Organizing the Piles

When my life feels out of control, I organize.

I make lists; I double-check my Outlook calendar and make sure it’s in line with the calendar on the wall in the kitchen. I synch my Blackberry. I go through the stacks of unread magazines and put them in order of title and date. I sift through the basket of “mail to take care of” and toss the stuff that is now so long overdue that it is no longer relevant. I look at my bulletin board, and do the same thing – pull off all the items that happened months ago, so a reminder is no longer necessary. I pick up the books perched precariously at the edge of shelves, and file them in the appropriate section on my bookcases, alphabetical by author. I file paperwork from the DMV and other old bills in the color-coded, labeled folders in my file cabinet.

When even that is not enough, I go to Office Depot and wander slowly through the office organization aisles. I end up coming home with a new cabinet, or a three-tiered letter holder, or magazine rack. Then I go home and tackle things fresh.

Now is one of those times. My energy level has been so low that it would make a three-toed sloth look positively peppy. I have barely been able to drag myself out of bed to do the tasks that are absolutely required, like showing up for work, or keeping commitments to go to my precepts class or doctor’s appointments. I seem to be moving through a dense, impenetrable fog. Each step requires vast reserves of energy, and yet I have nothing in that reserve tank.

Given that scenario, it makes perfect sense that today I would choose to use my unexpected two or so hours of relative vigor to do the one thing that makes me feel secure. I put things in order.

I tried out every pen in the house that I could find and threw out all the ones that don’t work, or were so cheap that they’ll invariably fail right when you’re trying to write down an important phone number. I straightened every picture on the walls. I even moved several of them to new locations, because I saw that the balance wasn’t right. I carried things from the left side of my office to the right side of my office. I picked things up from one shelf, and transferred them to another. I went into my Outlook calendar, and changed the due date on everything that was supposed to be done last week, so it wouldn’t look like I was so far behind.

In other words, I didn’t really do a damn thing. I wonder who I think I’m fooling, when I act busy this way? I’m in the privacy of my own home; no one else is watching. So what exactly am I trying to prove to myself? That maybe if the external appearance shifts, it is evidence of real change underneath? That I really am in control of my emotional state and my life, if my mail is properly filed in color-coded folders?


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  1. I can totally relate to this, and I do think it helps. It’s almost like the external, observable order we create – even if we’re the only ones to witness it – sets us up for mental order and clarity. Whenever I do this I always get a sense of relief after, and then I have more energy to take on the tasks or emotional work that are more important. Clearing the decks. Then, yes, breathe.

    Life will get easier, Michelle. Hang in there.

  2. I totally agree with the above comment. Putting things in order, relative though it may be, keeps the mind active, keeps the motor running — plus you get concrete results!


  3. Good to have the feedback. It’s nice to know that I’m not the only one who does this…and to hear that it might actually be a good thing! (By the way, my office looks great. That’s got to inspire something good, right?)

  4. Hi Michelle,

    I think that these activities are comforting and soothing and reduce the chaos in our lives. For me, making a big pot of soup or baking bread accomplishes some of the same things. Life can be easier with the folders color coded or a pot of soup bubbling on the stove.



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