MY FATHER was a fairly high level federal employee. Whenever anyone in our family had trouble finding something, Dad would tell us (again) about one of his staff members. I don’t remember his name. Let’s say it’s Hank.

Hank had an unusual filing system. There were stacks of papers and folders all over his office. On his desk, on his credenza, on tables, on chairs, on the window sill, on the radiator, on the floor… The place looked a mess. But you could ask Hank if he had such-and-such document from three years back, and he’d walk directly to a pile, run his finger down the stack, pause, then ask, “Original draft or final?” Then, voila, he would produce the paper. Hank knew exactly where everything was.

I imagine my van is about a sixth the size of Hanks office, and I don’t have thousands of documents to keep track of, but I still manage to misplace things. This is frustrating. There are only so many places in the van that a thing could be. It seems I put things in places that make perfect sense at the time, then promptly forget the reasoning for the location. When I eventually find the object (while looking for some other lost item) I wonder how and why it came to be there. Then I put it in a place that makes absolute, ironclad, unforgettable sense… then forget once again where I put it.

My problem isn’t with things I use daily. It’s all the other stuff. The I’ll-need-this-someday stuff, the I-have-this-just-in-case stuff. And the stuff I haven’t used in so long that I’ve forgotten I have it until I’ve bought a new one and discover the original while storing the replacement. Ergh.

The old rule is “A place for everything and everything in it place.” Why is that so hard for me? Most things are obvious. The pants and shirts go in that cabinet. The socks and underwear go in that box. Food goes in the cupboard. Tools go in the case. Hardware goes in that bin. Phone and computer stuff goes in that box. Easy. Nothing lost.

I think what I need is the equivalent of the household junk drawer, only bigger, for all the objects that don’t fit one of the previous categories. At least that’ll narrow the search. Because I doubt I’ll ever have my own personal Hank.