Confession: I've had a hard time writing lately. It's challenging to know what's helpful, tone-deaf, encouraging, Pollyanna-ish…you get my drift.
Another confession: Over the past several weeks I've bounced between being incredibly productive and completely lethargic. Over and over. I'm like a Roomba - either motoring around doing my job or stuck spinning in circles.
But in this wild time, I've come to appreciate again just how much my home office space supports me - or holds me back. Aha. Now there might be a topic. Not so much the home office angle - there have been plenty of articles and posts about productive Work-From-Home setups already. But instead, how can a space encourage you to do the things that make you, you?
I'm reasonably sure we're all aware that a well-ordered space makes life easier, that we love looking at those attractive, organized closets and shelves online…and dreaming. But what needs to be taken into consideration in a space to help you express yourself, to support your unique brand of success? My office setup is usually ideal for me - it's been helping me to get through the pandemic challenges in lots of little, but effective ways. Small desk (yet another confession: I actually hate sitting at a desk), couch (with lots of pillows), my bookshelves (full), my plant (Edmund), my favorite prints and photos on the walls. It makes sense for both who I am and how I need to work right now. When I let the irrelevant paperwork pile up, or the books get out of whack, I notice more than ever how unsettled and unproductive it makes me feel*. If I can't settle in quickly for a Zoom meeting or to write, I know it's at least partially due to how the room is working, or not working. Would my office be a perfect setup for you? I doubt it.
One of the questions I ask clients when they are wrestling with what to do with an object is: "Does this ______(bowl, receipt, extension cord, whatever) help you to be successful?"
suc·cess (from dictionary.com)
So, taking it one step further: "Does this particular space help you to be successful?" Is it helping you make progress, or making things easier for you? If not, the next step is figuring out what would make the difference. Not just getting rid of clutter, but considering arrangement, colors, tools, lighting - everything that can make a space, and you, progress.
And so on. It's an obvious but under-appreciated fact that when we look at disorganized spaces, we're frequently focused on how awful they make us feel. If we can see past that overwhelm to what kind of supportive environment is possible, maybe even see the organization as an act of creativity in and of itself, it spurs the process on. It doesn't necessarily make the organizing and decluttering go faster (sorry), but deciding and choosing with your positive, progress-oriented outlook in mind can change the whole tone. When I've been stuck lately, if I have the presence of mind to do a little clearing, I start moving again. Before I started this post, I cleaned out a drawer and shredded some paper. I've witnessed it repeatedly - when a room is working correctly for its owner, all sorts of new and positive things open up for them.
*I do not own an "autonomous robotic vacuum cleaner", but I noted with interest in doing my research that what often causes them to spin in circles is, unsurprisingly, debris and/or obstructions.
In the first decision post, I talked about the role of intuition, or gut instincts, when it comes to making decisions. I stand by it - intuition is a powerful tool not many of us feel comfortable accessing as a primary method of making choices. It's the most primal, yet the least logical approach (although there have been moments in my life when intuition felt way more logical than anything I was advised to do). Is it foolproof? I don't know of any method of decision making that is.
Here's the thing: we may make a decision in our organizing adventures based upon all of the data we gather, the advice we solicit, the opinions of experts, the instinct we have at the time - and still not have the outcome we intended. It happens all the time.
We might decide, with all the wisdom we can draw upon, to let go of a particular object. And then six months later end up having a need to buy that same object again. Internal Dialogue: "What a colossal mistake that was! I should never get rid of anything."
Conversely, we may assign a particular meaning to an object and decide it needs to be kept. We just know it's going to serve us. Only to realize weeks or months later that it really isn't helpful - that we're never going to use it the way we thought we would. Internal Dialogue, Part II: "I'm so stupid for hanging onto that thing. What was I thinking?"
We might further explain either outcome away as "I knew I shouldn't have listened to _________," or "I always make the wrong choice," or even, "I can't trust myself to do anything right." But does either scenario imply that all of our decisions and choices are destined to be dumpster fires? Sure, there will be decisions we regret, but how else do we learn? Who on earth makes the correct decision all the time?
Just because one decision went south, does that mean ALL of our choices are destined to go the same direction? Did you decide to get up this morning? Did you choose to make your coffee, feed the dog, get ready for work, make the kids' breakfasts? Those are decisions too, you know. Small ones, maybe, but harkening back to those 35,000 decisions we make each day, you could have decided not to do any of those things.
Sometimes I'm asked if I have ever regretted letting something go. Sure, I have, although not very often because I don't identify super-closely with things. Plus, I've never been through a forced letting-go situation like a natural disaster or a fire or such (which can result in understandable extremes of stuff-identification one way or another - a different scenario and probably a different post). Does my regret take over my life and lock up my next decision? I try to set it aside because my past regret doesn't have to be relevant in my present.
For example: I can recall one of my favorite things as a kid was a small microscope my brother had given me for Christmas. I messed with it a lot, especially in the summers. I had lots of slides, both pre-made ones that came with the set and some I created with things I collected. At some point after I flew the nest, my mother took it to donate at her favorite charity. She checked with me first, and being away from home with the distraction of a first job, I agreed. But then...I kept thinking about that silly microscope. I had regret, a little sadness, and wished I had thought it through more. I realized that hoped that one of my children would enjoy it the way I had someday (sound familiar?).
When our son was old enough, one Christmas I confidently bought him as similar a model of the microscope as I remembered…and what do you know? He rarely touched it. It totally gathered dust in his room. So even if I had made a different decision all those years ago, it wouldn't have resulted in what I predicted. Even if he had loved the microscope, letting the original go honestly didn't matter one way or the other. Again, regret does not always equal relevance in making decisions. Note: I do think parents should invite children into as many age-appropriate decisions as possible. They need practice with choices.
"Bad" decisions can have silver linings too, of course. The job turned down, then a better one coming along. The new couch that doesn't fit in the living room, but turns out to be perfect for the office. And in many situations we can mitigate a regretted decision and learn from it - repurchase what we released, or give away whatever the offending object might have been.
So while there are plenty of methods and ways to approach a decision, none are necessarily better than any other, and none are guaranteed to always work. We'll still miss the mark sometimes, but that doesn't mean we shouldn't practice weighing options, checking in with our gut, and choosing. Especially now, I think most of us are doing the best we can with our decisions. And that's all we can ask of ourselves.
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?