Recovering from Messes Inside and Out

As a professional organizer who specializes in chronic disorganization, I know about clutter. As a survivor, I know about being an inside mess that is reflected as an outside mess. As a pastor, I know about grace and regeneration.

FYI, I’m a messy by nature! Part of my DNA. For a period, it became extreme. Read on while I tell you about it. It can be the baseline for our shared journey.

While parenting three school-age children we kept a messy house. Not dirty, just messy. With an average amount of clothes, toys, games, and electronics, we had an ocean of things on every horizontal surface – stairs, tables, floors, sofas and chairs. All five of us would walk over and around things, seemingly unaffected.

But we were affected. Not just when we were having company!

Over the next few years, prompted in part when we were fired as clients of the Merry Maids (we didn’t pick up the house enough for them to clean the house!!!), we came to understand that our mess was reflecting an internal mess, mostly mine. I sank into a funk and things were overwhelming. During the next 10 years, two layers unfolded in our lives. One layer went through my PTSD diagnosis and recovery. The other went through the physical clutter of the house, family priorities and schedules (did one of my kids tell you about the time I forgot to pick them up?). For a while, there was serious chaos, tinged with confusion. But, over time, as I became aware and healed, things were getting calmer, we were growing in affirmation of our family strength and respect. Over more time, we realized our physical space reflected this growth and change.

Healing happens, and messes became controlled, not controlling.

There are a few things I want to point out as you process this autobiographical story.

First, sometimes a mess is just a mess. Life gets hectic and we throw things on the bed, and from the bed to the floor, and eventually things calm down and we tackle the mess. This is normal.

Next, sometimes a mess is on-going and cumulative because there is an underlying cause. People with ADHD tend to lose focus and messes meander, unaddressed, around the house. Creative types tend to have multiple projects unfolding around their space. Families with small children tip-toe around legos and bags of out-grown clothes. People with illness deal with limited energy and extra bottles and equipment. This is explainable.

However, some messes bother us to our core and cause us to turn inwardly or to react outwardly. These messes may be trying to tell us something about our life energy. We can learn to quiet ourselves and listen to what the mess is trying to say. Mess can open dialog toward positive change.

Do you have mess that is no longer welcome in your daily life? I offer you the opportunity to address both the internal and external through Clearing the Way Home’s services. Affecting change starts with you.

Susan

Powering Organization

Recently I bought a battery-operated drill/driver and a sander. With two batteries I keep potential energy stored to use them when ready. I can be away from my charger and have use of my tools. The energy remains in the battery, ready to go.

Sometimes we are not able to use our organizing tools when we first have them. However, we have gained something. This potential energy is stored within us and becomes available when we are ready to organize. Recently I heard from a woman who began coming to my workshops several years ago. She told of her recent perseverance and accomplishment. Previously she had tried to use the tools in her organizing bag, but without much success. However, when she came to the task this time, there was still “charge in her battery” that powered her productive results.

What tools do you have for organizing?

  • Books on the bookshelf, like Julie Morgenstern’s Organizing from the Inside Out, or Kolberg and Nadeau’s ADD-Friendly Ways to Organize Your Life
  • Bins and totes you bought with dashed high hopes that are taking up valuable space
  • Money to hire an organizer, junk-hauler, or house cleaner
  • ·A week-end long break without interruptions to tackle the garage or closets or kids’ rooms
  • A friend with whom you can trade time between your homes

What is stored in the battery to power your organizing tools?

  • Knowledge and information you have read or heard
  • Desire for things to be different
  • Memories throughout the decades waiting to be triggered

Do you know where to re-charge your battery?

  • Attend workshops or retreats
  • Read a book or watch a how-to video
  • Go to a friend’s house and have your jaw drop in envy or surprise (When I envied the order of my friend Connie’s house, she showed me her closed room and said, “Everyone needs a place to throw things out of the way for company!”)

Are you patient enough to wait when the battery needs time to re-charge? When we use our power tools consistently, we must pace ourselves, going between the work and the charger. This natural pace allows us to move forward without losing juice. Plan to keep progressing steadily instead of quickly, using energy to your advantage.

 

Moving Month

It’s moving month! In the last five weeks I have emptied my mother-in-law’s home of over fifty years and moved my daughter Corrie from one apartment in Atlanta to another. As I write, I am sitting in her sunroom, enjoying the song of birds.

The first move comes as Bettye’s life gracefully approaches conclusion, and the second as Corrie’s adulthood opens wide. This morning I am drinking coffee at Corrie’s out of a cup that came from Bettye’s. I’m looking at a rocking chair given to Corrie by my sister, and across the living room see the table and chairs that Abbie bought from Craigslist for her first apartment. I have texted Bud that the sunroom will benefit from the end table we no longer need since we are using one from his childhood home.

A few things are confirmed that I have told clients previously:

1.       Moves are about the present. Not everything that was meaningful or specifically useful needs to be kept, but it can be appreciated, blessed, and put aside. Unless the move is temporary by design (i.e., into an apartment until the new house is ready), keep only what fits your lifestyle and space today.

2.       A fifteen-foot rental truck loaded by professionals saves time, relationships and sanity. On a hot day, offering the movers a glass of ice water lets them know you realize how hard they are working. Unloading by a professional on a rainy day is also welcome! (Thank you Daequin! You were amazing.)

3.       Cheap packing tape is a bad idea. (The strong paper tape from U-Haul was in my Prius in Nashville, not the Pilot in Atlanta!) However, all but one of the boxes held.

4.       The right size box, ideally with handles, makes packing the house and the truck better. (Not every box can say “Do not stack”!)

5.       Let the people at the moving company know you have come in to check out their free box bin. If it is empty, they probably know if there are three boxes of boxes waiting to be given away in the loading area.

6.       Even though the older generation is downsizing and the younger is upsizing, it is not a given that the furniture will be moved from the grandmother’s to the granddaughter’s home. However, when this works, great!

7.       When the move is over and the dust settles, a really sweet note from daughter to mother is very much appreciated.

All told, it is a joy to be part of the moving that comes with life transitions, whether as a family member or as an organizer.

 

 

You and Your Dammed Clutter

 

The day I came up with my clutter retreat title, I loved it! It opened a new consideration of the build-up of clutter in our lives and, especially, a new way of understanding the dynamic of clutter release and the outflow of increased engagement with our life force.

"Dammed" clutter. Isn't that a great adjective for the backlog of things that pile up in our houses and in our minds? Two descriptions for the same stuff! From the beginning I saw an energy generating dam, not an earthen dam or a beaver dam. But TVA at its finest. Immediately I saw the things that were damming up, and almost as quickly, I saw the things that flow through when the dam is released.

DCR Graphic.jpg

The first question I asked was, "How safe is the dam?" Will it let loose and flood everything? To this question, I realized that the first dynamic in addressing clutter is being supported safely. Without safety, addressing the things held back remains precarious. When I spent years not feeling very safe, people became the support for me and let me address the backlog of emotions, fears, and trauma that demanded to be addressed.

Next, with safety in place, I looked at the held-in clutter, both physical and mental, and gave memory to its presence, understanding piece by piece how my life got to its current place.

Finally, I realized that there was a spillway beneath the dam, and I control its opening and closing. With time, I learned to better control the movement from one side of the dam to the other side, creating an energy that was useful and could be shared.

Much clutter begins with a traumatic experience. We do not wake up one day wishing that we could clutter up our house. Usually it happens one delay or indecision after another, until we wonder if we'll ever be able to choose a way through, and then beyond, the dammed up clutter. You can. In a coordinated journey with a variety of people, breath (spirit/pneuma/ruach), and healing ways, the cluttering of mind and space can begin to clear.

Dr. Judith Herman, author of Trauma and Recovery, speaks of 3 stages in recovery. The first is safety, where a person becomes physically safe and emotionally grounded. The second is remembrance and mourning, allowing ourselves to engage with the particular dynamics that led to where we are today. Finally, reconnection allows us to become peaceful and reconciled with ourselves and reach out to others.

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Now I will share with you my graphic story of decluttering mind, body, spirit and space. The above picture is now colored in and you can see the dam held safe by people who cared for me across years, the spillway where I was guided safely through, and the power stations where I transfer energy from myself to others.

I want you to know three things:

  1. You are safely held.
  2. You control the spillway.
  3. Your clutter can bring pleasure.

If you do not find comfort or confirmation in any of these, I encourage a journey through your clutter in a combination of ways. To make a plan, you can "Talk it Through" with me. If you are in the Nashville, TN area, work with me in your clutter or attend the March 24, 2018 "Dammed Clutter Retreat". Wherever you are, find an anchor of safety and support and take a step forward.

You are not alone and no amount of clutter has stopped you yet!! There is no stopping now. Reach out.

All the best,

Susan

Importance of the Spillway

Clutter flows into our houses. With children in the house, things increase with each new activity or size. As we age, the house easily becomes cluttered with inheritances from family members. Some of us attract clutter like Pigpen attracts dust! Sometimes we have a strong reaction as the clutter reaches a dam and it all stacks, one thing on top of another, without release.

Emotions, sentiments, natural messiness, and thoughts sometimes become focused on things. Check out the illustration of dammed clutter and see where you find yourself.

DCR Graphic.jpg

Did you look primarily at the things held behind the dam, or did you look at the things that have flowed through the dam? I hope you looked at both!

Dammed clutter is not about the dam that holds things back. It is about the flow and the spillway. Control of the spillway makes the difference. During the 2010 Nashville Flood, the opening and closing of dams played a crucial role. Watching the water overwhelm the city was traumatic.

Often, we become more concerned about what is held in and forget that we have a mechanism for letting things flow. I encourage you to consider the nature of your clutter that is held back and stuck. Then, consider how the spillway is controlled. You are ultimately the operator of the dam, but sometimes we lack training or skill to do it well.

If you feel dammed up without release, “Talk it Through” with me, and let’s find a direction for you to take that will allow movement through the dam that releases more acceptance and order.

For people in the Nashville Area, check out the Dammed Clutter Retreat on Saturday, March 24, 2018, from 9 am to 4 pm. (Been wanting to visit Nashville?) Please subscribe to this local events email list following to get the most details.

Wishing you smooth flow!

Susan