The genius of Miss Elanius

Published : May 18, 2023 11:00 IST - 7 MINS READ

Which home does not have at least one Miss Elanius drawer, jammed with randomly assorted objects?

Of course you have heard that annoying mantra: everything in its place, and a place for everything. Sounds terrific, does it not? It has a catchy rhythm and a delightful play on words. Exactly the kind of high IQ (instantly quotable) phrase that has people nodding in sage agreement. But have you ever tried implementing the blasted philosophy?

For illustration, let me take the case of the desktop screen of an average family computer. Needless to say, there are files and folders littered all over the screen. Even across the beaming family photograph taken at a holiday resort. In fact, right under your own nose is a file labelled “Do not delete”.

Like any determined cleaner-upper, you begin by creating a folder for each person. For simplicity, let me call the folders “Father”, “Mother”, “Son”, “Daughter”, and “Pets”. You quickly and efficiently drag easily identifiable files into their respective folders. You immediately create wide open swathes of space. This is so cool. You skip all files you cannot categorise, thinking “I’ll handle them in Round 2”. Half the files are still on the desktop.

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So you make additional folders: “Pictures”, “Songs”, “Receipts”, and “Videos”. You do the drag and drop again. Whoosh! Another quarter of your screen is exposed. You can see your daughter’s disarming dimples again.

What remains are a bunch of completely unconnected files. A shopping list that still seems strangely relevant. A solitary phone number in a Word document with no mention of whom it belongs to (incidentally, this is the file labelled “Do not delete”). An ultrasound image. Assorted screenshots of haircuts, display racks, bottle labels, memes, and Amazon product listings. An audio recording of a file type that is not supported. You make another folder, “Screenshots”. Whoosh, another bunch disappears. You are still left with a few forlorn files.

Invoking ‘Misc’

That is when you call on Miss Elanius, the Marie Kondo in all our lives. You right-click on the desktop, create a new folder, and name it “Misc”. Short for you know what. You drag all the detritus littering the desktop into the folder, and voila, the family photograph smiles back in gratitude.

Which home does not have at least one Miss Elanius drawer, jammed with objects that are more randomly assorted than the ingredients in an Amdavadi street snack? Dead batteries, old keys, past mobile phone covers, cogs from a long dead clock, bread packet ties, bubble wrap, discarded shoelaces, a coil of plastic tube, a length of wire, an ancestor’s dentures, a dozen marbles, beads that came unstrung from a necklace, three entangled earphones, four obsolete chargers.

There are still a few inches of headroom left in the drawer. So when your mouse starts getting glitchy, you know exactly where to toss it.

Miss Elanius is a magician. She has waved her wand everywhere that mankind has made a mess. Desktop screens are a mere speck of sand in the Sahara. Have you seen the last few slides of any marketing presentation, conveniently grouped under “360”? Have you ever looked at the whiteboard of a brainstorming session, where almost every idea seems to go into an ever-lengthening column called “Others”? Yup, Miss Elanius at work.

  • Miss Elanius is the Marie Kondo in all our lives: she waves her magic wand to isolate all the disorderly elements of a system and leave the rest in immaculate orderliness.
  • The designated dump is a life hack that simultaneously acknowledges our desire for order and the futility of that ambition.
  • Miss Elanius has a role to play even in the abstract world of thought and creativity.

Monica’s closet

Early in my worklife, a brilliant mentor taught me how to embrace the genius of Miss Elanius. His strategy was simple. Isolate all the disorderly elements of a system and leave the rest in immaculate orderliness. He even had a management term for it. Designated Dump. It is exactly the same concept as Monica’s closet, if you have seen Friends. She knows the mess that is in there but nobody else does.

The designated dump is a life hack that simultaneously acknowledges our desire for order and the futility of that ambition. It recognises that entropy can be contained, not vanquished. It tips its hat to the virtues of reuse, recycling, repurposing, and restoration in a suitably vague “sometime-in-the-future” manner. Unlike the street food vendor who sweeps all the leftovers of his craft into a conveniently placed bin under his workstation, with the express intention of turning them into the next day’s ingredients.

Let us step into the abstract world of thought and creativity. And see if Miss Elanius has a role to play there too. Who better to turn to than John Cleese, the comic genius behind sketches like “The Ministry of silly walks”, “The dead parrot”, “The Cheese Shop”, and “The funniest joke in the world”. He recognises that the human mind is like a chattering, drunken monkey. He also knows that the brain cannot afford to be distracted by it. But he acknowledges that the brain and mind need each other. He says: “While you are being creative any drivel may lead to the breakthrough.”

“Miss Elanius is a magician. She has waved her wand everywhere that mankind has made a mess.”

So he recommends that all creators have a “tortoise mind” and a “hare brain”—but to keep them separate. As a copywriter who has met many a desperate deadline, I know there comes a time when I have to shut, bolt, and walk away from the clamouring closet of disjointed, stray, arbitrary, trivial, seductive, distracting thoughts that my meandering mind has accumulated, To give my brain a chance to seize upon one strand of thought that will deliver the goods.

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Sherlock Holmes (why do we quote him like he was a real person?) had a slightly different take. “I consider that a man’s brain originally is like a little empty attic, and you have to stock it with such furniture as you choose. A fool takes in all the lumber of every sort that he comes across, so that the knowledge which might be useful to him gets crowded out, or at best is jumbled up with a lot of other things so that he has a difficulty in laying his hands upon it. Now the skillful workman is very careful indeed as to what he takes into his brain-attic.” Unlike Cleese, he has no patience for drivel. But then, most of us are Watsons, not Holmes’, and we have no control over what we let into our minds and how we organise them there.

Memory files

Let us crank it up a notch and step into the world of meditation, and spirituality. Yogic experts tell us that our memory has file drawers of wants, wishes, and desires. This wisdom comes from a time that predates the invention of either files or drawers. The yogis must have been incredibly prescient. The determined meditator who seeks one-pointed concentration is expected to click and drag these three pesky folders into the recycle bin and delete them permanently. Then, in the intense focus on the flicker of a flame, a single note of music, or the tip of the left antenna of a moth, the meditator achieves moksha from un-organisable matter. A state of mind when no amount of chaos can cause dissonance.

But until such time as we reach that exalted state, let us revel in the deep satisfaction brought about by chucking every bit of clutter in our home into the loft above the bathroom when our in-laws announce a surprise visit.

Ramakrishna Desiraju, better known as Ramki or by his Twitter handle @ramkid, is the founder of Cartwheel Creative Consultancy. Before that, he spent his career writing advertisements in agencies, big and small.

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