Balancing Act

Failure.

It’s an ugly word really, with ugly emotions attached to it.

I’m not through organizing the laundry room, but it’s definitely in progress. It’s not stalled. The project isn’t a failure. It’s creating an enormous mess in my den, which is frustrating, and it’s taking longer than I imagined it would (typical, by the way), which is frustrating, and I hate going in there to actually do laundry because of the half-doneness, which is frustrating… Need I go on?

But it’s still going. We worked on it some just this morning. We’ve given wooden puzzles away so they can be played with again, we have a stack of coats and things to bless someone with, we’ve thrown away 100-year-old silver polish and carpet cleaner and broken umbrellas. It’s going to be wonderful and functional once it’s finished.

Part of the reason it’s taking so long is because, you know, life keeps happening. I have to keep homeschooling, and cooking, and food shopping, and washing sheets, and, well … grooming. If I could put it all aside, the project would take no time. Added to that, I’m trying something else new, and here’s where the anxiety comes storming in.

I’ve decided to implement a new form for keeping my house tidy, so I’m not afraid to open the door and let in an unexpected guest. It’s the Three-Point System from Organizing From the Heart, whereby I choose the three most important zones in my house, and I keep them tidy, always. I’ve chosen my kitchen, the downstairs bathroom, and my front room.

I know. For you organization gurus this sounds like child’s play. Try to empathize with me, because this plays to my absolute greatest weakness…

It’s not hard, not objectively. It’s just that I’ve tried many other systems before, and … here’s the hideous word … failed.

I won’t go through everything that I’ve tried that’s flopped. It isn’t necessary. But I am determined that this time will be different, because for the first time, I’m dealing with it on a spiritual level. First, I’ve spent some time truly thanking God for those rooms, and the blessings they bring. Then, with thanksgiving, I’ve asked God to fill my mind with little creative miracles that I can implement to bring order and peace. Finally, I’ve chosen to treat this as an act of worship. I will bring order from chaos, as God did in the beginning, as an act of worship to Him.

Doing this has forced me to change my perspective. All my attempts and failures were not really failures. They were opportunities for me to discover what systems don’t work for me. This time, I will not stop until I find a system that works smoothly. Did you hear that? I will not stop. I figure, even if I only average ten minutes a day toward a smoothly and peacefully running home, by this time next year, I will have 52 hours under my belt toward that goal. By that time, even if my house is not exactly like I want it, I will surely have areas in my home where I have made room for new blessing by clearing out the disorder. As my younger daughter says, frequently… Slow and steady wins the race. The following is a quote I’ve come across in my reading this week, and it resonated to such an extent with me, I’m hanging it on my kitchen window where I can read it every day:

On every level of life, from housework to heights of prayer, in all judgment and efforts to get things done, hurry and impatience are sure marks of the amateur. ~ Evelyn Underhill

SquirrelinHopacrab

I reject feelings of hurry and impatience. I will not stop until I am finished, no matter how long it takes. I refuse to continue living life like an amateur, and am determined, as much as it is in my power, to live it expertly. Eventually, I will be like this little squirrel I see every morning in my hopa crab tree, feasting on drying crabapples. He sits on a branch that is far too small to hold his weight (one would think, anyway), and as the breeze sways him, he nonchalantly balances there picking fruit. Instead of standing back over thinking it, convincing myself I’ll fall because I’ve fallen before, wondering if it is even possible…

Instead…

I will faithfully walk out, knowing it can be done, believing I have been gifted to do it, and I will achieve that previously elusive thing.

Balance.

 

 

Not Idle

Well, dear reader, I’ve taken a major hiatus from writing, but I haven’t been idle. If you remember from a recent post (and why should you, because by recent I mean several months ago), I downloaded a book onto my kindle about the spiritual roots of disorganization. I then proceeded to lose my kindle. I searched everywhere I could think of, but no…. it was surely and truly lost in the shuffle. I believe this can be classified as ironic.

It was lost for about four months. (Yes – four months! Egad!) Then one day, my husband says to me, “What have you done with my electric razor charger?” (Asking me what I’ve done with something is a running joke in our house. I, of course, have not touched his charger. He loses things too…) He told me he was charging his razor overnight, and he didn’t want the light that flashes while charging to keep me awake, so he didn’t do it in our bathroom, but instead (he was certain) he charged it in the schoolroom. So, I proceeded to turn the schoolroom upside-down, in an attempt to locate it. And lo and behold, peeking out from between the modem and the edge of the computer desk, covered by a small cloth, was…

I don’t even have to finish that sentence, do I? No, of course not, because in this most perfect of hiding places, as if I had hidden it on purpose, is my KINDLE!!! For the love of Pete, why, oh why, oh why would I put it there? That, my friends is the question.

The charger, since you’re all dying to know, was ultimately located in the medicine cabinet of the downstairs bathroom, the most logical place for it to be. Alas.

On with the story…

The book on my kindle is Organizing from the Heart: Change Your Mindset, Conquer Your Challenges. It’s a workbook of sorts, and I’ve committed to working through it. The first question I had to ask is,”What is disorganization costing me?” I prayerfully considered it, and I finally wrote in my journal, “I feel shame.” Admitting that was an incredibly powerful moment for me. I also wrote in my journal that the last time I felt organized in my home was when I felt consistently good physically (which was really pre-cancer) and when money was not a stressor (also pre-cancer). Cancer, for me, was like tripping during a foot race, landing hard on my hands and knees, and never managing to get back up on sure footing. We call 2007 our Cancer Year, because I was sick for nine months of it. I was hospitalized multiple times, and on two of those occasions there was a real risk that I wouldn’t leave the hospital. Having the management, the control of my life wrested from me so completely, knocked me flat in a profoundly internal way. What happened in 2007 is that my ability to believe that God wants good things for me, in fact the best things, was violently shaken. There’s a major lesson in Trust within this, one I’m still grappling to get hold of.

And so, after SEVEN years of dealing with things on the surface, but never digging deep (for instance, cleaning my house on a schedule but never cleaning out a closet, either physically or emotionally), I’m FINALLY ready and willing to deal with the root spiritual issues. I have this vision of my home being peaceful, open and soothing, a place where we can love God and love one another, and with this in sight, I’m taking a stand. I’m committing to cleaning out the ashes and rubble so that new things can grow.

In pursuit of this, a few days ago I stood in my laundry room (the place I have chosen to start) and I engaged in this spiritual work. I thanked God for this room — it really is quite awesome — and for all the things stored there: games, puzzles, winter wear, and cleaning supplies. I thanked Him for the new high-efficiency furnace and water heater we’ve recently installed. I then tapped through every negative feeling that I’ve had regarding organizing. (You can look at  Conquering my Emotional Kitchen for an explanation of tapping). I also, while tapping through the circuit, thanked God that I am created in His image and, as He brought order from chaos, I, too, can bring order out of chaos as an act of worship. (I’d like to say here, there’s nothing magical about tapping. Tapping while praying just helps me, on a deep emotional level, to internalize the promises of God).

Then I simply started. I’m about a quarter of the way through, and I’ve already had this beautiful, symbolic moment. I came across a bag, filled with thin books and papers, and I sat down with it to sort through it. I thought it was music, but it wasn’t. It was a bunch of cancer support materials. With a sense of lightness I walked out to the trash, and dropped it in. It was freeing.

Bit by bit, moment by moment, I clear out the old and dead and make room for a new thing.

NotIdle

Conquering my Emotional Kitchen

A few days ago, someone asked me for the link to this blog, and in sending it to her I had to face the fact that I hadn’t posted in six months. I’ve thought about posting, but I’ve been managing a flare-up of ulcerative colitis since last October and, truth be told, simply couldn’t work up the energy to write. At the moment, though, I’m seeing a glimmer of hope. A glimmer; but hope, nonetheless.

As I linked her to my home page, I read my tagline: Fighting the clutter monster ~ inside and out. One thing I’ve realized in these past months, as I’ve struggled to put one foot in front of the other while feeling decidedly ill, is that the inside clutter monster is definitely the one in control. As I’ve taken time to think about the constant clutter I fight, and how even when I seem to get on top of it for a time — it always devolves back into what it was, I’ve concluded that it’s all just symptoms. The real culprit is my general lack of delight in homemaking, and the sense that I’m somehow missing what I should be doing while being stuck in the unending loop of laundry, dishes, picking up. Stop (briefly). Repeat.

With this in mind, I downloaded an organizing book onto my Kindle, called, Organizing from the Heart: Change Your Mindset, Conquer Your Challenges. It presumably deals with spiritual roots to organizational issues, but I wouldn’t actually know.

Now, brace yourself, because this next part would be downright hilarious if it weren’t so achingly cliché. I don’t actually know what it says because, since downloading, I’ve lost my Kindle. In the clutter. It’s gotten sucked into the vortex and I’ve been unable (as yet) to find it.

*insert deep sigh here*

I will find it. I’m sure I will, but in the meantime, I’ve been plodding along, which brings me to my topic… my kitchen. My kitchen is the bane of my life. Well, maybe not, but it’s pretty darn close. It’s poorly laid out (which I cannot control), but beyond that, I constantly have dishes on my counters or in my sink. It’s constant. Every so often, I just muscle through and clean it, and the result is always tremendous pain. Because of multiple surgeries, including reconstructive surgery after cancer, I have lots of scar tissue. My reconstruction involved dissecting large sections of muscle in my back, and ever since, that work which is “kitchen work” leaves me with stabbing pain between my shoulder blades, regardless of how I stand, breathe, or move. I have not been able to control it short of drug use (and by drug use, I mean Advil). 

Until now. In the past few months, I’ve looked into something I had heard about, and that is tapping on various acupressure points in order to relieve pain. I’ve read two books, and done some research online, and because of success I’ve had in the past with acupuncture, I thought it was worth trying. I had been doing it on occasion for a while, basically thinking about the pain while tapping eight different points in sequence. 

Fast forward to about a month ago. I cleaned the kitchen. I was in agony. Every breath brought a stabbing pain, like knives. I heated a small cloth bag filled with uncooked rice in the microwave, took three Advil, and went to my room. I put the heat on my back, and tried to relax, and started tapping. I had read, doing my research, that it is sometimes very effective to assign an emotion to the pain, and I figured, why not? I am willing to try anything reasonable. So as I was focusing on the sharp pain, I asked myself… What is the emotion I’m holding between my shoulder blades? What emotion is causing this pain? It took a while, but it came to me — a single word.

Discontentment.

So, I began tapping the circuit, saying a phrase like, “…this discontentment in my back … the discontentment causing this sharp pain…” I tapped several times through the circuit of points, until my pain level came down to about a four. Then I stopped, and didn’t really think of it again.

However…

About two weeks later, as I got out of bed and went downstairs to make my coffee, I looked around my kitchen. It was totally clean, and had been for days and days, which has been (historically speaking, at least since I had cancer) TOTALLY unheard of. I stood there, thinking, taking stock… What was I doing differently? It’s not like it was being cleaned by magic. I was actually doing the cleaning, but it no longer felt like a fight. I thought about the things I normally felt regarding my kitchen …. overwhelmed, dread, hatred (if that’s not too strong a word). Those feelings were absent. And then the realization struck me. It’s been since I tapped on discontentment.

Whoa.

I’ve been praying for a solution for so long. And the solution has hit me in the most unexpected way. Here we are, a full month later, and my kitchen is effortlessly clean. I don’t feel pain. It’s no longer a battle. I’ve conquered the kitchen, by acknowledging and clearing the emotion. Who would have thought?

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To Sort or Not To Sort

I always say that I’m unstructured. But over the last week I’ve realized this isn’t an entirely true statement. I don’t do well creating structure, but I like to have routine. Last Thursday, my older daughter finished school for the summer and with the lack of an imposed schedule I’ve been drifting.

So, today I got up at 6:15 like I do during the school year. I accomplished so much by 8:00 that I was amazed. I need to become more disciplined about structuring my day because it makes a huge difference. I guess I should say that I’m not internally structured but I thrive with structure around me.

Today’s post is super short. But I’m encouraged that I’m writing anything at all. I’m also encouraged by the things I seem to have mastered – my table stays cleared off, my dishes stay done, and I’m getting exercise several times a week. I also got my garden planted – something that’s been on my wish list for well over a year. My tomatoes and red peppers are blooming, everything else has new growth, and my herbs are thriving outside. It’s a small garden, but it’s a start and it’s given me a true sense of accomplishment to scratch “plant a garden” off my list. Unfortunately, I’m also discouraged by the huge projects still looming before me which will require lots of sorting (my least favorite thing) ~ this is mostly closets and toys. I don’t feel up to the task which is a mental hurdle I need to get over. So I’ll keep writing and rewriting my action items. Maybe the 800th time I write “sort through toys,” I’ll actually do it. The key with this, as with everything in life, is to keep going. Quitting can’t be an option.

Day 116 ~ All Things (well – Something anyway) Made New

I’ve made some measurable progress this week. For one, I finally – with my husband’s help – got several bags ready for charity. We’re keeping the cat.

simplicity

I’ve also been practicing Redeeming the Time – you know, grabbing ten free minutes here and there to do little tasks. By using this approach I’ve reclaimed a small counter in my kitchen. Now, I must explain, there is a deep-seated problem that resides within my very soul that leads to a counter that looks like this. It’s hard to see, but under the clean food containers and the bread items, in the back, is the epicenter of this mess. It’s a wire basket full of junk. Well, not junk really, but stuff. I toss things in there, like coupons, business cards, things I want to look at later. (You can see how accessible it is. And please understand, my whole kitchen does not look like this). But the problem (the one in my soul) is this – pretty soon the basket is overflowing, I never pull anything out to look at it again because it’s disorganized, and soon it becomes a permanent fixture in my decorating scheme. I walk by it 18 times a day, and never, ever look at it. The result? I’ve lost the counter.

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So I finally did something about it. I got a three-ring-binder, I put tabs in it, and I now have a place for – – > current coupons, reference information, take-out menus, and contact information. And it fits next to my cookbooks on the bookcase. Now the basket has oranges in it and is sitting on my dining room table. I don’t know why it took me – you know – YEARS to take care of this. But now it’s done. My counter is new. And I am happy.

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Day 112 ~ The Divine Hours

I’ve decided to start “keeping the hours.” At least I’m going to try. Keeping the hours (or saying the offices) is a Benedictine monastic tradition of fixed-hour prayer. I may last one day, one week, one month – or I may decide this is the best thing I’ve ever done and do it forever.

Now, first of all, I must say – I’m not Catholic. In fact, I’ve only been in a Catholic church three times in my life. The first time, I was a little girl and went with a girl from school whose parents were German immigrants, so there was a language issue and the mom couldn’t really explain to me what was going on. As we sat in the pew, people would come forward and genuflect at the altar. But this is what I thought was going on – I thought people were kneeling to photograph the bizarre statue on the stage, because my church had no statues, and so I thought this must be a novelty. I mean, if I had a camera, I might take a picture too, except no one told me to bring a camera. It was literally years later when I saw someone on T.V. kneeling at an altar and making the sign of the cross that it suddenly occurred to me what I had seen as a child. The other two times I was in a Catholic church were for a wedding and a funeral, so they probably don’t really count. Let’s just say my faith tradition is very “low church.”

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Well, the Benedictines are obviously Catholic, but they are also very disciplined and it’s the discipline I’m reaching for, not the Catholicism. What I’ve discovered in this year of change is that my disorganization is not just an external problem. I’m internally cluttered as well. And my spiritual life totally lacks organization. This is the reason I have started working on Centering Prayer, which is incredibly challenging but I keep trying it a few minutes each day. In spite of this, my quiet time with God continues to be haphazard, at best. I feel myself craving an order to my spiritual life, and so I’m attempting Keeping the Hours to see if it creates the form I’m looking for. I plan to say the words of the offices exactly at first, then move to a place where I keep the form but lose some of the rigidity. I’ll be keeping the Morning Office, Midday Office, and Vespers which basically means praying morning, noon and evening, and I’m using the book The Divine Hours as a guide.

We’ll see what happens. My cluttered environment is simply a manifestation of the clutter within me. But I’m changing that – with clear-cut goals, ordering of my day, getting rid of extraneous junk, and structuring my spiritual life. I feel myself becoming new. I feel the old ways sloughing off. Yet change is something like turning an enormous ship. It’s slow (oh, so slow). It’s difficult. But as I turn, I see a new vista – a new horizon – a new me. And that, dear reader, is well worth it.

Day 108 ~ A Sticker Chart

I have totally fallen off the wagon. It’s not that I have an addiction and I’m suddenly back at it. It’s that I have a terrible habit, and if I’m not consciously fighting it, I slip back into it and am firmly entrenched before I even recognize it. That habit is flying by the seat of my pants.

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maybe this isn't the wagon they mean...

I have dutifully been carrying my life-changing notebook with me everywhere. Yet, yesterday when I went to make an action item list, I realized the last notation I had made was on March 31. Are you kidding me? I actually went 3+ weeks without writing anything down and it never once occurred to me, “Wow – I should be updating my action item list.” Yesterday was obviously my day to come back to reality, because when I went to do my “daily” hard-surface clean in the bathrooms, the spots on the mirror told the sad story that this little job certainly hasn’t been done in … well, we’ll just say it hasn’t been daily at all. Yesterday was a catch-up day for laundry, too, because I’ve missed that train as well.

What happened, you may ask. Well, that last week of March we went on vacation and I apparently never came back. Now, it hasn’t totally been wasted time. I’ve been focusing on spiritual things, reading “Flunking Sainthood” and “The Only Necessary Thing,” a compilation of writings of Henri Nouwen. I’ve been practicing Centering Prayer and meditating on God’s Word. I guess you could say I’ve been cleaning up internal clutter. But good grief. I’ve dropped the ball with my home. (The blessed and beautiful thing here is that I can pick it back up). It’s not like I’ve lost all the progress that has been made – I haven’t, and it will only take a couple of days to get back on track. But I’ve learned something about myself. I’m no different than my children – if I’m not constantly reminded, oh, how quickly I forget. And the only person to remind me is, well – me. Maybe I need a sticker chart.