One of the things I like about blogs is that you get to see other people’s lives — things that may be commonplace to them, but exotic to you. I like to hear about the climate where you live, and the things you do for fun, and your work. Usually, when I write about my work, I tell you about things involving people, data, or books. These are usually the things that strike me as interesting. But it strikes me that you might not ever have received an order. I am going to share that with you.

Well, I think I already told you that The Princess and I unloaded 900 pounds of product off these pallets.

We knew that it was 900 pounds, because the driver called and said so. They often do this. They say that they are in Ft. Smith with 800 pounds of books or in Tulsa with 11 skids of wooden toys, or whatever. I assume that their hope is that we will say, “Okay, we’ll meet you at the loading dock with a forklift!” Actually, we would have to say things like, “It’s just me and the dog. Good luck finding the door.”

So we unload the boxes from the truck or the pallets and carry them into the store. Then we check them in. That means that the people in the back room give us long, long rolls of labels. We open a box and find that it contains, as it might be, Giant Inflatable Insect Parts, Multicultural Play Foods, and Wooden Base Ten Blocks. We must find the label for each and put it on the item.

Most orders can be checked in within one day, even with customers to look after. I usually do them myself, or with the Poster Queen’s help. An order this size takes about a week, and we often have help from the back room — in this case, The Princess worked with me. During this process, there is plenty of time to plan out a mystery contest entry, decide on the next knitting project, or contemplate philosophical issues.

Now, when I check things in, I label them and put them away immediately. To the right you can see what the Summer Bridge section looked like when I emptied the last box.

However, when there are as many boxes as are involved in 900 pounds of math manipulatives, this is easier said than done.

This is what it looked like when the last box from that order was emptied.

The people unpacking give up, you see, after a while. There is too much to put away without major reorganization.

Some give up early, unpacking and immediately piling stuff on the floor in heaps. I give up the last of all, probably because I am usually the one who has to put the stuff away.

But even I give up when it begins to look like this.

Once everything is checked in, it is time to reconcile the order. That means taking every box without a label and every label without a box and figuring out why there is a mismatch. Did someone put a label for the 200 7/8″ transparent counters in 4 colors on the package of 250 3/4″ transparent counters in 6 colors? Was there a keying error or a picking error on the other end? Is something backordered or discontinued? This gets tiresome after three or four hours.

Once the order is reconciled, it is time to put away anything that is not already put away. In this case, that would be about 600 pounds of stuff.

Here is how you do that, in case you ever find yourself with this task on your to-do list. First, mark out a section (in your mind — you don’t have to draw on it) as “the time section” or “the fractions section” or whatever it might be. I do a little mental math first, so that I can be certain that, say, one grid or four shelves or whatever it might be will be the right amount of space. “The right amount of space” in our store means that there will still be room for the other items, and that the stuff in the section will pay its rent, so to speak, with the amount of money it will bring in.

Empty it completely. Resolutely refuse to look at any other section.

Stack all the things that belong in that section according to size and shape. Now you can begin putting things away in the section. Start with the largest things on the bottom and work your way up according to size — saving some middle-sized things for the top, where small things would be hard to reach and big things would hurt if they fell on your head.

Try to put things in a logical order so you can find them again — here, for example, you can see that all the demonstration clocks are together, the overhead clocks are together, and the time games are together. (The grids to the right and left of the time section are being resolutely ignored.)

Also try to put things into blocks or rows, so that people’s eyes are not fatigued, but with a bit of asymmetry to draw their attention on to other things.

For some reason, people love to come and shop through stuff while I do this. Everything is in piles on the floor according to size or in horrifying heaps because I haven’t gotten to its section yet, I am putting stuff away as fast as possible, and people insist on coming and cooing over it and pawing through it, even if they have to endanger themselves to get to it. This is a mystery to me, but I try to be pleasant and helpful to them.

Aside from that last bit, this method of organizing things will also work for your pantry or craft cupboard at home.

However, if no one is paying you, you might decide to go knit or read blogs before you actually finish.

Since I get paid for this, I am heading back to the store today to finish it all up. For some reason, the elves did not come and do it in the night.