10 Lessons Learned from Sorting Screws

After who-knows-how-many years of collecting bolts, nuts, washers, nails, and other metal nicknacks, I finally decided to sort them all out and put them in nice little drawers. The task was formidable – I estimated the number of items at more than 10,000. Picking them all up one by one and placing each one in the right drawer would take forever, so I had to come up with a quicker strategy. As it turns out, the strategy came about after I already started, and this in fact is lesson one:

1. Start doing whatever it is you need to do, and sooner or later you’ll figure out how to do it better. Experience is your best guide.

2. Adopt a utilitarian approach. Ask yourself: how will you (or others) use the items? If you just need a few items once in a while, which items will it likely be?

3. It’s not going to be perfect.

4. Optimize the number of categories you’re going to use – the smaller the number of categories, the faster the sorting process will go. In the long run, however, it will be harder to find individual items if you only have a handful of drawers labeled “Nails”, “Screws”, “Nuts”, etc.

5. Sorting can take a while, and your categories will tend to drift and change. Be very clear and consistent on what goes into each drawer, or else you’ll end up with a greater mess and a lot of time wasted.

6. Dump the rusty nails and crooked screws. Don’t waste your energy on these, unless it takes less than 2 seconds to wipe off some dirt that just happens to look like rust. If a nail is rusty, it’s not going to get un-rusty. If it’s bent, you’ll spend a while banging on it and trying to straighten it up only to find out that it’s still not straight. If the threads on a screw are not even, you’ll regret using it when it actually comes in handy one day. The bottom line – with so many items at hand, you can always find a better one. Just dump the rejects.

7. Having said that, the smaller the number of items you have the more important each one is. If you believe the number of items is small enough to make each one count, choose one of these approaches:
a) If you already have it but it’s not up to snuff – fix, groom, and develop it, and eventually you’ll get your efforts’ worth.
b) Even though you already have it, if it’s crooked you’d be better off dumping it and getting another one instead. In other words – lesson #6 applies even for a small number of items.

8. You don’t have the resources to build the ultimate screw sorting machine, but wouldn’t it be great? Just imagine this big contraption – you simply show it a nut and it fetches the perfect screw in 2 seconds flat.

9. Some items won’t fit in any other drawer, and there’s no use in starting a drawer for each one-of item. Just put them all in a drawer marked “Misc.”

10. Sorting a big pile of items actually takes less time than you’d imagine. Just start, zero in on your strategy, and you’ll be over and done with before you know it.