exactly what that week’s shopping will cost! I also make note of which of the stores sells particular items the cheapest and what past sale prices were (we do 95% of our shopping at 2 stores, and the other 5% is for stuff they either don’t sell at the 2 main stores or stuff that is whole dollars cheaper/goes on sale often at the non-main stores). Thanks for making me feel normal!

  13. The Rider

    I am on the extreme opposite end of organizational skills from you, but loved your post! The books on your nightstand are probably alphabetically organized- I have books on my bedstand that were read 5 years ago…

  14. It's Good News Week

    There’s definitely a lesson about extent in here! But as an ex-librarian and avid list-maker I’m with you all the way 🙂

    • It's Good News Week

      And I really Like this post but my silly iPad won’t let me click the Like button!

      • It's Good News Week

        It was a great job .. particularly pre-Internet days when info was harder to find

  15. moodsnmoments

    oh I love lists and am a sucker for them…begin my day with them and end them with it too :)…some lovely pointers shared…congratulations on being freshly pressed.

  16. ancientliterature101

    Doesn’t it rile you when those who seem most keen to ridicule your organisation are the first to ask for your help. As an organisation freak, I was recently asked to write a quiz for a celebratory dinner. Most of the team seemed intent to make fun of the fact that I had to make everything going run perfectly smoothly, and thus printed 20 copies of the schedule, but when I said that they should do something, where were they? Well said.

  17. Sean

    When a therapist has shared an experience with me, I felt he sympathised. In return I relaxed and opened up more.

  18. hbosc

    I’m so loving this. I’m a list-freak. Can’t live without those. I have different notebooks and in each I note different lists, and I like so much to cross things out, feeling so relieved…. Thanks for those new classifying ideas! 🙂

  19. Mike Crape

    Great post! I like the respect and value you bring to the unsung hero of “a place for everything and everything” people. 🙂 Very well said (written), thanks for sharing.

  20. suziwith3

    Thank you for letting me know I am not alone in my organization OCD. I laughed and cried through the whole thing!

  21. Midwestern Plant Girl

    You are my doppelganger.
    If I didn’t have my lists, I’d be a blue screen of death. There’s nothing more satisfying than to circle a starred list item as complete.
    I’m CDO also. Oh? Yes, that’s OCD in alphabetical order like it should be. Ha!
    ★ Congrats on getting pressed!

  22. lk529

    I am the queen of organization in my family too – my mom has me reorganize her Tupperware cabinet whenever I’m home. I can’t claim to be as with it as you are though, love it! I did recently breakdown my hundreds of Food Network magazines to consolidate into a binder, broken up by course, though! My husband’s suggested I do a “how-to organize” post on my blog, and I love yours so much I might just have to take him up on it one day! Love your writing style.

  23. jackierandom

    I love this post!! And admit to being able to relate to some of your practices. I cannot live without post-it notes!

  24. gwen foster

    I try to be organised but then a couple days later, I am disoriented. The calendars and the to-do list though help. I use http://www.teuxdeux.com and in the days when I attempt to look composed, I frantically list down everything I have to do. As if my tomorrow self will do these items I write, only to find myself dreading opening my account.

    So I set off to buy unlined index cards. Cause they look like post its and I can draw in them. Ahhh, the struggles of how to keep it as a habit.

  25. B

    Yes, my “INFJ” is very grateful for this post about lists, and lists of lists. Congrats on FP!

  26. suzannecerreta

    I love this! I am in the middle of moving to another country, okay NYC to Montreal… Canada is not that big of a deal, but staying organized has been haaaaaarrrrrd. Basically, it’s not happening, so I brought in a friend to help. I envy your organization. Sometimes I feel my dis-organization prevents me from really living, so there! 🙂

  27. ramblingjess

    I am the exact same way, I list all the tasks for the day and then plan out by the minute what and when I am going to do something, and right now my room looks like a store for organizational bins, all of which are labeled by category. Hehe.

  28. poohbauer

    As far as physical organization goes, I’m sub-par or at least get by (I can find stuff on my desk without digging :D) As far as emails go, you and I would probably get along haha. I’ve got a category for just about everything and my email count has to read zero every time for new messages; just can’t stand it. I get made fun of for it from time to time, but come time to find an important email, it’s right where I put it.

  29. pencil pilot

    I enjoyed the content and your writing style! I fortunately/unfortunately resemble quite a few of your remarks. 🙂 My nightstand is similarly accessorized; I have a “don’t move that pile!!” rule. My kids are grown but my iPhone has 3 stages of alarms set, different days. Naturally, I have a “Things to Do, Level 3” (more than 3 months from now). But I hadn’t recognized that my travel brochures are actually a “collection.” Manila file folders, by region or by state… that speaks to me! Fun reading – Congrats on being Freshly Pressed!

  30. rachaelvdm

    I’ve had a collection of business cards since I was 8, every book in the house ordered with fiction in alphabetical order by author and non-fiction according to the Dewey Decimal System. I’ve got lists and lists of things AND YET am the messiest person out. My family can’t understand how someone so obsessed with order can be such a messy, disorganised person… and neither can I.

    Love your lists!

    • dontrepeatthisinpreschool

      I TOTALLY would have collected business cards if I’d had any when I was little. I always wanted some of my own to hand out too, but never quite sure what I would be advertising.

  31. littlebrighteyes

    OMG… utter those letters at you … ‘Things to Consider Making into Lists’ I have many notebooks with sticky labels and a contents page to start off the tirade of what I hope should be happening if only I can remember to add that 3rd alarm that I made that note for.
    I was a imaginary office girl as a child, I had folder of information that I copied out of books for future reference as I was sure it would be important (I still have them, currently still not important).
    Somewhere, this all makes perfect sense and oh how organised that world will be 🙂
    Have a beautiful day

  32. Internalbasis

    What is your horoscope, Virgo? 😀

    Btw, it is very good if somebody is well-organized, but eventually it can transform into overorganizing what can drive you crazy. And most importantly, you have to remind yourself, that life is not just about planning, but you have to learn how to seize a spur of the moment occasion what is indeed not in your calendar but can enhance your life.
    My core theory is that if somebody organizes too much, they are trying to secure themselves. But we all know that great rewards can only be found outside our rusty, old-fashioned comfort zone, and its a must, to measure yourself sometimes to know that you are very strong!

  33. mrscarmichael

    Brilliant. I like to do my ‘to do’ list after I’ve done the actions. that was I get to cross lots of things off and feel like a success.

  34. katiegeo

    I thought I was the only one who did this! Especially the lists referencing other lists part….! Sometimes I have to hold myself back from organizing my entire life in Excel spreadsheets. Thanks for letting me know I am not alone!

  35. Audrey

    Love this post! I posted my two cents worth a while back [http://audreyatwork.wordpress.com/2012/02/29/list-ing-14/] and I must say it’s great to know there are others who can empathize!

  36. gnovember

    Nice to meet someone else who also got teased about liking to take notes and write lists. I can’t live without this stuff, its nice to read this written up nicely!

  37. dontrepeatthisinpreschool

    I really appreciate everyone’s supportive comments. So nice to know I’m not alone, haha! It’s a constant struggle though. Two days after posting this, I reached for something on a very very disheveled shelf in the kitchen, and down tumbled a completely full glass jar of molasses (which I don’t even know why I have), leaving a stinky sticky glass sharded waterfall streaming from the counter to the floor, and then on me as I tried to clean it up. So in the end, the universe always has the last laugh.

  38. smellsgod

    hahaha…I got panic attack just now, because I coulnd´t find your post anymore! I´m off to buy a planner. thank you!

  39. pjpsteed

    I loved your post, I too have been the butt of many jokes and ridicules since I was a kid. I can remember organizing and cleaning my classmates desks in 3rd grade! Both family and friends have simply gotten use to my notebooks of lists, my spiral calendar in my purse (or backpack, depending on what is going on) and another on in the kitchen with an entirely different set of information highlighted for the myself and family. I have recently started taking advantage of the reminders feature on my smart phone for my never ending to-do list, but I still have my notebook for notes and other lists. As for my paper files, I have started scanning some of them onto my external hard drive, since we were moving and paper takes up too much weight. Even my photos are filed away for ease. It is refreshing to know that I am not alone in this world. I am simply organized, on time, and my mind is clear since I know that I have that information written down for future retrieval.

  40. Beret Olsen

    Congratulations on being freshly pressed!! I love this post and must admit…I do many of the things you mention, but have not managed to cobble it all together and call it “organized.” A friend has recommended the Evernote app to me, so maybe I’ll make it happen someday. Also, that book on your night stand: Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned was amazing, riveting, but also dark and twisted. Be forewarned when it turns up on your todo list.

    • dontrepeatthisinpreschool

      Yes, Evernote….seems very promising but I’ve just not had the time to sit down with it and learn how exactly it can save me time, in its fullest capacity.
      And Everything Ravaged…..also agree….I love it but it’s taking me a long time to get through it because it’s so dark it’s not always my go-to. I have read it and have thought that I don’t know if I’d ever have the guts to write and publish some of that, but kind of happy that someone else did? Haha!

  41. teresademio

    This is hilarious because it reminds me a litte of myseld and also of my best friend as a kid- her hobby was to make fictional directories. All the names, addresses etc were made up. Sometimes she would use those as a basis for her next story. I have always been obsessed with notebooks, lists & schedules.
    Are you a virgo?

    • dontrepeatthisinpreschool

      Wow, fictional directories–I definitely would have tried to be friends with you guys as a kid! :).

      No, Taurus–maybe I just have a stubborn loyalty to being organized? My mom and husband are Virgo’s–they can be more perfectionist about certain things but I’m still more organized than them!

      • teresademio

        Aha! Well, I think maybe it’s an earth sign thing. Either way, one can never be too organized. Certainly helps clear the mind!

  42. lifeissarcasm

    I was cracking up the entire time – as I held up the mirror of my life. I make lists of lists. I have two on my phone, 2 calendars, sticky’s everywhere and a list on the fridge. And of course they are categorized – makes perfect sense. My phone list even has list categories. I used to cross things off as I got them done, then make a new list of what was left at the end of the day because it was too messy seeing all the crossed off items. And I’d have to re-read the ones I crossed off to make sure I’d really completed them. My newest phone app lets me cross them off, but only ‘dims’ them so I can still see my efforts and revive it if I only got it started. So I don’t know why on earth everyone doesn’t see you as normal. I do.

    • dontrepeatthisinpreschool

      Ohhhhh, I totally get the crossing off, new list because the old list was too messy, and re-reading the old list through the mess. WOW. I seriously thought I had a major OCD problem but now that we agree on this I feel so justified and normal. Yay! Thank you, internet! 🙂

      What phone app(s) do you use?? I spent half a week last week trying to purge my paper planner and make the inevitable move to phone planner. I was an angry, disappointed mess, and wasted some money and lots of time on some very sub-par apps. I ended at Awesome Note, used with iCal, and so far I’m pretty happy. Still in transition though–I still feel like I’m constantly forgetting something, and checking the app to ensure all my to-do’s are still there!

      • lifeissarcasm

        I use two apps! (shame) the one I’ve been using the most recently is Key Ring. It’s set up to enter your store cards so you can scan at check out. It has a built in list manager and I love it! Due to my compulsive list making, I am able to keep multiple lists going: errands, phone calls, returns, grocery, blog topics! When you cross something off, it greys it out, which is good for those of us who obsess about deleting the wrong item! If you want it gone, hold down for 2 seconds and confirm the delete.
        This is great for jotting down blog topics when I’m out. And unlike other list managers you don’t have to set a date due, which causes more obsessive stressing having to change dates all the time with ensuing guilt!
        Sorry I didn’t respond earlier, I never saw the reply until just now.

      • lifeissarcasm

        For my computer I use OneNote which is awesome. I like that you can print to it to save screen shots and receipts that auto pdf. Great travel planner too!

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