One Bag Nation

Archive for April 2008

This phrase came to me as I was commenting on a post over at lifehack.org.

Dustin Wax was writing about the psychology of procrastination, and the paradox that despite the guilt, stress and worry that procrastination brings, it still feels better – in the moment at least – than doing something we don’t want to do.

I think this is true of all compulsive or addictive behavior: the desire for immediate pleasure wins out over the delayed pain. Whether we’re eating an extra piece of pie, drinking another glass of wine, hitting the snooze alarm, or putting the unfiled tax return in the “tomorrow” pile, the result is the same; we’re temporarily soothed, just to have the pie hit us in the face.

If you struggle with chronic procrastination (as I do), take a look at Dustin’s post and see if there’s some wisdom there for you.

I’ve recently been doing some consulting for an organization I worked for several years ago. Back then, one of the senior managers always handed out tons of paper at meetings: big, thick packets of stuff stapled together. Those packets caused me so much anxiety!

A couple of months ago, I saw his office again. Although the piles and piles of paper were all very neatly stacked – and I’m sure very well “organized” – I instantly recognized that he was creating safety with all that stuff. He was literally surrounding himself with a fortress of paper!

I’m sure you can guess where this is going . . . no doubt some of the stuff we buy, save, and move from room to room and pile to pile is stuff that we don’t need, except that having it provides some sense of safety and security.

Seems to me that before we can really let go of the clutter and the mess, we need to figure out another way to feel safe; how else to achieve order, serenity and peace of mind?

I eat oatmeal almost every morning*. I’ve boiled it over many, many times – the result of multi-tasking, of course. You can’t cook oatmeal, read email, pack lunches, and make coffee all at the same time – I tried!

Mornings are hard for many of us, especially if we have to get kids out the door. After I learned that multi-tasking was not the answer, I came up with an effective way to be more efficient, and one that doesn’t lead to kitchen fires.

So . . . I put my oatmeal in a large canister and put the measuring cups in with the oatmeal – no more digging around for those. Then I put all the oatmeal “condiments” together in one bin, stored in the same cupboard with the oatmeal canister. In our house condiments are brown sugar, nuts, raisins or other dried fruit, and . . . cocoa powder (mixed with a little sugar).

I still have lots of work to do to get my kitchen in good shape, but this is one small improvement that is taking me further on my journey to order, serenity and peace of mind.

*I can’t resist making a plug for the CORE program at Weight Watchers; you can follow it online or at meetings, and of all the plans I’ve followed – including other WW programs – it makes the most sense to me.

Several months ago, while trying to work the David Allen Getting Things Done system, I put a large wire basket on my desk, and used it to “capture” my “open loops” (aka things to do, in Allen-speak). Then I set aside one morning a week to go through it all. What I liked about the system was that if I stuck to my routine of emptying the basket, I didn’t have to worry about unpaid bills, correspondence, etc. because I knew I’d get to everything eventually.

Then I discovered Inspired Home Office, and realized that staring at the stuff in my inbox was making me anxious – and it was just plain ugly to look at, right in the middle of my work space.

I replaced the wire basket with the pretty canvas basket in the photo and what an improvement! The colors are cheerful, the basket has plenty of room, and I’m not distracted by whatever is in there. Now when Thursday morning rolls around, I’ll sit down with my coffee and go through the basket, paying bills, filing, putting things in my Tickler, making appointments, etc.

And in case you’re wondering – and I would be! – that horrible pile of stuff in the other photo belongs to my dear husband, and my original wire basket is sitting on the floor in my office, full of who-knows-what . . . sigh. Time to process and find out.

Last Saturday I decided to tackle the dreaded linen closet. Clearing out and reorganizing this cupboard took several hours, and a lot of determination, but I kept going, being sure to take breaks when my brain started to freeze.

I threw away lots of medicine; the oldest expiration date was 2004 – that’s not too bad, right? I found a water-saving faucet valve (in there since the late-90’s I’m sure) that my husband actually installed – very green of us. I discovered that we have many, many lightbulbs and enough flea powder to wipe out all the cat fleas in the city. But – surprise! – there was lots of stuff we actually need.

What a pleasure it is to open the door and be able to see what’s in there!

Now if you’re gushing blood and need a band-aid (or you’re a 6-year-old with a tiny scratch and a dramatic flair), you can find a band-aid. If your itchy hay fever eyes are driving you nuts, you can find eyedrops. If your toothbrush looks like you’ve been using it to clean grout, you can find a new one. If the batteries die in the camera – again – you can replace them

Of course this stuff was in there all along, you just couldn’t see it through the jumble of junk. Who knows what treasures are lurking in other dark corners of the house? I’m looking forward to finding out – in another chapter of my quest for order, serenity, and peace of mind.

What Works

Sometime between Saturday and Monday, I decide what we’ll be having for dinner for the week.  I look in the freezer and the cupboards, pull out some recipes, and make my grocery list. Lately I’ve been aiming to try one new recipe every week; if I like something, I add it to my recipe binder (which was inspired by a post at unclutterer).

I can’t even remember how I managed dinner before my daughter was born, but since her arrival, and since discovering flylady, I can’t imagine walking in the door without a clue about what’s for dinner. There are times when I need to stop at the store to pick up a particular ingredient – something I want fresh or I’ve seen is on sale – but for the most part I have everything in hand when the week begins.

I should admit that this comes particularly easily for me because I’m an experienced cook with an eye for good recipes. I don’t do a lot of fancy cooking though, just healthy food that comes together easily. One of my favorite sources for recipes is Martha Stewart’s Everyday Food, but I’m just as likely to turn to my old friend The Joy of Cooking or my collection of recipes from Cooking Light.

My meal plans make weeknights much more enjoyable and relaxing, and definitely contribute to serenity and peace of mind. Now if I could just find someone to come do all the clean-up, because What Doesn’t Work is leaving that mess for the morning . . . .

I was up very early to get a head start on my day, but I just couldn’t find my groove. I pulled out my tickler file and started to tackle my tasks, but my anxiety kept rising, until I got to the point where I was just shuffling papers back and forth but not taking action on anything. Suddenly I felt completely overwhelmed  . . . I had too much to do, my desk was a mess, my day was too busy, etc. etc. Lack of proper sleep and too much coffee were not helping . . .

I knew I had to snap out of it. I decided to get in motion: do some laundry, make a grocery list, do a 5-minute room rescue and go to the store – and I feel better now.

I guess the lesson is that while my journey to serenity may not always go forward in a straight line, I can recover from setbacks and continue on.