A question of organisation

A long time ago, I mentioned my personal method of book organisation. It’s fairly logical (in my humble opinion) and it frequently amazes me that other people don’t have similar methods by which they keep their reading matter in order.

[In case you’re interested, it’s as follows:
Fiction (one bookcase) A-Z by author.
Non-Fiction (another bookcase) – divided by category: History (geographically organised A-Z and then chronologically within location); Travel; Biography (including travel writing) A-Z by subject or author; Religion (A-Z by author) and ‘oversized books’ (yes, I realise this is problematic, but they’re too big for other shelves).]

My shelves don’t necessarily look well ordered (I have piles in front of the books indicating what needs to be returned to whom and my TBR boks) but at least I know exactly where to find everything. It’s this need for order that makes my insides cringe when I come across people who organise their bookshelves by colour – seriously – colour?

I won’t link to the blogs because I like them and respect their authors, but this colour thing is not uncommon. One person set herself reading goals based upon the colour of book spines; while another posted her ‘bookcase facelift’ last week, in which her bookcase went from this to this:

 Yes, it looks pretty and the colours look good together, but really? 
Is it the best way to organise books? 
Maybe I’m being too harsh. Perhaps this does work with smaller numbers of texts – after all, that Billy bookcase is hardly bulging at the seams as mine does. Perhaps it also works best when you have pretty, colourful books. A glance at my shelves reveal quite a lot of non-descript spines, though at the same time it also reveals another issue – series. In a colour coded system, would you split up a series? Unforgivable. Perhaps I should just get a grip and accept that some people simply have a more whimsical attitude to books than I can cope with. 
However, I’ve recently discovered an issue with my own system – the pretty books. At the moment, they’re in with the relevant author (actually, that’s a lie – they would be if there was space – currently they’re gently piled above other books in vaguely the right area of the shelves), but they look really, really good when lined up together. (They’re the same size, the spine text matches…be still my symmetry-loving heart.) I’m also acquiring other pretty books that deserve to be on show, rather than lost amongst the duller spines. Should I shelve them separately? Months ago I found a perfect small bookcase that I’d love to copy – it was painted black and had gorgeous pink paper at the back of the shelves – which would be an excellent project and an excellent location for such gorgeousness. But they wouldn’t be in order and it would make a mockery of my organisation…the trauma! 
Interestingly, even bookshops are getting into the pretty books thing. Waterstones in Covent Garden now has its own ‘Beautiful Books’ bay – but this totally ok with me, as long as duplicates of the books are also shelved under the correct author in the general fiction section. (Don’t call me a geek – in all likelihood that’ll be company policy.) Incidentally, you could buy me pretty much anything from this bay and I’d be a very happy bunny. 

Organisation in adversity

Last week, while wallowing, I mentioned that we’d lost our water supply. What I hadn’t fully appreciated at the time was just how disastrous and newsworthy this event was. By the end of last Tuesday, more the 40,000 Northern Irish homes were without water – some having lacked this essential commodity since before Christmas. We knew things were serious when it made the main BBC news.

In the Clutterbuck household, the former missionaries rose to the occasion. On the first morning, I was the only person (out of six) to not have had a shower before we realised there was a problem. When you’re wallowing in the flu, the last thing you want is to be left in your sweat all day (not a pretty image? I do apologise), but fortunately my mother came to my rescue with a veritable cauldron of warm water – courtesy of the college’s kitchen (which still had at least a partially full tank). She did also attempt to instruct me on how to wash with a saucepan, but I reminded her that I’m a festival regular, so know all about washing one’s body without the aid of a shower…

The next day, things were a lot more organised. A bonus of living in a college was the sheer quantity of water storage and heating devices that could be borrowed. Stepping onto the landing I discovered one of two 14 litre urns producing hot water – genius. [However, on this occasion I left my showering so late that the water had returned again, in a reversal of the previous day’s events, I was the only family member to get a shower.]

But, my favourite piece of water conservation/organisation was this discovery in the guest bathroom:

The label reads ‘water for teeth’ in case it’s not obvious

Those labels are all over my parents’ kitchen – cake tins, the cupboard full of tea, home-made chutneys – so of course, it would be the obvious way to denote which water ought to be used for which purpose.

In the kitchen was a variety of bottled water, only a small amount of which was still (thanks to the national shortage which led to Scotland promising NI 160,000 litres of the stuff – but this was before it arrived) but what still there we had was earmarked for me and the dog. I like where I sit in the family hierarchy when I’m ill.

The lack of water was inconvenient, but not a total nightmare. Generally, it came back on mid-morning, no thanks to the next to useless NI Water website that never said when the water was going to be on or off. By New Year’s Eve it was back permanently. I have an awful lot of sympathy for those that were totally without water for days and days, and even more for those who have no regular water supply at all.


Today, I’m going to share with you a shocking insight into my world…

This, people, is my craft/ribbon/cards/random unused notebooks and photo frames under-bed storage system. 
A snappier name might simply be ‘craft box’. 
Why is it shocking? Ok, perhaps I exaggerated, but to me, this is the epitome of Monica style anal organised-ness. It quite possibly even surpasses the tea labelling. It’s organisation within organisation…
See that collection of ribbon? That’s my ribbon box.
The cards down the side of the drawer? They’re an assortment of left-over and January sale purchased Christmas cards.
Underneath the pink ribbons? A gathering of yet to be used notebooks, in various sizes, ready and waiting for the perfect opportunity to be written in. 
The black tin? A nice container that once held lip-glosses which is bound to have another use one day…
Why am I showing you this? Well, last week a colleague e-mailed asking if I had any ribbon suitable for tying up and beautifying a petition due to be handed in to Downing Street the next day. As it happened, I wasn’t going to be in so couldn’t help, but it amused me that this person already had me down as someone likely to have a ribbon collection. Is it that obvious? Does every fibre of my being shout “I love organisation and pretty stationary!”? [On reflection, is it possible that he’d simply noticed I occasionally wear ribbons in my hair?]
If it does, there’s only one person who can take the credit – my mother. I’ve recently discovered a simple logic to buying her gifts. If I like it, she’ll like it. Pretty coloured A4 pads? Most definitely. Gorgeous leather notebooks? Absolutely. Anything by Cath Kidston? Oh yes. From her I learnt the art of stockpiling nice stationary and the importance of keeping one’s craft/art materials in good order. 
In case you think this is simply an instance of growing into a sensible, organised adult, let me illustrate my long-term anal-ness: 
In 1988 I was given a gorgeous set of Swiss colouring pencils in a large tin. More than 2 decades later, I still have them – they’ve been used – but all reside in their correct position within the same tin. If I’m a fastidious adult today, it’s only because I was a determinedly fastidious child. 

Just in case you were wondering what I did with all that ribbon…

Over zealous weeding?

This is not about any passion I may have for gardening (I’ve not got a garden, so any passion I might have for it is rather limited), rather my great skill at being ruthless whilst weeding out files…

Not the most illuminating topic for a blog post, but what can I say, at least I’m writing something!

So, as I’ve mentioned once or twice, my office is moving this week. At the same time my department finally closes down and after a week off next week, I start my new job. Since this has been in the offing for a long, long time, the process of weeding, clearing out and archiving seems to have gone on for an eternity. I think we started it in May, got most of it done during the ‘quiet’ months of July/August, thought we’d finished at the end of August and then last week I suddenly discovered a pile more.

What I’ve discovered is that I’m ruthless. We’ve gone from having roughly eight drawers of files to one, which I’d say was impressive. What I love is my colleagues’ various reactions to this news:

My team leader always looks slightly scared. (He has a similar look when he sees me dumping boxes of stuff into the skip – he claims it’s the noise I make doing it, I think he secretly fears I’m throwing away important things!) But I know he trusts me really.

The (poor) person co-ordinating the office move rejoices in my skill and wishes everyone in the building was as ruthless as me.

The person at the desk opposite panics every time I stick an “empty” sticker onto a drawer or cabinet because none of hers are empty yet and there’s three days to go.

Our team’s former administrator pretty much screamed at me when she found out how much I’d thrown out the first time I had a blitz. However, I’d simply put that down to her being Italian and mad as a box of frogs.

Only one colleague shares my enthusiasm for this task and he’s currently driving everyone batty by offering to pack for them if they don’t appear to be getting on with it. What do he and I have in common? We’ve had to move many, many times at the whim of the church. I guess it has its bonuses.

This is all fine, except every so often someone comes to me looking for something they believe my team had at some point, only to find that we don’t have it anymore…

Like this morning when the team leader wanted a big map of China. We did have one, in fact, my colleague and I were so impressed with this map (which, incidentally didn’t need keeping as it was old & we’d not created it) that it kept moving from pile to pile whilst we came up with a strategy to deal with it. In the end, it found a home with a China-obsessed friend of Andy’s.

I hope he appreciated it because I ended up spending half an hour this morning photocopying and sticking together bits of the Times Atlas of the World to make up for its absence!

[I’ve been here 2 years, no one’s ever asked for a map of China, why want one now, in my last week?!? That’s just mean.]

Packing up

I hate packing.
Just the sight of boxes ready to be filled has me in a cold sweat.
My worst nightmares are dreams where I have to pack quickly.

It’s just another emotional scar from the traumas of being a ‘child of the manse’ – i.e. being forced to move every few years thanks to the church…

At the moment, I’m working in an office surrounded by boxes, crates, more boxes, stacks of files. At home, there’s even more boxes and suitcases. My building’s being reorganised & redecorated and my current flatmate is moving to the Cayman Islands (lucky her).

However, thanks to my experience and my methodical (some might say anal) nature, I am good at packing, and sometimes I do enjoy the process. Here are my top packing tips:

– Pack books in small boxes, this way they don’t become too heavy to lift.
– Label boxes well. Don’t label more than one box “miscellaneous”, because that’ll come back and haunt you when you come to unpack. [I learnt this the hard way when I was 14 and labelled around 5 boxes with my new found word.]
– Acquire free boxes from friendly local shops.
– Don’t procrastinate. It’s far better to be organised (with lists!) than to have to stuff it all into black sacks in a rush.

The worst bit, and I think this is the stage I’m at with my office packing, is when you’ve packed all the obvious stuff, yet there’s still tons to be done. I am not enjoying having to do this on my own, I have 4 desks to pack thanks to my various colleagues jumping ship before the big move took place, lucky them. But, by next Thursday at 5pm it’s all got to be clear and clear it will be.

But the bonus? With all the stuff we’re chucking out right now, it’s a great opportunity to acquire things: boxes full of nightlights; random vases left behind by previous colleagues; clocks; random bits of stationary; books; assorted miscellany from foreign visitors…