Monday, August 25, 2014

Organization: control or calm?

Overall, I am very happy post-move, thankful for where we have landed and all of the blessings surrounding the new place and the move in general.  But I have to be honest, some days are hard.  Today was hard.  I don't have to go into the details, but you can sort of paint the picture of cranky (over-tired) toddler who was accidentally woken up prematurely from her nap, an 8-month pregnant mama whose to-do list far surpasses both her available time and current physical stamina, and a daddy who necessarily disappears to the office for most waking hours as he prepares for classes to start tomorrow.

There were all of the frustrations that naturally come with the aforementioned territory (like tiredly limping through the grocery store, trying to strong-arm a heavy cart with a stuck wheel while the toddler continually rivals Houdini with her buckle escape times in the front seat), but I realized that everything was significantly amplified by our extreme state of flux and disorder.

We're currently still sleeping in the basement, and I'm working hard to try to get the upstairs cleaned/organized/ready for us to move our stuff upstairs (slowed by the fact that walking up stairs, especially if carrying anything, makes my over-stressed/over-stretched muscles/ligaments scream the loudest of any activity).  Most of our possessions are still in the basement, but they're getting extremely disorganized because my attention (and, frankly, my desire to spend time) is upstairs.  Both the toddler and the dog have the typical toddler/dog make a mess tendencies, and since things don't have permanent homes yet, there's a lot for both of them to get into.

I can't be the only one who feels anxious in this environment...(photo circa 15 minutes ago)
(Seek and find: the top of my head, the computer (perched on the ironing board, incidentally), a sewing project in progress, boxes from Anna's new shoes, a baby gift waiting to be mailed, furniture that needs to go upstairs, and every toy Anna has played with for the last week) 

In the beautiful respite of a half-hour of daddy-daughter playtime after dinner, I cleaned up the kitchen and then sat, thinking and praying for a few minutes.  The disorganization and disorder is clearly causing me stress, I realized, and I wondered if this was just a side effect of a need for control.  Am I just unable to function if I'm not in control of everything, I wondered?  A materialistic obsession, masquerading as the nice-sounding cleanliness and organization?

But the more I thought, I just can't accept it as a bad thing to have order and organization.  I thought of the cloistered nuns in the novel I've been reading (In This House of Brede by Rumer Godden, which I definitely recommend).  The sisters live in a highly structured environment.  They devote significant amounts of time to prayer, but they also devote a lot of time and attention to keeping their environment spotless.  They continually seek detachment from their possessions, but those possessions which they have are given impeccable care (the 90+ year old Dame Ellen is mentioned several times for the perfectly shined floors that fall under her responsibility).

Paradoxically, it is in giving the care and attention to belongings that these mere things fade into the background of life.  The nuns can be more focused on prayer and on the tasks at hand when there aren't constant distraction of things left out of place, messes left uncleaned, or cobwebs covering the church.  It may seem that one could simply detach from possessions and the physical environment by ignoring it completely - giving a superficial cleaning every so often, perhaps.  However, in this "detachment," the cobwebs and messes and constantly lost belongings, the need to replace and fix things that weren't cared for properly, the visual distractions of stuff piled everywhere mean that the surroundings demand more attention after all.  A well-cared for monastery (or home) removes the disturbances of dirt and of clutter, and creates an environment of peace.

It's not just the physical exhaustion of trying to get ahead of our mess and get things set-up that's been wearing on me, it's been the emotional distractions of disorder that have been so trying on days like today.  With things spread out throughout the house (and clothes throughout multiple closets), it's far more difficult to complete our normal tasks (resulting, for example, in me laying out Justin's outfit in the dimly lit room where Anna slept, only to discover after he returned home from work that I had sent him in blue pants - not black - with his black and gray striped tie), far more difficult for us to relax, far easier for us to be quickly overwhelmed by otherwise trivial daily frustrations.

While it sometimes seem like we'll never feel settled again, I know that with some patience and continued work, I'll reach a status quo where things are generally in the rooms where they belong and our bed is stationed between headboard and foot board rather than between piles of boxes.  If nothing else, this time of transition has strengthened my resolve in the somewhat crazy notion that a disciplined life where time and attention is given to keeping things neat and functional creates an environment of peace, and I'll continue my quest for organization - not for the sake of control, but for calm.


  1. I'm am SO glad I'm not the only one going through this right now. Moving while 8 months pregnant with a toddler is so very hard. Like you, there is only so much energy to complete the never ending task list.And even if you did have the energy most things are too heavy to move by ourselves. And then you have a toddler making their normal messes lol.
    I'll be praying for you :-) Just know you're not alone in feeling like this :-)

  2. This is so how I feel a lot of the time - I'm getting better about doing a daily clean to eliminate the stress of disorganization, but when you're in the moving stage still, it's just impossible to stay ahead of things... Is there a way to hide away most of the mess so that at least you can't see it to stress you out?