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Resolved: to make a keep-able resolution

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If my New Year's resolution holds in 2014, this is the last time I'll wind up staring blankly at my computer screen as my column deadline bears down.

I've been thinking about what to write all week, in between shopping, cooking, kicking back and outings with my daughters. So many things seemed to interest me during this holiday season. But now I can't seem to grab hold of a single idea.

If I'd managed to adhere to last year's resolution — keep a notebook with me at all times, to record my thoughts and feelings about what I see, hear and read — I wouldn't be struggling right now to make sense of a tired mind's cacophony.

My best ideas tend to pop up at inconvenient moments, and wind up scribbled on scraps of paper and left in random spots: on a takeout menu on the floor of my car or a Macy's receipt stuffed in a dresser drawer.

Of course, I can never find those notes when it's time to sit down and write. They turn up unexpectedly weeks or months later, when the ideas still seem brilliant but the column has already run.

Every year I plan to remedy that with a promise to organize myself and tame the creative sprawl.

But I'm no better at keeping resolutions than I am at safeguarding my thoughts.

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Almost half of Americans make annual New Year's resolutions, but only 8% of them can say they always succeed in keeping them. One-quarter say they fail every year; that group would include me.

I try to keep mine pretty basic to increase my odds of success. I don't need to lose weight. I don't expect to vanquish debt. I don't drink too much alcohol. Or smoke cigarettes.

I would simply like to be more organized, so my life doesn't feel so chaotic.

I'd like to sit down at a desk that isn't strewn with newspapers and notes, littered with broken pens and Post-it notes, piled with stuff that I don't need but can't bear to let go.

I know I'm not alone in the disorder department. Getting organized is No. 2 — between losing weight and saving more/spending less — on surveys of the top 10 resolutions almost every year.

Experts say it's the sort of resolution that can make us feel temporarily better but turns out to be so vague and broad, we're bound to feel like failures before the year is out.

Three years ago, my resolve lasted less than a month. I wound up hiring a professional because I couldn't organize myself enough to begin organizing my stuff.

A few hundred dollars later, I had a clean desk, a new filing system, a leather-bound notebook to carry around and a binder of helpful suggestions.

A few months after that, I misplaced the notebook and was back to rooting for notes, phone numbers and receipts in a neatly labeled "miscellaneous" file that had grown to epic dimensions.

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My San Francisco daughter has inherited my disorder gene, but she's not fretting about it.

She stores numbers in her phone, has receipts emailed, photographs her notes and records her thoughts as voice memos. She doesn't need an organizer; at 23, she's got iCloud working for her.

Still, she's made her own list of resolutions this year, each pointedly specific:

She will eat dinner at home four times a week; food she's cooked, not takeout. (That's a revelation to her mother, who's been wondering why she always runs out of money before her next paycheck.)

She will hang her clothes up or put them in her hamper right after she takes them off. (Instead of piling them on a chair or dropping them on the floor.)

She will empty the cat's litter box more often. (No commentary needed.)

She will go out less often than she does now, but still drink the same amount. Or go out the same, but drink less on every outing. (I'm unwilling to imagine why that's needed or just what it might mean.)

Her laundry list seems more daunting than my single New Year's pledge.

But statistics suggest she has a better chance of making good on her resolutions than I do on mine.

Almost 40% of people in their 20s achieve their resolutions each year. Among people over 50, like me, the number drops to 14%.

Maybe there's a message in that for me: It's time to clarify my annual resolution.

I don't need to get organized. I just need to acquire a giant cache of notebooks and ink pens, enough to supply my car, my purse, my patio and every room in the house.

sandy.banks@latimes.com

Twitter: @SandyBanksLAT

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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