Monday, June 18, 2012

On Cleaning, Discipline, and Narrow Roads

Today I am doing my absolute best to avoid doing that which I know I should be taking care of in the world of house maintenance otherwise known as "cleaning."  I have a particular aversion to that word so I try to delude myself.  I felt that it was appropriate to wait until our houseguest left because I didn't want her to see how I clean so that she wouldn't think that I was absolutely nuts.  When I clean, you see, I take out everything and make the most horrible mess, divide everything into piles to sort, repackage, relabel and bag for future use (if applicable) or transit, and then I put it all back together.  It tends to work for me because I know that at some point in time it will actually be done unlike the garage which is the domain of Big Dave...who gets around to it when he wants to and not a minute before.

My method of cleaning is a combination of cleaning up and cleaning out.  There is a difference, you know.  When you clean up, you put things back in their place and put everything back to rights.  You make your space feel like all is as it should be.  The surfaces are clean and everything looks to be in place.  Of course, when you clean rethink the place you are putting something back and whether you actually need or want that item any longer or not.  Oh, and the whole "need" versus "want" thing is another thing altogether.

Don't get me started on that.

I love to clean out because I know that I will eventually be happy that I have new space (to mess back up most of the time, but whatever) and can check it off of the "to-do list" that seems to be always close at hand.  I am seriously a "to-do list" junkie, by the way.  I'm not as hardcore as some other people who have everything on their smart phone/Blackberry/computer/whatever.  And I don't get all freaked out if it takes me a week, a month, or even a year to get around to it. 

Most of the time anyway. 

In writing this, it has occurred to me that many people have different ways of dealing with the "stuff" that almost always at one time or another overwhelms them.  These ways are usually formed in the early years and tend to carry over into our adult lives.  Pretty much like everything else.  But all is not lost if you have given birth to the perpetually messy or someone missing a cleaning gene.  Or so I hope.

There is no really ideal way to organize one's life, because the most organized people often carry as much stress (or put that stress onto other people) in trying to keep everything perfect.  As much as I love being at a friend's house who honestly could have Southern Living in to shoot at any time she chooses...I am extremely careful not to mess anything up and I always ask where she wants items if we are over there sharing a meal.  It is always a treat to enter her home, but I sometimes worry that we stress her out by getting everything out of place.

On the other end of the scale are those who are about as organized as a train wreck and stress themselves out trying to find an elusive item or have a pile of "stuff" that they've dragged out and cannot muster the strength to put back.  I have a sweet friend who is wildly creative who gets into her painting mode and she just tunes everything else out.  Then, when it gets to the point where she can no longer locate anything...she calls in the calvary.

Personally...I am somewhere between these two extremes.  My preference is to be ultra-organized, but there's that dang thing called "reality" to deal with. 

I've been reading books on simplifying my life for most of my adult life.  I'll define "adult life" as approximately the age of twenty...because before then I was too busy making my life more difficult than it needed to be and using "being a teenager" as an excuse...and after that I was expected to take care of myself...which I somehow managed to do.  Something in me screamed for organization during my freshman year of college...because nothing will break you from being messy faster than living with someone messier than you in an 8 x 10 ft room with two beds, two dressers and no air conditioning.  When I graduated, I also wanted an end to the frustration of not being able to find anything when I needed it because I was tired and cranky from working at a real job.  I was also finally able to buy things that were valuable enough that I wanted to take care of them properly...because on my salary...I had precious little extra money.  Over time,  I went from "clothes on the chair" to "clothes in the closet".  From a kitchen that had dirty dishes to a kitchen that had to be cleaned or I wasn't happy.

Of course, Big Dave actually had a whole lot to do with that.

Because I'm very blessed, I married someone who is extremely routined and very neat.  Of course, on the flip side, he gets up at 4:00 a.m. every morning so that he can read and do his devotional...which means that he is asleep by about 9:00 each night.  Every rose has its thorn, I suppose.  Fortunately, I write while he all is well.
I realized not too long ago, though, that in my case...the way I have been managing my external "stuff" is pretty much a reflection of how I am managing my internal "stuff."  When people open the door and see the mess that has been living for two years in my bedroom (I just shift it around and dust it...but it comes back...kind of like kudzu)...they may as well be looking at me and seeing the lack of discipline that has resulted in being overweight.  I'd add "very" in front of that, but I'm trying not to beat up on myself.  When I don't vacuum my car, it is like not balancing my checkbook.  When dust collects, it may as well be a closet full of clothes that I never wear or books I'll never read.

What we have, friends, is a colossal lack of self-discipline.

It is my theory that if the "internal "stuff" is not being dealt with, it will come out in other ways:  the person will be completely disorganized, over/underweight or just obsessively fretting about weight, they are in dire straits financially, or they will have a substance abuse problem. 

Food is a substance by the way.  And some of us have a problem with it.  I can't say that I remember the last time a preacher spoke on gluttony...but maybe a little more on that and a little less on unicorns and rainbows might be in order.

Now, don't read that to mean that if you have three storage rooms and have packed on fifteen pounds over a lifetime that I'm talking to you.  But it is possible that I am.  How we maintain our space and how we live our lives generally run in tandem.  So, if you are struggling with something...maybe you can quit beating yourself up because your closet isn't cleaned out and work on being more disciplined.  Or if you are overweight...maybe you need to get organized by writing down what you eat and preparing meals and snacks ahead of time instead of just hitting the drive thru.

Or not. 

I mean...I think that every theory applies in some way to most of us...just like a fortune teller at the fair can tell you enough to make you think that their reading is accurate...or so I'm told.

It is also possible that you have such a full life that you don't organize things because you just are too tired.  Or you may be going through a season of life that involves treatments or therapy and that is your primary focus.  It could be that you would prefer to spend time with your family while they are home for the summer instead of spending precious time cleaning out your attic...something that can be done when the kids go back to school in the Fall.

But seriously...think about the condition of your closets, your table that has piles of unread mail, and perhaps even your office or your car.  Are you where you want to be? 

Fighting words, yes?   Thought so.  And those of you who answered "say what?" are probably the disciplined and well organized people that we all envy.  How about you use that gift of yours to help a sister out?

What I am dealing with here is what I am dealing with in my life.  The garage that looks like we've lived here thirty years when in reality it has been ten.  The bedroom that is the catch-all for everything in this house because I can shut that door and our open floor plan prevents me from doing that in any other room (except the kids' bedrooms...which is another issue...but I won't go there).  The things sitting around here that I don't love, use, or even dust, if truth be told.  The things that are too good to throw away but are a major hassle to find a place for because they are big, bulky, or seasonal.

Yeah, those things.

Today I want to just look realistically at what is in my home.  Not what I want to see (Southern Living) but what is actually there (a lot of dust, if truth be told).  I want to get the external in line so that I can use it to inspire the internal. 

It boils down a pure and unadulterated lack of discipline.  This has now permeated into not one...but at least three major areas of my life.  Something must be done...because even through all of my denial and excuse-making...I know that this is a serious problem. 

I'm not saying that every person with a weight problem or a substance abuse problem has a problem with organization.  What I'm saying is that sometimes our external environment is a telltale sign of what is going on inside us...even when we try desperately to hide it...or are completely unaware of it.

This week I have seen what can happen when someone gets to a point that they cannot manage on their own.  I understand the pain that that brings and how it is so much easier to either deny, accept less, or dull it.  On the other hand, I have also seen that little steps can make a big difference in my perspective.  It doesn't have to be a full-blown just needs to be a step in the right direction.  I cleaned out my jewelry box and it was an amazing feeling. 

I get the same one when I drop off a load of clothes I cannot wear at Goodwill.

I used to think that I needed some things to change...that my life would be "oh-so-perfect" if this or that would just fall into place the way that I want it to so desperately.  If I could get this bill paid or lose that amount of weight.  If I could get something finished or could get someone to work something out for me. 

All a huge illusion, by the way.  What I needed to change was the only thing that I could...ME.

I believe that sometimes God allows us to gather things that we do not need...not so much to overwhelm us or even to bless us...but so that we will finally get to the point where we not only believe that "less is more" but that "less is sane/godly/freeing."   It is a lot easier to organize that which you need and a little bit of what you want than some of what you need and want and a three storage rooms and a packed garage of something you might need someday.  Because even if you DO need in the world are you ever going to find it?

I'm thinking of something that my stepdaddy, Ralph, says about the point he wants to get to someday.  His desire is to pare down what he does not need to such a degree that we would be able to take one bag and drop it in the trash on the way home from the funeral.  Okay, maybe that is a little extreme...but I think I know what he means.  He doesn't want to burden the next generation with dealing with "stuff" that we will not or cannot possibly manage.  He wants to use it all up and enjoy everything he has...and then pass it on.  This is the man who had a garage sale with no price tags.  If you wanted could just take it and get it out of his house.  And for those of you who do not know him (and he's a wonderful I'm sorry for those of you who don't)...he is an incredibly disciplined person.

I want to be just like him.

Understand that this is from a person who has owned upwards of six pairs of scissors before (and could never find any of them)...I find it far easier to keep up with just one.  Same with hairbrushes, throw pillows, coffee cups, packages of notecards, deck of cards, grill lighter, and a pen in my purse.

So, today I've taken a couple of little steps.  I finished the laundry, changed the sheets on the bed, took out the trash and replaced the toilet tissue in the bathrooms.  I cleaned the kitchen, threw away items in my jewelry box that I no longer need (broken earrings...or one that has been MIA for more than two years), and destroyed a stack of old disks that I had put off doing because I didn't know the best way to destroy them. 

Thanks to the internet I dealt with them in less than fifteen minutes.  They had been sitting on the edge of my dresser for the past eight months.


In other words, I am trying to be more disciplined.  Because my external weight issues are a flashing red light that I need to get my act together...inside and out.  An act that I've been trying to get together for at least ten years now...possibly longer.

You I found an old prayer journal from 2002 and I read a few of the entries I'd made.  The same things that I was working on then...I'm still working on now.  Thorn in my side?  (Ya think?)

I am praying for God to deliver me...and all He expects of me is faith that He will (in His time) and to practice discipline because of my love for Him.  Because it is time. is past time.

I'm about to go find something to organize that will take me about fifteen minutes because that is all of the time that I want to invest in cleaning up and cleaning out tonight.  But a baby step is better than no step at all.  Because over time...all of those little steps will add up to a big journey back to the road of discipline. 

I hear it's a narrow road...and not many walk it.  But I think I can live with that. 

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