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St. Augustine’s advice for the disorganized and absent-minded

Here’s how to avoid the panic-inducing situation of not being able to find something important!

This article is for those like me who’ve occasionally gone into a panic when they can’t find something they urgently need. Maybe you’ve been there: you need an official document—a birth or wedding certificate, perhaps—and when you start to look for it, you realize it’s not where you were sure you’d left it. You begin to look everywhere, checking the same places time and time again, and you begin to feel a knot in your stomach.It happens with all sorts of things — from car keys to utility contracts to family photos. You know you put them someplace you thought for sure you’d remember, but now you’re at a complete loss. You know you should have a specific place where you keep things, and you keep saying you’ll take time to get organized … but you haven’t, and now you’re breaking out in a cold sweat. This experience should convince us to finally take the necessary steps so this will never happen to us again. So let’s do that!

St. Augustine of Hippo has an excellent piece of advice that can help us avoid this kind of stress in the future: Protect order, and order will protect you. (In Latin it’s Serva ordinem, et ordo servabit te.) Augustine may have lived 16 centuries ago, but his common sense and ample life experience shine through in his advice, which is just as useful today as it was back then.

What does it mean to “protect order”? St. Augustine said it in a broader context, which included our spiritual life as well as our mental faculties and practical matters. However, in this particular case, regarding material things, it means that that we should leave everything in its place when we’re finished using it, whether it be a simple pair of scissors or sunglasses, a birth certificate, or a wedding photograph. We need to keep “a place for everything and everything in its place.”

The real enemy here is the way we tell ourselves sophisms such as, “I’m just going to leave it here for a moment …” or “I’ll put this in its place later on when I have time.” The reality is, if we don’t put something in its place right away, we are apt to forget to do it later, and when we really need what we’re looking for, we’ll suffer for our lack of foresight. It might feel like it takes a nearly heroic effort to keep things in order at all times, instead of taking shortcuts and planning to organize things later on, but it’s worth the effort!

Keeping our material things in order isn’t just a way to save time later on; it affects our mind and soul. If we “protect order,” we are going to experience interior peace and calm, knowing that we can find things immediately when we need them, because they are where they should be. It will reduce our anxiety and allow us to focus on more important things.

Imitating St. Augustine’s conversion and path to holiness may seem unattainable, but if we start with this one simple piece of advice, it can make a change in our lives — and maybe help us realize that, step by step, we can imitate him (and other saints) in other things as well, and eventually revolutionize more than just the way we store things.

Originally published on Aleteia, republished with their permission