Monday, September 21, 2015

When Organizing Isn't Enough

Whenever I get overwhelmed with things to do and systems to maintain and plans not working out and forgetting things and losing things and just not feeling like I'm enough, I turn to books.

Of course I do.

And this time I'm re-reading Julie Morgenstern's When Organizing Isn't Enough: SHED your stuff, change your life.

I'm reading it slow, and in sections, this time--actually doing the steps as I go. As opposed to reading through it in one go and saying, "I've read it; it doesn't work." Of course it doesn't work if you don't follow up with the actions required to change behaviors. Duh. But sometimes in my quest for Fixing It, I speed  skim through the hard part. The working part.

The book has prompted me to think of a current theme for my life, and to think of when or where my clutter entered my life. These together will help me get to the why of the clutter, and help me to only keep the things in my life that fall under (or contribute to) my current theme.


I think that for the past three years, my life's theme has been building up my romantic relationship with my loverloverman--solidifying it, growing it, loving it. I also have been continuing to mother my teenagers--encouraging them and advocating for their needs.

But just recently--in the last six to eight months--I've shifted my focus to my author business. I'm charged and ready to grow it and I've got game plans and mentors at the ready. 

One of my historical problems--"And I say one, because there are many"(Mr. Collins from Pride and Prejudice)--is in not utilizing my time and environment judiciously. So that, looking back, I say, "Damn! Why didn't I do xxx then? I had the time and opportunity then. Now it's way more difficult."

I haven't missed the chance to do xxx, but I've missed the easy chance to do it. I make things harder for myself than they need to be. Chronically.

I'd like to transition into a place in my life where I am joyously using my time on the things that matter to me--so that I don't feel like I've wasted my time, or worse, frittered away my time on unimportant things.

Instead of bemoaning that I wished I had all the time to work on my author business, I want to rejoice knowing that I am living my dream life right now. My schedule allows me family time, partner time, personal time, business time, hobby time, and a couple of days a week for secular work. My "day" job is only two days a week.

Therefore, it feels appropriate that my theme(s) are thus:

Career theme--Building my author business with joy, serenity, and balance.

Personal theme--Rediscovering joy in my authentic self.

Coincidentally--and serendipitous too!--my career and personal themes dovetail so neatly together that they feel the same to me. Finding joy in my work and personal life leads to serenity and balance in my work and personal life.


I think my paper messiness (which is by far the bulk of my untidiness) was a combination of (1) not having time to deal with the accumulating stuff, (2) the quest to be the practical do-it-yourselfer ("That could be useful someday"/hoarding hand-me-downs and not-quite-right stuff because it was better than being without), and (3) and seeing myself as a busy, important-type person.

Busy, messy desks also signified creativity to me somehow.

How could I be creative and clean?


After dissecting my life and trying to find out when the clutter started, as per Julie Morgenstern's instructions, I think I've pinpointed it to 2002, when I moved in with my now ex-husband. And the clutter has continued to this day.

My mother may disagree, but I don't remember being super messy as a kid. My room certainly looked cleaner than some of my friends'. And in my first marriage, despite moving multiple times, my office wasn't ever out of hand that I remember.

In particular, I remember one rental house in Kalispell, Montana with a sloped floor and cottonwood trees in the back. My great-grandmother's vanity table sat in the dining room/kitchen and we used it for a desk. The phone sat on top and the drawers held the phone book, pens/pencils, various supplies, and paper for taking phone messages or writing letters. It was rarely messy and I loved it. I was proud of the family heirloom entrusted to my care.

Army life after that was always pristine. It had to be.

The messiness of my second marriage wasn't paper, just "baby" and dirty dishes.

The house I lived in as a young widow was a little chaotic sometimes, with little ones and being suddenly single--but whole chunks of the house were clean and serene. That was my theme then--finding serenity and inner peace.

It was only after I moved in with my now-ex, and my first child started kindergarten, that the kitchen bar and table started filling up with papers--bills, receipts, documents, kids' artwork and schoolwork, et cetera.

After the WHEN, it was time for the WHY

I thought, at first, that in my quest to be a nurturing mom, I wanted to keep everything. That could certainly cause clutter, but it didn't really ring true. Then I thought maybe I was just pre-occupied and never could get to the organizing of it. But I'd hired organizers to come in and make everything great, to have it fall apart again within three weeks. So that wasn't it.

Did I not have the skill-set for organizing? No, because it was organized before 2002.

Maybe I just had too much stuff and it spilled out everywhere. Maybe a sense of lack prevented me from getting rid of the papers. But that didn't seem right either. I don't think I'd miss much of it if I got rid of the whole kit and caboodle.

What was my attachment to my clutter?

Before the mess was calmness, a little bit of loneliness, and a desire for a large family.

And then it started coming together a little.

Maybe the reason I had clutter piling up around the office and dining room was because I'd simply prioritized something else all those years.

My theme for thirteen years had been nurturing my family and growing romantic relationships. I just didn't have time or energy to keep my paper clutter at bay; I was focused on something else.

But now that my kids are semi-autonomous, and I'm in a refreshingly awesome romantic relationship, I can shift my theme back to reclaiming joy and serenity in my personal life and to growing my author business in joy, balance, and serenity.

What's your theme right now? 
When and why did your clutter start?

Next step from Julie's book is to seek out my treasures, and keep those. I'm looking forward to approaching my office with a sense of joy--finding those items that create that joy in me, and also those things that contribute to my current theme. Then, I heave the trash.

Do you see? It's the other way around in every other organizing book I've read--and there have been many. Usually one goes through and makes piles for thrift stores, recycling, and trash; then puts away what's left. But I think that going through and looking for those things that light you up is far more enticing than Organizing The Office.

Who wants to make time for that?

So seek your treasures then! 
Leave a comment about what you find. We'll do this together.

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