Register Monday | June 24 | 2019

The Road to an Orderly Life

Does Not Go Past Ikea

I just got back from Thanksgiving in the US and I do not want to talk to you about the election, nor do I want to be your token American acquaintance. Also, I can't find my driver's licence, my mobile-phone charger, my security badge for work, my black sweatery tights, my watch, the refills for my prescriptions (extremely problematic) or my behind with both paws. On Monday morning, I crawled the length of my commute, on what felt like my hands and knees-an unmedicated, bare-leggedy animal moving through the Toronto snow. When I arrived at the office, on my monitor there was a command line to tie around my waist before wading into the tidy stacks of files within directories. Over lunch, bookmarks obligingly unfurled to remind me of who and what I want to be. The rest of my day was like playing Tetris-or Dr. Mario-as I plugged together shapes to complete tasks, and then took satisfaction in their disappearance from my Lotus Notes reminders. It's all very important work.

I came home to the organizational riot of our apartment: airy clods of dog hair rocking out around the radiators, a chair full of holiday packages to be sent out to friends, swelling plastic containers of past lunches piled in the sink and chunky, month-old coffee in travel mugs. Apparently, our closet was bombed, but no organization has yet taken responsibility. All this after a day of the deceptive mental tidiness of tech-sector work. My husband-turned-co-columnist (Dave) and I would both like to file our home away in a few hundred folders and kick back on a clean desktop. Life's not meant to be like this, I'm sure of it.

It seems unfair to have to work so hard at being disorganized and exhausted. Where is the return on this investment? Behind my shitty Ikea desk chair, a Greek chorus of fuckwad hipsters drag on their cigarettes in unison, exhaling with a snort of schadenfreude. "You work? In an office? Every DAY? Why?" Regardless of whether their ease in relative poverty comes from a trust fund or a keen sense of middle-class adventure, they make a point. Why go through the motions of contributing to the greater stability and supporting our aging parents on social insurance and social security (both, awright!) when there's little in it for us, except a brittle self-righteousness and the enormous privilege of abstaining from roommates? The Most Spoiled Generation-managers who WILL NOT DIE and parents-answers our squawks with condescending pats on the head and reassurances that someday we'll get ours, we just have to work for it. In the meantime, we sit on a combination of furniture from the trash and Ikea, not from Herman Miller. We haven't yet earned ergonomic comfort.

Our bosses and managers don't seem to live in the same disorderly manner that we do. They carefully rotate their corporate-casual knit polo shirts and khakis. On the weekends, they change the oil in their Ford Explorers, renovate their basement apartments, cottage it up and play golf. They commute twice as far as we do and still manage to pick up the kids; to cook, eat and clean up after a meal; to hit the gym and arrive fresh-faced at 8 AM the following day. They don't limp home, eat pineapple from a can for dinner, cut their hair in the bathtub, play video games all night long or arrive in the office at 10 with a hangover. They must have systems in place to accomplish the management of all of this goddamn time.

While behind one hand we scoff at our Normal co-workers and the lame things they choose to achieve with their powers of gumption and organization, the other hand is jealously browsing the web for lifestyle remedies. Surely it can't be a matter of just doing it-there has to be something we can buy that would make a difference. And they make more than we do, so they must be able to afford some fairly bitchin' lifestyle problem-solvers.

Dave and I, as well as the other junior-tenure turds we know, sit in meetings with these very together-and thus, to my mind, fancy-people all the livelong day, listening to them tell us about solutions that will help us to work smarter. And "all day" means all fucking day. So it must have some translatable application to the living of a cheerful civilian life. Because if it doesn't, there will be an existential meltdown with the approximate size and shape of forty hours a week times an adulthood. This all needs to mean something. Please.

Dave and I, as well as the other junior-tenure turds we know, sit in meetings with these very together-and thus, to my mind, fancy-people all the livelong day, listening to them tell us about solutions that will help us to work smarter.

Some of us find solace in the church of the Seven Habits or in tickler systems. But information is relatively free on the Web, and for the truly hands-on person, books are free at the library. How common! These businessy books tend to have ugly cover art that would align a person socially with minivans and symmetrical hairstyles, and we are not about that. We're concerned with appealing design, with ecological responsibility, with other marketing victims' thoughts about these things-and most of all, we're concerned about ourselves. We're not coy about our allegiance to productivism; we don't crouch behind the middle-class values that merely imply the concept. I want stuff, understand? I work for stuff and I buy stuff for work. Even if I left the city to go work the land or some shit, I'd still spend my spare moments turning the pages of workboot catalogues by candlelight. So I'm not about to hate someone for resorting to having children in order to unlock another level in the stuff-buying game.

Our latest stuff solution was to sell numerous laundry baskets full of CDs. With the cash, we purchased an extra hard drive (Western Digital 160 G), an MP3 car stereo (Blaupunkt Monte Carlo) and a personal MP3 player (iRiver IFP-390). And no, I didn't stutter. There is indeed no iPod in that list: the battery situation, durability and luxury status (as reflected in the retail price and in the brand visibility of those tantalizing little white wires trailing up from inside one's jacket while riding public transportation) are too unsatisfactory. And I'm not paying $400+ to participate in the lifestyle of every person riding the dismal Keele Street bus. Being average shouldn't cost that much.

The outcome? I tend to listen to the radio during my commute and manage to arrive at my destination still poking buttons, having heard nary a song I like. Last week, after taking three minutes to load up the player with some particularly great songs for the gym, I listened to them with the headphones on while driving to and from work. Backasswards to the limit, as well as dangerous. But our collection has gone from sitting in several hundred scratched-up CDs in the wrong jewel cases to being viewable on a nineteen-inch monitor in a system of truncating and expanding folder trees. Rather like technology itself, I am my own Occam's Razor and Chatton's Anti-Razor in one illogical bundle: I continually promise to deliver myself from messes I created in the first place.

My next nerdful organizational coup will be to de-analog our closet, which I declare even as I have yet to unpack two suitcases of clothes purchased in thrift stores of smaller-town USA, untouched by the film industry or by the legions of morons like us who pay Toronto rents. How does this apply to my solution to the exploding closet? I'm envisioning a kind of tickler system composed of forty-three work outfits. But first I need a raise. For more outfits.

David and Vanessa currently live and toil in Toronto--for a large technology corporation and a non-profit, respectively.  They met via their blogs, and were married in the winter of 2002.  They have a hamster and a dog, but no yacht. Nerdworld appears every second Sunday.