Monday, October 24, 2011

The Secret to being Organized

The secret to being organized is that there is no one secret.  I help a bunch of my friends organize their spaces or their finances; I just get a kick out of making sense of a jumble of things.  I inherited my love of organizing from a mom who was hyper-organized and frequently tyrannical about it.  (That kind of up-bringing had its benefits, but I wouldn't recommend it to everyone, for sure.)

But for my friends, I've noticed that the hardest part of organizing is overcoming a feeling of shame that they aren't organized in the first place.  And that sense of shame really surprises me.  My friends are totally cool people, and I've just been thrilled to have a reason to hang out with them.  (And I get to organize stuff, too!  Wheee!)  My friends get to help me with my own shameful issues -- things like forgiveness, and compassion, things I'm not anywhere as good at as I'd like to be.

And so, for my friends A. and P., I'd like to offer this list of disorganization.  This is a partial list of reasons we don't do the things that we think we should.  And the vastness of this list shows why being perfectly organized doesn't have a single fix, in spite of what all those self-help gurus say.  There is not "a secret" to being organized (aside possibly from having the right tyrannical mother); instead there is a vast array little tricks and tips, each of which might help with one aspect of this list, but will be utterly useless on others.

Miser Mom's Abbreviated List of
Why we don't do the Things we think we should do

Issues of Memory/Recall
Sometimes we know what we want to do, but then the task slips our minds.
  • We forget about dates we've made with others.  There's a reason that doctors call to remind people about their appointments.  
  • We forget self-imposed tasks that don't have a specific time or place.  At one point, we knew we needed to return the library book/wash our son's game shorts/call the pest control guy, but then we forgot.
  • We almost instantly forget externally-imposed tasks.  We'll have a conversation with someone who will ask us to do something -- write a memo, make a phone call, drop something off on our way into town.  It's hard to remember something on the fly like that; I often have to ask people, "could you send me an email to remind me?"  Half the time I ask that, the other person forgets to do it!
Issues of Information
Even when we remember what to do, sometimes we don't have the right information at hand to do it.
  • We're not sure of the next step:  how should I go about fixing my waffle iron?  How do I get started adopting a kid from another country?  What exactly is this form asking me for?
  • We need information from someone or somewhere else: a balance from the last credit card; a telephone number for my neighbor's favorite plumber.
  • We need information from our own files, but it's not easy to get at it -- our auto insurance NAIC and the car mileage are not sitting on the desk where we're filling out that registration form.  The model number for the dishwasher is on the dishwasher at home, but we're trying to make repair calls from work.
  • We need information from our own files, but we're not even sure where we put that information!  So before we can register our kid for summer camp, first we have to go through paperwork and find all those old health and insurance forms . . .  a simple task just became much more complicated. 
Issues of Capability
Even when we remember what we're supposed to do, we might not actually be able to do it.
  • We might not have the right skills for the project -- for about a bazillion years, I was the Jack-the-Ripper of garden plants.  Nothing green survived my touch.  That made gardening just a little difficult.  (But I tried anyway.  My 3-year-old daughter told people, "My mom has a PhD AND a compost pile!")
  • We might not have the tools to do the project -- a recent busted water pipe comes to mind.  I like plumbing, but I knew I couldn't dig around in our walls the way a professional could.
  • We might not have the space/structure for the task.  One of my friends wants to organize all her papers, but she doesn't have filing cabinets.  We got a start on organizing her paper work by bringing over banker's boxes, but eventually she'll need something sturdier and easier to use.
  • We might not have the time for the task.  Grading a pile of 50 math papers takes me seven hours.  If I have meetings all day long, I know I can't get them done on the weekday.  I either give up my weekend, or my students get the papers back really late.  But I know I can't grade math papers during the weekend AND clean the garage, too.  Something's gotta go.
Structural Issues
  • Sometimes, we have the time and capability, but we're in the wrong place.  You know you need to send an email, but you're away from the computer.  You know you need to return the library book, but you're not in the car.  
  • Sometimes, it's just the wrong time.  I need to send that cool birthday card I just got, but not until close to the person's birthday.  I know that around Thanksgiving I want to buy cheap flour and butter, but right now it's October.  Meanwhile, the birthday card is cluttering up my desk, and flour keeps fluttering around in my brain.
Decision/Priority Issues
And then there's the case of not even knowing where on that list to start.
  • Decision fatigue is a huge problem.  We might face a huge list of things to do, and then every time we almost start one task on the list, we wonder if we should really be doing something else on the list instead.  
  • We can be conflicted about whether this thing on the list is even something we should do.  Should I repair the waffle iron that broke AGAIN?  Should I buy a new one instead?  Is it fair to my children to spend the next hour exercising and ignoring them?  
  • We can have a "should" on our list that we don't really want to do.  I have a friend who feels she really, really should organize her arts and craft supplies, but she is worried that the first step in organizing is de-cluttering (throwing stuff out), and she doesn't want to give up things she spent so long accumulating.  So she's beating herself up for not doing something she doesn't even want to do.
This kind of conflict can eat at us, and it leads to inaction on everything else on the to-do list, as well.

Motivation Issues
  • Some tasks are so huge that we dread the enormity of them:  That overflowing garage.  The calculus exam my students have put off studying for.  The huge pile of receipts, invoices, pay stubs, and more, that somehow need to become a tax form.
  • We can be immobilized by our need for perfection.  We think, "If I can't finish this task all the way, if I can't do it perfectly, then I shouldn't even bother starting now."
  • Sometimes the task is simple, but we're just too tired to do it.  We come home from work, and we just don't want to cook a meal.  We need to call our dad/the cell phone provider/our kid's teacher, but we just want to sit and vegitate instead.
  • We can be distracted by other things.  Television, video games, writing blog posts (um . . . ) can suck up all sorts of our time without our even noticing it.

And more . . .

But I think I'll go spend time with my kids now.

No comments:

Post a Comment