Confessions of a Highly-Cluttered Organizing Geek

Reading Time: 4 minutes
Small Lego and budget expenditures, all neatly sorted and labelled
Whether LEGO or budgets, I love sorting things!

I’m a personality-quiz geek, but my biggest peeve with a lot of such quizzes is the tendency to try to simplify the complexities of human behavior into dichotomies. Maybe you’ve picked up on this. It seems to be a running theme through my articles. I’m an awkwardly shy person who has no trouble in front of an audience. I’m a fashion-backward nerd who loves creating clothes. I’m a confused mess of atypical identities I only fit partway!

I am also a complete and utter slob. I can’t keep a space neat for anything. Here’s the desk beside me right now as I type this:

The author's desk can barely be seen under the pile of clutter
My desk

The thing is, I’m also, deep in my fiber, a librarian. Librarians like books, yeah, but that’s not the thing that makes a librarian. A librarian’s job is to help people find information or resources. Librarians are organizational systems geeks.

Despite the state of my desk, one of my favorite things to do is sort things. Except socks. My organizing geekishness can’t seem to extend to socks. But books? Of course the books in this house are sorted. Nonfiction by subject, fiction alphabetical by author. Doesn’t everyone keep their bookshelves this way?

It bewilders me that some people sort their books by color. Why? The only things that should be sorted by color are art supplies. I mean obviously. Who doesn’t, when faced with a pile of crayons, immediately put them into proper spectrum order before attempting to use them?

I sort by use and purpose. It’s the librarian mindset: make it easy to find. My CDs are sorted by artist. My movies by genre and subgenre. I can lose a day sorting music files into playlists (which is what I was doing when I started to write this).

I love the possibility of sorting, even with nothing to sort! I love storage compartments. I love dividers and drawers and secret pockets. I love my Handbag of Holding for this reason, even though most of the time I toss stuff in and don’t know where it gets to—I can keep it well-organized if I wanted to. Heck, I’ve always loved jewelry boxes, and I don’t even wear jewelry!

My kids insist that my need to sort their LEGO collection isn’t as helpful as I think it is. Good thing I have the library’s huge LEGO collection to sort. When we first started that collection, when it was only one box big, before anyone attended the first LEGO program, I sat and sorted by type of brick. Memories of playing with LEGO as a child rushed back, but not memories of building: memories of sorting. Even as a kid. That, even more than my bookwormishness, should have been a clue I’d grow up to be a librarian.

As the collection grew, the more and more specific I sorted it. The “Tiny Pieces” bin became several multi-compartmented bins with labels like “1×1 printed tiles” and “side-to-side hinges.” This amazes parents who bring their children to LEGO Club. “This must be quite a project to keep organized!” I just smile and nod and say, “Actually, I find it fun.”

But my favorite organizational tool is a spreadsheet. I only really discovered their joys after I got put in charge of collection development. At first, I kept a simple wish list of titles we might want to buy for the library, but this proved unwieldy. Now I keep new and upcoming titles in a spreadsheet, with columns I can sort: by author, title, series, number of reviews (to keep track of buzz), number of raves (to keep track of stars and “LOVED THIS”s and “a must for every collection”s), potential call number, genre, and other notes. I color code the cells: books offered by Junior Library Guild are in green, books I’ve already added to distributor wish lists in light blue, books I’ve already ordered in dark blue, books I already know we must get but I can’t purchase right away are highlighted bright yellow.

I love my library spreadsheet so much, so many other situations now cry out for a spreadsheet: working out an at-home budget, drawing up calendars and agendas, and keeping lists of other things.

Of course, I’ve always kept lists, too. Lists of my favorite things. Lists of funny memories. Lists of my heroes, most of which were tongue-in-cheek. One year in high school I kept a list of everyone I had a friendly conversation with that year. For many years I kept a list of every book I ever read in a hardcover journal, which I eventually transferred to a now-defunct website. When that website died last year, after having been neglected for awhile, it finally occurred to me that this looked like a job for a spreadsheet:

My spreadsheet of all the books I've read (the beginning, at any rate)
The full spreadsheet can be viewed here: https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1foR04FFKZ-RF8BpG9ud0zeNsYgoHhLxZXIWmtebnVak/edit?usp=sharing

You might note, though, that while I have a column for “My Rating,” I never quite got the motivation to actually rate all the books. For one thing, rating seems a little meaningless when many of my opinions on the books may have changed drastically if I’d read them at different ages. (Note the note on The Wolves of Willoughby Chase—when I finally read it as an adult, I felt frustrated because I knew I would have absolutely adored it at the age of twelve, but it was no longer quite my style.) For another thing, that’s not why I sort. It’s not about segregation or ranking. It’s not saying one thing is better than another. It’s just about making things easy to find.

Now, back to those playlists.