October 7, 2014 Updated: October 7, 2014 05:40 PM
It began innocently enough and took a fairly standard trajectory. Prodded by stray comments from the spouse, a sibling, a friend and a parent, I virtuously decided to make yet another effort to improve my life.
As always, I began with grandiose plans that had no chance of being implemented. I would not begin my day by checking email. I would instead hug a child, a spouse, or at least a stuffed animal.
I wouldn’t lie in a somnolent stupor in front of the television, scarfing down potato chips while promising myself that each chip would be the last one. I would ban potato chips from entering my household.
I wouldn’t enter the shower and then realise that every single plastic bottle that littered the shower stall was empty. I would stock each bathroom with a host of fragrant products that would satisfy every human need and then some.
I wouldn’t go to the grocery store for just one (forgotten) ingredient or item at the last minute, just before the guests arrived for dinner and the cake was in danger of collapsing. I would make a running list of grocery needs starting every Monday, tack it to the refrigerator and then shop on Sunday for the week’s needs with furious speed. I would begin by buying several magnets so that I could tack the aforementioned grocery list and every how-to and to-do note on the refrigerator.
And so it went, my messy life.
In desperation, I turned to mobile applications that would help me. “Efficiency apps,” I typed into my computer. Almost like magic, a whole host of websites, apps, and advice columns popped up.
There was one called Self Control that prevented me from mindlessly surfing the internet every time I was stuck for a word.
There was one called iProcrastinate that pretty much described my working process and helped me prevent it.
There were two apps called Pocket and Evernote that allowed me to clip anything I chose from websites for future reference and reading.
That was a vast improvement from my current system, which is to mindlessly scribble quotable quotes and flashes of insight onto the first available piece of paper and then go around the house in a state of permanent irritation, asking: “Has anyone seen that discarded envelope onto which I had written a line from Maya Angelou’s poem? It was a yellow piece of junk mail stating that I had won the lottery and I had written Phenomenal Woman in one corner. Anyone seen it?”
How do you manage the minutiae of your life and keep them from tipping over? Are you a clipper of articles, a list maker, or someone who uses an app like “Clear” or “Wunderlist”, to get things done?
My method has been fairly simple. I prioritise the things I need to keep track of: flashes of genius, irreplaceable insights and the phone number of the store that supplied school uniforms. Everything else just falls through the cracks.
I am in the market, if you will, for a personal assistant who will keep things in order. Failing that, I have resorted to reading advice columns from scarily efficient people like Martha Stewart – who devil their eggs, glaze their pudding, iron their underwear, and tuck the corners of their bed linen into severe straight lines.
They all begin with one piece of advice – actually two. The first thing to achieve household order is to actually believe it is possible; that a permanent state of chaos and searching for objects is an aberration, not the norm.
The second is to view such an outcome with admiration, not scorn. The latter seems to be my Waterloo. Cleanliness may be next to Godliness but not in my book. I think that if the universe began with chaos, it is good enough for me.
This attitude may make me feel superior to all those busy worker bees who tirelessly file, scrub, segregate and organise, but it doesn’t help in real life. I must emulate them rather than mock their ways.
I must join the bees instead of thinking myself above it all. Who am I – a queen bee? Even queen bees self-destruct without the colony.
As I write this, my desk is pristine; my newspapers are filed in an ornamental fashion, my fridge is full of magnets with important notes. Now if only I could find that piece of paper in which I wrote the time of the doctor’s appointment.
Shoba Narayan is the author of Return to India: a memoir