Here comes one of those themes again. You know, the times where something comes up repeatedly across sessions that catches my attention. And while it's not exactly along the lines of decision-making, or meditation, that we've been talking about in past posts, it's definitely related. It's around the disconnect between what people think a space or project is, and what it actually is.
It's like going to one of those haunted house attractions that pop up around Halloween (hey, remember those? Gee, what's my favorite holiday going to look like this year?). Anyway, you know the drill - everyone goes in nervous and ready for a scare, but also with the complete knowledge that nothing they see will be real. The horrific zombies that jump out wielding machetes and chainsaws, courtesy of hourly-paid local actors and apprenticing makeup artists, are just that - local actors and makeup artists. Maybe even college kids just looking to earn some extra cash. They drive to work, clock in, get ready, do their thing, clock out, go home, and sleep. They probably are not particularly scary people absent their costuming and some strobe lights. We know all of this, coming and going, but in the middle…in the moment, we're terrified - or at the very least, startled. There's a belief, even if temporary, that what is happening is real enough to be afraid of.
So too you might look at a closet or the top of a desk and, even though you know that underneath the clutter there's just a closet, or just a desk, it looms SO large (ahem, did I hear someone say "Big Scary Goal"??). Despite understanding that individual piles of things are simply things, and that they actually belong to you, and that you suffer in terms of time and peace of mind when you don't deal with them - you freeze. Or flee. Or even fight. Yup, I do sometimes see the evidence of fights with stuff… it's rarely pretty and generally involves things hastily thrown away or stuffed in drawers or bins with no rhyme or reason. Regret soon follows.
It works the other way around, too: minimizing. How many of you have taken a skeptical friend to one of those haunted house affairs? The one who is convinced it's no big deal, and ridiculous, and insists they won't even blink when Freddie Krueger shows up. They're kind of annoying about it, and then naturally, they're the first one to start bawling. You might also look at a closet and think, "Oh, it's just a closet. No biggie. Won't take me long - nothing to see here." Au contraire. Start pulling that stuff out, and soon you're aghast at what you've squirreled away.
The truth about a cluttered space generally lies somewhere in the middle, between unapproachably terrifying, and so benign as to not warrant any care. So how do you take the mask off the organizing job, and see it for what it really is? What is actually true?
Part of the process goes back to the "L" of the LESS Method - "Learn." You can't know what all needs to be organized if you don't know what objects are there, and at least some of their stories. If you were to learn about the people in the haunted house, who they are, whether they like dogs or cats, and how they take their coffee, how frightening would they really be? If they turned all the lights on and took the masks off, what would you understand?
Could you similarly look at working through your space as getting to know your stuff? For instance:
"Alrighty, let's learn all about this paperwork, and see what trends we can uncover, what mysteries we might solve. Oh, THAT'S where the warranty is for the vacuum. And the receipt for the new tires...oh wow, and the key to the safe deposit box! I've been looking all over for that! I remember now...I was cleaning out the car before I picked kids up at school, and I stuffed all of this stuff in a bag in a hurry. Hmmm, I wonder how often I do that? If I'm tempted to do it again, could I pause and stop myself?"
Kind of takes some of the edge off, no?
Another approach might be to take just one small piece of the project to examine. Like instead of heading straight into the whole creepy corn maze, you first take a walk through a small pumpkin patch (sorry, I'm really on that Halloween roll now). So instead of the whole, massive, enigmatic closet, you could pull one bin to carefully deconstruct. And that might go something like:
"OK, I had no clue what was in here. Oh, it's a bunch of the kids' toddler toys. And Fluffy's old leash and collar - I miss Fluffy. But it's been years, and I think I can handle this now. I'm not sure why I avoided this bin, but maybe it's because I was afraid of the unknown. Now that I see it, the mystery has dissolved, and I can accept what it is. I even think most of this stuff can be donated, and that's going to free up a ton of space."
And when you get your decisions made, and the bin has some shape, purpose, and order, you might have the increased confidence to head into the rest of the closet.
Or not, but you'll still be further along than you were when you started.
How else might you look behind the curtain, peek under the wolf costume, or crack the creaky door open on that big, bad space?
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?