U2.3 Scope & Terminology – Digital Technology

Digital Technology is essentially equipment and systems powered by computers. Common types of Digital Technology include laptops, tablets, mobile phones, apps, wi-fi, internet web sites, and email. To get a computer to work, its instructions (the programme), and the data the programme works on, are turned into codes made up of simple digits. The computer then performs mathematics on this huge mass of digital codes. Hence the process of getting things such as papers, books, photos and whole systems of information and actions, into a form that a computer can deal with, is often called Digitisation.

For individuals and households, the most useful pieces of digitisation equipment are the scanner,  the digital camera, and the personal computer. Scanners turn physical paperwork into electronic files that computers can manage, display and even understand; and digital cameras do the same for whatever they are pointed at.  A personal computer (such as a laptop, tablet, or smart phone) enables those electronic files to be stored, edited and searched.

Digital technology can be used to augment collections or to replicate or replace collections. In the OFC context, augmenting a collection means using a computer to store information about a collection in order to manage it and to retrieve items from it. Replicating a collection in the OFC context, means making digital copies of the physical items in the collection. If the physical items are then discarded, the digital replicas effectively replace the items in the collection.

While many of our possessions are physical, we are encountering an increasing number of things that are created by computers and so are already in digital form. Such ‘born digital’ items (for example, emails, downloadable music, and ebooks) may not require initial digitisation, but they too still require a personal computer with which to store, manage and search them. Indeed, some developments in digital technology are not just additional things to deal with – they completely disrupt the way we live. For example, digital music has completely changed the way we buy and listen to music; and the old approach of buying a roll of film, taking photos and getting it developed has been almost completely extinguished. It is within this context of disruptive change that individuals and householders are having to make choices about what new technologies to buy into, and about how to adapt the way they used to do things to get the best of old and new.

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U2.2 Scope & Terminology – Collections

The term ‘collection’ is used in its broadest sense in the OFC context. It refers to any specific group of physical or digital things. The word specific is used deliberately to emphasise that this is a pre-specified group of objects bounded in some specific way by, for example, type (eg. letters) or location (eg. attic) or container (eg. folder). Collections may include almost anything – large (eg.vintage cars), small (eg. coins), or diverse (eg. a jumble of all sorts of stuff in an attic).

Some collections are started deliberately (eg. stamps); however, others just emerge accidentally and build up over time. Sometimes we put things in places or in piles as a holding mechanism with the intention of doing something with them at a later date. Often, we never get round to doing whatever it was we were going to do – and we may even keep adding items to the collection. In other cases, we start out with a set of things in an organised state (eg. in wardrobes or kitchen cupboards or file boxes) but as we add things and use things and fail to discard useless items, a much enlarged, disorganised collection emerges over a period of time.

Collections owned by one particular person are simpler to apply OFC techniques to as there is only one person who has to make decisions about the objects. It is usually more complicated when collections are owned by two or more people as is the case when, for example, a couple clear out the contents of their garage. Of course, it is even more complicated to apply OFC techniques to collections owned by other people, as, for example, when someone attempts to assist an older infirm relative move out of their house. In all circumstances where two or more people are involved, it is necessary for all parties to agree about what to do with each object; and it is preferable that they should all positively buy-in to what has been agreed.

One other type of owner may also need to be considered in an OFC exercise; that is the family member, other person, or organisation to whom a collection may be given upon the death of the current owner. Aids to help owners think through the requirements of such parties will be discussed in this tutorial.

Most collections will consist of objects which are either all physical or all digital; though some collections (such as the collection of household files described elsewhere in this site) are a hybrid of both physical and digital. Of course, after an OFC exercise has been completed, a collection may well have become a hybrid containing either some physical objects and some digital objects, or some objects which are present in both physical and digital forms; or perhaps a combination of both these hybrid forms. Elsewhere in this tutorial the notion of optimising the hybrid will be explored – that is, the ability to make best use of the particular advantages offered by the physical and the digital respectively.

Most collections are in place to be able to use the items within them in some way or other. However, often, much of the content remains untouched, unseen, or even forgotten.  An important objective of OFC techniques is to inspire new ways to exploit the contents of collections – to bring them to life, to make them more visible, and to enable their owners to enjoy them.

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U2.1 Scope & Terminology – Order From Chaos

The term Order From Chaos is widely used in many different contexts. A quick search on Google reveals that it appears in areas as diverse as heavy metal music, foreign policy, and science. On this site, however, the term is used  to refer to the notion that efficient ways of sorting and organising things can be combined with the power of the computer to produce a more ordered, accessible, and useful set of objects.

Initially, when the concept was first developed in the 1980s, the idea related to physical objects. However, as the use of computers grew to permeate all aspects of our lives, we have had to contend with an increasing number of objects that were created in digital form (often referred to as ‘born digital’). Hence, this site has been exploring Order from Chaos concepts for both physical and digital objects.

The word ‘chaos’ does imply a degree of disorder; however, it must be remembered that chaos is relative and in the eye of the beholder. For example, several piles of paper in a study might appear disorganised, while the owner may have placed them deliberately and knows exactly where to find a particular item. Hence, there are no perfect solutions – only possibilities from which an individual or household can select an option which works for them.

I haven’t come across any other people investigating this exact same meaning of the term, though there are undoubtedly other people working in related fields. However, I have not made an exhaustive search to identify them: I have  only sought to find information and people in relation to specific questions that have arisen in this work. Therefore, readers should keep in mind that there are likely to be many other related views and experiences out there.

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U2. Scope & Terminology – Introduction

The term Order From Chaos is used in many different circumstances in colloquial speech. However, it has a specific meaning in the context of this tutorial – namely the organisation of any set of things with the assistance of Digital Technologies. Examples of such things include: Music Collections, Loft Contents, Family Photos, Household Files, and Letters. Such Collections of material usually start out being in a purely physical form, however, a growing amount of material is now being created in digital form with a consequential huge impact on the way we live.

This first three parts of this section explore the terms, ‘Order From Chaos’, ‘Collections’, and ‘Digital Technology’, in more detail. They discuss their specific meanings and indicate their range of coverage within the context of this tutorial.  The final part of the section seeks to remind us of the changes that Digital Technology has made on our collections and the way we use them.

Before venturing further, readers should bear in mind an overarching point about the scope of the whole tutorial: most of the findings in this site relate to only one household and cannot be used to reach general conclusions; they show only what can be done, NOT what everybody is doing. As such its findings and conclusions can only be used as a starting point for further thinking and investigation.

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U1. The OFC Online Tutorial – Welcome and Contents

Welcome to this Order From Chaos Online Tutorial. Since 2012 I’ve been exploring how to organise, digitise, show, share, bring to life, preserve, and pass on our physical and digital objects; and this tutorial is intended to draw out the lessons I’ve learned and recorded in the pwofc.com web site.

The tutorial takes the form of a series of units, each one providing a few screenfulls of main points with links to supporting posts elsewhere in this site (it’s not possible to link exclusively to specific text within a post).

The Contents List is below.

U1.     Welcome – this post

U2.0.  Scope & Terminology – Introduction
U2.1   Scope & Terminology – Order From Chaos
U2.2   Scope & Terminology – Collections
U2.3   Scope & Terminology – Digital Technology
U2.4   Scope & Terminology – Understanding today in the context of yesterday

U3.0   Why do it? – Introduction
U3.1   Why do it? – Why do we keep things?
U3.2   Why do it? – What problems arise as collections build up?
U3.3   Why do it? – What are the pros and cons of organising your collections?
U3.4   Why do it? – Why use digital technology to organise your collections?
U3.5   Why do it? – Why bother exploiting your collections?

U4.0   Approach– Introduction
U4.1   The basic approach – with no digital support
U4.2   A model of OFC activities
U4.3   Examples of OFC projects
U4.4   Points to bear in mind

U5.0   How to do it – Introduction
U5.1   How to do it – Define what & why
U5.2   How to do it – Plan
U5.3   How to do it – Sort & organise
U5.4   How to do it – Digitise – Introduction
U5.4.1   Digitise – Technology requirements
U5.4.2   Digitise – Titles, metadata, indexes and labelling
U5.4.3   Digitise – Choosing to retain or discard
U5.5   How to do it – Store
U5.6   How to do it – Use
U5.7   How to do it – Exploit
U5.8   How to do it – Maintain

U6.0   OFC in the future – Introduction
U6.1   The future of OFC items and collections
U6.2   The future impact of recent developments
U6.3   The future impact of AI
U6.4   A summary view of the OFC future  

Unit 6.4 is the last unit of this OFC Online Tutorial

Prep finished

The preparatory work is done. After categorising and recategorising 440 excerpts from this blog and a few other notes, I believe I’m now in a position to provide a coherent account of the topic that the blog is devoted to – ‘Order from Chaos, Digitisation and their Intersection’. In the course of doing this analysis, I’ve revised the model that I started out with in the post of 29June2017. It now looks like this:

The change was necessitated by the need to provide a set of contents that can be sensibly written about and easily understood. However, I’m not going to write a paper. Instead, I’ll be creating an online tutorial in subsequent posts in this blog. I’m confident that such a presentation will work because I produced something similar on the subject of HCI (Human-Computer Interaction) in Lotus Notes before I retired. The structure of this tutorial will take a similar form – each unit will provide one or two screenfulls of main points, and within those main points will be links to supporting material from elsewhere in this blog.

Organising Yourself, Your Office, Your Life

I haven’t investigated Personal Task Management in this blog, mainly because, being retired, I don’t have anything like the number or intensity of tasks as I had at work; so I don’t have the raw material to undertake an investigation of the subject. However, in starting to write about Liz Davenport’s book ‘Order From Chaos’, I realised that this is also an opportunity to document some of my own experiences and thoughts on the topic so I’ll weave them into the rest of this write-up.

Davenport’s book, subtitled ‘A 6 Step Plan for Organising Yourself, Your Office, and Your Life’, is certainly worth reading by anyone who has a real desire to organise their work. I say ‘real desire’ because, as the subtitle suggests, there are no half measures here. For Davenport’s approach to work, it’s necessary to plan and manage all one’s work through a Filofax-type loose-leaf notebook which she refers to as the Air Traffic Controller. In a preparatory phase, the desktop and office surfaces  are cleared, unnecessary paperwork and materials are discarded, and the filing system is reorganised.  This lays the groundwork for setting up a schedule for all existing tasks – both short and long term – in Air Traffic Control. Then, guidance is provided for how to manage all incoming information and communications – either to deal with them immediately or to schedule a task and file the paperwork. Finally, there are descriptions of how to plan and end a working day. It all makes sense and is described clearly. However, this is super-efficiency at work, and will probably require a considerable amount of discipline to achieve. I know I’ve met many people who are just not that way inclined.

The book was written in 2001 at a time when PCs and laptops had just become prevalent in offices, but email volumes were substantially lower than today and mobile phones had not yet become widespread. Consequently the book talks mainly about paper, though the pros and cons of electronic organisers are discussed (Davenport says she does not recommend the electronic systems  yet as, at that time, paper was still quicker, simpler and more reliable). [I subsequently emailed Liz Davenport and asked if this was still her view and her reply was, “Sadly, paper is still faster and simpler.  Most folks keep their appointments on their phones now but the whole “​TO DO LIST/NOTES” aspect ​is still best served with a paper system because 99% of folks won’t take the time to put tasks and notes in their phone so it goes back to piles, post-it-notes and remembering and we know how effective that method is!”]

There are small sections advising on how to deal with email and which suggest setting up your computer filing system to mirror your paper filing system. It would be interesting to know if the rise in mobile phone usage, email volumes and the emergence of social media, have affected Davenport’s views [In response to my email asking this question, Liz Davenport replied “Not really because the basic 6 steps still apply, there’s just a higher amount of stuff in each step.  Doesn’t mean there are more hours in a day. LOL!”]

The core of the book’s approach is Task Management – how to identify, agree to, schedule, and record tasks. Everything else in the book is designed to help you manage tasks and get tasks done.  For many people, this comes down to having a To Do list (I used to create one every working day before I retired) ; but this goes way beyond that. The book instructs that all incoming communications and requests for action should be dealt with there and then or scheduled for some later date. It also advises on how to say No when new tasks are offered (even suggesting that if the boss wants you to do something that you haven’t got capacity for, you should ask which of the other things in your clearly documented schedule should be given lower priority). Rescheduling is permitted, but, if a task has been rescheduled 5 times, it is unlikely to ever get done so just cross it off the list. Based on this complete list of scheduled tasks, a plan for the day’s activities based on all scheduled appointments and prioritised tasks, should be drawn up before doing anything else; and the full schedule and associated notes should be written down in the Air Traffic Controller which should be fully visible on the desk at all times. Interestingly, I did experiment myself with  keeping my To Dos in an electronic system for a while, but in the end I went back to the paper-based list which I kept on the desk in front of me – it was just more visible and more flexible to change and add to.

A key element of Davenport’s approach is to eliminate clutter and piles, and generally get paperwork under control. She recommends getting rid of 95% of old files as most will never be looked at again. My own experience concurs with this – though, as ever, there is always the conundrum of which 5% you are going to need later. Davenport’s answer is that you can get hold of most documents again if you really need them, and that this hindrance is minor compared to the benefits of being paper-light. For filing cabinets, the book recommends avoiding a straight A-Z system, and instead suggests allocating a major topic to each drawer, dividing each major topic into sub-categories, and finally filing chronologically inside the sub-categories with the latest at the front (the rationale for this is that if you look for something in a file the chances are it will be something you filed recently). Each file drawer should have at least two inches of play in it so when you want to file something, you can easily open the file with two fingers and drop in whatever you need to file. When drawers  get too full, cull them to make an extra few inches space. I’d be interested in knowing how this approach works in today’s environment when most documents are electronic, and computer folders can expand almost indefinitely because so much storage is available on the modern PC or laptop. Is it worth doing a cull or do you just let the  files accumulate indefinitely? I guess that, providing the file titles start with the date (in yyyy-mm-dd format) and include a short description, there’s really no downside. [in reply to this question, Liz Davenport said “I recommend occasionally culling entire folders and putting them in archive but, you’re right, with all that space, what the heck.​”].

Unfortunately, however, there is a disconnect with email being in a different system. Most documents will come in by email so there is a question of whether to file them in the email system or take the trouble to detach them into the computer’s folder system. It would be interesting to know if Davenport has adapted her approach to deal with these contemporary circumstances [Her reply to this question was “I recommend a “Pending” folder in email.  If there is something you need to take action on, write it down in your plann​er system first, of course, but then just drag the email to the pending folder so you don’t have to waste time searching for it.  I also recommend a different code.  Instead of the P with a circle around it for the paper pending, maybe a P with a square to denote the electronic pending.”]​

Another mechanism advocated in the book to support day-to-day activities is trays (or, presumably, other containers such as folders or boxes) to contain the following collections of documents: a Desktop File for tasks you are currently working on or repetitive tasks performed daily, and to include a Pending File; an Inbox (to be emptied at least once a day); a To Read Tray (which should be purged when it gets full); a To File Tray (to be emptied when its full or when you go to the filing cabinet to look for something).  Other trays can be added for particular specialist activities (such as ‘Things to go to Accounting’).  Again it would be interesting to know what form Davenport recommends that these mechanisms should take in today’s environment [“Davenport’s response  to this question was, “The stacking tray system is still important because we still have paper, unfortunately.  With email, new mail is “IN” and needs to be gone through each day.  Do not have an electronic “TO READ” because you will not look in it any more than you ever look in the paper version.  As to “TO FILE” if an email needs to be go in a specific file, create an email folder for that project/client and move it to there.”]

A significant point made in the book is that you have one life so you should have one Air Traffic Control book for BOTH your business and your personal life. I certainly concur with this, and have done so ever since working with a prototype electronic diary in the 1980s (see ‘Towards the Electronic Pocket Diary’, Design Studies, Vol 5 No 2, pp 98-105, April 1984). This was a word-processed document on double sided A4 paper which was folded first in half and then in three, and carried around in a pocket in my wallet. It included line items for all my activities – work and domestic; a To Do list sandwiched between the previous few days activities and the upcoming activities stretching out as far as necessary; and a whole  series of other information including names and addresses, facts & figures, books, records, papers to write, etc.. I found that this document had to contain everything relating to both my business and my home life to be viable and useful.

Interestingly, Davenport notes that it is useful to be able to store old copies of the Air Traffic Control book in order to have a clear record to supply to the tax authorities if they audit her. I absolutely agree that it is useful to have old copies – though my experience has been that I use them to find out what I was doing or to find out other information from that time. I maintained my wallet diary from 1981 to 1993 (when I started using a Psion organiser and subsequently the Lotus Notes calendar). Before that period I have some, but not all, of my old pocket diaries. Since 1993 I have no records at all. Therefore I know from bitter experience that my word-processed diaries from 1981 – 1993 are outstandingly complete and useful compared to the rest of the material I have – or don’t have.

The book as a whole certainly puts forward a comprehensive approach to managing ones activities – though I did wonder If those who use it while working full time jobs, do continue to use it in their retirement. I can imagine that they might do so because it’s a just a habit they get into. I wonder also if it  becomes more of an unbreakable habit depending on whether they are using a paper Air Traffic Control book or an electronic one. [Liz Davenport’s reply to this question was “That depends on the complexity of your life, but I recommend continuing to use a system but perhaps go to a week at a glance version, if that is enough.” she also added “The Order From Chaos system is easily scalable to fit your life, whether working or retired.”].

There is certainly a question mark in my mind as to whether the whole approach still works in today’s environment of mobile phones and all-pervasive email; however, to the best of my knowledge, I don’t believe a revised and updated version of this specific book has been published (though Davenport did publish a shorter, 104 page e-book in 2011 called ‘Order From Chaos for Students’ which I haven’t read). There are however, a large number of hints and tips which are valid regardless of how digitised we become. I’ll end this review with some of the one’s I liked best:

  • If you go along with unwanted interruptions you are encouraging bad behaviour in others.
  • If you want to concentrate, eliminate all distractions. Lock your office door or go somewhere else.
  • Do one task at a time. Make sure only the things you need for that task are on your desk. Work it until you complete it.
  • Stations represent frequently repeated tasks requiring specific tools; a station includes ALL the tools needed to complete the task. A station can be a desk drawer or a box or a table top.
  • Crumpled up paper takes up much more space in the trash can than flat uncrumpled paper does.
  • Don’t bother shredding. It is time-consuming and if ‘they’ want to get you, they don’t need to go through your trash to do it.
  • To persuade people to be organised, they must perceive that life is easier when you are organised than when you are disorganised.
  • Don’t ask ‘how should I file this?’, but rather ‘how will I use it?’ For example, don’t file bills by the organisation concerned but by month. Even better just put paid bills in a box with the latest one on top.
  • Tasks that will take longer than one hour should be scheduled as Appointments.
  • Consider putting at least one thing on your list every day that is a step toward a larger longer-term goal.
  • Achieve closure at the end of the day by always spending 5 minutes reviewing your Air Traffic Controller to see what you’ve achieved. Mark every item with either a tick for done, an arrow for rescheduled, and an X for no longer an issue. At the end of your 5 minute review, draw a big line across the whole of the day to give yourself closure and permission to stop thinking work.

The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying

Marie Kondo’s book ‘The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying’ is definitely worth a read, especially for those with a general interest in the topic of introducing some order into a pile of chaotic objects, and also for those who have even a vague feeling that they would like to live in a tidier home. Her experience and passion for the subject jumps out from just about every page with an almost religious fervour. However, I’m happy to say that, towards the end of the book, she says quite unequivocally “tidying is not actually necessary”,  “You won’t die if your house isn’t tidy”, and “tidying is not the purpose of life”; hence, for those with a desire to give it a go, she espouses doing a complete assessment of every item you posses as quickly as possible to get it over with. Having done so, she believes you will have a changed mindset, and that you will naturally continue to keep things in order.

While there are many points in the book that are of great relevance to the investigations in this blog, there are two major differences; the book makes hardly any reference to digitising things, whilst harnessing the power of digitisation is a key thrust of these investigations; and the book is focused on tidying ALL of a person’s possessions in their home (or their place of work), whilst this blog is looking at particular subsets of a person’s possessions. Having said that, the approach, rationale, and impacts that are described can all contribute to the understanding that I am trying to explore in these pages.

Kondo’s approach is pretty straightforward. Take a category of your belongings; assemble EVERY item in that category from EVERY part of your house, into a big pile; take each item, hold it in your hand, and decide if it gives you a spark of joy – If it does, keep it, and if it doesn’t, discard it; assign a specific space to store everything you keep; when you store  things, make them as visible as possible, and avoid piling things one on top of the other. This process is intended to be a one-off, all inclusive, exercise to be done on every possession you have.  In Kondo’s experience it usually takes about half a year.

The two key questions, of course, are what constitutes a spark of joy, and is having a spark of joy for an individual item the only criteria one should have. Take books. I love books and enjoy having them around me. Some of the individual books I have are less meaningful to me than others; but I’d keep them for the sake of having books on bookshelves around the house. Kondo doesn’t seem to recognise this. In the several examples she quotes about books, the outcome always seems to be the disposal of tens if not hundreds of books. To be fair, she does make it clear that the decision about what to keep has to be made by the individual concerned. I guess she would just advise that, in the absence of a spark of joy, you should be clear about why you are keeping something.

I don’t think I came across an explicit answer in Kondo’s book to the question ‘why bother to keep your house tidy?’. However, it contains a number of assertions which collectively suggest it’s a good thing to do. The simplest assertion is that one of the reasons why clutter eats away at us is because we have to search for something just to find out if it’s even there; so if we have a tidy house we can find things easily and quickly and feel more content. Another is that we keep things because either we become too attached to the past or that we have a fear of the unknown  future. Kondo believes both things hold people back in their lives – being too attached to the past means that we can’t move on; and having a fear for the unknown future signals our reluctance to try out new things. However, Kondo’s overall rationale is even more complex than that. She believes that we fail to get to grips with clutter as an instinctive reflex to avoid thinking about the other issues in our lives. By discarding the things that are not truly precious to us, we are better able to see what is important to us; we are able to address the issues that are troubling us; and we can become more content with our lives.

Are any of these valid points? And if so, are they good and sufficient reasons for being tidy? To take each one in turn: a lot of clutter undoubtedly makes it more difficult to find things in most cases. However,  there is anecdotal evidence that some untidy people can still find the things they need by having a clear memory of where they place things.  In general, though, it seems reasonable to assume that being tidier can help many people find the things they need more quickly.

The notion that being untidy may be constraining people from moving on or from being able to try out new things, I feel is a more tenuous point: I think I have known many untidy people for whom these assertions are totally untrue. The best that can be said is that it may be constraining some people. As to whether a thorough tidy can help those people – well, according to Kondo’s experience with what sounds like an extensive client list, it seems that this is probably true.

Kondo’s final, rather bold, assertion that a thorough tidy can help us address issues that are troubling us and change our lives, is one that I have no way of assessing. Again, we have to rely on Kondo’s own experience with her clients – apparently, she has observed this occur many times, so we can only assume that, for some people who try out her approach, this is a possible outcome. Even if it’s only a possibility, for those who are seeking to address such issues, it may be a good reason to try out Kondo’s approach.

Now, turning to the impact that Kondo’s approach has on people, the most tangible and immediate impact seems to be the disposal of numerous bags of possessions. The numbers quoted are rather large:

  • ‘I threw out 30 bags of rubbish in one month’
  • ‘After three months of this strategy I had managed to dispose of 10 bags of rubbish’;
  • ‘The minimum amount of paper waste that my clients dispose of is two 45 litre bin bags – the maximum so far is 15 bags‘
  • ‘[one client] had no qualms about discarding and at our first lesson she got rid of 200 books and 32 bags of items.’
  • ‘The record number of bin bags filled to date was by a couple who threw out 200 bags worth of rubbish plus more than 10 items that were too large to put into bags.’
  • ‘The average amount thrown out by a single person is easily 20-30 45 litre bin bags and for a family of three its closer to 70 bags.’

These are big numbers and I found myself wondering a) if they are all shopaholics in Japan (where Kondo is based), and b) if they weren’t filling the bags to their capacity. But, anyway, it’s clear that disposing of such large amounts of stuff would probably make a very tangible difference in an average house.

Other impacts that Kondo cites are largely to do the mindset of the individual. She claims that ‘Tidying dramatically changes one’s life. This is true for everyone, 100 per cent.’ Particular changes she describes include the following:

  • One of the magical effects of tidying is confidence in your decision-making capacity. Tidying means taking each item in your hand, asking yourself if it sparks joy, and deciding on this basis whether or not to keep it.  By repeating this process hundreds and thousands of times, we naturally hone our decision-making skills.
  • Because [my clients] have continued to identify and discard things that they don’t need, they no longer abdicate responsibility for decision-making to other people. When a problem arises, they don’t look for some external cause or person to blame.
  • Putting your house in order will help you find the mission that speaks to your heart. Life truly begins after you have put your house in order. “When I put my house in order I discovered what I really wanted to do.” These are words I hear frequently from my clients.
  • Through tidying, people come to know contentment. After tidying, my clients tell me that their worldly desires have decreased.

These are dramatic changes – but then the process that Kondo guides her clients through is also quite dramatic so perhaps it’s not unreasonable to expect some significant impacts on people’s lives.

So far I’ve really only spoken about the book’s general approach and impacts. However, it also provides a wealth of detailed and very useful guidance on how to deal with specific types of objects and on setting up different types of storage.  There is too much material to discuss here, but I’ll finish this summary with just a couple of quotes which I particularly liked:

  • A common mistake people make is to decide where to store things on the basis of where it’s easiest to take them out. This approach is a fatal trap. Clutter is caused by a failure to return things to where they belong. Therefore, storage should reduce the effort needed to put things away, not the effort needed to get them out.
  • Mysterious [electrical] cords will always remain just that – mysterious.

What’s in a Name?

The term Order From Chaos is widely used in many different contexts. A quick search on Google reveals that it appears in areas as diverse as Heavy Metal music, foreign policy, and science. I remember coining my own use of the term in the late 1980s when, standing in the shower in Stoke Mandeville, I faced the fact that I would never be able to employ the acronym IFC (Interplanetary Freight Corporation), but realised that, with a small change of letter, I would have a name, OFC, which reflected a real interest of mine which I could explore, develop, and exploit.

While I haven’t come across any other people investigating this exact same meaning of the term, there are, nevertheless, some who are doing things that are closely related. Two in particular seem to be highly relevant and have books which are easily acquired and consumed: Marie Kondo (The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying: a Simple Effective Way to Banish Clutter Forever), and Liz Davenport (Order From Chaos: a Six Step Plan for Organising Yourself, Your Office, and Your Life).  I’ve decided that I need to read these books before I set about drawing some general conclusions from the work recorded in this blog. My musings on their contents will appear in the next couple of posts.

OFC as a Service

When I first started thinking seriously about these OFC ideas back in 2004, I set about trying to turn an intuitive art into a clear repeatable process. I produced three documents  of which only the White Paper has appeared in this blog. The other two are essentially draft documents which have not been properly tested and refined; however, I’ve decided to include them here as they do at least provide an indication of the sort of detailed activities that OFC entails. They are a Service List and a Process List. Both incorporate the notion of charging for the service – though that is by-the-way; I no longer have any ambitions to create a business, though I would dearly like to be able to try out my ideas on some real world collections of objects which belong to someone else and with which I am not already familiar. The OFC exercises documented within this blog have been informative but are almost certainly not sufficient to be able to define a fully generalisable process.

I have applied OFC techniques to one set of material that was not my own: it consisted of 6 large egg boxes containing the stamp collection of an old friend’s mother who had died. My friend is not a stamp collector and was having trouble disposing of the collection. I am a stamp collector so I was excited by the prospect of both exploring the collection and having the opportunity to apply some  OFC techniques. In my first encounter with the material I took about three hours to go through it all, divide it up into the major categories, and get an overall picture of what it consisted of. I agreed with my friend that I would sell the material through Ebay, so subsequently sorted it into sub-categories that I thought would interest potential buyers. I ended up with approximately 37 Lots which I proceeded to sell on Ebay over a 3 week period. For each Lot I took photographs and wrote a description for it’s Ebay entry; and I managed what I was doing in a Word document which contained the following information for each Lot:

  • Ref No
  • Title (for use in the Ebay entry)
  • Description (for use in the Ebay entry)
  • Two or three of the 12 free photos allowed by Ebay
  • Weight (for use in estimating postage costs)
  • Size (for use in estimating postage costs)
  • Postage (type of service and cost)
  • Date put into eBay
  • Disposal if not sold in Ebay (which could include ‘re-list in Ebay’)
  • Date auction ended
  • No of bids
  • Amount paid by buyer
  • Paypal fee
  • Ebay fee
  • Packing costs (if any)
  • Actual Postage Costs
  • Net amount after all expenses
  • Date sent
  • Buyers name and address

I was able to give a copy of this document to my friend as a permanent memento of her mother’s stamp collection. This was an instructive experience, and I continue to look out for other opportunities to try out OFC techniques.