everything in its place


When I was a kid, I was highly-influenced by a sign in the stockroom of my grandfather’s store: “A Place for Everything, and Everything in Its Place.” Everyone who worked there knew that if a tool or some supply were not returned to the place from which it came, there would be hell to pay from my grandfather, who was the Ultimate Authority.

The notion expressed by that sign was, of course, that everything should have a place to be stored and that it should be tidily returned there when not in use. As far as I knew, things were always where we expected them to be, and everything worked smoothly.

This proverb is variously associated with Samuel Smiles, Mrs. Isabella Beeton, the Reverend Charles Augustus Goodrich, and Benjamin Franklin. The Oxford Book of Quotations dates it from the 17th century. This notion was especially prized on board the ships of that time where close quarters were endemic.

There are so many people in the US today who need help with this issue that there is a whole industry of professional organizers who are paid to help people get control of their clutter. Even President Obama has admitted that he has a messy desk, and that he asks his staff to not hand him papers until two seconds before he needs them, because otherwise he will lose them.

There is a well-known saying that “a messy desk is the sign of a creative mind” and there is also the corollary, “a tidy desk is the sign of a sick mind.” This shows a typical American attitude that “neatness” is something divorced from getting things done—quite opposite from the feeling in some other cultures that it’s difficult to work productively in a messy space.

If you are faced with someone who is skeptical about the value of getting organized, you may want to mention to them that research has shown that the average person in the US spends anywhere from 16 to 55 minutes per day looking for items that they have misplaced. That time rummaging through a pile of papers on a messy desk can really add up, and represent a big detriment to productivity.



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3 Responses to “everything in its place”

  1. 1 matt
    June 4, 2016 at 1:11 pm

    In aviation we have serious tool control programs, never a good time to find a loose tool bouncing around, especially when upside down.

  2. 2 Bob
    June 5, 2016 at 12:28 am

    In the air force, mechanics had two special pencil pockets and were trained to always have exactly two pens/pencils, so that it was apparent if thery lost one when working in a fighter cockpit. That came from multiple instances of flight controls being jammed by loose objects.

  3. June 5, 2016 at 3:01 am

    Other country, other regulation. In our Air Force, we were not allowed to have something in our pockets if we had to work in an aircraft cabin. Only the crew-chief had a pencil to note on the checklist what has been done. All the tools were systematically controlled at the end of an intervention, before signing the aircraft form.

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