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, and serial list-maker. Learning to trust my intuition more every day. Shall we work together?