Thursday, January 17, 2013

Taming the chaos

Unfortunately, I do not have a camera. It fell face-down in the sand, and now when you turn it on, the lens cannot come out. Hopefully I can use a sharp needle or something and pick all the grains of sand out to get it working again, but in the meantime, you'll just have to put up with my word pictures for this one.

Imagine that you arrive in Haiti. You walk into your new room. The room is half the size of your other room. 5 girls and 4-6 kids used to live in that other room, but ever since you started living there alone, you kind of inexplicably spread out.

Now all that stuff is in half the space, and you have two additional 50-lb. suitcases to unload into the mix.

You start by getting a good night's sleep. At 7:00 the next morning, you remove everything from the closets. You have four suitcases in there. One is your clothes that you left in Haiti, and one is school supplies...but what are those other two???

Ohhhhh! One is all your books, and one is full of random odds and ends, like hangers, a dust ruffle for a baby bed, and a pack-n-play. You used to have a shelf in the other room, but now you don't, leaving quite a dilemma for what to do with the books.

Suitcases start to line all the edges of the room. Then you start unloading all the shelves.

What is all this stuff???

There are bottles of sunscreen, bug spray, lotion, extra shampoo, and an assortment of medications. You line up the bottles 3 deep along the wall in the hallway.

Then you get a rag and a basin with hot water and lavender castile soap and you start to wash the shelves off. The top two shelves are so dusty, you wonder if anyone has ever done this before. You wipe the tops and the bottoms of the shelves, as well as the side walls and the back. The water gets so dirty so fast you have to change it about every two shelves. You also wash the floor, walls, and ceiling of the closet.

As you do this, you notice loads of mosquitoes floating around in the air at the back of the shelves and closet. You get at least a dozen mosquito bites. You try not to think about malaria. You think thoughts of making this shelving area as inhospitable to bugs as possible, and you pour in a little extra lavender castile soap the next time you change the water.

The rag you are wiping everything down with goes from a perfectly-normal looking rag to having so many holes in it that it's basically just the palm of your hand wiping things down anymore. How did it waste away so significantly? you wonder. Did little bits of it just rub off along the way, or did the holes just open up between parts of the material, leaving about the same amount of rag as you had before?

Finally, with a sigh of satisfaction, you gaze over the nice, clean shelves and closet space, and you begin to tackle the unpacking. Soon, both beds are covered with a pile of stuff, and very little floor space remains for walking between the different points of the room.

Hours pass. 12:00. 2:00. The piles are so daunting. Sorting out the clothes and putting them away was the easy part, but now, what to do with all the rest of this stuff? The clothes barely made a dent. How in the world did I acquire this much stuff? I guess I inherited most of it when the girls left.

5:00. 6:00. The pile is almost gone now. Just a few more things on the bed, and I can finally be done.

Yes, it took me an entire day to unpack. How wrong is that? I need skills for making clutter like that disappear. I got through it, but every minute, it felt like I was racking my brain, trying to think, think, think, "What do I do now? What can I possibly do with this thing? Where can that go? How do I find or make a place for this? Where do I put this miscellaneous item?" The thing that took me the longest was getting stuck and simply being unable to think. I would look over the pile of chaos and be completely clueless of what I could do next. Why is that? Eventually one step would dawn on me, and I would do that thing. Put these shoes in this little cubby. Ok, got that. Put that bin under there. Use this shelf for the books. Little by little, I got it all accomplished.

So does anyone else experience this paralysis when it comes to organizing?

And for those of you who organize effortlessly, how do you do it? And more specifically, how does your brain work while you're doing it? How does it know how to direct your actions so that you can rapidly and efficiently sort everything out without confusion-based delays?

Any advice?

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*Edit: Just to clarify the confusion about the shelves (see Katherine's comment), here are two pictures from my old room that show what I was talking about.
This little wall dividing the room into two halves is the shelf that I no longer have 

These shelves are the ones I was washing, and where I eventually found a spot for my books


  1. Ok, I'm confused...In one sentence you say that you no longer have a shelf, and in the next you are cleaning your shelves...Please clarify?

  2. Glad you are back! I can not organize at all so I can not help you but it will happen if you put your mind to it.


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