When I started doing research on professional organizers and their businesses, I stumbled across many websites in which the organizer breathlessly declared, "I have been organizing since I was a young child!", "I loved arranging and re-arranging my things!", or "I was just born organized!" Even the best-selling book, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo, goes into great detail about the author's penchant for tidying up her siblings' belongings when they were all children (and getting them quite angry in doing so).
This is not me. I was NOT born organized.
I was a regular kid, neat-ness wise... I would let things get pretty messy and then would be, ahem, encouraged by my always-tidy mother to straighten things up a bit. When I got to college and was on my own, the same pattern continued. I was pretty on top of things- I always had my schoolwork done on time- but my dorm room was lived-in. Comfortably and happily messy.
Fast forward a few years and I got married and was now blissfully managing a household. I had a pretty good handle on that. Then my daughter came along. Same thing. Flying by the seat of my pants with bursts of organization and cleaning served me well. Then my second daughter came along. I got a little more interested in having systems put in place to manage paperwork, bills, our family calendar, and meal planning.
By the time I had my son, had two kids in school and activities, and moved to a bigger house, I was no longer able to wing it. The schedules were busier, the closets were crammed full, the day had more structured demands, the paperwork flowing into the house was incredible, and at the end of each and every day, four other people in my house looked to me to feed them. And please only serve food they like. And no fish, nothing creamy, no cheese, nothing with too many ingredients, and nothing spicy.
And just about at this time, my dad was diagnosed with Stage 4 cancer.
In an effort to control what felt like an out-of-control situation, I started tackling each area of my house that needed help. I tore through closets and was merciless. I processed every piece of paper I had in an old filing cabinet, tossed a bunch, and put the ones I kept in one of 8 binders arranged by category: Budget, Insurance, Taxes, Retirement, Home 1, Home 2, Home 3, and Christmas. I made a command center in the kitchen. I sorted through the kids' toys and planned how we were going to finish our basement. When we finished it, I jumped into the process of organizing a craft space, toy closets, play areas, and a new den. I was on a tear.
My mom gently asked, "Are you doing this because you're upset about Daddy?"
And I said, "No! Of course not! This is just because things need to be cleaned out and organized."
But when I honestly looked at what I was doing, it had everything to do with his illness and my powerlessness to help him.
In the end, my dad left us and I was left devastated... but with good systems in place to get me through those rough months (and, actually, years) afterwards. Everyone could find what they needed in the house. Life was less complicated with less clothes, less toys, less papers, less piles, less junk and less clutter.
I learned how to be organized and saw first hand how it helped make my life easier.
Here are my three takeaways:
1. Three kids is a LOT of kids- lots of clothes, lots of activities, lots of papers, lots of scheduling, and lots of snacks to buy each week. Lots of snacks. You can't wing it successfully. If you are, I have a life raft to throw to you and help you stop feeling like you're drowning.
2. You don't have to be "born organized." It is a skill and can be learned. Really.
3. Organizing is NOT JUST ABOUT THE STUFF. It's an emotional process that involves how you feel about your stuff, how you feel looking at your cluttered stuff, how you beat yourself up about it for being so cluttered, the decision making you have to do when you tackle your stuff, and how you feel after the stuff is finally purged, sorted, organized and where it should be.
I get it. I've done it. I know how good it can feel.