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.


Stef said...

Sarah, I assume you had your appointment with Scott - how did I go? Did you call into a Clutters Anonymous meeting? How did that go? I'm thinking of you...

Stef said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Sarah said...

Really well, Stef. I have a blog post almost completed about it, but I'm in acute flare & typing is excruciating, so not much computer for me. Take care. Will call you when I'm up to it.

Marvin said...

I have a one year rule. IF an item is not used for a full year, it gets donated. Books, clothes... As for mail, It's either dealt with immediately or thrown away. When it comes to living space, I am very low maintenance. As long as I feel safe, I'm fine. For this reason, I live in a studio apartment. My rent and bills are low. The lack of financial stress lets me focus on other things. This is good. It has helped me to pay off major bills. Nevertheless, I am forced by the sheer lack of space to be extra tidy. It took me a while to figure what methods were good for me.

I hope your meeting with Scott was successful.

Tjarnar Dravenskaya ('Lee') said...

I can SOooo relate to the clutter. A never-ending battle, for sure!