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Sorting on the way out: My life-stage evolution

I have switched late in life from being someone who organizes things on the way out to organizing them on the way in. This is a big, fascinating deal that is worth an entire blog post. Totally.

In fact, this is basically only true for the silverware basket of our dishwasher. A few years ago I stopped dumping dirty cutlery into that basket and instead assigned each corner a silverware category:





The teaspoons and the soup spoons have to be diagonal from each other to minimize confusion. Further, all must be placed handle down to make it easier to grab a handful without unsorting them, except for knives which go blade down for safety reasons. But since knives are the exception, they too are easy to withdraw from the basket in sorted handfuls.

If you have entered silverware incorrectly, I will sigh audibly, correct your error, and donate $5 in your name to your anti-favorite charity. Sorry, but I don’t make the rules, people!

As you have realized, there is no reason to find this interesting. But I have one for me: In 2007 I wrote a book called Everything Is Miscellaneous that opened a chapter describing the way I would dump silverware into a drawer and sort it on the way out as needed because that seemed more efficient to me. But now “I have betrayed my own principles.”I have betrayed my own principles.

Long have I pondered this disturbing change in my personality.

It may well be that sorting silverware on the way in is more efficient because we overstuff our dishwasher, making the boundaries of the quadrants indistinct. We thus end up sorting on the way out as well as on the way in, although there’s less sorting to do. That’s why I do not sort the big forks from the little forks until on the way out, although if I had a fifth quadrant I would. O, where is the appliance manufacturer with the wisdom to make a pentagon-shaped cutlery basket? In fact, you could make the entire dishwasher a pentagon so the dishes would face one another and you could play some version of Chinese Checkers with them. One drawback: the dish racks wouldn’t slide out. But this is just the sort of problem that excites the good folks at GE.

So, despite the potential overall increase in system inefficiency, I continue to sort on the way in I think for a fairly simple reason: The thought of facing a vertical pile of miscellaneous cutlery fills me with anxiety as I think of the 45 to 90 seconds it will take to identify and place each piece. I would definitely find a lifetime of flimsy self-excuses until my wife has just gone ahead and emptied the dishwasher.

But why does that task fill me with such dread? I think we can have as many as 50 pieces of silverware in our basket. Maybe more. Filtering on the way out requires 50 little, annoying, pointless decisions. Yes, I have to make those 50 decisions when I sort on the way in but there are two advantages to my new methodology.

First, it’s easier to sort a pile that is spread out in time or in space than one that’s tightly clustered, because each discrimination is easier: I can instantly tell which is which when there’s only one meal’s worth in the sink. When they’re packed together, it’s harder.

Second, I almost always want to get the bad part over first. That’s a basic life principle for me. The pleasures of the moment are spoiled by the thought of the dismal experiences they are postponing. “How can I Be In The Moment when I know there’s Kale in the Next Moment?How can I Be In The Moment when I know there’s Kale in the Next Moment?

And I don’t mean to get all morbid on you, but when taken at the macro level, this is all a way of avoiding death. When you’re 69, what isn’t? I may not be able to get the dying part over now so I can go on living with only good stuff ahead, but I can get the goddamn silverware sorted ahead of time!

I do not, however, plan on issuing an erratum to Everything Is Miscellaneous. If you and I ever Zoom and you see my office in the background, you’ll be heartened that I have continued to embrace messiness as a richer form of order.

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2 Responses to “Sorting on the way out: My life-stage evolution”

  1. Loved this. Sorting on the way in is definitely better. I just wish I could remember to do it. Loved this post.

  2. DC, you are one in a million. Actually, one in 7 billion. Literally.

    Good to hear from you. I hope all is well.

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