Getting Out Of Inboxes

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Paper aeroplane flying towards the office bin.

I recently acquired 'inbox' and 'outbox' bins, and decided to use them for my desk at home. It seemed so organised and business-like, I was sure it would increase my student-y efficiency and reduce desk clutter. Desk clutter is a terrible problem. Clutter abhors a bare space; the larger the surface area of my desk, the more the clutter expands to cover it. Then it peers over the edges, sees a bare floor, and with an excited squeak, dives over to colonise. Well, what else to do with a floor except stack things that don't seem to belong elsewhere?

Anyway, I put the two black bins in the corner of my desk and vowed to use them religiously. I was sure they would save me time and effort. To the contrary: they've been wasting both. I now spend an inordinate amount of time ruminating on the true 'in-out' nature of things. Inboxes and outboxes seem simple enough, but just try thinking about them for a few minutes and it can make you go dizzy, fill you with uncertainty, and grind all decisive action to a halt.

Take a bank statement, for example. If I haven't written any checks all month (and I prefer to use cash to prevent super-budgetary spending), there's nothing to do with it when it comes in except file it away. So should I put it in the inbox, because it just arrived and needs to be dealt with, or should I put it in the outbox, because the dealing that needs to be dealt entails getting rid of it? (I could probably save the headache by just filing it right away, but then what would be the point of inboxes and outboxes?)

And don't forget the class bulletin for college. It arrived in the mail, so I tucked it neatly into the inbox, feeling rather proud of having got that move straight. When I had the time, I pulled it out and mapped out a schedule of courses. Then the quandary: does it go into the outbox, because there is nothing more I can do with it? But the very essence of an outbox connotes that the contents are going somewhere, and the schedule isn't going anywhere until registration day. On the other hand, it can't go back into the inbox, because that's just silly.

For a while I thought about adding a 'pending' box, but restrained myself. If I create a box for pending, it would soon be overflowing, and nothing would ever get done. And once I start proliferating boxes, God knows where it'll end. I'd have to make a box for 'started thinking about' and a box for 'started working on' and 'partially finished' box and oh, the possibilities are endless. So absolutely no pending box. Instead, I compromised, and created a pile in the opposite corner of my desk for 'stuff that doesn't belong anywhere'. Every once in a while, in the name of cleaning up, I shuffle through this stack to ensure that I really don't have any place better to put any of it. Also in the pile are letters and cards from friends, scrap paper, old notes, and invitations, after they come out of the inbox (before the event, one hopes). This way, I review them occasionally; there's that moment of panic when I realize that the date is past, and then the moment of relief when I remember that I was duly attendant. Or else there's a moment of relief when I realize that I was not duly attendant. (Funny how that works.)

There is some issue with the fact that the inbox is underneath the outbox. This means that I rarely notice the things in the inbox, which means I rarely take care of them. Every now and then when I'm in middle of some heavy duty procrastinating, I'll yank everything out and go through it to reassure myself that I don't feel like taking care of any of it and it isn't urgent yet (or else it's past due and doesn't matter), then shove it back in and get on with the procrastinating.

I would say that the whole business has been a failure, but that isn't quite true. Instead of my things being neatly organised into piles on the desk and floor, everything is now mashed together into these two boxes. (Mashed because it is impossible to make things neat in there, due to their varying sizes and shapes. I mean, it's hard enough to stack different sizes of papers and envelopes, but currently my outbox also contains a spatula and a towel. Have you ever tried making a neat stack out of a sheaf of papers, some envelopes, and a spatula? It just doesn't go.) So as a clutter-consolidator, it's tops. It's also easier to find things, because I never have to wonder if they're lying around my bed waiting to be put somewhere, if they're in the right pile on the floor, if they're in the 'Do this NOW' pile on my desk, or if they're in the 'Do this YESTERDAY' pile under my pillow. I know that whatever their urgency status is, they're bound to be in either the inbox or the outbox. Unless I've filed them away somewhere. If they've been filed, they're lost forever—for who can divine the logic of man when he concocts a filing system? But that's another story.

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