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28 December 2007

O is for order

Murrayoed “Be regular and orderly in your life, so that you may be violent and original in your work.” – Flaubert

In 2008, I’m going to keep all the scotch tape in my house in one drawer.

A few months ago, I was slated for an important meeting with someone in town at 2:00 p.m. Since everything is only six minutes away in Asheville, I didn't head for my front door to leave home for the meeting until 1:45 p.m.

My keys were nowhere to be found.

The spare keys were nowhere to be found.

All the doors were dead bolted shut. (Yes, Mama, I understand the fire hazards of this predicament. No, it won’t happen again.)

By 1:55pm, I realized that I either had to call and cancel, which would really inconvenience the person I was meeting, since they had already driven downtown.

Or I could break out of my own house and ride my bike downtown.

I got to the meeting by 2:08pm. I’m not sure if any neighbors saw me drop from the front living room window into the holly bush.

As I look to next year, um, starting on Tuesday—I’m going to do what Christine Kane suggests—focus on a single word for the year. My theme for 2008 has many components, some of which I’m writing about in this Z-A journey, and all those components contribute to the overarching goal for 2008: Wellness.

Stress keeps me from optimal wellness. What is the biggest source of my stress? My travel schedule? My book deadlines? My consulting business? My never-ending search for new and exciting ideas for Emma and Tess’ school lunches? My desire to create the perfect Bento? Giving keynote speeches? My desire to end racism and other isms? My regret at not going to film school? My inability to create one of those beautiful lattice crusts on the top of a strawberry-rhubarb pie?

No.

It is my searching that causes me the most stress. Not searching for my soul’s desire or self-actualization or world peace or harmonic convergence, but SEARCHING FOR KEYS AND SCOTCH TAPE AND LUNCHBOXES AND MATCHING SOCKS AND SCISSORS AND CASSEROLE DISH COVERS AND THE LITTLE 40-YEAR OLD GLASS JAR THAT GOES TO THE NUT-CHOPPING APPARATUS.

I spend more money than I need to because I’m replacing things I have, but can’t find. At last count, we owned eight pair of scissors. I recreate speeches over and over again because I can’t find the last one. I lose out on expense reimbursements because I return from trips and the receipts get sucked into the vast abyss I call my office. I have to climb out my living room window to get to meetings because my keys are lost in the swirling vortex.

I once hired a professional organizer when I worked in D.C. She was a marvelous foil for me: “Why do you have twelve files marked ‘urgent to-do’”? she would ask. “Well, I have a lot to do,” I countered. She knew it was because I started folders, then couldn’t find them, and started new ones. “And this envelope with the words ‘inchy worm’ written on it? Do you need to keep this?”

At the time, I had just been promoted to vice president. My teetering piles of paper weren’t inspiring confidence in me or in anyone else and, truthfully, they were stressing me out. Some of the best times of my life have been in sparse, Spartan surroundings, yet I was surrounding myself with piles.

For a shining moment after she worked with me, my office was pristine. “Zen-like,” people said. I knew where everything was. I felt peaceful in that office.

I have an inner urge toward that kind of order, and yet my life is not that. I am a victim of entropy of my own making.

In 2008, part of my wellness vision is to use physical activity to reduce stress. The other part is to get organized, to release stuff and papers and files, to order them, and to simplify. I bought myself one thing to put into my stocking this Christmas. Ironically, it was a small antique metal sign that said “Simplify.”

I have an innate sense of order inside my brain, though it doesn’t always appear so in the world outside my brain. I created a one-page list of important phone numbers for us to keep by the kitchen phone. On it, you’ll find all the doctor’s names and numbers, places we frequent in town, Marco’s Pizza, Emma’s friends, our neighbors’ numbers, and family phone numbers. Great idea. If we could only find the list. Mr Brilliant just smiled recently when he pulled a Real Simple magazine from underneath a couch cushion. I bought David Allen’s blockbuster book, “Getting Things Done,” but lost it. 

It’s not the money to replace things I already have but can’t find, or the frustration or inconvenience or eye-popping irritation and snarkiness that is the biggest cost of chaos, no. Pearl Buck has said that “order is the shape upon which beauty depends.” And while I believe, as Melville wrote in Moby Dick, that “there are some enterprises in which a careful disorderliness is the true method,” I believe I will gain much time for beauty (or writing, or perhaps even painting) by freeing up my mind from seeking the little serrated spoons with which to eat my grapefruit. I believe that my insistence on chaos creating more inspired art forms is an excuse, not a truism.

There is such a thing as Zen organizing: “We began the evening with a potluck supper. After this shared meal, we gathered in a circle. The idea was to bring an item from your home that had great personal significance to you. We went around the circle first, telling the story of our physical object. After we completed this round, a second one began. Now the goal was to give your treasure away and tell the person receiving it why you wanted them to have it. You might be the recipient of several treasures or you might leave empty-handed. There was no guaranteed outcome.” This kind of readiness to give your treasure away leads to the kind of simplicity Anna Branch spoke of: “Order is a lovely thing; on disarray it lays its wing, teaching simplicity to sing.”

Christine Kane has written beautifully about what that kind of courageous simplification really signifies: “Getting rid of clutter is a big undertaking. It can be a spiritual process. It is an act of courage. It requires that you ask yourself your motivation for keeping each little thing you have. And in that process, you get to come face to face with all of your inner stuff. Not just your outer stuff. And when you’re holding onto stuff because of guilt or fear or any reason other than ‘this makes me happy and is useful’ then you most likely don’t need that stuff. It just keeps you stuck in that emotion. It’s like saying, ‘Yes. I’m gonna give lots of power to this guilt.’”

This is not just about scissors and scotch tape and lost car keys, but about something deeper, a deeper yearning for the kind of order that frees us.

Intentions: Piaget has written of Bergson: “he pointed out that there is no such thing as disorder but rather two sorts of order, geometric and living.” In 2008, I don’t want to have to break out of my own house. If someone comes to the door and needs to borrow scissors or a left mitten or a 2-inch cinnamon candle, I want to walk to the scissor, mitten, or 2-inch cinnamon candle drawer and find them. If someone gets hurt, I want to reach into a predictable closet and pull out the first aid kit. I want to embrace both geometric and living order in 2008 so I can be original in my work. Writer Henry Miller reminds us that “the world is not to be put in order; the world is order, incarnate. It is for us to harmonize.” I’ll start small by cleaning out my refrigerator, using less toxic cleaners, holding a simplify your life party, and ridding my house of clutter. I’ll investigate what I am holding onto, and why.

From the last alphabet challenge: O is for open

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I was sitting all high and mighty in my judgment chair as I began reading this (picture Lily Tomlin as Edith Ann...but less mature...) "Well, this certainly isn't ME. I'm KNOWN for my organizational skills." Yeah...at WORK. Home is an entirely different matter. Just today I spent at least 20 minutes searching for one of J's birthday gifts I'd hidden...but couldn't remember where. Although in my case, a little chaos at home might be healthy. (I think I may have been bordering on an OCD tidiness when I was younger.) A LITTLE chaos...not the kind that has me asking people for their addresses and/or phone numbers multiple times because I write them down on scraps of paper and have NO IDEA where I put them.

My word for '08 (via Christine's post) is LEAP.

In case you haven't seen it, I posted awhile back about a NYT column by Pam Slim for slash careerists. I thought she had some good ideas that could be translated to personal goals, as well. Same kind of idea: choose a primary focus with ancillary activities.

http://tinyurl.com/33xmpx

Order is something I have been seeking all my life. I think it is an ongoing quest for! I see order as a spiral that goes up and down in my life now and is an indicator of my state of mind/life.

All the best with your mission.

well good luck Patti ! I'm also disrorganised but mostly what distresses me is losing addresses because it was on an envelope which I shoved into a plastic bag when guests were coming over and I was hastily 'tidying' my kitchen ! I seem to keep a good grip on my keys generally... I used the flylady system for a while and that helped but you have to keep it up www.flylady.com

I'm still toying with what my word will be for 2008 - maybe self - care.

When I was 32, I started keeping my keys on a hook by the door. (Far enough away that they couldn't be reached if someone broke the door glass) It's ten years later, and this is still the *best* method I've found for keeping up with my keys. Now it's a habit to hang them up, but on those occasions that I'm distracted and they don't where they're supposed to be, as soon as I notice the empty hook, I find my keys - before I need them. I'm feeling so proud of myself right now! lol

I can't say enough about the book "Clear Your Clutter with Feng Shui" by Karen Kingston.
(http://tinyurl.com/2etng9) I gained SO much by reading it. It's less a how-to book than a why book.

I would love a simple home filled with necessary things and a few treasures that really do make me happy. I could do it too. I think I was a Nomad in my previous life. Clutter and excess are things that I try not to get bogged down with...
Then came my husband! Who has to display every book he's ever owned and read (small town library-sized book collection) and all of his military-career memorobilia. He is most comfortable in his little piece of the house surrounded by his possessions. But, to me, they are nothing but dust-colecting clutter. Figuring out how to have a harmonious balance in my house between the pack-rat and myself---that's a challenge for me for '08!

Great post. I feel that I am always battling clutter and disorganization in our home - as if I am the assigned "keeper of the order." Maybe it would help the situation if I were better at training my children to help keep things in order - since that is not the natural inclination of either one of them. But for now, I am inspired by your post to reflect on this state of affairs and decide how best to address the disorder in my home. Thanks for your reflections and inspiration.

An on-going struggle; every small organization victory makes me smile. I second the flylady recommendation, and even though I don't daily keep up with her method, I still hear her "voice" in my head (or, more accurately, see her typewritten words) encouraging me. As for those elusive grapefruit spoons - we keep them in the teaspoon section of the flatware holder - but turned in the opposite direction from the regular ones! Silly, but it works for us.

Right on time for 2008, Patti! I loved this one . . .sometimes I feel like an amoeba; my clutter oozing from one room to another. Next Tuesday starts a new year and hopefully a spiritually clean & fresh environment. Thanks for the motivation! =)

I'd lik_ to r_spond to this lov_ly post mor_ fully, but I can't fin_ the l_tt_r "_"_ on my k_yboard. Mor_ latt_r!

marilyn - LEAP! (and thanks for the link to the good read...)

Joh - "order as a spiral" - what an interesting image...many thanks for that!

m - ah, yes, the "shove-it-in-the-bag" routine. The problem for me is that all those bags are still full and in the basement... (smile). and your word for 2008? have you decided?

caren - yes! I even have a lovely hand-forged hook to use for my keys, made by an artist at Penland...if I could only find it ... can't wait to read the book you suggested and i love the way you characterized it--less a how-to than a why-to...wonderful!

Jillian - big challenge, I know. Perhaps one space that you can empty out and call your very own without clutter?

Frivolitea - good luck with that... Tess is in Montessori school and I'm realizing that not only can she "do" order, but she craves it in a way, so we've instituted some of the Montessori methods at home - at least with toys. My 15-year-old is another story....

Barbara D - thanks for the second to the Flylady suggestion - I'm going to give her another try!

Joy - clean and fresh - what wonderful words! Let's do this in 2008!

J_hn - m_ t__. B_t _ _ls_ l_st _ll th_ v_w_ls s_m_h_w.... M_d_ m_ l__gh _g__n.

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