Tag Archives: cleaning

White Space

When a counter is clear, it’s not long before it is covered again.  A stray paper here, a paper clip there, a toy needing batteries, a toy that got picked up off the floor.  And wa-la, a pile has grown.  Usually this is what happens in our house.  Yet the unusual has been happening.  The counters I cleared, one more than another, have stayed cleared.  Hmmm.

Two things:

One–I am on a mission to conquer spaces.  This too has happened before.  But somehow something has shifted; something is different.  The idea is to keep a space clear once it has been cleared.  Since there are plenty of other landing places that have yet to be tackled, or cleared, anything that lands gets moved to that spot, or if the offender has a home, gets moved to that home.

Two–I generally don’t like clear spaces.  After all, they hold so much opportunity.  Look at that clean space! The perfect landing spot!  But somehow something has shifted; something is different.

It used to be that clear spaces gave me anxiety.  The why I’m sure is a longer story and an awful tangent and one I’m not addressing at this moment.  But the point is  important.  I didn’t like an open space.  It didn’t seem comfortable.  The counter is supposed to be cluttered.  It wants paper and clips and books and lost toy parts.  It seems so right.  An open space is an invitation to things, as if the things themselves are warmth.  The counter is cold on its own.

And this is true.  I like stuff.  But in recent weeks, I still like stuff, but I’m also liking open space.

The other night, I zoned in on clearing out newspapers that were on the children’s art/work table (that’s how it started and then I cleared that table too), on the coffee table, under the coffee table, in a corner of the kitchen, in a side table.  The next day (Mother’s Day!) I continued the project after dinner.  There’s more to this story and how it evolved, but the point is I have a clear work table for the children, the coffee table is (with my son’s help!) mostly clear, underneath the coffee table is clear and the side table is clear (except for this week’s paper).  And when I look at the coffee table and see the clear space underneath, I am amazed.  Amazed that it got done, that I did it; amazed that I like it.

I’m seeing open space and I’m working toward more.  I have a long way to go and many things to organize, move, store, donate, make decisions on.  It sounds easy, but it hasn’t been.  And the appreciation I have of the clear spaces is a surprise.  I’ve always liked the idea, but living it is another idea.

A third thing:  I’m writing.  Hmm, again.  It has been a long time since I’ve written consistently.  I have heard established writers say that writing is like breathing.  Again today, I read an essay by a writer who said that if something is not written down, it does not exist.  I am reading finally The History of Love by Nicole Krauss whose main character wants to make sure people know he is exists.  He is a writer.

So I am wondering these days.  I am wondering at the connection between my apparent new abilities to both stay focused on my mission to clear clutter and to appreciate and not be made anxious by “white space”.

I also read again tonight (in Oprah’s interview with Deepak Chopra in the latest O magazine) Deepak Chopra saying the soul exists in the space between thoughts.  (Being still and being conscious and present are on the current month’s subjects for the magazine.)  So I am wondering.  I will never forget (perhaps because I wrote it down) an experience I had long ago and more than once where, for example, the laundry seemed like so much work.  But if I would journal, then wa-la, the laundry was just a task and a tedious thing to do but not so burdensome, not so onerous.  I keep this in mind because I know that when I write, more seems possible.  Things that are normally burdensome seem less so.  I’m wondering if I haven’t been breathing.

Perhaps the white space, instead of an invitation to a pile, has become an invitation to the space between thoughts.  Perhaps it is an invitation to be still and conscious and present.  Perhaps it is more simply an invitation to do more of what matters and not be burdened but that which does not.  Perhaps simply because I am writing, I am less anxious and less in need of the warmth that comes from the clutter because in losing that, I have gained the warmth of breath.


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Corner Tackle

Overwhelm is very easy.  Look at counter.  Counter is piled high.  Do I clear counter?  Look at counter again.  Walk away.

So I came up with a new strategy:  I don’t have to do all of it! I learned something the other day:  I only have to do something for five minutes.  To some people, that’s probably a “duh!” moment rather than an “aha!” moment, but to those of us with pile disorder, that’s not an intuitive solution.  Five minutes means just clear out a couple of things: random toys, things right on top, things falling off edge.  Generally I have a lot of trouble doing this.  It’s all so much! And there are so many categories of things! And that’s why I walk away.

But the five-minute idea changed everything.  And that’s my current “one small change”.   The kitchen counters have been piled high for sometime now.  They’re just a catchall: toys, mail, notes, laptop, things that need batteries, homework, random screws, etc.  The counter is a convenient spot for things that don’t have homes, or at least things that got lost on the way home.  On a cleared counter, one thing isn’t a big deal.  But to that one thing, a second thing is added, a third thing, and in short order there is a pile and… instant clutter.  I’ve noticed that three is the magic number: once an area is littered with a third thing, it’s a tipping point.  If it’s not addressed right then, all bets are off.  Nothing is going anywhere and the pile is going to keep on growing.  It becomes too much to do.

I have and have also created a lot of too much to do.  So I’m focused on not only one small area at a time, but recognizing that each area will take more than one visit.  The part of my kitchen counters that get the most paper and clutter are two very small spaces of barely two square feet each.   They can accumulate a closet worth of material the way grow grow beds in the wonderful gardening catalogs I get yield vegetables…30 lbs. of potatoes, four bushels of tomatoes, 50 zucchini, seven bushels of peppers, all in one 2×2 foot square bed!  If I could sell a grow bed that yields clutter, I’d be rich.

Right now the counter sections I worked on are basically clear, but I’m not done yet.  I have been chipping away for about one week and usually for more than 5 minutes at a time.  Knowing that I will stop when I have had enough, but that I will go back to it makes a difference.  I typically abandon projects, but it’s easier not to abandon a project if you’re only doing this one small part of the larger thing.  And it doesn’t feel bad that it’s taking so long because I gave myself more than one night to do it.  Imagine that?  A realistic goal!  I can take a week!  As I go, I am working on (yet another) new system to prevent the pile-ups.   That work began tonight and repurposes the drawers and files I already have. It will continue tomorrow.  But I feel good.  I’ve gotten to white space!  I tackled the counters one corner at a time, and they didn’t even see it coming.


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What is Clutter?

Clearly I’m on a clutter roll here… Clutter is anything that is in the way of something else.  This idea struck me last night.

Right now, my book club is clutter.  I love my book club: the friends, the interaction, the discussion, even the dinner–our venue is a casual restaurant which is so fun–no clean-up!  But I’m reading (or not really) books in which I’m not all that interested in right now.  The books are fine, the books are interesting, but right now rather than the latest Pulitzer winner, I’m on the parenting and organizing circuit.  I can’t get my head around much else.  It’s not that I don’t want to read the books.  But actually I don’t want to read the books.

So last night I walked into my bedroom and caught sight of my desk, which I cleared off and relocated (that’s another story), and an unexpected and involuntary jerk of joy swam across my face.  There resting on my desk was a copy of a book I wanted to read! And there was nothing beside it! You see earlier in the day I forced myself to accept that I did not want to and would in fact not read the current book club selection and I made myself return it to the library.  That book had been next to the book I was given recently from the World Book Night USA list (The History of Love by Nicole Krauss, if you must know), a not so demanding read that pulled me right in with the first page. The book I was Supposed to read was telling me that I was not Allowed to read the other book because I was Supposed to be reading that one first (In The Garden of Beasts by Erik Larson, if you must know).  And I did want to read it.  Really, I did.  And I started it too.  But with so little time, did I really want to invest all those hours (I am a painfully slow reader) into a book I didn’t really want to read right now –as good and great as it might be– instead of doing something else I’d rather do–say read a different book, or maybe -gasp- some poetry – or write in my blog? How could I?

I did.  I stopped reading the book.  I accepted the loss and future challenge of returning to it when I was ready.  I returned the book.  I am going to hang up my book club hat for now.  I am going to read other books.  I am going to write in my blog.

When I saw my desk and only the book I wanted to read, I realized then the other book was clutter.  The other book was reminding me of what I was supposed to do rather than what I wanted to do.  It was a distraction.  It had to go.  It was a relief and a joy to see that it was gone.  In that moment, I understood clarity.  Sometimes you have to do things you don’t want to do.  But sometimes you don’t.  Some things are elective even though they feel like they’re not.  If the elective becomes clutter and not joy, it has to go.

In that microcosm I saw the macro.  Is my general house clutter a distraction from at the very least my writing?  Yes.  Is it easy to get rid of?  No.  Am I ignoring it to write right now?  Yes.  Will I address the clutter?  I am.  But at least for now, not at the expense of writing.

What is your clutter? What can you let go of to make room for what you really want?  It can be as small as a book you don’t want to read.

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Things Become Wallpaper

I am a confessed clutterer.  But I wouldn’t say hoarder.  I do get rid of things.  But the rate at which things leave is not as great at the rate at which they come in and stay.  So I have piles.  Piles on the counters, piles on the dressers, piles on the floor, piles on the coffee table.  Piles piles piles.  I don’t mind them so much–they’re kind of like old friends.  And that’s the problem.  Old friends stay.  They’re comfortable, they feel safe, we enjoy their company, they stay late.  And then we don’t notice them so much anymore.  They’re just part of our lives.

With friends, it’s not a problem; with piles sometimes it is.  Piles become wallpaper.  And it’s not fancy.

I don’t mind it so much, but other people do.  It’s very easy to walk into a house and look at stuff when you’re not used to seeing it and wonder where it all came from and why it’s there or nobody is getting rid of it.  But I’ve got a story for every scrap of paper and a reason for every abandoned –or interrupted– project.  I am fond of saying that I am very good at starting projects, but I’m not very good at finishing them.  Unfinished projects after all are accommodating: they’re not going anywhere.  They’ll wait.  Just like an old friend.

This is not to say that I want there to be piles or unfinished projects all over the house.  I do want to be able to sit on the couch and look out at a calm room so that I can read a magazine in peace and not feel like every corner is calling my attention.  It’s just that every corner is calling my attention.  And quite frankly, with four children under the age of 9, my life is not really my own. That’s not an excuse of a defense; it’s a simple fact.  And I’m not the most skillful at time management.

That’s how things become wallpaper.

I start projects, then I drive to karate, then I make dinner, then I give baths, put kids to bed, and by the time I attempt to return to project 1 I notice project 2 and start that.  Pretty soon I have multiple projects in every room.  I plan to get back to every one.  Maybe just not in this life. (I just haven’t accepted that yet.)

So the piles that moved to the dresser from the bookcase that got freed up for books are waiting.  The magazines and newspapers to be gathered or sorted or recycled are waiting.  The mail on top of the kids’ finished homework on top of the field trip slip on top of the health care letter on top of my two year old’s drawing on top of the laptop are waiting.  The outgrown clothes or still good but out of season clothes or unsure about what to do with clothes are waiting.  And oh wait the laundry just called me.  Or was that my son who ran out of t-shirts calling?

And so the project I started in the office got interrupted by the project I started in the living room got interrupted by…the laundry.  And as the projects accumulate, they become part of the housescape and eventually wallpaper.  So that I may notice the piles on the dresser, but not as much as the guest who just came in.

Which brings me to the guest who just came in.  The guest is not used to clutter and piles as wallpaper.  But I am.  It doesn’t mean I like it and it doesn’t mean I’m not addressing it.  But I also know that I don’t hide things.  There are people whose houses appear pristine, but that’s because everything just got shoved into the closet or behind the dresser.  It’s funny, but I’m the opposite.  My drawers and shelves and cabinets are in much better shape than what’s out.  When I put things away, they are organized.  And if I can’t do it the “right way”, I don’t do it.  I call it: “I’m not up to that yet” as in that project is in hold mode.  Other people call it perfectionism.

I am certainly not perfect and maybe I aspire to be (ideal is nice).  One thing I do know:  I would like to change my wallpaper, just not as quickly as the guest who just came in.


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