Organizing the Large Collection*

What to do about the sprawling mess of wonderful items? Your spouse

insists it's a bunch of junk and you know it's an important collection.

Here are some thoughts on organizing it all to the point you can prove

it's a real collection.



This month I take on a somewhat abstract topic -that being organizing collections.  This really comes down to organizing information -and taken to an even more basic level, it comes down to sorting things out so they fit comfortably into a human brain somewhere, somehow, at least some of the time. 
I teach GED a few evenings a week and struggle with helping my students learn to write.  Some of these students have nothing to say, but sometimes they have a whole seething mass of stuff they want to say.  If they just dive in and start writing it, it comes out a stream-of-consciousness mess.  Might work for fiction, but not for the topical essays students need to write to pass the GED exam.   Occurs to me that this is not very different from having a whole gosh-awful pile of something that you think of a collection, but your spouse insists is nothing more then a big mess. 
Getting it all organized and neat might well involve one or more of my drawer cases, but it really begins with the same first step as writing a understandable paper, you need to find some sort of schema, or as I tell my students, you need a good either / or -a good this / that or maybe -for some collections-a good this / that/ & the other.  This then tells you what do-dad goes into which drawer.
What makes a good either / or you ask?   A good either / or (this / that, or this / that / the other -whatever floats your boat)  must pass three tests. 

1.      It must be all inclusive.
2.      It must be un-ambiguous
3.      It must be useful
Take a hypothetical paper on the simple topic of "People"  and try a few either / ors.  How about we start our paper with the idea of French people and Irish people.  What about the poor Portuguese and Japanese people?  Nope -at least for the purpose of our topic, this either / or fails the first test.  It is not all inclusive.  

Let's try again.  How about old people and young people?  Yep, all people are either old or young aren't they?  Passes the first test, but what a 50 something year-old wood-worker and a recent HS-drop-out think is the end of 'young' and the beginning of 'old' varies considerably.  (Trust me on this -I ask my students -of all ages- and there ain't no consensus.)  

OK -back to the drawing board.  How about left-handed red-heads and non right-handed, non red-heads.  Passes the first test -every human being is one or the other -even bald people with a missing flipper.  It is also clear what category to put any given individual, but is it useful?  Perhaps if you were writing a paper on hair-care for amputees, but even then it would be a stretch. 
In my classes, we then go on to discuss what I call "Universal" either / ors.  Not that any one of them will fit all topics, but something is apt to fit -at least for the topics on the GED exam.  Ask yourself how these might pass our three tests and then ask yourself if your collection might fit too?

Some either / ors, (2 categories) really need to be a this / that / t'other, (3 categories).  How about  Animal / Mineral / Vegetable?  Don't laugh.  If I asked you to write a paper on food and nutrition, this schema would remind you to consider salt, iron, phosphorus and the like.  A paragraph on the mineral sub-set might make the difference between a grade of A and a B.
Some subjects (collections) might need 4 categories.  But if you need more then 4 or 5, you had better know what you are doing.  It might be that if you come up with too many categories, you need to go back to the beginning and see if your categories can not be divided into just 2 to begin with and then sub-divide each of them into 2 or more SUB-categories.    
Consider political buttons as a collectable item. Municipal / County / State / National comes to mind.  Clearly there are elections at the all four levels of our government, and many of the candidates have buttons made up, but what about Democrats, Republicans, & Independents?  Yep -this is just as good a schema as  city / state / national etc.  And for that mater, how about winners / losers?  Leads to something that looks like this:
The above doesn’t distinguish between executive, legislative and judicial (Some judges run for election don't they?) and I leave it to you to sort it all out.  Point here is that there is more then one way to get'er done. All depends on your collection and the way you think of it. Lets consider a few other collections and possible either / or's
Let's see how this might work for some collectable items.  Consider the following


            fixed / folding
            animal / mineral / vegetable handles
            18th / 19th / 20th / 21st century
            metal blades / ceramic blades
            European / American / Other -Nothing wrong with a smallish miscellaneous category.
            ancient / modern
            foreign / domestic
            gold / silver / base
            porcelain / plastic
            pre 20th century / 20th century 


See how you do figuring out what sort of collection would lend itself to each of the following either / or's.  (And ask yourself how you know. Do your kids need to know what these words mean and how to spell them?)  Answers are at the bottom of the page.
1.  igneous / sedimentary / metamorphic
2.  2 body segments / 3 body segments / un-segmented
3.  deciduous / coniferous
4.  terrestrial / Jovian
5.  representational / nonrepresentational


You get the idea.  It's your collection and you know how it breaks down.  Slice and dice as needed. But having decied on how to organize thihgs, how to differentiate between the categories? If you have one of my drawer cases, it's easy.  The drawers in the top half of the case are for foreign and the bottom drawers are for domestic. The left half of each drawer is for democrats and the right half is for republicans.  (This one is obvious -right-wing / left-wing.)  If you don't have some nice drawers -mine or someone else's- check out Gift Giving for the Collector and give yourself a nice gift.
Have fun!
* I start with a big old 24 pt bold asterisk for an important reason.  If you have kids who collects, the either / or idea is a slippery one.  Damn important one too.  And sadly -from where I sit, our schools do as piss-poor job of teaching this as they do fractions.  (I did mention I teach GED, right?) Help your kids get a grip on this idea.  It's the nature of young'ens to divide their marbles up into different piles by color.  Sit down with them & their collection and help them divide things up in as many different ways as possible.  If they are a little older, it all might lead to some research and (academic) discovery! Check out my article on Children and Collecting.

1.  Rocks. 

2.  Insects. 

3.  Trees.            

4.  Planets. 

5.  Art.