In my son's first grade class, they have a color coded behavior system similar to the Department of Homeland Security's terrorist activity alert system...a similarity easily understood by anyone who has spent a significant amount of time with first-graders. It goes something like this:
Ironically, he starts each day wanting to be on green. We talk about what it takes to stay on the "green path", which leads to privileges, play dates and being able to buy lunch at school, and how to avoid taking the wrong fork in the road toward "red land", where everyone has to go to bed early and there are no TVs. We've gone over it a million times, but being a child, he has difficulty remembering that his ultimate destination is dictated by all the millions of small choices he makes throughout his day.
How often do we adults forget that too? We complain about how un-fulfilling our jobs are, how full our calendars are, how cluttered our closets are, how messy our homes are, or how tired or lonely we are. Yet we fail to recognize that these are the destinations we chose when we came to a fork in the road.
When I was a young woman, I spent many years having my heart broken by one jerk after another, until I finally realized that the single common denominator in each of these failed relationships was me. Me and my choices. I finally figured out that what I had been seeking and what I was hoping to find were two completely different things. I had been dating men who came from similar backgrounds to my own, assuming that it meant they shared my goals for the future. I wanted a loving and caring man who was travelling on the same road as I and with whom I could share my journey through life. But I had somehow wandered astray onto a different path and had been looking in all the wrong places and getting lost. When I finally found him, I almost didn't recognize him. He was nine years my junior and living on the other side of the Atlantic, having been raised in a family vastly different from my own. Fourteen years later, we are (slowly but steadily) reaching our goals...shared goals based on conscious choices and reinforced by our mutual determination to help each other reach them. It has not been an easy or an even path, and sometimes one of us has had to carry the other over the rough spots, but the journey has made us closer and we both know the view from the summit will be spectacular when we reach it!
I'm guessing some of you are saying, "But Valerie, what does this have to do with organizing?" Well, everything, to be frank. Being organized is nothing more than making deliberate, well-thought-out choices. What do I keep and what do I toss? Which things should be stored in the most accessible places? Should I store this item with these things or with those over there?
My mother used to regularly complain that she did not have enough cabinet space in her kitchen. My sister reported that when she helped her move, she found no fewer than TWELVE muffin tins. I imagine the conversation went something like this:
Sis: "Mom, why do you need twelve muffin tins?"
Mom: "Well, I like to have some ready to go in the oven, some already in the oven, and some cooling all at the same time because it makes the baking go so much faster."
Sis: "And how often do you need to bake 144 muffins at the same time?"
And I would have argued that the amount of time she saved during one baking session a year (at most) because she could do all that at the same time was lost ten times over through having to move those tins around to make room for the things she used every day. I noticed when I visited her once in her small home that she had numerous sets of matching glasses crammed into various locations throughout the house. When I asked her why she needed so many, she replied that she liked to have plenty of pretty glasses on hand for when she was entertaining. I guess it never occurred to her that even if she filled every inch of her tiny trailer home with guests, she would have had to serve at least four or five rounds of drinks to use up all those glasses at once.
She was making choices that didn't make sense without even realizing it. We all do it. Are you choosing to live in the past or in the present? Are you holding onto that dirty, smelly cast from when your now-grown son broke his arm when he was five in the vain hope that it will bring back that sweet little boy from your past? Because it won't, and it is taking up precious space in your present. If you must, take a picture of the cast and then throw it away. And what about those old acid-wash jeans from high school that you are hanging onto so that you can say "I did it" once you lose enough weight to wear them again? Do yourself (and everyone else) a fashion favor and get rid of them. A before and after picture is way more compelling, and you will have earned a brand new outfit you can actually wear out in public without embarrassing your companions. It may be "just one pair of pants", but added together with all the other useless items you are choosing to keep for the wrong reasons, they represent a lot of overhead.
Life isn't something that just happens to you. It is something you make happen through your choices. If you are too tired, maybe you need to schedule some down-time on your calendar. If you are too lonely, reach out to others with similar interests through volunteer activities or hobby groups. If your closets are too cluttered, choose to give away the things you don't use to someone who will. If your job is drudgery, perhaps it is time to re-evaluate your career choice. Remember that needs and priorities change over time so your choices should too. Once upon a time, that house you bought was your dream home, but it may be time to upgrade or downsize as you enter a new phase of your life.
It's a lot easier to chart a course and choose the correct forks in the road when you know what your destination is. Where does the "green path" lead in your life?
Valerie Sheridan is a professional organizer, wife, mother of two, and Founder/Owner of EasyPeasy Living.