Saturday, January 22, 2005

Organizing For Success

If you find yourself getting up in the morning and dreading the work ahead of you at home, or hating your house, you probably lack the benefit of organization. Just close your eyes for a minute and imagine what would make you want to get up and face the day with pleasure. When I do this, I see clean, shiny surfaces in the kitchen, uncluttered floors, and a sparkling, nice smelling bathroom.

If I were to escape the clutter, I would go to a shopping place where everything is cleaned up and in order, or a hotel where the beds are made and the tables are clean except for meals, or the house of a friend who seems to have everything picked up and put away. After thinking about this, I can more easily identify the problems of disorganization that are keeping me from enjoying my home.

Accumulated work, such as piles of clean laundry not folded or put away (or worse, laundry not even washed yet), dirty cookware and dinnerware strewn from one end of the kitchen to the other, bedrooms with clothes and piles of blankets and other clutter, and a living room full of things that don't belong in there, put a tremendous amount of stress on me. Chaos may not bother some people (or at least, it appears not to), but it makes me feel stressed and depressed.

About twenty years ago I was reading about this new phenomenon in women called "chronic depression." The author was using a type of therapy that, although very ancient, was new to that generation of people. She suggested that you clean one thing. Just one thing. Organize a kitchen shelf or cabinet, or wipe the sink in the bathroom. Afterwards, if you still feel discouraged and depressed, clean the floor. Admittedly, most people who are feeling depressed, aren't going to have the gumption to get up and move around, but her point was that the hands engage the mind and change the chemistry of the brain in some way, when a person is organizing. I tried this, and it worked. It helps if you have someone who cares about you to dig in with you and coach you along.

The phone is my best tool in this kind of circumstance. Clutter makes me panic to the point that I don't want to face it, so I call my daughter, or she calls me. Sometimes she is facing a huge task and just wants some inspiration. While I'm talking to her, she moves about and washes the dishes and cleans off the surface in the kitchen, or starts doing the laundry. What we talk about would fill volumes. I sometimes wish we had recordings of these talks, because there are so many ideas about the home and family that we discover and pass on to one another. We would call them "Kitchen Tapes" or "Laundry Tapes."

When you get way beyond your own capability to cope with the clutter, you are just going to have to take some time out to get back into shape. You might have to have a few meals out, or bring in some prepared food, so that you won't have to stop and spend a lot of time in the kitchen. In my case, on "kitchen day," the cleaning and organizing and de-cluttering left no room to cook.

I've been spending about a year getting organized. During this time, I've seen something about myself that I need to be aware of: sloth comes gradually. The house doesn't get stuffed to the gills in one day. The closets, shelves, and spaces gradually accumulate things. It comes from putting something in them and not dealing with it at the moment. You think, "I don't know whether I want that or not, but I'll keep it for now." The "I'll keep it for now" things can add up, until you have to take full days off from normal work, and deal with them. Once you dig yourself out of this accumulated clutter, it is best not to bring it in again, or, think carefully about where it is going to be put and what it will replace. If something comes into the house, something else must go, unless you have gotten down to bare essentials and really need to build up your supplies again.

These accumulations cost time and money. If you keep just one thing a month that you don't use or need anymore, in a year you'll have 12 things to put somewhere. Modern homes do not have the attics and the storage areas to accomodate this. In 3 years, you've got 36 extra things. It could be a seasonal decorating collection, for example. I've had to go through these things because they lose their appeal and freshness sometimes, and no long interest me when it is time to get them out again. While I may keep one or two items with sentimental value that I will use, I want to be free to make something new or buy something that I like, and not add to the heap. Time has to be taken to keep it in order, dig around it when you are looking for something else, or re-fold and re-sort it to keep it out of the way. It costs money in the sense that if you can't find it or it is too hard to access, you will end up going to buy another one.

In five years, a collection will amount to 60 items. In ten years there will be an accumulation of 120 items. Whether these are clothes, dinnerware items, decorating things, sewing supplies, pieces of furniture, accents for the home, or tools, they've all got to find a place to stay. If you inherit your parents' household items, you will have double the problem if you bring it into your house. Biblically and traditionally, the parents things go to the grandchildren rather than the children. Your things go to your grandchildren, and on down the line. So, while you may keep one or two items in memory of your parents, pass the other things on to the children, if they will appreciate them.

Having too many things means you'll always be moving them or cleaning them or trying to manuever around them. One of the tricks of getting an organized, streamlined home, is to remember the early settlers, who just had what they needed, and took care of with pride. The less you have to take care of, the more of your time is freed up to do things with others. If you are like me, being disorganized can keep you from showing hospitality or writing a letter or sewing a little blanket for someone, or even sewing your own clothes. My goal is to get the house so easy to clean that it doesn't fall apart at one end while I'm cleaning the other. The secret is to reduce the amount of things you have to clean and organize.

After you've spent several months going through everything room by room, observe how your day goes and watch what you have to pick up and move or clean. Then go through the house again and get rid of even more. Things that accumulate dust will have to be dusted, and that takes time. It is fine to do this if you've got help, but if your children are really small or grown and gone, you'll have more responsibility if you've got extra things to polish, dust, wash, and so forth.

Being de-cluttered is so freeing. It clears your mind and lifts a burden from you. If you've ever heard someone say they are depressed, inquire into their home life and see how organized they are. When my daughter was a teenager, she and I used to go and help young mothers who were discouraged and depressed. We began by bringing them an afternoon tea in a basket and serving it, and then we set about to straighen and clean their front room, or the room that people first see when they enter. We even arranged wall hangings and things in a pleasing way. Then we did the kitchen/dining area. The rest was up to her, but we gave her a lift, and a jumpstart so that she knew where to start.

I'll never forget one young woman we visited who had such a messy house that she wouldn't let anyone in the door. She had a tiny place to live, and was hoping for something bigger someday, and had allowed herself to lose interest in it. When we got finished cleaning and organizing, she not only wanted to stay there, she recognized what a valuable piece of real estate it was.