The Love-Hate Confessions of a Horizontal Organizer

or, the domino effect of renovation in action.

A few years ago, my wife and I replaced our antique brass bed with a new bed. That led to a minor redecorating of our bedroom, which led to a major effort to simplify life in our house. As parents of four, but being empty nesters, we decided to reduce our furniture footprint, change our room use around, and redecorate our house – to be accomplished over several years.

After a few trips to Goodwill and Restore to donate furniture and other items, we had a working kitchen with plenty of space for 3 chefs at a time (we’re a foodie family), a small home office tucked away to one side, and an island for casual eating for 3. The family room lost the media center, replaced by a wall-mounted screen and sound system. The fireplace wall’s built-in side book shelves were cleaned up, organized, and looked great. Free standing bookshelves were rearranged, relocated, or removed. New furniture was chosen and delivered to create a simple, clean look. A complete redesign of the room-facing fireplace wall brought a new focal point to the entire room. The original dining room – our computer room and my office for 17 years – was returned to a dining room furnished with art from several Charleston trips, along with a custom-built dining room seating ten. One of the front bedrooms – our daughter’s – became known as the Disney Princess room, decorated with Disney art, a “magic mirror,” other Disney features, and a Lego Disney Castle, all just waiting for our grandchildren to visit. The other front bedroom – our youngest son’s – became Anita’s office, but also a guest room, courtesy of a Murphy bed mounted to one wall. The front bathroom was remodeled with a new designer vanity and tile flooring. The entire downstairs ceilings were stripped of that awful 90’s popcorn ceiling, smooth-coated with plaster, and painted. All of the downstairs rooms were painted in shades of grey. My office was relocated upstairs to what was originally a bedroom for two of our sons, and also fulfills a guest bedroom role.

I was completely happy to be out of sight from the main floor, and relocated my work there. Since Auxano had been founded as a digital company in 2004, most of my work took place there.

Therein lies the problem.

My vocational title at Auxano is Vision Room Curator and Digital Engagement Leader, which is a really cool title, but functionally I read, research, and write – a lot of all three. Which involves books – lots of them (even in the digital reader age). And project files (I’m trying to go digital, but it’s taking awhile). More books, as in book towers – one for each of the 7+ years of SUMS Remix. And visual learning objects – lots of Disney items including a Sorcerer Mickey hat and Mickey hands; gas station memorabilia; Starbucks cups and barista training materials; pirate gear and props, etc. – all related to projects I’m currently working on and/or keeping updated. Then there’s special family photos, challenge coins and patches of my Air Force son’s career, and did I mention personal books?

My name is Bob, and I’m a horizontal organizer.

I like the things I am working on spread out on a surface in front of me, where they can beckon me to continue working on them. Efficiency experts and time management gurus live in a world of vertical file management and a digital, paperless world, but me – not so much.

As a horizontal organizer, I am at a situational disadvantage. The whole world is set up to help keep vertically organized people on top of things. On the other hand, all my work is on top of things – my desk, the tops of filing cabinets, bookshelves, the nearby futon (I’m getting better, Anita – I really am!), and the floor.

As you have no doubt heard, a messy desk spread thick with paper and stacked high with books is the sign of a genius at work.

At least that’s what I tell myself.

The relocation of my office from the main level of our home to the second floor has had many benefits, not the least of which is increased domestic tranquility – a phrase not exclusively limited to governmental issues by any means. Because of my tendencies towards horizontal organization – actually, more like a full-out embrace – my working office is out of sight, but not out of mind – the office must also remain a guest room (but give me a couple hours notice, please, to ahem – rearrange things).

Anita has gently, but, firmly, been suggesting for several years now something to the tune of “that mess office needs some work.” As with much of life, it was put off some, and then some more.

At this point I need to pause and give special thanks to my youngest son Aaron, who in his senior year in college pointed me to the book The Art of Procrastination, by John Perry. After he bought the book, read it, and wrote a paper on procrastination the day it was due, he gave it to me to read.

Through it, I was introduced to the concept of horizontal organization. I enjoyed learning about, and practicing, Structured Procrastination, To-Do Lists, Procrastination as Perfectionism, and other strategies for the serial procrastinator.

With that under my belt, I became aware of another book with a similar topic: Soon: An Overdue History of Procrastination, from Leonardo and Darwin to You and Me. Author Andrew Santella explores a diverse group of individuals, from Charles Darwin to Leonardo Da Vinci to Frank Lloyd Wright, to ask why so many of our greatest inventors, artists, and scientists have led double lives as committed procrastinators. Here’s a couple of quotes:

In the process of trying to avoid one task, I was in fact completing many other tasks. Even procrastinators can become task-oriented, when the task they are oriented to is procrastinating.

Procrastination is really a kind of time travel, an attempt to manipulate time by transferring activities from the concrete past to an abstract future.

As noted in last week’s Friday post, Anita had had enough. In the genuine spirit of a combination birthday and Father’s Day gift, she said we would be redecorating my office. And, by the way, something had to be done about those books.

You saw the panoramic shot; that was then, this was next:

The entire office was crated, cataloged, and moved to first the garage, and then a storage unit. If you’re counting, that’s 42 crates as pictured above, plus another dozen or so boxes of various sizes.

Finally, a blank canvas:

Next week: The Big Reveal