Tag Archives: Write 31 Days

Organized exhaustion

UPSwampI haven’t been posting much lately. I definitely haven’t been posting regularly. And it’s all related to getting organized. Really.

One of the most urgent things I need to organize right now is my mother’s house – it has to be emptied and cleaned so we can sell it, and emptying it has turned out to be an enormous job. My parents always said they were organized, and the “public” parts of their house were a bit messy but not bad…but, it turns out, the other half of the house was a very different story. Clear out what you could see in one room, and you discovered yet another mess behind the first one.

So my husband and I spent a lot of the past summer working on that house, and when we weren’t at my mother’s, I was sorting through her paperwork I brought home with me. By September, I could barely use my left hand, and I was so exhausted I needed a couple of naps to get through the day.

It’s a good thing, in a way, that we had to cut way back on time spent at my mother’s house once school started; I desperately needed time to heal, and my husband wasn’t exactly bursting with energy either as he started teaching again. We’re slowly recovering – but every weekly trip to do more sorting and tossing leaves me drained again.

Aside from being too tired to post regularly, at this point I’m too tired to do more than the minimum for my own house. Even so, as soon as I finish my mom’s place, I need to start throwing out a lot of what we have here. That’s not “I need to” as in “I feel required to live up to social standards” – that’s “I need to” as in “Having a mess grates on my nerves (it never used to), and I desperately want to strip away as much as I can.”

I don’t think I’ll ever be a minimalist, but I’m starting to see the appeal.

Forced off track

UPSwampOne of the really useful tools for getting organized is the list. You know – lists of things to do, or lists of things to do later but not right now thank you because other things need to be done first, or lists of your favorite types of pizza…I’m good at getting off track. Let’s see, where’s my list of things to do on Sunday October 12 – oh, yes, write a post.

But sometimes the list abandons you, or you’re forced to abandon it. For instance, yesterday I was supposed to be busy most of the day making sure a book sale went smoothly. It’s a big deal, most years – my town closes about half the length of the main street to fill it with booths for authors and publishers and people selling food and used books, and schedules workshops for would-be writers and readers – and meanwhile, my church (which is on the main street) fills our front lawn with tables loaded with used books to sell.

Last Monday, all was well. Tuesday, the weather forecast called for rain all day Friday but okay weather Saturday. Wednesday, rain Friday afternoon and night. You can see where this is going. Sure enough, what really happened was that the rain started late Friday night and didn’t stop until the middle of Saturday afternoon.

Instead of making sure the sale ran smoothly, I spent Friday afternoon and evening phoning everyone who had promised to help and warning them there probably wouldn’t be any sale. Come Saturday morning, I was busy fielding phone calls from people who got up, looked out their windows, and wanted to be really really sure they didn’t need to come out and get soaked.

When you make plans and commit to them, you never know what might happen to destroy your best intentions. It might snow; you might get sick; a family member might get sick; there could be an earthquake, or a fire, or…well, fill in the blanks. The world is full of disasters large and small.

So lists are useless, right? Not so fast. Sure, you often wind up having to change plans and improvise. But not always. And it’s a lot easier to improvise if your lists helped you keep other parts of your life sorted out. Even I know that much.

Time to make my “stuff to do Monday” list. See you tomorrow.

Staying out of the quicksand

UPSwampAlmost a week and a half ago, I signed myself up with Write31Days to write a post every day during October – partly to get myself back in the habit of daily posting after a very sparse ten months. Write 31 Days asks you to choose a category for your posts, and since I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how to make my life less chaotic, I picked “Simplicity and Organizing.” It seemed to make sense at the time.

Posting something every day still makes sense to me. Posting something daily about being organized? Not so much. I’ve tried to organize myself many times, and one of the ways I get off track and wind up lost deep in the swamp is that I spend too much time thinking and not enough time doing.

But to write a post, you have to think about your topic. Every day, you need to come up with something new and different; it’s not acceptable – it’s not interesting – to say “Well, I’m still testing the idea of organizing one room at a time, so I’ll just repost what I said about that yesterday.”

It’s time to back off a little. When I have something to say about organizing.  about things that work and about total failures, I’ll put up a post about that. (Maybe I’ll even plan to eventually write a total of thirty-one posts on the subject.) When I’m continuing to work on draining the swamp and either chasing the alligators out or giving them chores to do, I’ll write  – or post pictures – about something else.

Just call me a mutineer. Arrrgh.

ONE little triumph!

UPSwampAt last. For months, I’ve been sorting through the papers my mother left – everything from more than two hundred years worth of deeds to the family farm to old shopping lists.

And tonight, I’m finished. Some of it (*cough* deeds *cough*), I plan to keep. Most of it has been recycled. And I’m done. One piece of my life is organized.


Just a minute

UPSwampWhat about the routine things – all that stuff you do every day or every week? Do you know how long it takes? Because I don’t think I do.

It’s not easy – forget that, it’s not possible – to plan what you’re going to do in the next week when you have no idea how much of the week is already claimed. Can you count on three hours a day to spend on your “extra” project? Half an hour? Six hours? Who knows?

So this morning, I made a list of what I ought to do today and included the “everydays” in the list. Then I estimated how long each item on the list would take and wrote that down too. And finally, as the day goes along, I’ve been writing down how much time I really spent on them.

It’s been interesting. Things I do all the time, things I ought to have a feel for, take anywhere from twice as many minutes as I expected to only a quarter as many. I thought I was bad at estimating time – now I know I am.

I think I’d better go on making time lists until I can get this estimating stuff right.

Big mouthfuls

UPSwampThere’s one nice thing about cliches – they wouldn’t be cliches if they weren’t true more often than we want to admit! So I can be sure that I’m not the only person who keeps biting off more than she can chew.

This time, I volunteered to take charge of our yearly church book sale (the woman who usually handles it will be out of town). And it’s coming up next Saturday. Less than a week. Less and less prep time with every minute that goes past.

It’s not that I need to do everything myself – lots of people have promised to help. But I have to remember to get various things done in the next few days, and I have to keep an eye on what’s happening during the sale and see to it that any problems get solved. I’ve bitten off more than I might be able to chew – and, yeah, I’m scared.

And I keep getting into situations like this, over and over. Of course, the standard advice is simple: Stand up for yourself. Don’t agree to do things. The trouble is, refusing wouldn’t solve the problem – because I volunteer to do things I want to do, or things that are part of reaching goals I care about. What I need to do, I’m sure, is to get rid of all the annoyances that make ordinary days a challenge  – in other words, I have to become organized.

Did I mention I’ve never been organized?

Wrapping paper

My mother was very thrifty. She told me so. It’s not surprising – after all, she was a teenager during the Great Depression, old enough to notice how hard money was to get hold of back then.

There were all sorts of little tricks she used to make money go farther. For instance, on Christmas and birthdays, after the presents were opened, she always carefully smoothed out the wrapping paper, folded it neatly, and put it away for next year. After all, as she often said, it was still perfectly good.

When I grew up, I knew that I should save wrapping paper too – but, being really bad at being organized, I could never find last year’s paper when it was time to use it again. So after a couple of years of failure, I just threw the paper out right away and felt guilty. I wasn’t thrifty.

Well, my husband and I have spent a lot of time since last winter emptying my mom’s house. Last month, when we cleared out the attic, we found lots of small boxes that turned out to be full of – guess what – year after year of carefully folded, never reused, wrapping paper.

UPSwampYou know what? It’s not thrift to keep something for decades, but buy replacements every year instead of using what you saved. I think I’m allowed to throw things out after all.

Draining the priority swamp

(Continued from yesterday, when we tried to Fix Everything by doing the “A” priorities first and expecting our staff of unicorns and fluffy kittens and floppy-eared bunnies to handle the “B’s” and “C’s”. And it didn’t work.)

UPSwampI’ve tried to follow instructions. I’ve made lists, lovely long lists, endless lists, of goals and projects and obligations. Lists that leave me with a splitting headache and a feeling that I might throw up if I spend another five minutes adding to them. Other times, I’ve forced myself to keep the master list bearably short so I can figure out which ones matter and what’s unimportant – and that’s even more depressing, because I wind up with a list of 76 “A’s”, 32 “B’s”, and 4 or 5 “C’s”. And you know what? Trying to do seventy-six Really Important Things all at the same time doesn’t work.

Enough. I need a different approach. The A-B-C tactic is just too theoretical to help me. It leaves me groping through a fog with no idea where my goal might be, no idea whether I’m getting closer or farther away from it or just wandering in circles. I need a way to see when I’m getting somewhere.

Actually, I think I’ve been tripping over it – sometimes literally – all summer, while we’ve worked on emptying my mother’s house: Work by sections. Clear out one room, or one corner of one room, then go on to the next. If you have to, make room to work by lugging part of the mess somewhere else, somewhere you’ve already cleared, and return to that pile later.

I won’t be able to tell at a glance whether what I’m doing is the thing that needs attention more than anything else I could possibly do – but if I’ve learned one thing by fiddling with ABC priorities, it’s that I don’t know which project needs to be done first. Doing things by space instead of priority has at least one thing to be said for it: You can see things change. And that would be a good enough purring floppy-eared unicorn for now.

Maybe it will work.


Lost in the priority swamp

UPSwampThe thing is, it’s not like I haven’t tried to get organized. Oh, how I’ve tried. Over and over, and I wouldn’t be writing this post today if I’d ever succeeded. Maybe, this time, I should start by asking where I went off track in the past.

Now, if you’ve ever felt the need to be more in control, you probably know that there are lots and lots of books and blogs eager to tell you the right way to make everything all better. Once upon a time, I consulted them all. They seem to fall into two types: the ones that give you hundreds of little tips, each on how to deal with one little individual thing – I’ll write about those another day – and the ones that offer an overall system so you can make sure you cope with what really matters.

You’ve read them. List all your goals. Assign A-B-C priorities depending on how important they are. Do the “A’s” first. Delegate as many “B’s” and “C’s” as possible. (Somehow, the people who write this stuff assume that everyone has an underling to delegate to.) Don’t worry if the “C’s” never get done. And, at last,  skip into Nirvana with your arms around the necks of rainbow-colored unicorns while bunnies and puppies and kittens frolic at your feet. For those of us who think in top-down systems, the A-B-C approach sounds great.

Only it doesn’t work. Not for me, at least; and I have to wonder how the books stay in print if this approach works for anybody. Who needs to buy problem-solving books once you’ve made it all the way to Nirvana?

(….more tomorrow….)

Thirty-one days of organizing the chaos

I am not an organized person.

I have never been an organized person. And when I start thinking about what I should change to become organized, my brain starts chasing after so many different plans and setting up so many goals it’s a wonder it doesn’t make my head spin around in several directions at once. Trying to make a nice simple straight-line plan between “Me Right Now” and “Me Living an Organized Life” makes me dizzy.

So I should be in no danger whatsoever of running out of material to write about if I spend the next month testing ways of becoming more organized. Right?

UPSwampThere. That was easy.

I don’t think it will stay easy.

(This is my first post in an October series for Write31Days – basically, pick a topic and post something about it every day in the coming month. Thanks to Beverley at My Wonky Life for making me aware of it!)