I recently acquired new storage bins, which, as a person who loves putting Things in Containers in an Orderly Fashion, is both delightful and (often) the beginning of Anxious Activity.
I have buttons. Lots of buttons. I love buttons, especially pretty, shiny buttons and oddly shaped buttons and brightly colored buttons. As someone who cannot let a Thing That Might Be Useful Someday (for a definition of “Useful” that includes “in any way” and “Someday” that encompasses “all of known time/space”), I keep all the buttons: buttons I inherited from my Granny, who was a sewist orders of magnitude better than I will ever be; buttons found looking lonely and unloved in thrift stores (I cannot abide lonely buttons); and (perhaps most tellingly) all the spare buttons that come attached to the inside side seams or hang tags of store-boughten clothes. They all get added to (as Adrian referred to it): my “Notions Store,” where they are appreciated (and occasionally pawed through, as there’s something really satisfying about plunging your hand into a bucket of small things like buttons or beads).
Prior to Thursday my buttons lived in several types of random containers (ick! unsettling!) with only the barest separation of colors, carded buttons, and sizes. This was an unsatisfactory solution, so upon acquisition of a set of multi-drawer-with-movable-dividers craft storage thingies, I set about to bring order to chaos.
With this as a starting point, it was almost inevitable that my anxiety and OCD-ish tendencies would kick in, causing the button-sorting exercise to go awry, but the plan seemed *so* reasonable when I started : all the yellow, orange, red and pink buttons would go in this one drawer, and I’ll just set the little dividers up so that I have Big Red Buttons, small red buttons, Big Pink buttons …
And just like that I was in the middle of the intersection of anxiety and OCD. Buttons, you see, can be translucent, solid, iridescent or even multi-color. And when you’re arranging things by color, the difference between a light red iridescent button and a dark pink iridescent button is… miniscule? Entirely dependent on what other buttons they’re sitting near and how the light is hitting them? (Meaningless? shhhhhhh. Not meaningless. Important. But…tricky.). And so there was Time Spent assessing all the redish and pinkish buttons to determine their true natures. (ETA: I totally forgot to link to some of the cool info on color sorting that Adrian has — he even wrote a color sorter!)
I began to get frustrated by the struggle, and especially frustrated by the number of times that I’d mentally declared a particular button pink or red and happily plopped it in the divider with all of its friends, only to discover that it now looked lost, lonely, and quite out of place. So I’d have to fish it out (and they often tried to hide, sinking down and turning sideways, perhaps hoping that I would be unable to pick them out once the light that hit them was tinted by reflection from the other buttons, and they’d turned their skinny side toward me. As you can imagine, this did not fool me…no siree).
At this point it’s probably worth mentioning that the degree to which my OCD-ish tendencies manifest is directly correlated to the amount of stress I’m under. And, bonus!: my anxiety follows the same formula. Given the state of the world at large these days (war), and the USA (removing what I consider to be a fundamental right to choose what happens to my body and well on the path to go after other, equally fundamental, rights), and my life (several family members are unwell in ways that I can’t fix), my anxiety levels have been running at an all-time-high of late anyway.
But still I persisted. And having sorted less than half of my warmly colored buttons I hit my second snag. For some reason, I had only a very few orange buttons — which I immediately felt guilty about, as if I’d been consciously discriminating against them — but more importantly, which totally threw off my plan for the dividers. No problem. I will revise the divider plan to accommodate my imbalance (I also had a higher-than-normal number of red buttons, though this didn’t surprise me as much, as I love red).
And so I moved dividers (and buttons), and continued on to the Cooler Family of Buttons, which had been given their own drawer (fair, balanced, and even-steven). Upon starting the green-blue-purple sort, I quickly stumbled into issue number three (if you’re keeping count, as you can better believe I was): I couldn’t (in good conscience) put the lime green and chartreuse buttons in with the kelly and forest buttons. In fact, it began to feel like the limey-chartreuse-y buttons were a color family of their own.
This felt unfair to the blue-green and green-blue buttons, which hadn’t been so separated. (I feel I would also be remiss if I didn’t point out that (to me) these are two entirely different colors: blue-green also being known as teal, and green-blue also known as turquoise). This, of course, necessitated further divider relocation and button reallocation, though after several trial segregations I decided that the blue-green and green-blue buttons got along well enough that they could share a compartment (while there clearly would have been fights about “who was the real green” had I not separated the limey-chartreuse-y greens from the kellys and hunters. I suspect there may have been some Bad Blood there, the genesis of which was probably when the “real greens” — their term! I value all greens equally — claimed the limey-chartreuse-y greens were just yellow wanna-bes.)
And then I hit the Real, Substantive Issue, which nearly sent me into an Orwellian tailspin. You see I love all my buttons, but I’d be a big, fat, lying lier if I didn’t admit that certain buttons make me happy beyond their ability to close a garment in an appropriately matching (or contrasting) fashion. You can probably imagine which these are:
But suppose I were to find a tiny, royal blue, pearlized shank button? Where does it go: amongst its other, equally blue buddies, or should it be separated somehow; put into a category with other such “Special” buttons. You can guess which direction I went: in short order one of the drawers was designated “Specials.”
And then, my friends, came the guilt and indecision: who was I to arbitrarily designate this button as more special than this other button? And how could I justify this button being included in the Specials, while this other one, which could be described using roughly the same set of adjectives, didn’t.
In the end, the Specials process alone probably took me an hour, but I am OK with that. I arbitrated fairly, and I was willing to admit when a button caught the light just right and way and showed itself to be, in fact, more Special than I’d given it credit for.
And much of the angst and anxiety about the unsettledness of life in general has been worked through, thanks to the microbcosm of making order out of my buttons. My buttons are beautifully sorted and I am (somewhat more) settled.
 Aside: any of you who know me or have worked with me are cracking up at this point, probably thinking something along the lines of “Seriously, Gina?! You have a Grand Plan for sorting buttons… shouldn’t that have been a tip-off?” Ok. Fair enough. But sorting buttons — so I could find them! — did feel like a reasonable thing …at least when I started.
2 thoughts on “The paradoxical anxiety and satisfaction of…..button sorting.”
Hey Gina, I can totally relate! We just moved from our house to an apartment, going through the dreaded downsizing. I decided I could keep one hobby (luckily the digital art hobby is safe), so I settled on embroidery and beadwork, and I am now going to reorganize all the beads, thread, tools, and of course, buttons. Wish me luck!
P.S. I love my metallic buttons, but I’m never sure where to categorize the ones that are part metal part colour. Any suggestions?
Semi-metal buttons are sorted:
into the primary color if they’re majority color with metal accent,
Into silver or gold if they’re mostly metallic, with a touch of color, or
Into specials if they are just spectacular!
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