The many ways to categorize your stuff

How do you choose to group things when you’re putting them on shelves, in cabinets, in closets, etc.?

I recently watched a video from the Field Museum’s Brain Scoop series with Emily Graslie where she dives into taxonomy: “a totally complicated, really interesting field of science responsible for the naming and classification of things.”

To do this, she had four taxonomists, who usually deal with things like beetles, discussing the taxonomy of candy.

And the taxonomists had fun with it. Olivier Rieppel said, “Organisms you classify according to their evolutionary relationships. With candy or office furniture or whatever you classify according to similarities.” So they wound up suggesting classification based on contents (chocolate covered or not, for example), by shape, by size, and by color.

Margaret Thayer didn’t think much of using color, though. She said, “That would be like taking a whole bunch of different red birds and putting them all together because they’re red, but one of them is a cardinal and one is some kind of duck.”

But Larry Heaney, who suggested grouping by color, said, “That’s the thing about candy. You can put it together, you can group them any way you want.”

Besides making me crave some candy, the Brain Scoop video made me think about the many ways you might choose to group things in your home of office. Just as with candy, you can use any groupings you want, as long as they work for you.

For example, books can be classified using the Dewey Decimal System or the Library of Congress classification system, or by any other method you like, including:

  • Genre (science fiction, historical fiction, history, art, etc.)
  • Alphabetical order by author
  • Size
  • Color
  • Chronological order, especially for series or any books by a single author
  • Status: read vs. not yet read
  • Owned vs. borrowed: library books, books borrowed from friends, and books you own
  • Language, if you have books in multiple languages
  • Owner, in a multi-person household

These classifications can be nested (by author within a genre, for example) and combined. Sometimes you might need to compromise from your ideal grouping to accommodate the storage space you have, especially when it comes to oversized books.

While some may question your choices — as with the candy, some people mock those who group books by color — whatever helps you find the right book when you want it is the right system for you.

Similarly, clothes might be classified by:

  • Type: pants, T-shirts, coats, etc.
  • Use: work vs. non-work, for example
  • Color (which can make a lot of sense in this situation)
  • Season (winter vs. summer clothes)
  • Fabric (because some fabrics may require different storage solutions)
  • Size (for those whose size tends to fluctuate, or for children’s clothing when you have clothes for both the current size and the next ones, or if you’re storing clothes for a second child)
  • Length (to accommodate items needing a long-hang area)
  • Freshly washed vs. worn but still clean

If the groupings you’re currently using for your books, clothes or other items aren’t working for you, think about what might work better and give it a try.

3 Comments for “The many ways to categorize your stuff”

  1. posted by SkiptheBS on

    Some nice ( I hope!) developer could make a decent living off an app which would allow us to organize e-books better than Amazon’s categories or Apple’s benign anarchy.
    On paper books, sorting by subject, then authors, all in alphabetical order, worked fine, with fiction as a wild card subject either preceding subject A or following Z.

  2. posted by jc on

    I sew and my stash is rather considerable. I have it sorted first by garment category: dress, suit, coat, bottom, shirts; then by fabric type: silky, knit, woven. Each piece is labeled with yardage, content, and care instructions.
    My clothes are sorted by garment type then subcategories as well. The sock drawer, for example, is sorted by trouser, sport, hose, tights, and fleece tights.
    The rest of the house is a work in progress.

  3. posted by Sheri Nelson on

    I categorize my extensive DVD movies alphabetically by genre, ie action, drama, comedy etc. and within the category also alphabetically. I also have a master list on my computer and paper. If I didn’t do it this way I’d never be able to find a movie to watch or what movies my kids and grandkids borrowed and haven’t returned.

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