In Year Seven, I went to a high school where I didn’t know a soul, so had to make a name for myself from scratch. I was like Rabbit, Eminem’s character in 8 Mile when he first goes to the rhyme battles, only instead of baseball caps and baggy jeans, everyone was wearing a tie and what Scott Morrison would call an ill-fitting suit.
I’m proud to say that it took me just a few weeks to establish the identity that stayed with me until the end of the year. I was the Kid With The Messy Desk.
I was also the Kid Who Looked Ridiculous While Singing In The Choir Because He Opened His Mouth Too Widely, as some kind older kids were delighted to tell me, but the Messy Desk brand proved to be the enduring one.
My desk was a genuine hazard – at times, also a biohazard. The authorities had given me the only desk in the room with storage on a shelf underneath, instead of concealed under a flip-up lid, and somehow in just a few short weeks, it was overflowing with junk. The surface, too, was festooned with random paraphernalia, to the point where my deskmate got a texta and ruled a red demarcation line along the halfway point, just to stop my bits of flotsam from overflowing into his space. (He moved to Canada shortly afterwards. The record does not show whether it was partly, or entirely, to escape my desk.)
I can’t recall how things disintegrated so quickly, or what all the mess was besides textbooks, or why I somehow had so much more of it than anybody else. But I instantaneously transformed my new desk into a junk shop for one crucial reason: I’m chronically disorganised.
This means that I’m regularly confounded by tasks that ordinary grown-ups manage easily. Tasks like renewing my driver’s license.
In 2011, I obtained a new license, two weeks after my previous one had expired. After a fortnight of walking, catching public transport and being unable to get into pubs and bars, I finally dragged myself down to the motor registry and sort it out. I chose the five-year option, vowing that next time around, in far-off 2016, things would be different.
Well, I renewed my license a few weeks ago, and I’m happy to report that things were indeed better. This time it only took me twelve days after the renewal date. At this rate, I’ll be renewing my license on time by roughly the point when I’m no longer allowed to drive.
Being late with a renewal causes you minor inconvenience. The same thing can’t be said for tax.
Most of us manage to file returns on time, either through general law-abiding competence or courtesy of the incentive of a refund. Your disorganised person, though, will catch up every few years after the ATO makes repeated threats, generally via phone after the letters they sent weren’t acted on. Then it all becomes a terrible rush, and we, I mean, ‘they’ don’t have time to claim many of the deductions to which they may be entitled.
If owed money by the ATO, you’ll get less interest than you would have received by banking it, but that’s a modest price to pay for financial hopelessness compared to what happens if you’re someone who’s meant to “Pay As You Go”. To that money, the ATO often applies a General Interest Charge, currently a little over 9 per cent – this can add up very quickly.
Worse still, if you don’t do your accounts properly, there’s a temptation to spend money that you don’t really have, because it belongs to the tax office.
The ATO are generally fairly reasonable if you chat to them, and can apply payment plans and so on – but the price for being disorganised is still generally a hefty one.
In recent years I’ve paid for help with this stuff because it was getting entirely out of control – it’s obviously cheaper to do it yourself, but outsourcing tax stuff is certainly cheaper than not doing it yourself.
We disorganised folk end up paying more in other ways, too. Nothing good happens to unpaid parking tickets, or cars that haven’t been serviced, or teeth that haven’t seen a dentist. Unopened mail can contain a multitude of ticking financial time bombs, and medical problems that disorganised people let slide can even kill us.
As frustrating as we disorganised people can be – and I’m told that’s “very” – the people who end up getting most frustrated is us. We exasperate ourselves every time we have to pay a late fee, or to replace something we can’t find under our piles of mess, or have to talk our way out of the inevitable consequences of being a bit hopeless. It’s not a great way to live.
Modern society is constantly punishing us for not quite having figured out how to survive it. If we got our acts together, we might be able to organise for the condition of chronic disorganisation to be recognised as a legitimate source of the occasional fee rebate, or other varieties of institutional pity. But there’s no chance whatsoever of that.
Furthermore, we’re harmless people. No disorganised person ever masterminded an invasion, and clearly there is no place for us within the world of organised crime. In fact if we commit any crime, we’re likely to have failed to prepare properly and get caught instantly. Once in jail, guess who’s getting the penalties for a messy cell?
We can’t start businesses whose success drives others to the wall, and instead just bumble through life, hoping that there isn’t anything we should have known about that is going to cost us lots of extra money, but powerless to check.
So next time somebody inconveniences you with their disorganisation, please either have pity on them or help them out. Because nobody will appreciate a feat of successful organisation more than us. I remember walking through the Sydney 2000 Olympics fascinated that we’d managed to pull it off.
But then, I’m equally impressed whenever I see a well-organised workspace. Because nowadays, of course, I’m the Grown-Up With A Messy Desk.