This is my button box. It is a joyous comglomeration of colours, shapes, sizes, and textures housed in a deeply nostalgic tin. Far from being a home for retired fasteners, this is a living, evolving organism which is both a useful resource and a source of pleasure. I take buttons out, I add buttons in, sometimes buttons return to it after a long sojourn on a garment. When I open my button box I become a pirate gazing into a treasure chest, gorging upon jewels.

I am sure this will resonate with many people who have collections of pens, or wool, or beads, or anything they deem pretty. However, there will be an equal number of people who are repelled by such clutter, such disorganisation. To these folk it would make sense to group together matching buttons, with each set residing in an envelope marked with the number of buttons, colour, size, material etc. and stored by category. The cherry on their particular cake would be to make a spreadsheet tracking the buttons, with brilliant search functions to identify the exact set best suited to each project. It would be highly organised and efficient, but it wouldn’t be a treasure trove any more.

So why do I think the treasure trove approach is best, and does it apply only to buttons or is it equally true for thoughts and ideas?

The main issue I have with imposing a logical order upon things is the presumption that what is logical today will always be logical. Yet that theory is hard to cling to when we live in a dynamic universe where nothing is static and where life involves constant reassessment based on microscopic changes to our environment. There are, of course, concrete parameters for each button, but the true joy of my button box lies in emptying it out and looking at the buttons with today’s eyes. When they are all jumbled together, my imagination is set free and I see different combinations every time I open the box. There have been times when I have come up with the perfect button only to find I have fewer than I need and that has led to some inspired collaborations. A spreadsheet just doesn’t evoke the same type of creativity.

As it is with the button box, so it is with my mind. I could treat my ideas as pieces of data and write them into a commonplace book, or an index card database, or that shiny, popular bit of software which all the IT pundits were pushing and has now been adopted by Influencers. (These latter should not be confused with Influenza which is an entirely different insidious and contagious condition.) The proponents of these types of system believe that once we start treating our thoughts and ideas as data we can live more productive and more worthwhile lives, that it is the only way to reach our vast potential. The other day I started watching a series of YouTube videos about setting up what the presenter referred to as a Life Operating System. At the outset, I intended to watch the series all the way through, but had to abandon it halfway into the second episode because it scared me. For some reason, even half-watching it as I knitted, I felt like I was being inducted into a cult. I did what any sane person would do under the circumstances: I turned tail and ran for the hills.

Just as my buttons remain resolutely jumbled, I will keep my thoughts and ideas as they are, noting down a few but letting the vast majority swirl like clouds, sometimes drifting from view, sometimes scurrying to their destination. I, like a bird, will flit between them, revisiting favourites and letting the majority move happily away after their moment in the sun. Whilst data thrives on the uniform, with everything both equally important and equally unimportant, my ideas expand and contract, come and go, stick around or flit away. The way I see it, data is for robots and I rather like being a human.

3 thoughts on “Take my button box, for example

  1. A great read, thankyou! I must admit to having a foot in both camps. I like to have a treasure trove of fountain pen accessories: converters, spare nibs and such oddments but they are sorted into clear self-seal polythene envelopes with labels by brand so I can find stuff easily.
    And I rather enjoy retrospectively imposing order on chaos, writing up my daily journal as a balloon chart of activities as if everything had happened in an orderly fashion.
    As for memories, those treasured gems from the past, I like to explore and list them under categories with key words which then serve as writing prompts.
    That’s normal behaviour, isn’t it? Oh, just me then:).

    1. This whole subject is continuing to burrow inside my head. You are very wise to label all your converters etc – I have to get my dad’s magnifying glass out every time I need a converter because I can’t read the names on most of them! Lamy are good, Lamy write their name big and clear! I think it’s possible that my essential nature is to simply sit in the middle of a huge pile of multi-coloured magnificence but I’ve been indulging this for a little too long, now I need to rein it in and impose some order, at least around the edges. Mind you, it’s not as bad as it could be: the buttons are all in the button box; the converters are all in my grandad’s old leather stud box; there is some order among the chaos!

Comments are now closed.