If you have a Facebook profile, do you ever check out the “Memories” section to see what you were up to in the past? I get a kick out of how many times I wrote something years ago about getting myself organized. Those posts went up a long time before I ever stumbled across the professional organizing industry, so it’s some seriously spooky foreshadowing. This morning I had to laugh when this one popped up:
You see, I’ve spent the past week organizing in my own home, and just last night, I was - you guessed it - filing and shredding. I also worked on my closet, my office, part of the garage, and some long-neglected but really functional drawers and cabinets. I caught up on errands that I had chosen to put off for weeks. I even spent time looking over my schedule for the rest of 2019, trimming away some overcommitment and setting better boundaries.
I looked forward to this organizing time for weeks. In fact (and you may think I’m a little cracked), I purposely scheduled it as a sort of mini-vacation. Forget Spring Cleaning, this was all Fall Organizing, despite it hovering around a soul-sucking 97 degrees every day. It was a perfect way for me to recharge - less expensive than the beach, with no sunburn or sand in my shoes.
When I reflected on it, I noticed a few things:
Sure, I got stuck on an item or two, lost myself in quite a few memories, and the ridiculous heat kept me from doing as much outside as I wanted. Occasionally I was tempted to dig into something others might count as more interesting that sorting and arranging. But I knew (intuitively? from years of experience?) how much better I would feel choosing the organizing over Netflix*. I also came across this Facebook Memory, which helped to put it all into a more realistic perspective:
No, I didn't get it all done, but I count the whole week as a win. It also reminded me that this organizing stuff actually is something I’m decent at, which is comforting. Even professionals have their doubts at times, and I’ve spent the better part of two years engaging in some goals that are not so second-nature, not so comfortable. And while discomfort most definitely leads to growth, I was so ready to lay it all down for a while. To push the pause button on all that personal expansion, curl up with the label maker and some donation boxes, and go for some good old self-care. Because improving your organization is an act of taking care of yourself. Think of it like a little metaphorical cucumber face mask for your spaces - clearing out those impurities and leaving a brighter, smoother surface behind.
Sometimes, when you’ve spent a long time trying to work on or figure out something difficult or outside of your comfort zone, it’s nice to come “home.” To come home to an activity that feels like putting on your favorite pair of jeans, or that perfect, soft, hole-y sweatshirt. You may not have the luxury of being able to take a whole week to go through your t-shirt drawers or files from 2004, and you may not find organizing as relaxing an activity as I do. But what if you took even just an hour or two to indulge in organizing something all for yourself? Something that would help you to breathe easier? A clear-out that would make you smile when you finished?
How comfortable would that be?
*For the record, I did check out a fair number of podcasts.
What would happen if you folded just half of that pile of laundry, right now? Or cleared all of the empty wire hangers out of the closet? Or took five minutes to purge old magazines? What tiny little space could you organize before the day is through?
How would it feel tomorrow morning if the coffee was already brewing when you woke up? If you didn't have to unload the dishwasher, because it was already done?
If your keys were on their hook, would you get out the door faster? What would that be like? What would happen if you intentionally built 10 extra minutes into your commute ?
What might taking a few minutes to review your week on the calendar do for you? What will you remember to not forget?
If, just this once, you took a deep breath and paused to consider all of your commitments, what would you discover? If you skipped signing up for a potluck, or a volunteer gig, or a "free" webinar, what would you have time for instead?
What would you NOT have to deal with a week from now, if you said "no" today?
If you turned down a bargain, what would that free up in the closet? What would you not have to take care of, or deal with, a month from now? Six months from now? If you passed on the cool "swag bag" at the event, which drawer in your home would be less cluttered?
If you let go of the idea of the yard sale and donated everything instead, what would the garage floor look like by the end of the weekend? How much more time would you have? How much more peace?
How would your day be different if you shut down all of your social media and responded to an email? Or sent out your invoices? Or filled out your expense report? Or had a face to face conversation?
What would a little bit of intention today give back to you tomorrow?
A question was raised recently about whether or not I was organized as a child. I was a bit stumped. It got me to thinking about the whole topic, and how my concept of it might have changed over the years.
In our house, when I was growing up, my mother had clear zones. The living room was always what some in the South might call "preacher perfect." In other words, theoretically, the only time it was used was when the pastor would come to call. So nothing was out of place, everything always dusted, no dents in the couch cushions. When you opened the front door, whoever was standing on the porch would have a limited view of what appeared to be a well-kept, organized home.
But if you walked through our 70s-era swinging door into the den, complete with paneling and wall-to-wall carpet, you'd have a somewhat different picture. Mom had a chair where she crocheted, read books, made notes about recipes or landscaping ideas, and dog-eared her catalogs (planning for Christmas, naturally), and all of these things would be strewn and mixed about. The family cat had her own pillow, covered in fur. If you went even further into the utility/laundry area, you'd see my mother's latest oil painting project, a sewing machine table stacked high with fabric, and a pile of ironing. There might be a jewelry project in a tray on the kitchen counter, and dishes drying, and a collection of leftover canning lids.
In the garage, my dad and my older brother generally had all sorts of mysterious woodworking and car repair tools spread across a workbench. Because they were using them, of course. At any given time there might be an entire car engine taken apart on the floor, or pieces of wood and sawdust all around the circular saw.
I never stopped to consider whether our house was organized or not - I guess because I could usually find what I needed, and I was comfortable. I took a lot for granted. And although Mom was big on decorating and redecorating, I think she looked at the arrangement of things in the house in a practical way. If things didn't fit in the pantry, it was time to clean it out. If I wasn't playing with my Barbies anymore, they needed to be stored or given away. Dad had his tools out when he was using them, put them in the toolbox or cabinet when he wasn't (and not in a hyper-ordered fashion). I don't think either of them worried about someone seeing their "stuff" out, because why wouldn't they have stuff out? The spotless living room was enough to prove they knew how to welcome someone. They didn't overthink it.
The phrase "we live in our house" jumps into my mind. Having a perfect house at that time was actually an uncomfortable state of being, at least in the circles we ran in. In a perfectly neat home, where do you sit without worrying about messing something up? What if you want to spread out a craft project? A puzzle? What if you want to bake up a batch of something to put in the freezer? How do you wash your hands without messing up a guest towel? I remember dating someone in college and going to visit his parents' home for the first time. Not a thing was out of place, anywhere. The kitchen had absolutely nothing on the countertops - not even a cookie jar or a toaster. We came upon his mother in the guest bathroom, scrubbing an already-spotless sink with a toothbrush. We hadn't told her we were coming over, so apparently, this atmosphere was normal. Perhaps it was comfortable for their family, but I was instantly, distinctly, ill at ease. Why was that? Would I be uncomfortable now, or would I admire it?
Sometimes I wonder about weird things like whether or not hoarding existed in the Middle Ages, or if decision-making was ever an issue for the Vikings. There's a whole study of material culture that someday, in all my spare time, I want to dig into. For now I wonder, looking through today's lens of what "organized" is, how would I assess my childhood home? If my mother were alive to hire me to work with her, what would I do?
Has my perception of organization changed over time, maybe because of social media, or books or TV shows? I know I often point out to clients that there is a clear difference between neatness, aesthetics, and organization. They can work together, but I don't believe they are all the same thing. You can have a spectacular, Instagram-worthy pantry, but that doesn't mean it's functional. Looking back, yes, I think I had organizing tendencies as a child. But I was also fortunate to grow up in an atmosphere falling in the "Goldilocks Zone" of organization - not too much, not too little. Maybe I stumbled a bit on the original question because I judged my childhood self with 2019 organizing standards*.
What was the organization like when you were young? Is your definition of it any different now than it was 5, 10, or more years ago?
*Many thanks to Janet Barclay for asking the question!
Sara Skillen - Certified Professional Organizer®, Certified Organizer Coach®, wife, mom, and serial list-maker. Learning to trust my intuition more every day. Shall we work together?