Of Toys, Hats & Microcosms

Of Toys, Hats & Microcosms

Shape sorters are among the favorite toys for toddlers. No genie appears upon completion of the task, no sweet treat placed in the hand, no sudden wealth acquired, yet children seem to find the task of categorizing blocks according to shape and color, and fitting them into their respective holes, utterly rewarding.

As adults, we surround ourselves with useful, and less useful, objects of all shapes and sizes. Each object has its own place. All of us, at some point, take a moment to figure out the proper position for the pen holder on the corner of the desk, rearranging nearby items for visual effect and functionality. Time goes by. We accumulate papers, books, clothes, shoes and trinkets, suddenly feeling rather overtaken. Suddenly, the thought of organizing those colorful shapes and fitting them in their proper places does not seem so rewarding anymore. Why is that?

I have a theory. The sorting toy gives an immediate experience of control because it is a sort of microcosm we hold in our hands. When it comes to our living environment, it is as though we are in the cube, submerged with bits and pieces coming at us from all sides. Perhaps we need to reverse this role reversal back (are you following this?), at least in our minds, when faced with the sudden urge, or need, to organize.

Moving is a good time for this because it offers a fresh slate. The empty rooms are like the empty sorting cube. You are free to select any piece you choose to begin the process of filling your “cube”. After a while, like the child with the sorting cube, you can look back and experience great satisfaction. It all fits; for now. Months later, things have moved around, as things tend to do when they live in the midst of busy human folk.

Shape sorter toys teach children the concept of cause and effect. Perhaps this loses its novelty over time. They also teach the concept of permanence. A piece that is in a new, different place is not lost; though it may appear to be when you repeatedly cannot find your car keys!

On VT Public Radio’s Vermont Editions, yesterday, Jane Lindholm spoke with professional organizers Kelly McCann and Porter Knight. I invite you to listen to this show (click on highlighted words). It offers very sound and creative advice to help people think out of the box while keeping everything in its proper place inside the box.

One of my favorite suggestions was rather playful and surprisingly clever. Organizing is about time management also. A gentleman who had difficulty completing tasks was invited to allot specific time and wear a different hat for each project. He did and it worked. Just like the child who devotes full attention to matching a specific shape and color to its proper slot in the sorting cube, each hat provided the mood to match and complete the task. Playfulness does the trick. Sweet treat is optional.