Organizing the Mind

cupofkindnessOctober 8, 2010

Regarding the things that clutter my life: My perspective on "things" and how to treat them is ultimately formed by my mind (personality and God-given disposition and education and experience), my habits, my energy level, and a variety of attitudes and motivations. I have many good traits, but feel that because I lack organization, I am unable to do the sorts of extras (like having friends over for a meal, or doing a lot of fun things during the holidays, which almost never happens because I'm so overwhelmed.... I'm so disappointed in myself) that would make life a little sweeter for me and my children. Truthfully, the clutter around my house should be more upsetting-it really is upsetting-but I am unable to act or lead my family to act in such a way to resolve this major issue, because if it was REALLY more a priority, it wouldn't be an insurmountable problem, right?

I feel that as I age (I am about 50), it will become more difficult for me to keep track of everything. I have a large family, but no little tiny children around anymore (sniff!). Most of my energy goes into caring for my family. I am also dismayed that I cannot manage our money better, realizing that by being better organized I could in turn spend my energy saving money by not buying/replacing things that we really don't need, staying on top of bills and receipts (training myself in how best to spend money), taking the time to set up monetary goals besides sending my children to college (which believe me, I'm grateful for-if we did nothing else in life with money, we accomplished a lot right there), monetary goals like travel... My husband works very hard at his job and pays our bills... I stay home, and homeschool my youngest children, plus of course take care of the kids in elementary and high school, and keep track of my children in college. I sound busier than I really am, I have a very good life.

Also, I've been there, done that with a lot of wonderful programs and books, but never slavishly (like FLYlady, for example. I tried her program, too stressful, I cannot work like that, life seems to get in the way). I've read a lot of books as well (my current fav is probably "It's All Too Much") I probably should be reading organizational books continuously for support, but then, there's the time issue. I have in the past few years lost a lot of weight, which in itself taught me a great deal about how even the smallest things you do, can in fact, have an amazing impact over time. Virtuous habits are very powerful and good for your soul in more ways than one, as I've come to learn a little late in life.

I love this quote from FlyLady:

"Your attitude has to change from 'Why do I have to do this?' to "This is my home and I deserve a wonderful place to live.' Do you feel the difference that these two statements make in your heart?"

Does any of this resonate with you? How do you achieve the sort of mental discipline that flows into your material life? What would you recommend that I do to organize my mind in such a way that would make it easier to keep my life organized as well? I'm not looking for big systems, just big ideas that can work into my mind and routine in the little ways that lead to lasting order.

Somedays I think it would be easier if my house burned to the ground. That would be, in a sad sense, freeing. In any case, thank you for taking the time to post your thoughts and ideas in this regard. It means so much to me! And please don't worry, I won't set my house on fire. But you know what I mean!


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No suggestions, but I was actually thinking of this idea of Flylady's today. That and the daily cleaning of the bathroom are the only parts of her program I really use. But I have been cleaning out our downstairs for the past few weeks. We have been in this house 1 1/2 years, and the downstairs needs to be finished so we can make it into our office and actually have the use of it. I am totally ready for this to happen. The first step is to do the floors. Which means EVERYTHING has to be off it. This is why it's taken a year and a half. I just haven't been able to deal with it until now. We had 5 days to move into this house in the first place, and this house is smaller than the previous one, so everything really just got piled down there. Well, it's ALMOST done and ready to go. But I've been really thinking of that idea that I really want to have this space to use and live my life, rather than to store my previous life. That alone has helped remove a ton of stuff from the house. But it also helps that both kids are now out of the house. So I would say you're probably doing fine. I had all I could do to just keep up with the every day stuff when the kids were at home.

    Bookmark   October 8, 2010 at 5:33PM
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"What would you recommend that I do to organize my mind in such a way that would make it easier to keep my life organized as well?"

I know for me it really works the other way around. When I was surrounded by clutter and mess and disorganisation it made me *feel* chaotic and overwhelmed like "where do I start, it's just too much". now that my house is much more decluttered and organised I have less to worry about and my mind feels calmer. For example, it's hard to feel focussed and calm when you keep losing things, when you stress a lot because you dont know where things are, or you try to tidy the house but there's just too much stuff to do it properly.

I think one of the things that worked well for me and meant I could tackle it was not to look at it as something that I had to do in a week, or a month or even a year. It was a process and at first it might feel like you arent making a dent but over time you start to see the difference and as time goes on the difference becomes huge.

Simple systems make a real difference too. When my house was cluttered and disorganised I wasted at least an hour a day looking for keys. It drove me nuts! So I put up a keyholder and trained myself to put the keys there. Anytime I found keys on the counter or somewhere else I hung them up and it became a simple habit that saved me so much time and aggravation every single day.

If you dont know where to start then just start small, start anywhere. Pick a drawer and go right through it, toss what you can and organise what you keep, once one drawer is done you can move on to another. Dont expect it to take 5 minutes, it takes as long as it takes and dont focus on "the big picture" which can just overwhelm you. Baby steps lead to bigger steps, and tell yourself it doesnt matter how long it takes to get decluttered and organised as long as you keep making regular progress with it.

just my 2c :)

    Bookmark   October 8, 2010 at 9:19PM
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I think when you get overwhelmed it is hard just to start. I have found that I have to force myself to do things but once I get going I am fine.

I agree with not looking at the big picture but breaking it down.

If you can't find your bills to pay on time then find a plan that works for you and keep it up.

I was terrible for the last 10 years at having things piled up on my kitchen island. It seemed that all the bills that needed to be paid and other mail that I needed to do some thing with ended up there along with things that didn't have a home.

I started a routine that works for me but I do have to keep it up every day or else the papers start taking over again and I look at them and say later. Even though I put it off it still plays with my mind because it is there. I now take care of it every day even when I don't want to so it is much easier to deal with.

    Bookmark   October 9, 2010 at 9:41PM
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I recently took a class given by a Professional Organizer. she recommended, for clutter, start in your worst room, do a little every day, maybe 15-30 minutes, just make a small dent, then walk away and come back tomorrow. Progress, not perfection. Rome wasn't built in a day. You can eat an elephant one bite at a time.

    Bookmark   October 11, 2010 at 8:18AM
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I agree with everyone else, and you said it yourself---"even the smallest things you do, can in fact, have an amazing impact over time".

I worked in a place where we had way too work for the number of staff. We had a huge project that we kept putting off because it seemed we'd never have the time it would take to complete. Not having that project done caused a lot of extra work for us each day, but still, we did nothing. Finally, one staff member decided to work on the the project the last 15 minutes of each day. The rest of us laughed at her because we knew she'd never get through. After about 3 weeks, we were amazed at what she'd accomplished, and we began to pitch in. Using spare minutes as we had them, all of us working together were able to complete the project in about 4 months. This experience was a revelation I've never forgotten.

While most of us (I'm certainly guilty!) want to finish a big project in one, dramatic session, the truth is that we're much better off doing it in small pieces. You learned this when you were losing weight, didn't you? Change one thing; keep doing it the new way until it's a habit; make another small change. Thanks so much for your original post. I needed reminding.

    Bookmark   October 11, 2010 at 10:26AM
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One thing I recommended to a friend after seeing it was to overwhelming to her. I said you are overwhelmed with decisions about what to save, give, donate, trash etc, thus do nothing. There is just too much stuff. I suggested starting in one room and just think trash and once you get it down to normal clutter then you can think about what to do with ever little item.
I know it was wasteful but it did finally work for her.

    Bookmark   October 11, 2010 at 12:26PM
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I agree with what was said above. The entire project is just too overwhelming. It's important to break it down. Whether that means breaking it down into segments of time (work for 15 minutes every day) or location segments (work on one drawer then the next, etc.) or amount segments (as on the other thread about getting rid of 10 things every day) or whatever works for you.

In addition, you have to forgive yourself for missing a day. By that I mean, if you miss a day, or two or three, OK! That doesn't mean the whole project stops. It means you missed a couple of days but then you jump right back in.

I think routines are also very helpful for organizing. I hate going through the mail and we receive a big ol' pile of it every day, mostly junk. I can't stand going through it every day. So, my routine is to just let it pile up daily, sometimes I glance through it but mostly I just let it sit. Every Sunday, I go through the week's mail. Takes about 10-15 minutes. I end up with all the necessary piles, the biggest of which is "paper to recycle".

I pay bills twice a month, which is how often we get paid. I have a list of which bills get paid with our checks of the 1st/5th and which ones get paid with our checks of the 15th/20th. That way, I don't inadvertently miss a payment. I pay on line on the weekend closest to our pay dates, usually after I go through the mail.

So, small bites and routines help me.

    Bookmark   October 11, 2010 at 5:06PM
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I also think you have to make (whatever you want to change) a reachable goal. In other words, if a goal is to have someone for dinner once a month, breaking down what's keeping that from happening into do-able chunks is helpful, with your eye on the prize of a certain date/time. Putting it on the calendar and scheduling it is powerful! If the house isn't ready for company, cleaning it over a five day stretch (or longer) makes it easier. Also, cooking/prepping for that dinner over a planned period of time is another way to cut down on stress. Starting with dessert first for example, a cheesecake gets better with a little age. Whether it's making a meat sauce, prepping a side dish, setting the table the night before, or cleaning the bathroom...I think the real trick to entertaining, is to do it often. It only gets easier with experience. It's stressful to do something once, as it becomes bigger in your mind than it is in reality. If you make it a goal to get better at it, the challenge can be fun. Most people are so happy with the invitation, they don't really care if everything isn't perfect. I know I would be!

    Bookmark   October 11, 2010 at 6:44PM
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Thanks lowspark, for the reminder to forgive yourself if you miss a day (or two, or three) and just jump back in.

It seems like I have a daily struggle for motivation to clean, organize etc. I am a SAHM, and very happy to be, but I get overwhelmed by how tedious cleaning/organizing is. And it is depressing at how quickly it comes undone and has to be done again. Yes, order is peaceful I keep telling myself. And you can't keep order in a house with too much I am trying to do a little every day with organization and cleaning out. TalleySue has a great thread about the daily ten and it inspired me to clean out closets last week. I filled up the whole back of my SUV with bags of "good" clothing and toys the children had outgrown to be donated. And I also threw away a lot that was stained, torn or broken. It felt great. But then the weekend came and here I sit. So I'm logging off and getting to work! I have a mental picture of how good it feels to accomplish a step in the direction of a peaceful house/life and that is my goal for the day. Any little or big step in that direction is success :)

    Bookmark   October 12, 2010 at 2:00PM
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Yesterday I was watching "Hoarders" on TV. One of the therapists/organizers/professionals said "You must learn to make quick decisions. No more t5han ten seconds per item. And don't put anything away for later." It really summed it up for me. Quick decisions.

    Bookmark   October 12, 2010 at 2:39PM
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Sorry I haven't posted since I started this thread. We've been extremely busy with several homecomings for my teens and the home appraisal, plus ordinary stuff like homeschool.

I will respond to your comments, but probably not until next week. Thank you so much for taking the time to reply!

    Bookmark   October 18, 2010 at 3:12PM
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I think it is a slow process and you have to be really patient. Sometimes I get overwhelmed with all the things I have to clean/organize and I just give up. It is important that you do a little each day and when you can't organize anymore just stop for the day. Hope everything works out for you! :)

    Bookmark   October 19, 2010 at 5:01AM
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This morning I had friends coming to my house at 8:00 am. The bar in my kitchen, which had junk accumulating since Thanksgiving 2009 (when it was cleared last), was an embarrassing mess. Every day, life tosses 10-20 papers my way, plus countless other little things, and a few big things like stuff to ship or return, that inevitably land on this 3' by 6' foot bar, which if clear could seat 3 or 4 people comfortably. So at 7:00 am this morning, I just started stuffing things into a tall laundry basket. By 7:45 this countertop was clean. What a relief!

I will learn more as I go through this huge basket, which is practically overflowing with paper (it's three feet tall and about 1.5' in diameter), but I will say this: most of the papers in this basket are there because I could not make a decision about where they should go. The only bright spot: I have a small rolling 3-drawer cart that in the first drawer, I stuff receipts, and in the second drawer, all things medical, and the third drawer, school paperwork. That is my file system. Nothing is organized in those drawers, but at least I know where to find things. We also have a 4-drawer metal cabinet that holds the really important documents. My bar was an ugly, congested abuse of one of the nicest, most inviting features in my kitchen for the better part of the last year. What sort of memory is that for my children?

I will have to think carefully about the consequences of postponing decisions when I'm tempted to just put something down, wrongly thinking that I'll get back to it. The reality is, I've conditioned myself, through procrastination, fatigue, and despair, to avoid even thinking about most of that paperwork ever again. Within a week, it will be buried any way. My husband has learned to handle the most important documents himself, and we do most financial transactions on-line. We do take great care of vital paperwork, it is a rare thing for us to lose an important bill or statement or document. But the pile of receipts, tags, schedules, notices, coupons, letters, brochures, calendars, Scout stuff, school supplies, yarn, hair do-dads, little tools, broken jewelry, odd gloves and business cards... It's all here!

Now I feel such a sense of relief when I walk into the kitchen. The entire room, even though a side counter has a small pile of clutter, looks 1,000% better. I know that I'll have to look at each piece of paper in that basket, but I will decide what to do with it rather than delay the decision by shuffling it to a different pile.

So the discipline is in making the decision, and having a home for everything worth keeping. Jannie is right-the answer is developing an ability to make quick decisions. Ideally, the same day or week. This is what my most organized friends do, they throw stuff away without giving it a second thought. This would make me cringe, but if I am ever to have some peace with stuff, this must become second nature to me. Thanks to all of you for posting your thoughts and ideas. They are invaluable!


    Bookmark   November 4, 2010 at 3:21PM
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It is good to realize that everyone is different about what works--the quick decisions work for some, and for others it would be a matter of having a way to control delayed decisions. For example, I just re-read this thread and got new inspiration for our mail handling. I have laboriously started to re-organize DH's study for managing statements and papers and incoming mail, but had to put it off for several weeks due to big work projects. I had been thinking I need to "process" the mail every day, because we have had big box pile-ups with months of mail, but now I realize that for us, weekly (but a real gotta-do-it weekly time) will be best--we are fine with a week's pile-up, it lets both of us see what came in, and to some extent it is more efficient for how I do things--trash the trash, shred the endless credit card app's, file, etc.

Even for delayed decisions, I have room for a box of what-ifs if it helps get me moving along. For example, I do get stymied over certain documents that I am not sure I want to act on, or file, or what, and would rather not lose them, but they're not important enough to worry to death over (like a bill). So while I am working on improving my analysis-paralysis so that I take as many definitive actions as I can, I have also set up a toss-in box that is labelled as such--"don't know's" or whatever. This box of course is at risk for becoming many boxes over time, but it does help separate out a less-important group of mail/papers and gives some peace of mind for days when I just can't decide! Then, same as the idea of moving clothes or doo-dads to an out of the way closet, I can go through the box later (of course, you have to DO it) and then I may find, oh, what was I thinking--toss! Again, this is just way of not being all or none, which can sometimes bog you down. Like, do the 15 minutes instead of nothing. Act on as much paperwork as you can, but have a way to separate from it when you've hit your limit but in a way that keeps your subsequent tasks more organized and focused.

    Bookmark   November 5, 2010 at 10:22AM
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