Organizing from the Inside

Organization is not my strongsuit. So when I had a conversation with a similarly organized creative friend a year ago, I started to become excited about developing a better system for myself. She happily told me that the trick was in discovering the perfect calendar.”That’s it!” I thought. I had just been thinking that I needed a new calendar.

Then I saw it.

Her system was not going to work for me. Wrong size; wrong font type, and it was a weekly calendar, for heaven’s sake. I HATE weekly calendars. My eyes glazed over as she was showing it to me. 

For someone who spends so much time contemplating the complexities of life, I am amazingly simple minded. A weekly calendar is too crowded with 15 and 30 minute intervals to work for my little brain. I need something a bit more streamlined with scribble room.

In fact, I probably spend far too much time trying to figure out things like what to make for dinner or when I might catch someone on the phone. In the meantime, I could have laid out fabulous meal and left a dozen messages. Sometimes I attribute this to being a middle child. My husband hates it when I say this because he is a middle child too. He thinks I am giving middle children a bad name, which I probably am. So then I mention my “chaotically enmeshed” family of origin. That is a little more convincing. In general, I am more comfortable with questions than answers. And, I am easily distracted.

You might not think that about me given I work in professions that require a fair amount of organization to be successful. In particular, Church Ministry. People think of those sorts of people tend toward over-clarity, if you know what I mean. That is not me. I have theologically clarity on about three things. One: God is. Two: God loves us. Three: Love is the only thing that really matters.

This is at least partly why I did not go into “ordained” ministry. How many sermons can you work up on those simple ideas and a load of questions?  I was and am pretty sure that God prefers people with a little more clarity and organization to lead a flock of wandering souls like me.

Not to place blame, but I think a big part of my organizational process was interrupted when I had children. I managed to make it through a graduate degree with mostly “pointy grades,” as a roommate used to call A’s. That takes either low-level brilliance or some kind of organization and we all know that it was not brilliance. It is one thing to organize yourself and quite something else to organize a family of 3 – and then 4. I have no idea how my mom did it with 4 children in a traditional family.

All those years I thought I was good at organizing it was just little ole me I had to worry about. When the kids moved in with their needs and schedules, everything changed. Of course, it could have been that post-partum Prozac that altered my brain chemisty, but we’ll never know. Family members assure me I fit right in.

So I went in search of the perfect organizational coach in the form of a book. I found it!! It was called, “Organizing from the Inside Out” by Julie Morgenstern.

I was raring to go. I drank the first three chapters down like water. I was going to get organized! She knew me somehow. I started analyzing my personal style and how to best organize given who I was.

Then I lost the book.

Some days it is hard to be me.

I worry that my children will never really “get” how to be organized now matter how much I advise them. Fortunately for then, I married an engineer. The poor guy – I know he about lost his mind when we were first married. “Where is the garlic press?” “Um, it is either in this drawer, that drawer, or the other one.” It is an orthodox approach, I like to think … I seem to work in 3’s.

I have a friend who once told me that he had a “chalk board” approach to organization. He drew all over everything and when he noticed the board was getting white and hard to read, he’d erase it all and start over. At the time I thought he was doomed to a life of losing his keys, his wallet, his car, even his children. I don’t know if it is still true, but he wisely wed a much more organized woman.

I try to think now more in terms of priority and intention. Priority because ranking the most important things to get done really helps me – and intention because I want to live an intentional life. I fear waking up one day and saying, “wait just a minute here… I am 70 and I had planned to do something ambitious with my life.” I do think that if one is to do something ambitious, one must begin sometime before 70.

The first thing I have to say is that I try to forgive myself for not being someone else. That is part of being able to organize anything at all for me. The second thing I try to remember is that I didn’t have particularly organized parents. I have a strong memory of my mom seeing the dust fly down the road to the old farm house and yelling, “quick! clean up! It’s Ione’s car!” Ione was mom’s organized and probably most ambitious friend. We would fly into gear, throwing things behind unsuspecting doors, scooping up piles of clothes, wiping ashes to the floor, and cramming pots in the dishwasher. It was thrilling how much we could get done in minutes.

As you can imagine, that doesn’t exactly engender a large amount of organizational prowess. But, it was fun.

Lately my approach has been to take 2 extra seconds when I arrive in a room and just as I leave it. It may not seem like much, but it can be inspirational, even, to notice that I plopped my keys somewhere surprising and move them right then. It isn’t a ritual yet, but people say it takes 3 weeks to form a new habit. So, I am working on it.

(Do you have a favorite way to organize or “upscale your efficiency? I’d love to hear about it. BTW, the book has some great ideas. I found it again last week)

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3 Responses to Organizing from the Inside

  1. Jette Shears says:

    don’t ask me, Shannon, about organizing ideas… I’m obsessed, especially about NOT losing things (and Ken says I lose my keys and purse and ATM card more times than he does – he’s right, I hate to admit). So when the kids were little I actually counted the Duplo blocks each night to make sure they were all there and ready for the morning. I sometimes pulled up the floor vent for the heating air and probed down the duct to see if a block had fallen down there. This is really sick to admit and I’m happy to say I don’t count Duplos any longer (the girls are now 19 and 21, so if I did it’d be really, really weird….). But I love to label the sheets in my linen closet (much easier to find which is twin and which is queen fitted – try it…); there’s just got to be order somewhere in my world. Oh, and I count my grandfather’s six silver spoons we use for cereal and dessert every time I put one away (to make sure all six are still there…) I can do that in 2 seconds!

  2. Teri Conrad says:

    Thanks for sharing. I can certainly empathize. I’m supposed to be working on an email list and here I am—–reading your delightful blog!

  3. Elizabeth says:

    I used to have a very complex system of to-do lists. Now I have a toddler and a congregation and a house and a husband to look after, so I have no time for those things. I’ve started using “Teux Deux.” It’s an internet application and an iPhone application that sync your to-do lists and move stuff over to the next day when you don’t get it done. Very simple. Very helpful.

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