September 2, 2010

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What’s a Disorganized Person to Do? by Stacey Platt, 2010, Artisan Books, 277 pages.
Time for a little end-of-summer cleanup? Putting away all those beach chairs and sand toys? Don’t just pile them in a heap in the garage. You know that’ll just make you cranky later. But what should you do instead?

If you’re already motivated and feeling only moderately, not completely, overwhelmed, I’d suggest this guide from the What’s a … to Do? series by Artisan Books. It’s the opposite of overwhelming and it gives bite-sized advice that isn’t cute.

Flip through and you’ll easily find one thing you can do that will improve your home-organization situation, like “Sock drawer first aid” or “How to keep the car tidy.”

There will be plenty you might ignore, but that’s fine — the book is built so you can easily zoom in on what matters to you. Maybe you don’t care about “Managing magazines” or “Seven ways to reduce e-mail overload” but you do want to know “How to get kids to use the hamper” or how to store dog toys. The key is that whatever topic you pick, the instructions/ideas are few, clean, clear and doable. The progress will be concrete, however small. And it can last.

Sprinkled throughout are “One-Hour Projects” like “Make your own magnetized spice canisters” (no thanks) and “Organize the jumble under the kitchen sink.”

As for putting away the beach chairs — turn to the section on storage and utility areas and see how to store sports equipment.

I give a thumbs up to not only Disorganized but also What’s a Cook to Do? and What’s a Wine Lover to Do? I say this from the viewpoint of not a cook or a wine-lover but someone who cooks and someone who occasionally drinks wine and would like to be better-informed about these pursuits.

What’s a Cook to Do?, by James Peterson, would make a fine addition to a kitchen library. I don’t really care, at the moment, “How to preserve and dry herbs” or “How to cook squid,” and I am past “How to peel a carrot,” but I found “How do I use basil?” and “How do I use bay leaves?” informative, and each one took me 20 seconds to read. And there’s some stuff I didn’t know I wanted to know but now I’m glad I know, like “Throw out your roasting rack” — whether I follow the advice or not, I’m glad I’m clued in — and “How to peel asparagus,” because, well, peel asparagus? Also I loved “How to eat in a 4-star restaurant” in the Etiquette section. You could probably find the answers to many of these questions on the web, but only if you are aware of having the questions and you have the time for an Internet hunt. With the book, you learn without trying, by flipping it open and happening to land on “How to use fresh ginger,” where even an unintentional glance at the photo teaches you something if you’ve never seen ginger prepared.

I think these books are best suited for someone who’s thinking, “You know, I’m kind of getting into this [wine/cooking/home organizing/golf/whatever] thing a little bit; I’d like to more seriously know what I’m doing.” And you’ll sit down in some spare time with one of these books, leaf through it, and absorb what matches your present level of interest and ability. Weeks later you may pick up the book again, leaf through, and absorb different parts of it. Or if it’s not so much that you’re interested in wine or golf but everyone around you is and you would like to be part of the conversation, these books would be quite suitable reading. They’re like very quick study guides. Not too much info, just enough, getting right to the heart of the matter as seen by at least some substantial subset of experts. Like:

“What can be boiled?” Answer: “Virtually nothing.” (Plus two more sentences.)

“Should I keep the computer box?” Answer: “No.” (Plus two more sentences.)

“Are big brands [of wine] bad?” Answer: a list of “A dozen gigantic wine companies you can trust.”

The series’ installments differ as do their authors — the wine book seems more dense and encyclopedic than the highly practical Disorganized and Cook. So I can’t give a blanket judgment of the series except to say it’s worth considering. For concrete help with my organizational needs, I give What’s a Disorganized Person to Do? an A-Lisa Parsons