As we head into a new month, continued stay-at-home living in most states, with the kids out of school, and a large percentage of the workforce working from home, most of us are starting to wonder just how much longer we can survive through this pandemic. This downtime has been a blessing for some and a curse for others, and right about now, I bet most of you are struggling with staying busy, maintaining a routine and downplaying anxiety. If you have kids, you might be pulling your hair out amidst boredom, complaining and fights. In my house, we have had high highs and low lows. We have moved almost daily from amazing family moments of laughter and warmth to stressful bouts of fighting and discontent. This rollercoaster might look a bit different for each family, but I think there are some things we can do right now to combat the negatives and approach each new day with a sense of accomplishment and hope. None of this is new, but I know that I personally enjoy the timing of a good reminder when I need it the most.
The main thing that I have been working on lately is to be intentional and own my perspective. We all get bad thoughts occasionally, and with the scary things that the media is sharing, it’s no surprise that most of us are being hit with thoughts of worry, anxiety, and fear. It’s human to feel these things, and we shouldn’t necessarily fight them off when they show up. They are sometimes there to warn us against a real danger or protect us from something that might be about to happen. On the flip side, they can also be brought about or intensified by our imaginations or fears, generated from negative experiences in our past. Owning your perspective involves allowing all thoughts to enter and float by, analyzing them to obtain any useful information as they move, and letting them continue their journey out of your brain. Follow up with a positive affirmation, take a step forward anyway, and change the dynamic. The key for me has been to let the thoughts go. Don’t hold onto them, don’t brew over them, and don’t go to bed at night thinking about them. Instead, read a good book, listen to a motivational podcast, pray with intention, or call up a friend or family member to talk about something else. Simply dismissing a thought can feel easier said than done, but I have found that the magic is just as simple as distracting yourself and replacing the thought.
For the first few weeks after the schools closed, my family and I were all sick, so our lives resembled something like those of a pack of wild dogs, scrounging for food and doing whatever needed to stay alive. I joke, but it felt a bit like complete chaos. As we are healing, we are picking up the pieces, getting the laundry done and assessing the inventory of our pantry. Now is the time to reassess the state of your own household and determine things like what supplies are needed, how schedules will change, and who will be responsible for required household tasks. Reinventing and implementing a routine is key for feeling like you have some control over your situation. If you use a family command center or large calendar, erase the scheduled soccer practices and instead schedule a time for things like school or professional work, exercise, chores and free time.
As you acclimate to your family’s new routine, don’t forget to relax and give yourself some grace in this process. Most of us have never lived through a pandemic like this, and it has literally upheaved our lives in a matter of weeks. Most of us have never been trained to navigate in this time, and we are all in the process of figuring things out as we go. If the dishes are dirty and the laundry is piled up, it’s okay. If the kids are not yet in a home school routine, they will survive. If you are using tissues because the toilet paper ran out, everyone will still be fine. Take a deep breath and remember that you are smart, capable and blessed. If a routine or schedule doesn’t work out as you envisioned, change it. The sky will not fall, and you WILL go on to live another day.
I certainly don’t claim to be a therapist or guru in the art of living, but I can confidently claim the title of a real wife, mom, neighbor and professional who is also learning to navigate this strange time right alongside the rest of you. I am finding that readjusting my perspective to focus on the positive, continuing forward momentum, resuming a routine for my family, and giving myself the grace to show up in whatever capacity that I can bring to each day is helping to make great, slightly sweetened lemonade out of this batch of sour, slightly bruised up lemons lying in front of us.
As an ADHD specialist, I frequently have the privilege of meeting couples where one partner has ADHD (or ADD). As they lead me on a tour of their home, it’s not infrequent that the spouse without ADD makes comments such as, “I don’t understand why she can’t keep this place tidy!” or “He’s attached to everything and refuses to throw anything out!”
I feel immediate compassion for the accused partner. Having ADD is challenging enough; living with someone who refuses to accept the diagnosis or has little understanding of the brain-based disorder adds another layer of difficulty.
I’m not a therapist but if given the opportunity, I like to point out the wonderful qualities of their ADD mate. Chances are, if you have ADD you possess a host of awesome qualities. Maybe you’re creative, a talented singer or writer. Perhaps an academic or a super successful salesperson. You probably have a wonderful, warm and bubbly personality which attracted your mate to you initially. Alas, as the years go by, the partner without ADD starts to focus on your lack of focus, disorganization, your tardiness or other weaknesses.
There are many well-written books on ADHD. If you’re reading this and the above scenario feels oh so familiar, I recommend my all-time favorite book, Delivered from Distraction by Edward M. Hallowell, M.D., and John J. Ratey, M.D. Hallowell (who has ADHD) focuses on the positive, on the huge potential of the person. I find his approach refreshing and helpful to both partners.
What if you’re still single and looking for love? Hallowell dedicates a whole chapter to describing what kind of mate is best if you have ADHD. Here’s a short excerpt that brings tears to eyes each time I read it:
“Someone who loves you for who you are. Someone who gets a kick out of you. Someone whose voice lifts when he/she hears it is you on the other end of the line. It is helpful if the mate can educate (him)herself about ADD and not take the blunders that the ADD mate makes personally or as if they were done on purpose. ADD is not an excuse, but it is a powerful explanation.”
As Valentine Day approaches (and at the risk of being too sappy) I share this poem (also from Hallowell’s book)
By Cherie Dawn Mills
You are my hope.
You meet me where I am and love me there—
not pushing, nor blaming, but only rejoicing
with me, or lending me your handkerchief.
You gently hold me earthbound in the blackness
of my fears, or during my endangerment from
flights of fantasy.
You do not fear the depths of my weakness,
nor the heights of my strength,
You ever see in me the wondrous possibilities
that my sins and sorrows and daily concerns
have caused me to forget.
Your love empowers me to give my love to others—
to mold the dirty clay of my feet into
sparkling angel wings.
Happy Valentine’s Day to you all,
I saw every day as both an opportunity and an obligation to teach them about the world and life. From their first day home, I started talking to them about the beauty of nature, moral values and behavior, how to treat others, and why we lived the way we did.
Since I am wired to be the kind of person who becomes a professional organizer, I found life to be more messy and chaotic than I would have liked, and I had a sixth sense that it was only getting worse. And because I assumed my kids were wired at least somewhat like me, I knew they would one day benefit from knowing things like how to:
I wanted to teach them to enjoy and beautify the necessary activities of life instead of resenting them as an evil to be avoided until the last minute. Since education was a top priority, getting ready for school in an organized and happy way was part of that set of values.
And ending each year was a time for blissful relaxation: cleaning up together without hurry or deadline, purging and re-beautifying anything that was left in a mess. No matter what else might have been planned for the summer, down time to regroup and re-organize was also built in. No getting up and dressed in a rush. No obligations to any one or anything, just restful down time. We would snack and shop and play and bake at leisure. We would watch TV and clean up no-longer-needed schoolwork. We would update wardrobes and clean out drawers and closets.
Files would be created for any materials that might be needed the next school year. This was a time to take stock of materials and decide which products and systems worked well and might want to be repurchased in advance. We knew lists would be sent from school outlining what each teacher wanted for the next year, but we purchased whatever we could in advance to minimize time in the last-minute crowds. The girls and I did it all together in a spirit of leisurely family bonding and creativity. School, work, home-maintenance …these were all the ongoing art projects of living, enjoyed in an atmosphere of “eat dessert first.”
We always planned more private down time again before the beginning of school to gather focus and shop for remaining materials. We didn’t just race home from out-of-town the night before school, hoping someone would lend them a pen. We had been all but ready long ago!
There was nothing punitive about it; it was presented and experienced as a form of relaxation. To this day, when my daughters and I visit and want to relax at home together, we find something to improve. We joke that nothing tops a beautiful organizing product or system, or the joy of getting things done in advance.
For many, a New Year brings new ideas, new wishes and renewed hope. Maybe you’ve thought about getting organized but haven’t acted on it.
Getting organized takes some courage. The courage to take actions that result in change. It may take many steps – baby steps. But every step counts!!
Maybe you’ve had nagging thoughts. These thoughts become annoying or stressful. They sound like:
Let me help you imagine what can follow next.
First, you recognize that you’re having these thoughts. Being conscious causes awareness in the present. You are very Present! This is the first baby step you take.
You realize you want support. You take time to find the “right ” person who will help you get the job done. You inquire by asking others, searching the internet, or hiring a Professional Organizer – more baby steps.
Each baby step demonstrates your courage and adds up.
Even though it feels uncomfortable, you finally decide to reveal the secrets and feelings that are challenging – with courage.
You clear time in your busy schedule and make appointments to organize. You work hand in hand at the scheduled appointment, staying open to guidance and suggestions. You make decisions during the session, and even surprise yourself! Purging items you never thought you could, or would. You let the items go, out of your possession. Some that same day!
At this point you feel pleased with your progress, and the results from your hard work. You experience a sense of accomplishment, freedom, aliveness, motivation, peace. You commit to more work days and see a clearer space and vision for yourself.
All the baby steps have accumulated to cause a personal transformation – within yourself and your space!
Congratulate yourself, it doesn’t matter how long or what it took to get to this point. Take a moment, breathe, and BE. You have earned it!
Who likes change and welcomes it? Most of us fear the unknown, even avoid it. Well, getting organized is a process of change. And, as growth is a byproduct of change, by embracing this change you are embarking into new possibilities of growth. Remember, with every step of the process, change occurs externally and internally.
“Change always comes bearing gifts” Price Pritchett
“We have thoughts, feelings and emotions, but we are not our thoughts feelings or emotions” Frances Vaughn
Mental Clutter is more mysterious and different from physical clutter. It hides, and resides in the mind disguised. It can be defined as an abundance of thoughts, and self-talk swirling around in our headspace! Layers of current thoughts, past thoughts and thoughts waiting to be triggered will occupy the mind space. Then if emotions arise, the mental clarity is gone and the cluttered brain exists.
On one level, mental clutter can be caused by:
On a deeper level, other mind clutter may not show up on your radar screen, depending on how self-aware you are. Things appear as they are, and we say it’s just the way it is!! We are blindsighted by the thought. Here’s one example: perfection. The thought of being perfect exists, regardless of why, or how it is there. You hold onto the belief that being perfect is the way to be and think. There isn’t much freedom in having this thought. It sabotages actions, and brings on negative self-talk.
Here’s what is true: we are in total control of what we choose to think or believe. Although what thoughts are in the mind can come from limiting beliefs you hold on to and live by. Sometimes these are generalizations, ideas or interpretations that you hold on to and then forget you did. At some time you may have felt strongly connected to them but now you’ve grown and changed and they don’t fit! All these thoughts may be laying dormant until something triggers it to surface. Next, you are living a life that’s not yours.
Try looking at where this thought, or belief came from. You may realize the roots of this. With introspection you realize that it doesn’t serve you anymore at this time. It’s time to give it up and free yourself. What I mean by this is, you may have lost touch with what’s really important to you – now, in the present. Maybe at one time all these thoughts, beliefs, and truths matched what was important to you. You can ask yourself, how true is this belief? The end result is living true to who you are, and who you say you are. In any given moment you can “CHOOSE” what you want to think or what doesn’t fit. The choices you make can motivate and uplift your spirit. Staying true to yourself brings inner peace.
Mindfulness and awareness will be the guide for clearing the mental clutter.
The principles of organizing apply here:
Assess what’s going on.
Take Action – Either jot down all that’s in your head until you feel empty. Seek support, like someone to talk or vent to. This helps in getting all the stuff out of your head.
Sort what thoughts to hold on to and why.
Identify what doesn’t serve you anymore. Ask yourself if any of those thoughts are draining you and your energy? Can you rephrase your thoughts so they empower you?
Choice – With acknowledgment, awareness and conscious choice, a clearing takes place. The result can be more head space! This is freeing. You may notice your energy higher. You may feel like you shed a layer or two, feel lighter, and quite positive.
Space has been created and quietness of mind and peace attained – You now have a blank slate.
January is National Get Organized Month and it’s also the time for making resolutions and promising to follow through on all the advice in the self-help books on your bookshelves. Being the author of a self-help book, I can’t say I don’t recommend them, but striving to constantly improve your life and your home may not be the best advice.
According to Lindsay Myers on brainblogger.com, self-improvement represents a $10 billion per year industry in the U.S. alone. (In addition to high revenues, self-help has a high recidivism rate, which means that those same people already purchased another self-help book in the last 18 months.) Whether we want to lose weight, eat healthy, have a better marriage, or advance in our career, many of us rely on self-help books to improve our lives.
What’s more, home improvement is an almost $300 billion industry, which some say started with Bob Vila on This Old House and cable channels taking over from there with HGTV and DIY Network. I must admit that we bought our old farm house over 30 years ago and we’ve been improving and upgrading ever since.
Stop Improving Yourself and Start Living by Robert Jean Bryant is a classic self-help book that challenges us to end the perpetual quest for improvement and instead upgrade the quality of our daily lives. We are constantly bombarded by commercials and retailers who try to convince us to buy the latest and greatest stuff so we can “improve” our lives. But all that buying means more clutter, distracts us from the real issues and the real people in our lives, and takes us away from living in the moment. Bryant also says that when you get off the treadmill of constant improvement you help yourself to the freedom of creativity, joy and well-being.
I suggest that we start 2016 by getting back to the basics. Let’s break it down:
Finally, answer the question “I wish I had more time to…” and make it happen. As the saying goes, life is not a dress rehearsal.
Clutter Quote: “Know many, trust few, learn to paddle your own canoe.” Anonymous