Not The Target Market

How Not to Organize

Earlier in the month, I was unkind to the people who write for Better Homes and Gardens Storage Ideas, and when I posted “A Sparkling Idea”  I meant to go on being unkind for at least one more post. As it happened I never followed through as I ended up distracted by many things, including a trip to England to hug and kiss the grandchildren. Now that I am back, and in possession of a nice case of bronchitis (which I attribute to all that across-the-pond hugging and kissing and transfer of strange germs), I find myself on the sofa and with the time to continue pointing out all the silliness of that publication’s organizing suggestions.

In this next round of unkindness, I would like to know what rational, book-loving person would take seriously the suggestion “Sort Your Books By Color.” This is not a helpful organizing strategy for books. Books have a higher purpose than merely looking nice on a shelf, hard as that may be for some designers to fathom. Color is not a primary or a functional attribute of the concept “book.” Color is a random attribute, and if you base your organization style on random attributes, your life is going to be a mess.

It reminds me of the time I worked in a bookshop and I took a call from a person who wanted to know if I had a green book. I had to admit I had a lot of green books. This raised the caller’s hopes briefly, but they were then dashed when I explained that I needed the title or the author or even the subject if I was going to be able to find the exact green book he had in mind. The caller, unfortunately, did not have any further information beyond “it’s green”, and so the conversation came to an end, unsatisfactorily for both of us, I think.

In all fairness, BH&G aren’t the first ones to suggest that everyone should perk up their rooms by sorting and displaying books by color. This goofy, completely ridiculous suggestion appears a lot. This makes me ask: Do decorators even read books? Do they know what they are for? Or is this latest crop of design mavens so hip that not one of them looks beyond their phone for information or entertainment, and can’t imagine what one would actually do with a book.

Or perhaps they are just the kids, now grown up, who twenty years ago had a great deal of trouble with metaphor and simile. When I was a school speech pathologist, it was not uncommon for me to collaborate with classroom teachers in order to help break down higher language concepts into teachable skills. One perennial source of trouble was metaphor and simile – which are really no more than comparisons.

But to be good at comparisons, you have to thoroughly understand antonyms and synonyms; and to understand ants and syns, you have to be able to break down concepts into their attributes and sort out which ones are primary and which ones are secondary.

Clearly not everyone paid attention to those attribute lessons of mine, so I will spell it out: Don’t use color as an organizing principle if you ever intend to read your books again. You will never find the one you are looking for.

If you have books and can’t imagine how you came to have them in the first place, or if you have no plans to (re)read them, give them away to someone who will. Don’t keep them as part of a dust-collecting, artsy-looking ombre rainbow.  Get rid of the clutter and get rid of the dust.

Throughout the years people have bought whole libraries because they thought if they had shelves of books, people would think they were great readers.  That they were intelligent.  Let me assure you that shelves of books sorted by color have exactly the opposite effect.

1 Comment

  1. Kevin

    Organize by color …ABSURD!!

    “Organizing” by color is not organizing, it is decorating. And this from a magazine article about organizing, not about decorating. Feminists everywhere should be crying out at the suggestion that women value appearance over function. Are all women’s magazines this idiotic? One doesn’t find this level of stupidity in Jane’s Defense Monthly. Or even Field and Stream, for that matter.


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