Sunday, February 27, 2011


I am completely powerless over clutter. We have clutter of all types in our home, but I am especially completely powerless over paper: so much of it comes into our home, it overwhelms me. I'm fine with immediately shredding or recycling the junk. What confounds me are the things to keep, or to come back to later, like appeals for charity or bills to be paid. Basically, I've never been great at organization; it's just something I never learned how to do.

This clutter causes me no end of grief. It makes it hard to clean when I have to declutter first. It makes it hard to find something, and yes, some bills don't emerge from their hibernation before I get a "friendly reminder" from accounts receivable. I get nervous if someone stops by unexpectedly, because I typically tidy up for guests before they come. Furthermore, and perhaps most importantly, it keeps our home from being the restful place of respite that I want it to be. The world is tough, and I want my home to be a place of comfort, shelter, and restoration. Clutter kills that mood fast.

I have tried different methods of dealing with clutter including many self-help books and organizational Web sites. None of them made a lasting difference. I even hired a self-proclaimed "organizer," who ended up being completely unprofessional and unhelpful. She was an entrepreneur, and organizing was just her latest venture, and after three hours I felt like her therapist.

A friend suggested that I work with another professional organizer named Scott who won the local organizer-of-the-year award, and seems very competent and accomplished. Most importantly, he provided a valuable service to my friend that she believes is worth the money. I struggled with whether to hire him for two reasons: one, he is expensive. Two -- and this is the major reason -- I realize that there something going on that no one can fix for me. I analogize this to my struggle with food addiction. I saw all kinds of diet doctors and nutritionists, followed dozens of diets, had therapy (including with eating disorder specialists), and read all the self-help books on the market, but none of these resources on their own were enough to help me conquer my food addiction. I had spiritual and emotional problems galore that were at the root of my eating, and only serious spiritual and emotional work on my part could clear the passage for me to heal from my food addiction.

So, part of the reason I hesitated to hire Scott is that I realize there is a piece of my clutter problem that only I can fix. There is some reason I hold on to it and perpetuate the behavior, or I wouldn't continue to do it. People only hold on to dysfunctional ways of being if there is some payoff (caveat here: some people want to change their dysfunctional patterns but don't know how). I've spent the last few weeks thinking about what might be behind some of my clutter. One ugly answer is plain old laziness; I'd rather do other things than organize. Another is that it might strangely give me some kind of comfort, like a kid making a fort with stuff around the house. Perhaps it perpetuates an old tape I play in my head that I am "overwhelmed." This is one I can confront directly: that feeling of being overwhelmed was a vestige of my food addiction, when I spent all of my energy procuring, eating, and hiding the evidence that I binged. Thank God, in recovery through the 12 steps, I have shed that addiction and with it, the feeling of constantly being overwhelmed. My life is significantly more manageable than it used to be, so I can let that old label go. Most of the time, I am not overwhelmed anymore, with the weeks before Passover a notable exception!

Those are the things that Scott can't fix for me: I have to get to the bottom of this coping mechanism and constantly remind myself that I deserve the kind of home that I want, and that David and I are worth putting the effort in to get that home. Scott can't do that work for me, but he can give me insights, and I've talked with his assistant about the concerns that I'm expressing here about the limitations of his services. I had to send back a pre-appointment questionnaire with answers to questions about what I hoped to get out of Scott's services and for insights into what I think my problem is and why I'm motivated to change.

I have a relative who was very condescending about my decision to hire Scott, and I considered canceling the appointment in light of that reaction and my own hesitations expressed above. However, after some helpful chats with my trusted friends and David, I decided to go ahead and keep my appointment with Scott. Because while there's a piece of me he can't fix, he is a professional organizer, and I need the services he sells. I don't have a good organizational system, and have been unable to put together one that works. The food analogy works well here, too: yes, I needed the 12 steps, but I also needed a nutritionist to tell me what to eat and a therapist to help me sort through some of the larger issues that came up through my step work. OA minus those auxiliary professional services would not have yielded the same level of excellent results that I've been blessed by. I needed all of it.

OA sponsor. And yes, I am seriously considering at least dialing in to a Clutterers Anonymous telephone meeting. I have dedicated a lot of my life to self-improvement and enlightenment in different forms. I'm grateful for all of the tools I have used including therapy, Judaism, books, energetic work, yoga, meditation, exercise, etc., but nothing has ever been as transformative to me as the 12 step program of recovery.

I have started applying the first three steps to clutter:

1. I admit that I am powerless over clutter and that my life has become unmanageable.
2. Came to believe that a power greater than myself can restore me to sanity.
3. Became willing to turn my will and my life over to the care of God as I understand God.

My lengthy, personal email to Scott was my step one, detailing exactly how my life is impacted by my organizational problems and how unmanageable it has become. For me, the higher powers I'm trusting to restore me to sanity are God and Scott, in that order. Step three is a process of letting go and surrendering my problems to forces greater than me, combined with footwork on my part. It's not enough to say, "God, make my house uncluttered." I have to do the aforementioned homework/opportunities.

In spite of the progress I've seen in my food addiction, there is a piece of me that considers that a once-in-a-lifetime kind of miracle. I believe adults can change with a ton of hard work and tenacity, but it doesn't happen much. Lately, I've been blessed with profound, positive changes in two areas of my life: intimacy and anxiety. I see these as reminders from God to me that my recovery was not a once-in-a-lifetime miracle, and that if I put in the work I need to and turn the results over to Him/Her/It, that I can grow and recover in other areas of my life. My fondest wish for myself and my family is that we can grow and heal in this area too. I'll keep you apprised of my progress; my appointment with Scott is Wednesday. Like my food issues, I'm sure there will be periods of regression, but I have the tenacity of a terrier, and am determined to give this my best effort.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Quick Updates to LOL Playlist

I wrote about my laugh out loud playlist recently, and have two updates, which won't surprise you if you've caught on to my sense of humor:

16. "The Sex Is Good" by Saving Abel: "I have to fake it/I'd leave if I could/I'm not in love but the sex is good" and "we don't get along that well/not much for talk, but you're hot as hell" never fail to make me crack up.

17. "F**k You" by Cee-Lo Green. Brilliant, just brilliant. Once I finally listened to this, I could see why it created so much buzz. That this song is so cheerful and soulful, and yet so relatable, is great. My biggest problem is not singing this in public. Maybe I should listen to the radio-friendly version, "Forget You," in case I slip.

I had a super-busy day and have a super-busy night ahead, so peace out!

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Book Review: Origins: How the Nine Months Before Birth Shape the Rest of Our Lives

Origins: How the Nine Months Before Birth Shape the Rest of Our LivesOrigins: How the Nine Months Before Birth Shape the Rest of Our Lives by Annie Murphy Paul

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This book is full of fascinating facts based on research into fetal origins. Some things I found especially interesting include:

* According to some researchers, about one-third of gay men are gay because their mothers had more sons before them. The researchers hypothesize that this is because the mother's immune system manufactures antibodies directed at proteins secreted by male fetuses. When she becomes pregnant with another son, these antibodies allegedly affect the baby's developing brain in a way that predisposes him to homosexuality. According to these researchers, the more older brothers a boy has, the more likely he is to be gay.
* Babies reap the same benefits their moms do from cardiovascular exercise: their heart rates and heart-rate variability are lower than those of fetuses whose moms don't exercise.
*One emerging consensus coming about due to fetal origins research is that one's disposition to heart disease may have as much to do with prenatal nutrition as one's diet and activity level. Specifically, a lack of healthful nutrients during gestation seems to predispose offspring to cardiac and other organ problems.

These are just a few examples of the interesting research that Murphy Paul writes about. The reason I can’t give the book more stars is that the author seems particularly prone to confirmation bias; she is all too eager to unquestioningly accept research that supports her theories, and is apt to confuse causation with correlation. One example of this is Murphy Paul’s descriptions of the effects of obese mothers on their babies. She cites a study comparing the obesity rates of children born to the same mothers pre- and post- gastric bypass surgery. The kids gestated post-surgery were 52 percent less likely to be obese than siblings born to the same mom when she was obese. Murphy Paul takes this as proof that the changed physiology of the mother causes the changed obesity rates of the post-surgery offspring.

I found this conclusion arresting, because anyone who successfully loses and keeps weight off after bariatric surgery has made major changes to her diet and presumably her household environment that supports that diet. Murphy Paul erroneously drawing these conclusions, and blindly accepting research results and/or confusing causation with correlation, cast a pall over the rest of the book for me. It made me doubt whether I could trust her reporting of the clinical studies. Fortunately, the book is well-sourced, so I can personally look up any studies that I have questions about.

Another thing that disturbed me was how Murphy Paul blindly seemed to use the research she found to justify her own experiences. She was pregnant at the time she wrote the book, and it flows between data about fetal origins and how that meshes with Murphy Paul’s experiences as a pregnant woman. Both of her sons were born via cesarean sections, and I found myself rolling my eyes when she was extolling their virtues, such as the assertion that children born via c-section are less likely to experience pain as infants. There was no information whatsoever about the very real risk of c-sections to fetuses. In the interest of fairness in a book about fetal origins science, I would have preferred a more balanced look at the pros and cons of vaginal and caesarean births for the baby in light of current research on the topic.

Overall, this is a very entertaining read, but take it with a gigantic grain of salt.

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