See What You Have

In my newsletter for this week I wrote about how effective it is to see clearly what you own.

Clutter obscures your view.

Clutter also tends to be unsorted, so finding what you need is a major chore.

A recent client had a cluttered and jumbled linen closet. To change the sheets, she had to hunt down a fitted sheet and a flat one and paw through the dishtowels, all on different shelves, to find a few pillowcases.

After I organized the shelves, she saw that she only had one matched sheet set. The other three were various colors. And there was a full set still in its package that she’d forgotten she bought (it was with a pair of binoculars).

People naturally categorize things.

We have an innate love for symmetry and pattern. They soothe and please the eye.

This visual component of organizing is very powerful. It’s one thing to know that you have six towels. It’s quite another to see them in a stack in the closet. Seeing them tells you “oh, I have three blue ones, two green and one yellow. I’ll use a blue and a yellow.” Seeing only one tells you: time to do laundry. This information is immediate and visceral when you see the towels. It’s less available if you just think about the towels.

It’s like the difference between an analog clock and a digital one. The digital one shows you a single number. The analog one shows you all the numbers, with a hand to indicate the current one. You see how it relates to the rest of the numbers and shows how time is passing.

You think, I’ll have lunch when the big hand gets to three and you have clear sense of how much time that quarter of a circle stands for. With digital, you see a sequence of numbers, one at a time; there is only the present.

With digital organizing, you would only see one towel at a time and just know the others are there. But we don’t really think that way. We like to see all the towels at once and count them. We want the hand towels and wash cloths to be part of the pattern too.

Information graphics are powerful because they present a lot of visual information at the same time. Here is the famous graphic of Napoleon’s Russian campaign, courtesy of Wikipedia.

The tan line is the size of the French army going toward Moscow, toward the right. The black line is its retreat. You can immediately see that the army was decimated by this campaign. The information conveyed here would take a few book chapters to put into writing.

Back to the towels!

Visual organizing is helpful almost everywhere and you’re probably already using it. Think of the flatware holder in your kitchen. I mean the molded plastic kind where each section is formed in the outline of the piece of flatware that belongs there. Wouldn’t it be nice if organizing everything was that easy!