Hellloooo…are you out there?? Yeah, you. You, with the lets-just-get-this-shopping-over-with itchy one-click finger. I think this might be for you.
Apologies for the Yuletide buzzkill, but I’m only writing this about the holidays because it’s almost December. It really could be dropped into July or March, but here we are again (and I needed a topic). Do I sound Grinchy? I just have to figure that if all of the posts about simplifying, giving experiences vs. things, organizing holiday decor, and stats on how many people return gifts every year (over 50%, in case you’re wondering) haven’t hit home by now, well…
I don’t disagree that sharing time, thoughtfulness, and/or creativity is needed way more than a scented candle or new sweater.
I don’t disagree that most (not all, but most) of us have too damn much stuff.
I don’t even disagree that there are probably sleeker alternatives than a battered up Banker’s box for storing your ornaments and angels.
I’m just not sure that anyone is listening, because even the new angles are old again, and no one seems the wiser. There are expectations and “traditions” to uphold after all. We have to get stuff for the kiddos, right? They have to have something to open!
I don’t know. Apparently Laura Ingalls Wilder managed to get by one year with a tin cup and a stick of peppermint. I think Ma managed to scare up a wild turkey (the poultry variety, not liquid) for supper, too. Clearly Mrs. Wilder never forgot any of it, because she was writing about it roughly 60 years later. How many of us can remember everything we got for Christmas or Chanukah when we were 8ish?
Consider too, about 60% of shoppers on Black Friday “self-gift.” Yeah, that’s a term. They spend roughly $150 doing it, and why not, with over half of the gifts they receive from others being things they return anyway?
I really don’t mean to come across judgy, and I can certainly plug myself into the one-clicking crowd as easily as the next person. I’m just tired. Thanks to the wonders of Gmail I now know that I’ve received no fewer than 67…no wait, (bing!) now 68 AMAZING DEAL promo codes in my personal inbox in the three days since Thanksgiving. And I’m someone who unsubscribes constantly. Despite my striving towards alternative holiday activities, this season is already feeling tired and clichéd. Even the minimalist, socially conscientious stuff is getting tedious.
So maybe y'all could do me a favor? Could you send me a little something…an idea, thought, action…about what you might be doing to shake your holiday season up a bit? Are you stepping out and going completely giftless? Hanging out at a monastery? Taking pictures of turtles (or bears, or leafless trees) all day? Drinking a cup of the gourmet cocoa you got on sale last week and calling it good?
Then again, the more you have, the more you have to organize, resell, and donate to charity in six months. I’ll be here. ;-)
What is it about being more organized in a space (or in a system) that helps us, truly makes a difference for us? Is it being able to find things quickly and easily? Is it the way the space looks? The sense of accomplishment? Lack of excess? Feeling more environmentally conscientious and responsible?
It certainly can be most all of these things. But I think there is one key idea that gets overlooked: control. I tried googling the terms “organizing” and “control,” and came up with pretty much nothing (other than an intimidating sounding book about German corporate management systems). Perhaps control has some negative connotation in our society that makes us shy away from a connection. We do talk about people being “controlling,” or someone wanting to control a situation in a manipulative sort of way. Some more positive synonyms include (depending upon whether you’re using it as a noun or verb) mastery, handle, manage, authority, oversee, curb, adjust, supervise.
I happen to think that when we organize a space, no matter how large or small, we give ourselves some time and ability to be in healthy control (authority) of something. Think about it: too much in the way of stuff or commitments causes overwhelm, yes? How many times have I heard clients say something like, “I feel like everything is out of control!”? So why wouldn’t we want to create conditions that would help us get back into control? If we choose to donate a pile of novels we know we won’t reread, we are controlling (managing) both our decision to let go (a good thing if the books are taking over the living room) and to some extent, controlling where the books go (also a good thing for someone who will eventually enjoy them).
Years ago, when our daughter was born prematurely and spent some time in the NICU, much of the birth process was taken out of our control. I had been so careful during the pregnancy, taking those vitamins, resting, eating well, going to all of my doctor appointments. But for whatever reason (we will never know why) - she decided to show up early. Zero I could do to influence the situation, and as it turned out, nothing much that all of the medical professionals at the UNM hospital could do to alter it either. We didn’t get to go to birth classes, have our choice of music in the delivery room, or even decide when we could take her home.
The day after she was born (healthy, thank God, if small), I left her side for a short while, went down to the hospital cafeteria...and called into my office at work. I checked in with three colleagues who were handling my projects, all of whom expressed shock that I would even think about dialing in. I explained at the time that it just helped me to feel normal, but upon reflection, I think what it really did was help me to feel some measure of control during a time that felt so uncertain and unsettling. Alternatives to my calling into the office might have been…oh, I don’t know…scarfing down donuts, or staring at the TV for hours, or worse. I certainly didn’t spend all of my time working from the hospital, but I was actually kind of - dare I say it?? - productive. I felt better, and I think our daughter deserved a mom who felt a little less inept.
So when we're staring down a pile of medical paperwork after a lengthy illness, or a closet full of memories after a death, or a garage of boxes after a move, taking just a few steps needed to process the items helps to not only clear out the clutter but also regain some trust in our own ability to manage something. Ticking off a to-do list item, even if it’s just one, can reassure.
As I write this, we are experiencing myriad situations in our world that leave us feeling helpless. I get that clearing out a few files or labeling the garage bins isn’t going to change any of those things, but could it give us a tiny little slice of peace? Help us to feel competent, and maybe get us ready for bigger challenges?
What could you take control of today?
Sara Skillen - Certified Professional Organizer®, Certified Organizer Coach®, wife, mom, dog-lover, author. Learning to trust my intuition more every day. Shall we work together?