Organizational neurosis? Welcome to my world

Only 0.000000000000001 percent of the world’s population could legitimately claim that they are organized: my aunt Eusebia and I.

Since she passed away more than 25 years ago, it is now my sole responsibility to teach the world how to be organized. To be organized you have to be awake (dreams are always very messy), you have to have paper and pencil or you need to download one of the 5,576,444,290 apps that claim to help with organization, time management, priorities, schedule, goals, objectives, and bad breadth, all essential for success at work.

If you are like most people, you are going to spend 2,789 hours choosing the right time-saving app from the app store.

After you download it, you are going to use it for about three minutes until you get an email from your brother telling you that you must watch the latest TED talk on productivity. As you are about to click on the link, you are distracted by various pop-ups with offers to purchase cruise tickets, houses on foreclosure, and antiques from Estonia. By the time you are ready to watch the video on productivity you realize it’s time to go home.

After dinner you get your iPad and finally have time to watch the talk on productivity. The speaker recommends that you download a goal setting app. Because you are a discerning customer, you are not going to download just the first app that appears on your screen, so you are going to spend 592 hours comparing features, at which point you forget what you were looking for and settle for the latest version of angry birds.

My identification with the Prophet Job has grown considerably since marrying my wife. When our son was old enough to be expected to carry out tasks, my identification with Job was complete. I felt that God had presented me with the toughest cases of disorganization to prove my conviction with the mission to bring order to the world.

Soon after my wife, Ora, and I started living together in Israel, I remember a weekend when we decided to clean our apartment. We literally turned everything upside down to do a thorough job. In the middle of the chaos, Ora found an old letter that I had sent her, and she decided to stop everything, lie on the unmade bed and start reading the letter for nostalgia’s sake.

I found this episode totally endearing but profoundly disorienting and stressful. In the house I grew up in, you finished what you started before you moved on to other activities, let alone frivolous ones, like reading an old letter. I did my best to act normal in the face of her spontaneity, but later that night I threw up.

My befuddlement was alleviated when I met Ora’s parents, who had just come from Canada for our wedding. I understood then that the gene responsible for tidiness had fallen off her family tree. I slowly moved from perplexity to acceptance.

Our son Matan showed no inclination to be organized until he turned 22. These were the most disorganized and distressing years of my life. Nothing had prepared me for it.

When we lived in Australia, Matan used to go to summer camp. Upon return from one such adventure, we picked him up from the drop-off point and drove home. Three blocks on our way home we spotted one of his shoes in the middle of an intersection. I am sure that the shoe had an irrepressible urge to jump out of the bus. Anything to get away from my kid’s smelly feet after a month-long camp.

I used to have a recurring nightmare that I would die and that Ora and Matan wouldn’t find the life insurance policy and instructions for burial. I feared they wouldn’t find my will and that my entire retirement fund would go to fund the 48th year of the war in Afghanistan — but no more.

I’m pleased to report that in the last five years Matan has become dangerously like me. Ora has also become much more organized, threatening my supremacy as the most neurotically habitual member of the house. Don’t give Ora amaranth instead of gluten-free, organic steel-cut oatmeal from Whole Foods in the morning, and please, please, don’t overcook the broccoli. Twelve extra seconds can make a big difference in the nutritional chemistry of a crucifer — not to mention family harmony.

Isaac Prilleltensky, a community psychologist, is dean of the School of Education and Human Development at the University of Miami.

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