My Organizing Philosophy
*This story sums up my organizing philosophy in under 1,000 words.
It was originally published in the December/January 2013 Issue of Macon Magazine.
It’s all about having the Right Stuff!
When I was in my 20’s I went on a whirlwind tour of Europe. In six weeks’ time, a friend and I toured 16 cities in 8 different countries all while backpacking. Before I left I stuffed all my favorite clothes and accessories, including luxuries like an army grade blow up mattress, into my oversized backpack. Whatever didn’t fit I crammed into a huge hip-high American Tourister suitcase with wheels. I had read that I could store it in a locker at the train stations in the cities we planned on visiting. Upon our arrival in Paris, we discovered that all the lockers were sealed and unusable due to bomb threats. Our lives became an obstacle course as we navigated the new language, currency, and culture all the while clinging to this suitcase full of our prized “stuff”.
Where should we go next was dictated by our need for a storage locker. We were advised that Amsterdam had lockers where we could store the suitcase. The cabby who took us back to the station charged us extra for using the trunk for the suitcase. The American Tourister became an entity and force bigger than the two of us. It had needs and they began to overshadow ours. We found that the storage lockers in Amsterdam let you feed enough money for only 24 hours of storage time, not indefinitely as we had hoped. Over the course of the next few days, we rushed back to the locker to buy more time until …what? Did I really need this “stuff”?
At one point in time, I thought these things defined me. But now I was becoming someone different, someone who wanted to be free to enjoy my trip. I contemplated my attachment to these things from my past that no longer served me. I imagined dragging this American Tourister filled with my “old stuff” throughout Europe. I began to wonder how much I was willing to sacrifice in my present travels to hang on to my past.
One late night we reached the end of the line at the Amsterdam train station where our campground was. As I struggled to pull the wheeled suitcase across the cobbled stone plaza, I almost ran into an art installation before me. It was a 3 dimensional suitcase about 3 times the size of mine and it was made out of red clay bricks. It looked heavy. It looked as though someone decided it was a burden and abandoned it before continuing on their journey. At that moment, I willed my suitcase to spontaneously combust.
We returned to the train station the next day and placed the American Tourister in its final locker. We put enough coins in the slot guaranteeing it would open in less than 30 minutes. The locker area was riddled with people lingering about watching and waiting for some poor soul who didn’t make it back to retrieve his things. It was like a game of musical chairs. Which locker will buzz next and will I be close enough to pounce on its contents?
When the allotted storage time expired, our locker buzzed announcing “free stuff” and it popped open. Several people were at the ready. We watched as a vagrant and a young college student pulled the Tourister out, spilling its contents onto the cold hard floor. Shrieks of joy rang out as the homeless man fondled the blow up mattress, and the young girl held my once favorite clothes up to her body with a smile across her face. Something that caused us so much grief was the source of incredible happiness for these people. There was nothing more freeing in that moment then the realization that I had put the past behind me and was free to live in the present moment unburdened. When I eventually returned to the States, I didn’t miss my once prized possessions. I had a multitude of memories which unlike “stuff” can never be replaced.
Is your stuff keeping you from having the life you want? When your mindset changes from hanging on to the past to living in the present, your behavior will follow. At every turn, ask yourself, does this serve me now? Do I love it? Do I use it? Do I really need it? Would someone else use, wear, appreciate this item more than I do?
Sometimes the hardest part is getting started. Set a timer for 10 minutes and decide to use that limited amount of time to make decisions regarding your stuff. Do not overwhelm yourself. Start with a drawer, not the entire desk. Start with a portion of your clothes rack. Do not pull all your clothes out of the closet. Seek good enough over striving for perfection. You might find that when the timer goes off, you don’t want to stop. Organizing is its own reward.
Be patient with yourself. You will have set backs. Rome was not built in one day, just as your adventure in organizing will not be over after one session. It is a mindful, daily choice that you make in favor of yourself having a more rewarding life now and for the future. If you need help, enlist a friend or professional organizer to keep you on track. Soon it will become a habit and a new way of thinking. Before you know it, you will be living the life you want here and now.