Friday, April 25, 2008

Everything In Its Place

For the past week or so, I've been on a massive spring cleaning tear. I'm not the tidiest person, and while I know how to keep the places that matter clean--food out of the kitchen, grime out of the bathroom--I am notoriously bad when it comes to paper, books, magazines and really, most everything else.

I have several really big unmet goals for my life. Some are silly, and some may be noble, but among goals such as getting a book published, having kids, learning to speak Spanish, making a difference in the fight for our liberties, one kind of mundane one stands out: To be organized.

I've always envied people who are capable of carrying their slim little day planners or always remember to update their calendars, those people whose homes look like the Pottery Barn catalog (which I have a love/hate relationship with, if you must know), those people who seem to know what they're supposed to be doing next.

I don't know what finally lit the fire--maybe that fact that I'm running my own business now and I need to be on top of things or fail miserably, disappoint clients and generally make a mess of things--but I'm finally making a move on that organization goal.

But before I started in earnest, I seemed to be waiting for the advice that would make the difference for me. After all, it wasn't like I hadn't tried before. I'd bought day planners, only to have two weeks of the calendar filled with appointments and reminders (Buy birthday card, Dentist appt., Moving day!!!), or clear storage bins that I ended up using like portable junk drawers. No matter what scheme I investigated or tried, it all seemed overwhelming, complicated, too left-brained for my associative right-brained world.

And then I read this somewhere, though I'm not so organized yet that I can remember where, but this was what made the difference: Everything has its place.

Does this seem completely elementary to you? Because it made all the difference for me. It was not a file folder system or a cabinet of labeled bins. What it was, and what I needed, was a philosophy. Everything has its place. Eureka!

It was about recognizing the intrinsic function and use of an item, and deciding how to put that item in a place that maximized its functionality and use. And if that place didn't exist, it gave me the opportunity to evaluate: Do I need to create a place, or do I need this item at all?

I had a philosophical system that allowed me to make sense of the constellation of objects that seemed to continually and haphazardly orbit my household, floating through time and space with no grounding, no apparent home.

Now I know: books go on a bookshelf, magazines I keep in a magazine case or throw away. Office supplies are sorted and stored separately, on an office shelf or desk. Every single thing in my house has a place, and if not, its place is in the recycling bin, the donation pile or the trash.

Without investing in any kind of arbitrary system of organization and storage, I am actually kind of organized now. Kind of. And when I see something that belongs in the bathroom--sunscreen, or lip balm--on the kitchen counter, I think: That's not in its place. And instead of leaving it there, I return it to its proper home. So I'm neater now, and more consistently neat, than I used to be thanks to that simple little phrase.

I think "Everything in its place" is kind of a good philosophy for a lot of things, but will this increased organization help me be happier, experience more bliss, make me a better person? Has the moral superiority of the organized been justified all the while?

Honestly, maybe. Maybe that whole cleanliness is next to godliness group was on to something. I certainly feel less stress when I walk into an uncluttered room than a cluttered one. It's true what they say about the potential for our stuff to control us.

Objects don't just have physical weight, they also have psychic weight. The floor presses up on your foot when you press down, and when your gaze alights on a mess, that mess presses back. Cumulatively, it can begin to wear you down, keep you from all the other things you want to do in your life. Write a book. Have kids. Make a difference in your community.

When my office is finally done, I'll let you know if I have any transcendent insights about the connection between bliss and clutter. For now, I'm off to my version of the XXX News: I'm off to The Container Store.

1 comment:

erzsebet said...

As a charter member of the "Cleanliness Is Next to Godliness Group (CINtGG)," I would like to say congrats on overcoming your clutter!

I grew up in a family that moved every few years, and lived in a series of houses kept tidy with military discipline. The routine purge of excess was a necessary part of moving, and the "every thing has its place" philosophy was part and parcel of keeping that dress-right-dress strait-ness in whatever house the Army said was home. This caused me to develop an almost neurotic sense of what is tidy. I can always, always find something to clean, and I revel in buying anything Method makes for scrubbing, mopping, window-washing. I have crossed from having a healthy relationship to clutter-busting into becoming an A+-pain-in-the-ass-neat-freak. Beware you don't find yourself falling into this extreme!! It can have the same enervating effect as clutter, in that you'll never sit down to work/write/enjoy your home because there's always something else that could be done.

By exposing the seamy underbelly of neat-freakism, I suppose I'll lose my Gold Member status in the CINtGG!