I Need a Brain File Cabinet

I so so want of these to put all my little treasures. Lost keys, weird European change (oh, I saved all the pre-Euro coins!), sewing supplies.*

Lately, my brain has felt like it’s on inspiration speed. So many ideas coming at me, all at once. When I was younger, I’d just ride the wave, worried that the muse wouldn’t strike twice. But since then, the tsumanis can be as much of a burden as the droughts. Every single idea being “a rare opportunity, the one that never knocks!” And I keep hearing that song in my head.

I’ve taken personality tests in the past just to get a grip on what tends to motivate me and how I organize (or don’t). On the popular MyersBriggs, I’m usually an INFP which explains my passion for ideals, intensity of feeling, love of learning new things, and a lot of my past jobs and education (and my not infrequent changing of jobs and education). It also, unfortunately, tells me I have trouble organizing, setting goals and sticking to them. I do like finishing things, the sense of satisfaction that comes with it, but if something very interesting and important and new comes up, it’s hard to concentrate.

The one thing I’m always wishing for more of is organization. I’m just not the personality type who comes up with brilliant organizational strategies although I love to death the kind who do. (Y’all are a gift, and you know who you are!) At this point in my life I’ve made peace with my creative impulsiveness, but I’m always searching for a better way to sort through all the ideas that come at me. For awhile I was trying to keep a visual logbook, sort of like this one.

I also get real pleasure out of following my mental rabbit trails until a few of them connect in some meaningful way. Lately I’ve taken to mind-mapping software.

I have two highly organized business-owner friends who’ve suggested I try it out. I downloaded MindNode because it has a Mac-friendly interface. (There are free ones, but they run on Java which I don’t like.) For example, I used it recently for a blog post idea. As I started writing, the post started turning into a tome (a frequent problem) and I needed to map out all the rabbit trails I was going on. Visually, my mind works more in circles than branches, but it’s been really helpful to use this so that I can 1. find the theme that ties all my ideas together, 2. happily follow the ideas to their extremes, 3. decide which branch is important–at this moment.

So for example, remember in my last post I was talking about re-doing my website? I had a theme all redesigned and almost ready to go and then some other ideas popped in my head. I tried them out and kept fiddling and fiddling. At no point during all this did I take notes on what I had done or why. Did I want a typographic-y theme that felt like an old book? and how old? Did I want a very clean look, kind of modernist and straightforward? I have a soft spot for designs with little clutter, with simple visual cues. Or did I want some feminine-y sort of retro vibe? I should’ve had my mind-mapping software when I started!

And as a sort of creative exercise this week, I did some serious spring cleaning of all my sewing stuff and my books and files in my home office. This was really good. I spent hours and hours going through papers and tossing. I fasted a bit from Pinterest and other distracting muses.

And I weeded, a lot. Weeding is good for the brain, too.

(See, Oona, I got dirty hands!)

Do you ever feel overwhelmed by your ideas and how do you organize them, just the ideas?

*As a kid, I loved flipping through these for hours and was endlessly fascinated with the Dewey decimal system and book titles. I remember sitting in a farm country library circa 1998, researching for my grad degree. I was the only one in there with a laptop; it was just at the the beginning of the dot-com boom. There were two lone card catalogs left and I felt a little pang of sadness; I knew the weight of that type of organization, the beauty of its craftsmanship, would be gone in a matter of days, months. (I remember thinking, time to get one now on ebay before they are like $1000. Um, too late.) These things are a beast though, the smallest weighing at least 150 pounds.

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