Completing a 10-day organizing challenge
Last week I wrote about how a blogger that I follow is doing a 10-day organizing challenge based on the book Organized Simplicity by Tsh Oxenreider from The Art of Simple. Despite just having walked in the door from a week-long vacation, I decided to jump in. Now that I am 90% of the way through the two-week challenge, it’s time for me to sum up what I accomplished and more importantly, what I learned in the process.
First of all, thanks for the great response to last week’s post. This blog is just getting off the ground, and it was very encouraging to hear positive feedback. I started this blog to be write about big ideas, like community and cultivating culture in a post-Christian world, and I will get to more of that in due time. But organizing and cleaning, and well, home making, is real and concrete. Although keeping a home is overwhelming at times (or all the time, for me at least), it is doable. A subject that hits close to home, literally, and resonates with a so many of us.
I did get a lot done this week. All of the surface de-cluttering in common spaces, a deep clean of the kitchen (save the panty, which is on tap for later today), the family room, dining room, master bathroom, and my daughter’s bathroom and bedroom. But I was frustrated that my list of To-Dos is longer than the list of What-I-Did. And that got me thinking …
What I learned doing an organizing challenge
- You never really get “there”. I started this process with a “progress, not perfection” mantra. I did not expect a perfectly clean, simple, and organized home after 10 days. And yet I am still disappointed in what I accomplished. Yes, the house is noticeably cleaner, and there is less clutter. But there are also closets I did not get to, rooms left un-tackled, and so much stuff to be purged. I did not plan to get to it all, but I did expect to do more. Sigh. So again, I must remind myself, that we fix our eyes on the horizon, the ideal, to set a direction, but we must measure progress by looking back to see how far we’ve come. If I continue to measure progress by how far I have left to go, I will literally go crazy. The horizon, by its nature, is not someplace you can ever get to.
- Maintaining enthusiasm is hard. Last week, I did SO much and worked so hard. I felt sweaty and bone-weary at the end of each day, but in a good way. I was satisfied to accomplish something, and I wanted to do it again the next day. The second week, not so much. Lots of reasons for it – I completed the obvious jobs, a minor medical procedure partially sidelined me, and my helper bailed (because she’s 11 and that’s OK.) But really, the enthusiasm just started to wane. Which always, always happens. That’s OK. Enthusiasm for a new project is not sustainable, because after a while the project is not new anymore. It’s just a slog. The key is to keep going, keep slogging, and keep making progress.
- 20 years is a long time, and a lot of stuff. We have been in this house almost twenty years. We certainly did not plan to be here this long. The house has grown to meet us as our family has changed over the years, and there has been no compelling reason to move. The irony is not lost on me, as someone who moved every two to three years growing up. But here is what I realized this week: you can accumulate a lot of stuff in 20 years. When I was a kid, part of every move was a big purge of clothes, toys, books, etc. because the more stuff we had, the more it cost to move it. The big clean-out became a reliable part of our family rhythm, and it kept our belongings to a manageable amount. I never really learned that “normal,” non-itinerant people have to re-organize and pare-down on a regular basis, not just when someone is threatening to pack-up and weigh all of your belongings. And 20 years without a whole-house purge, a lot of stuff piles up. A lot. So for me, I need to learn how to “maintain,” and build into our family routine a rhythm of renewal and letting things go. And I probably need an outside stimuli to get me going every once in a while. So again, I am so grateful to have Kathryn lead this challenge twice this year, and I hope she continues to do it on a semi-regular basis.
- Sometimes you’re the elephant, and sometimes you’re the guy with the broom following behind. As I said, this week my helper was MIA. She was good about doing specific things that I asked of her, but she did not eagerly greet me at 7am in work clothes and ask “what are we going to organize today, Mom?” (Which was awesome, by the way.) So instead of being a junior organizer, she was a senior mess-maker. Crafting, cooking projects, even little science experiments … all of which I would patiently tolerate under regular circumstances … became incredibly annoying while I was doing this challenge. I would leave a room clean and organized, only to return 45 minutes later to a path of destruction. If I pointed it out, she would be on it and clean up after herself, but it was just SO HARD not to lose it over every new mess. Like spiritual-practice hard. I know this is a common refrain for moms. I mean, I’m pretty sure that Sisyphus was a mom. The mess never ends. But I realized this week that the real challenge lies not in the cleaning, but in accepting that you are never done.
- Life happens. Let it. Monday morning, I took a short break from the organizing challenge to see the dermatologist for my annual skin check, because I am a responsible adult and it had been two years since I’d been there. I left the office with a decent-sized incision and a few stitches in my scalp. It was nothing serious, just a benign cyst, but man, did it slow me down. The post-care instructions told not to lift anything heavy, bend at the waist, or do anything that would raise my blood-pressure. All of which I tried anyway, and yeah, it hurt. Something about the scalp being super-vascular and wanting to bleed, blah blah blah. Not perfect timing for someone who is hell-bent on getting her house in order, literally, but what was I going to do? Say “no thanks, Doc. I’m decluttering my house this week, so I’ll take care of my health another day?” Not even I am that stubborn. So I just worked more slowly, did less, and took a couple of awesome naps. And I still made progress.
- Grace. Grace. Grace. I now know this entire challenge is just a quotidian exercise in giving grace. Giving myself grace for not doing “enough.” Giving my child grace for being a kid, and doing kid-things that make kid-messes. Giving my gigantic dog grace for shedding gigantic amounts of black hair that need to be swept every day – and seldom are. Giving my home, a haven for my family for nearly two decades, grace for not being the Pottery-Barn-perfect image that I want. All that everyday grace is hard for me. And thinking about the grace that comes with so much work makes me so amazed by the enormous, effortless Grace the He heaps upon us every day.
- Letting go is hard. Hard! Finally, I learned just how much more work I have yet to do. Yes, I still want to clean out the pantry and purge my closet. But also much more than that. I realized that although I am willing and able to do the hard, messy, sweaty work of maintaining a simple and organized home, getting rid of the stuff that stands in the way is hard. It’s hard for me to throw away something that is almost-but-not-quite empty. It’s hard for me to donate something that I might find useful in the future. It’s hard for me to let go of things I know I’ll never need or use, but have a strong sentimental attraction. It’s just hard. And I’ve read all the books and the magazine articles, and I know WHAT to do. Just not how to get myself to do it. Intellectually, I know that letting go, the physical act of opening your hand and releasing what is held within the only way to receive more of what we truly need. We can only receive with open, empty hands. Let go of stuff, receive more simplicity. Let go of stress, receive more peace. And yet, I resist. At times, it is like I try to pry my fingers open and they are just stuck from years of clenching. And I don’t really know what that’s about. Not yet, anyway. But I’ll keep working on it, and I’ll let you know.
Once again, I am linking up with Kelly at This Ain’t the Lyceum.
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