When time is limited, Lisa Hess advises baby-stepping toward organization.
Organizing is a process and processes take time. So, how can we make progress in this process when time is limited?
First, let me say, I feel your pain. The switch from two classes (on campus three days a week) last spring to online instruction to summer vacation to three classes (on campus five days a week) this fall has left me feeling discombobulated and overwhelmed. I’m not complaining, exactly, but I am struggling. More than a month into the semester, I'm still trying to find my footing.
Meanwhile, less time at home has left me with plenty of things to trip over, both literally and figuratively. The spaces I worked so long and hard to clear off and keep clear have been betrayed by my treasonous drop and run organizational style. Around me, piles are springing up, their eviction the latest addition to my already burgeoning to-do list. Add to that my brilliant idea to say yes to out-of-town travel for two weekends in a row and I’m waiting to see which will explode first: my head or those precarious piles.
Melodramatic? Just a tad. But a relatively accurate assessment of how I’m feeling.
Several things are called for here—patience and a routine being two of them—but while those attributes will serve to put things in perspective and help me create a road map, neither will clear the clutter.
But taking small steps will.
Today, I took the first small step by adding those clutter collecting spaces to my to-do list. Walking past them and groaning just makes me feel bad. Adding to them to my list means that when time allows, I’ll pencil them into a time slot and actually tackle them.
Unfortunately, I don’t see a big block of time anywhere in my immediate future. So, between now and the appointed hour, I need to do two things. I need to be slow and steady, settling for small victories.
And I need to practice saying no.
No to extra activities scheduled during prime time—that time of day when energy and motivation are plentiful. No to caving in and allowing my drop and run organizational style to add anything else to those piles. If I’m dropping and running (and trust me, I will), I need to drop whatever I’m holding where it belongs, not where it has to be dealt with later. Turning a one-step process into a multi-step process by putting things down instead of away is a step in the wrong direction.
And when it comes to stepping confidently in the right direction, small steps are my friend. Picking up one thing from the pile and putting it away every time I walk past. Setting a timer for five minutes and making as much progress as I can. Tackling the pile while I’m waiting for water to boil or for the dryer to finish its cycle.
It’s not what I want—what I want is a magic wand that makes the piles disappear—but it’s what I have. And this all-too-familiar, one-step-at-a-time process works. I know this, because I’ve been here before. Sometimes the process is quick, but often it’s painstakingly slow because it takes place alongside an already full life.
And this is a good thing. As much as the clutter annoys me, I know it exists because i am busy with things that matter more than piles. So, if I’m smart, I won’t let the clutter—a temporary part of the landscape—obscure the big picture.
Easier said than done. It is, after all, a process.
Copyright 2022 Lisa Hess
About the Author
Transplanted Jersey girl Lisa Lawmaster Hess is the author of a blog compilation, three novels, and three non-fiction books, including the award-winning Know Thyself: The Imperfectionist’s Guide to Sorting Your Stuff. A retired elementary school counselor, Lisa is an adjunct professor of psychology at York College of Pennsylvania. She blogs at The Porch Swing Chronicles, Organizing by STYLE, and here at Catholicmom.com. Read all articles by Lisa Hess.