Thursday, 10 May 2007

Any Old Port vs A Place for Everything

"Mom!" my youngest squeals, all frantic. "My gym kit! Have you seen it?"

I get questions like that all the time and they fill me with a mixture of despair and fury.

"(Mary / Mom)," says husband or kid, "have you seen my (gym shoes / headphones / glasses / socks / keys / bag / book / CD / library card / shoes / coat / MP-3 player)?"

The answer is usually "yes," but I've learned that lying is the only way out. Because if I say "yes," chances are very good that "Where did you see it?" will be the next question, and I'm damned if I'm going to get involved. So I generally try something sneaky first. "Where did you put it?" I'll ask. Sometimes when I'm really fed up I can't resist adding "Did you put it away where I told you to?"

"Oh, if you're just going to lecture me," the offender will huff, "I'll just keep looking for (it / them) on my own!" And continue looking they will, but it's not the last I hear of it. Oh, no.

I have a simple philosophy which, although it sounds obnoxiously smug and pat, works fine for me: "A place for everything and everything in its place." So obvious it's embarrassing, right? Yes, but only to me, apparently.

My library card goes back into my wallet after I've checked out my books. My keys go into my bag when I'm done with them. My coat goes on the coat hook (until my kids tear it off in search of their own), and my glasses go on the computer table or next to my bed. The other members of this household have their own way of doing things. Never mind that their way doesn't work a damn bit; I have nevertheless been powerless to change it.

Whereas I am a 'place-for-everything' person, their philosophy might best be summed up as 'Any old port in a storm.' My husband is inclined to put his keys down on the kitchen counter, mantelpiece, Welsh dresser, windowsill, or bedside table. Sometimes he'll just leave them in his coat or trouser pocket, and once in a while he'll get creative and hide them under wet towels on top of the washing machine. My kids leave their shoes wherever they happen to take them off, drape their coats over furniture -- the kitchen table being a favored spot -- and leave their backpacks where they are bound to be tripped over. Mobile phones and MP-3 players may be found behind the computer table, on the sink, in my bedroom, or in the bathroom. And don't get me started on socks.

So why won't I just tell them where the blessed thing is? Why won't I point them in the right direction when they're charging all over the house in a dither over missing documents, homework assignments, keys, mobile phone or shoes?

Say I'm cooking or doing the laundry. There, where it ought not to be, I see my husband's wallet or my kid's library card. I'm generally too busy doing what I'm doing to pick it up, which is a good thing, because on the rare occasion that I have done this, I'm also too busy to remember where I put it. I came across my youngest kid's library card in the kitchen once and left it in the garden shed on my way to do some pruning. I found it there weeks after a household search that lasted the better part of an afternoon, and I never heard the end of it. Never mind that I was just trying to help; never mind that I wouldn't have touched her library card if it had been put back in its Special Place. The same thing has happened with other Very Important Belongings, and now when I see them, I do my damndest to make a mental note where I saw them, but like as not I forget. Then comes the dreaded "Have you seen my ...?" question and I cringe.

I wasn't always what my family calls 'anal' and I call 'responsible' about my possesions. Up until I had a baby I was famous for misplacing my coat, my train pass, my house keys. Then one day when I was leaving for work, I had an epiphany. I had already rolled the boulder uphill by getting my eleven-month-old ready for nursery and myself ready for work. I had fed, dressed, and changed my infant. I had my own lunch and work materials ready, my hair was neatly fixed in a bun, the kid was strapped to me and her day bag was prepared. But I couldn't find my keys. It took me the better part of 45 minutes to locate them, and when I finally did, my mind was made up. On my way back from work that day, I bought a large glass bowl. I put it in the entrance to our house and from then on my keys went into that bowl as soon as I'd stepped through the door. In time, other family members began poaching from that bowl when they could not find their own.

And now, here I am a full-fledged member of the Place for Everything Society. Someday I hope to recruit other family members to my group; hope springs eternal.

If any of them bothered to read this, they'd probably tell you that I don't always put my glasses where I can find them. That sometimes I too walk around the house asking if anyone has seen my glasses, and stating repeatedly that I just put them down a moment ago and now they're gone. But the way I see it, I'm the one who's writing this blog...


Brian said...

If you have the problem now ,wait till you're 78 like me .
But I am smug enough to say that with me, it is only with glasses of which I have a plethora , a superfluity almost , as I have never thrown any old ones away . Thus I can always locate something somewhere which can improve my vision- blurred as it may have become .

Keys are something I am anal about. And though I strew the odd bits of clothing about , I always know where they are until my wife goes into a frenzy of putting things away even when it serves no real purpose

I proffer the simplest solution of all -- a firm NO ! in answer and let THEM sweat while you busy yourself with some task that you cannot possibly leave .

Be cruel to be kind ! Mean , aren't I !!


Mary Witzl said...

I've actually taken to doing this, Brian. And I feel as mean as a snake.

A friend of mine told me that the trick was to simply leave their mess where I found it, to step over it, walk around it, ignore it, and that in time, they'd be so tired of it themselves that they'd deal with it. Well, I tried this. I left a certain hot water bottle where it was in the middle of the floor and it stayed there for FIVE WEEKS. Ditto for peanut butter jars with only one teaspoon of contents left (they stay in the cupboard until I give up and eat that last teaspoon, clean out the jar, then dispose of it) and so on.

I just worry about the roommates, flatmates or spouses they end up with.

Eryl Shields said...

My husband is always tearing the house apart looking for his keys or wallet. They will eventually be found in the oddest places. I have no idea how he comes to leave them in such places, but these days I just let him hunt alone. He's a grown man, I reason, he should take responsibility for his stuff and his actions. I keep hoping that he will have that epiphany himself and realise that if he chose a spot for these things and put them there everytime he wouldn't continue to have this problem but no.

My son has learnt it though so there is hope for your girls.

Brian said...

Suggestion : if an object has been left lying for more than ( your choice of a number ) days, stick a note on it saying how long it has been there . Keep adding to the number each day . Possible shaming technique ?


Carole said...

I often look for things that I have misplaced but for a different reason. I grew up in a pigsty, clutter and filth everywhere, and that is a very kind description. So now that I have my own home, it is clean (not white glove clean) but it is never cluttered. When someone lays something down, I put it away. I don't really care where. When I take off something, I put it away, I don't care where, I just don't want to see clutter. So I often put my shoes in my freezer, my coffee cup on the closet shelf, my earrings in the mail receptacle. There is no limit to the odd places I use for clutter maintenance. My husband despairs, but I sit and relax in a nice uncluttered environment and don't worry about shoes until I go to work the next day. No one asks where their stuff is, they just look in the cellar, oven, cupboard, suitcase.

Mary Witzl said...

Eryl -- Good for you to just ignore it. I really do try to do this, but I feel as though I ought to jump up and join in the search. The 45 minutes I spent searching for my keys that day with my baby strapped to me were so hellishly frustrating that something in me just cracked and I said to myself 'Never again!' My husband still remembers how disorganized I used to be and pokes fun at me for that, but I just point out how that never happens anymore and that tends to hush him up.

Brian -- That is a great idea! I think post-its would be appropriate, and I wonder how the kids would like their friends to find shoes, coats, bags, etc., bristling with dated post-its... One thing I have taken to doing is chucking their shoes, coats, etc. into a stairwell we seldom use. They then have to go all the way down to retrieve whatever it is I've thrown down. It hasn't made much of a difference in their behavior, but it makes me feel a lot better.

Carole -- Our house is relatively clean other than the odd mouse or bird my cat drags in. But God, is it messy. I love the thought of shoes in the freezer! Nice in the summer, but not much of a treat in the winter... We live in a large flat and one thing I've insisted on is having one room that is kept tidy all the time. That way if someone visits, I don't have to be ashamed to let them see the date pits on the floor, the discarded socks draped over the backs of chairs, the wine glass left near the hearth, etc.

Eryl Shields said...

It is difficult not to jump up and help but I just carry on doing what I'm doing and think calm thoughts.

One very useful thing I've learned by studying philosophy is that it's madness to try and change other people, you must accept them for who they are. The thing to change is the way you react to them. Hard but it's made a tremendous difference to my life.

Kim Ayres said...

I've come up with a solution, but no one has invented it yet.

When you misplace your mobile phone it's easy enough to find it because you just call it from another phone and follow the ringing sound.

In this day and age of technology it ought to be straightforward enough to create little metal strips that have the capability of ringing if dialed from a nearby phone. You coud have keys, wallet, glasses, TV remote etc all with a strip on them and all set on fast-dial on your phone.

Problem solved.

Mary Witzl said...

Eryl -- I love the idea of carrying on with my work and thinking calm thoughts. My mother used to do this, I recall, when she was surrounded by chaos, confusion and ranting, raving kids; she would sing hymns, 'Abide with Me' being her absolute favorite. At the time I thought she was odd, but now I can see what she was up to. I wonder if I will ever develop that knack.

I still love the idea of Carole's family members looking in the furnace, cellar, etc. for their missing items...

Kim -- Boy, would we go through a lot of those metal strips. Quite seriously, how about linking up with someone who knows about engineering and applying for a patent? You'd save everyone in this family a lot of time and angst.

Kanani said...

My kids are always helping me look for both my handbag and keys.

Ah, but it's minor. I'm just glad I haven't lost my mind.

Mary Witzl said...

I do lose my mind from time to time, but only little bits of it, and they never go far. When this happens, my kids and husband are usually the ones who help me get it back. As for my backpack and keys, once in a great while I have trouble finding them, but I don't lose them anywhere near as often as I did before that epiphany. Sometimes, in fact, my keys disappear because the other members of the household know exactly where to find them...

Kanani, I have five plates exactly like that green plate in your photo! What a coincidence; I've hardly seen them anywhere else.

Carolie said...

Oh my. Good for you, Mary! Your husband and mine (and thousands of others, I wager) are brothers.

I am NOT an organized woman. As a result, the only way I can survive my disorganized life is to always put certain things in certain places. I often misplace the book I was reading, can't find the recipe I specifically want, and every year, I find at least one Christmas present purchased for the previous year that was tucked away and not found in time for the day itself. keys go in grandmother's silver calling card tray by the door, every, single time. My military ID goes in a very specific slot in my handbag, no matter what. And my handbag goes in a very specific spot in the kitchen when I'm home.

How my husband survived 14 years in the military before we got married, I will never know. Every single deployment, he has to get someone with bolt cutters to let him into his locker, as he cannot find his locker keys (THIS time, I bought him combination locks!) Our house remains unlocked when we're out and he's in port, in case he gets home before I do (he's lost four front door keys now, and I'm not having any more made!)

For my own sanity, if I happen to see his keys or his military ID, I put them with my own. Otherwise, he's on his own.

Mary Witzl said...

My husband is convinced that I cannot cross the street without his help; I, in turn, am certain that without me, his life would be even more disorganized than it already is. He still fondly reminds me that I was forever searching for my keys and train pass when we first met; he conveniently forgets the fact that ever since that dreadful misplacing of my keys, I have almost never lost them. I've moved on, but he's still stuck in the mire of disorganization, bless him. And he still grabs my arm as I cross the street. Go figure.