Tips and musings on organizing your way from chaos to calm

Archive for November, 2010

Clothes and Prose

Tuesday, November 16th, 2010

Books and clothes.  Clothes and books.  Why are these some of the hardest things to part with?  Well, if you’re like most people, your sense of self - your identity - is wrapped up in your books and clothing.

Now, I could have said that your sense of self is wrapped up in what you read and what you wear, but those aren’t necessarily the same thing.  For lots of folks, clothing doesn’t have to be the right size, color, or trend to warrant some space in the closet.  In fact, they don’t even have to like it.  Books, too, get a free pass despite not having been read in years (or possibly ever).  We often keep these objects around, clogging up our closets, shelves, and garages, despite not using them for their intended purpose.  Books, after all, were manufactured so that the information they contain can be read and learned.  Clothing is created to be worn, not to collect dust.  Instead, we use them in an unintended way, to help us maintain a tangible connection to who we were, who we are, and who we would like to become. We literally see who we were, are, and could be by simply glancing at these items.  And though that is not why we brought most of these objects into our lives, it is way we allow them to remain.

My client, June,* is a bubbly, thirty-something stay-at-home mom of three.  June hired me to help her declutter her bedroom and transform it into a place of, “peace and passion.”  I first headed towards the closet, anxious to make the most of that space.  I immediately noticed that about half of the closet was filled with formal business attire.  June explained that she wore this clothing regularly about 8 years ago, before she had children, and when she was employed full time in a corporate setting.     They had no role in June’s life as present, weren’t June’s current size, and, in June’s words, made her look “frumpy” and “out of date.”   “So why keep them?” I pressed.  “It’s just so weird to think of not having them, I used to wear them all the time.  I know I don’t look good in them anymore.    But they are from such a special time in my life, right after college before marriage, and kids and all that.”    Bingo.  So, ironically, the clothing gets a lifelong invitation in June’s closet because it connects her to a simpler time in her life – a connection she fears she will lose without holding on to physical reminders.  We can all relate to this.  How many of you still have your prom outfits (or dates…gasp!)?

Dorothy,*a different client, had a bookshelf in her front living room  on which she tastefully displayed some rather serious looking books on history, politics, and the like. I was, therefore, a little surprised when I walked into her  bedroom and saw stacks and stacks of romance novels on, around, and under her bed.  Embarrassed, Dorothy explained, “This is what I really read.”  “Why, then,” I asked, “dedicate prime real estate on your living room bookcase to books that you don’t read?”  She responded, “Well, because I SHOULD read that stuff.  And I can’t have people see THESE” (pointing to the romance novels and the…shall we say… rather amorous artwork on the cover :) ) Dorothy’s sense of self (and her fears about how others would view her) resulted in Dorothy’s public space (the living room) having the illusion of calm, while her private space (the bedroom) revealed the chaos resulting from this lack of self-acceptance. She spent most of her time at home in her bedroom, where she felt most comfortable, and avoided the living room, which she described as “cold.”

Are you keeping things around because they are connected to who you remember being or who you fantasize about becoming? Do you keep waiting to become the sort of person that will wear these clothes and read these books?   This can result in depression and self-criticism, since inevitably there will be a gap between who you are and what the books/clothes symbolically represent.  Letting go of a symbol isn’t discarding a memory or giving up on a dream; rather, it’s about accepting who you are now, knowing you can always do something different later.  That’s freedom.

June has been able to let go of most of the clothing, donating it to a local charity she feels really good about.  We dedicated one beautiful memento box to the rest of the clothing, as well as some photos of her wearing some of her favorite outfits.  We  placed it within eyesight and easy reach in her closet, for whenever she wants to go down memory lane.  Dorothy and I relocated her romance novels, except for a few by her nightstand, to the bookcase in the living room (don’t tell the neighbors!).  The “books that make people think I’m really smart” were donated to the local library in the hopes that people will just think Dorothy is really smart anyway.  So far our plan is working :)

*All client names have been changed to protect their privacy.

Pump up the volume

Monday, November 1st, 2010

Today I was washing dishes in the kitchen, keeping one eye on my toddler, and the other on a football game on TV.  Over the course of about 15 minutes I tried to pay attention to the game, keeping track of who had the ball, where they were on the field, and what ref was making a bad call.  You know, the usual.  But I was totally unable to keep my focus, and had the undesirable choice of having no idea what was going on in the game or interrupting my husband (once again) to give me a summary.   With so much distracting stimuli around me (the sound of the dishes and water, my son’s voice and movements, etc.), it was like being at a cocktail party, where you only hear parts of conversations and get the gist more than the details.  No interaction lasts very long.     This is, I’m sure, a typical ADHD experience.

When you have ADD or ADHD, it’s like you have 100 eyeballs on your head and you can see clearly with each one.  So, on the one hand,  one of the great assets of ADD/ADHD is the power of observation.  On the other hand, the challenge is telling our brains what to notice and how  much attention to pay something.   Add what’s going on in our heads (you know, one thought after another) to the mix and it’s a formula for frustration and confusion, if not disaster.

Clearly I wasn’t at a cocktail party, I was in my kitchen, so I called to my husband, “Honey, can you turn up the volume?”  And, then, “No, even louder – pump it up so I can really hear it.”    Suddenly, amidst the din of environmental and internal noise, the game emerged, with the colors of the players’ uniforms lighting up the screen against the backdrop  of green turf.    I found myself gesturing at the screen and analyzing the coach’s strategy.  I was finally paying attention to the game because I made it loud enough for me to hear it.

The same holds true for visual sources of attention/distraction as well.    Often my ADD/ADHD clients tell me that they keep To Do lists, write tasks on post-it notes, keep index cards in their pockets, or use other methods to try to remember to do things.  Yet, often, they fail to get things done or at least get them done when they need to.    Understandably, they’re frustrated by their inability to follow through, especially since they made an effort to remember.  The problem?  When you are ADD/ADHD anything and everything can draw your attention, from a commercial for a new supplement to a thought in your mind about your mother.    So many things are of interest and garner your enthusiasm, you have difficulty focusing your attention so you end up giving little attention to anything or, often, a lot of attention to the easiest thing rather than the  most important thing.

The solution?  Try pumping up the volume by enhancing your visual reminders and making them more “in your face,” like the loud volume on my football game, so you can’t avoid seeing them and being held accountable to them.  Sure, you may have a To Do list, but does it have 87 items on it in no particular order.  Prioritize your list, putting the high priority or hot items in red, the medium priority or warm items in orange, and the low priority or cool items in blue.  If that’s too fancy, just use the old-fashioned bold button or ALL CAPS.  It works – really.  One client I worked with liked to write reminders to herself on her bathroom mirror with a dry-erase board marker, so she would see them first thing in the morning.    Very effective.  Want to remember to take your returns back to the store or give Lucy that book back?  Designate a “can’t miss” area in your house, possibly near the front door, for action items.  Put it in a pile and it’s as good as invisible.

I love the creativity and speed and  multiplicity of ideas that comes with ADD/ADHD.  Yet, it’s these very things that can also make it hard to see, hear, or act clearly.   Metaphorically, it’s like having to clear a path through a forest of thoughts.  So, if you’re anything like me, then find ways to pump up the volume in your own life so you can be sure to devote attention to what you want, when you want.  Now, about that cocktail party…