Organising the Disorganised



You know those infuriating people who straighten the pictures in your house when they visit? They apologise and acknowledge that it's rude, but just do it anyway. That's me, I am that person - I straighten things up that don't even belong to me. My own things I will arrange and rearrange around me until they are in a clear order, so I can relax and get on with my stuff. The plants in the greenhouse are rearranged by height every week, the books on the shelf by colour, the plates in the rack by size. For whatever reason, these small things matter...and yes, I do sort a bag of Skittles by colour before I start eating them.

Then I started working here. You just have walk past the building to see the down pipe is held together with duct tape. I mean, it's grey duct tape, not even black, to match the colour of the pipe. Walking in there are flyers strewn on the tables, posters stuck on the notice board with one drawing pin so they hang at uneven angles, and signing in books piled upon each other without a pen present. On the surface, it would appear that a sense of order and organisation is not what is important here.

My first month I struggled to bring a sense of structure to this clutter, I straightened up the notice board, made sure all the handles on the mugs faced the same way when set out or stacked, and rearranged the furniture store room so everything fitted safely and neatly. I ordered white duct tape to fix a white plastic thing that had broken. Within a month I had it all to do again - no one else seemed to pay attention to these details and they pinned, stored and stacked things as they always had. So I did it all again. When faced with a following month of the same, I started to wonder about my priorities. I only had 17 hours a week, was I really spending them in the right way?

I also developed a growing respect for the things here that are well organised, which I had not noticed at first. The induction for volunteers is well prepared, fully scripted and inspires the people who attend. The room booking system is well organised and we have a thorough training for those using it which ensures the centre runs smoothly, plus our volunteers have a high success rate for moving into employment. The way we manage ourselves within a flat structure, the way the trustees are inducted, everything has been deeply thought about and is structured and organised really well. I realised I was just reorganising the surfaces, because that was all that was left to organise.

After that I stopped trying so hard and I'm learning to let things go. It's a challenge for me to not straighten things, not to move a table that tidy inch, to leave the mugs alone. Oddly it has also brought a certain sense of relief and relaxation. I ask myself if it really matters, or if it is just me being…well…me-ish.

A couple of months ago the white plastic thing broke again, and I could only find black duct tape. I stuck black duct tape on white plastic. I smiled to myself and sat back down next to the latest new volunteer, who needed to learn how to use the phone system and practice her English, so she could get a job.

You will still find me turning all the tables around in the store room so they are all facing the same way, and sometimes I do count the chairs in the stacks and move the top one over so they are all the same, but it's just for me and it doesn't matter. I'm growing quite fond of the slightly scruffy edges to the centre. I've found people are very hard to sort in an organised way. They move about, they mess things up, they wear different colours every day; and they don't need organising, they need supporting and listening to. I feel proud of what we are really doing, because we make a difference to the people who come here. Every month volunteers get jobs, every day people grow in confidence, learn new skills and connect with others around them; that changes them, it changes us and it changes our community.