Jan Stafford Kellis

When in Doubt, Alphabetize

I’m a control freak and I know it. I not only know it, I embrace it as I strive to find one tiny corner of this chaotic world to organize, introducing order to a previously discombobulated system, even if it was working just fine before I meddled. The uncontrollable urge to organize doubtless passed to me through my ancestors, as evidenced by their carefully filed and preserved photographs, newspaper articles and personal journaling efforts, crated in separate boxes and totes, clearly labeled and neatly stacked in the Family History section of the basement storage room.

Each organizational challenge presents specific goals (why does it need organization? To preserve my sanity!) and categorizational options (should I organize spices by type–baking vs. cooking–or by age–the oldest to the front, the fresh stuff in the back–or by size of container–short to tall or tall to short?) and sometimes this attention to detail, for which I have been praised by teachers, bosses and strangers on the street, becomes a handicap and the details threaten to suffocate me even as I determine which details are worthy of attention. Organizing the spices will save hours while I cook and bake, reaching confidently to the proper shelf for each spice and seasoning, proving the reward is measurable and attainable, fully justifying the mental effort I’m dedicating to the organizational system. The spice cupboard presents its own challenges with its swinging multi-tiered unit featuring narrow, stationary shelves, able to accommodate only 65.7% of my spices in their original jars. A brief search on the internet provides enough information to decide I am not ready to invest in a set of spice jars, so the organizational method is already compromised by the existing shelf and jar sizes, precluding sorting by age or type of cooking. Organizing by size is still an option, at least for those jars that will fit on a shelf.

After several hours of brainstorming and sketching, considering and rejecting various plans, after reviewing some recipes to see if I even have all the spices I need (I don’t), and after planning the menu for the next week during one particularly long recipe book sojourn, I put the spices in their rack organized by size, smallest ones on the top and tall ones on the bottom, each shelf alphabetized by common name of spice (mustard seed comes before nutmeg).

The task complete, the first flush of satisfaction is suddenly compromised by the realization that the laundry supplies have been thoughtlessly plopped on the shelf with no regard to order of application or even amount left in the containers. A half-full jug of detergent towers next to a spray bottle of stain remover, fully concealing the sample-size package of dryer sheets. A frenzied reshuffling quickly results in a properly organized laundry supply shelf, with various stain removers (alphabetized by brand name) on the far left, then detergents, softeners and dryer sheets standing bravely, at the ready for the next chocolate-, grass- or wine-stained garments, my friend the alphabet quietly taming each section of shelf.

It’s finally time to relax, so I grab my book and head for my favorite chair. My eyes stray from the page several times, the DVDs across the room snagging my attention as I confirm that which I already knew: they are hopelessly out of order, some even placed backwards so the title isn’t visible. Who would be so careless? A frantic recitation of the alphabet aids in rearranging the titles at double-time speed. The restored order works like a tonic, allowing my blood pressure to descend back to normal range and my disorder anxiety (quite different from an anxiety disorder, but debilitating nonetheless) quiets to its usual thrum.

Lunch time passed some time ago–finally noticing my stomach’s repeated bids for attention I open the fridge in search of sandwich fixings, confronted instead by complete culinary chaos. Why are the dressings not corralled as a group in their door pocket? Who in the world placed the mustard (condiment section) near the milk (beverage section)? How is one expected to locate butter, hidden as it is behind the jumbo-sized mayonnaise?

Lunch will be served late today…one more corner of the world requires immediate action.

Cleaning v. Reading

My husband announced this past Saturday evening he would clean the garage on Sunday morning. “What will you be doing while I do that?” he asked. “I’ll clean the house and mop the floor,” I replied. “But just so you know, it may look like I’m reading. But I won’t…

Blackbelt in Shopping

We live so far from civilization, we approach Christmas shopping with a fierce strategy and unrelenting energy. Even with the internet, it’s difficult to purchase everything without physically entering a store and seeing every piece of merchandise presented for sale. Besides, half the fun of shopping is the shopping itself: the browsing, considering, imagining. Even the other shoppers, sharing small talk, shopping tips or even coupons. Grandma had taught us how to shop; we invoked her guidance on this longest shopping day of the year, fondly remembering the way she dealt with indecision: “If you can’t decide between the two, just buy both.”

I picked up my sister at 6:30 am. We each had our travel mugs of coffee, and we each brought snack bars, bottled water and tote bags. For interest’s sake, I had my pedometer on my cell phone activated. Oh, and I had two extra pairs of shoes stashed in the truck in case my feet started to hurt. During the three-hour drive to Traverse City we discussed our itinerary, our shopping lists and restaurant choices. The plan was to finish our Christmas shopping in one day, then drive back home.

We started at a couple box stores, stretching our legs and finding our shopping groove. It’s important to accelerate slowly–if one enters the first store at full speed, one’s energy will lag early on and ultimately peter out. A definitive sign of a rookie shopper is one who bursts into the store and jogs from department to department, maniacally shoving hangers around until she finds the prize. Maintaining a steady rhythm throughout the day will ensure energy for the long haul as well as preserve personal dignity (always a consideration).

After trundling our first purchases to the truck, we proceeded to the mall where we parked in a strategic location outside the store where we planned to purchase the most. We carried our tote bags in to reduce the number of plastic store shopping bags; our first stop was at the pretzel vendor for a hot pretzel. A professional shopper always plans time for refueling, as shopping is miserable when one is hungry and progresses to nearly impossible when one is fainting from lack of nutrition. Shopping is an endurance sport forcing participants to focus on hydrating and eating light meals to maintain the pace.

We pushed our heaping cart out to the truck after covering half the mall; it was time for lunch. We emptied the cart, carefully stacking our purchases on separate sides of the truck to simplify the unpacking, which would occur after dark. Still feeling fairly energetic, we re-entered the mall and found a comfortable eat-in restaurant. Once we placed our orders our lists reappeared for revision and additions, and we planned the remainder of our afternoon and evening: the rest of the mall, then a few more box stores (including a book store), a cruise through a furniture store just for fun, and the long ride home.

Christmas shopping finished, we headed north and arrived home just before midnight. The pedometer read 6.3 miles; the Christmas budget was reduced to $1.15; the list was fulfilled. Grandma would be proud.