We’ve already established that order can mean doing things in sequential or chronological order, but another way to define it is what most people think of when they think of organization - - arranging items within boundaries.
This type of order is often applied to physical stuff which can be corralled by bins, containers, and dividers – oh my! In my house, the perfect example of how arranging items within boundaries creates order is with my husband’s T-shirts. There are so many of them - “good” T-shirts, work shirts, white undershirts, and even long-sleeved T-shirts.
Imagine a guy’s frustration when he can’t find his favorite “good” T-shirt. To make it easy to find the shirt he wants, we first have to separate the “good” T-shirts from the work T-shirts, which for whatever reason (likely my below average housekeeping skills which I’ll write about later) seem never to smell quite as fresh as I’d like no matter how much hot water, tough detergent, or fabric softener sheets with pictures of sweet smelling things on the box that I use. Then, we hang up the "good" ones – yep, T-shirts on hangers – that’s how fancy we are.
Those perpetually smelly work shirts all go together in one drawer so they are contained. When the drawer begins to overflow, he purges them. When he does get rid of some shirts, he can actually find the T-shirt he wants to wear without having to pull all of the shirts out. A jam-packed drawer also results in wrinkles – and really, who likes a wrinkly work shirt?
White undershirts are a staple for my husband so they tend to get dingy fairly often. Since their home is in only half of the middle dresser drawer, before buying new, we have to throw out the old. Lastly, he has long sleeved T-shirts, which are kept up high in a bin on the top shelf in the closet of our bathroom because they are rarely used. Only a few fit in the bin, and his favorites are on top, that way if we get a new one, the obvious choice is to get rid of the one on the bottom.
We can arrange all sorts of things in our homes the same way we organize these T-shirts – define a place and amount of space for items, group like items together in locations that are near where you most frequently use them, and when the pre-determined amount of space fills up – purge so you can keep your stuff contained and can easily find what you’re looking for. I’ll have many ideas for this kind of thing in future posts, but what I want you to think about now is how applying these principles to your mental health and relationships is so very similar and meaningful.
“Everyone has the same 24 hours in a day, it’s just how you use them.”
My Grandpa Pete, the wisest man I’ve ever known, often said, “Everyone has the same 24 hours in a day, it’s just how you use them.” Time is a natural boundary, but we often try to force too much in that finite space. We should purge our metaphorical T-shirts to keep from wrinkling the ones we actually want to wear and make it easy to access the really important ones.
Setting up boundaries to protect our relationships is perhaps one of the most difficult things I’ve encountered in recent years. In their book, Boundaries: When to Say Yes, When to Say No - To Take Control of Your Life, Dr. Henry Cloud and Dr. John Townsend wisely said, “In addition to showing us what we are responsible for, boundaries help us to define what is not on our property and what we are not responsible for. We are not, for example, responsible for other people.”
I felt that by placing a boundary, I was making one area or person suffer by giving another priority. This may be a little bit true, but the trick is being ok with that and realizing that there are relationships that take precedence over other areas of our lives and that I’m not responsible for others’ reactions to the boundaries I set. You only have so much storage space, so you must purge your life of what’s stained and smelly to allow room for the things you love the most.
Cloud, Henry and John Townsend. Boundaries: When to Say Yes, When to Say No - To Take Control of Your Life. Michigan: Zondervan, 1992. Print.
I began getting my life in order by recognizing what order was. I narrowed it down to four parts: completing tasks in chronological order, arranging within boundaries, directing in an authoritative way, and making requests. This and the following three posts will explore each of these in more detail. Today, let’s tackle chronology!
Doing things in chronological or sequential order can be a key to success. It's the reason they make Lego® instruction manuals with numbers next to the pictures. Being mom to two boys, I’ve studied many a Lego® instruction manual (or “constructions” as my 6 year old calls them, and I never want to correct him, because it’s the cutest. I hope he calls them Lego® “constructions” until he’s 30!)
My kids are pretty self-sufficient at Lego® building, but occasionally there will be a frustrated, “Mo-om, I need help!” If they realize they missed a step only a couple of steps later, no big deal, they just take a few of the 2x4 bricks off, remove a tile here and there, add a plate with a clip, and then reassemble in the correct order. But…it usually doesn’t happen that way. Just the other day, I had to figure out why the wheels on a Lego® vehicle wouldn't turn - it was due to an oversight on step 2 of the “constructions.” I undid steps 7,6,5,4,3 and 2 and then redid them all. How much better would it have been if he would have asked for help on step 2?
Unfortunately, in Legos® and in life, we don’t usually feel the effects of doing things out of order until much later in the process. In the Lego® analogy, it’s when the tire won’t spin or the mini figure won’t fit in the cockpit or the critical weapon mechanism won’t fire. You have to tear the whole thing apart and add that one. little. tiny. piece to make that umpteenth plane or weapon-wielding fantasy ship look and function like the picture.
In life, there are things that we all do that have a definite requirement to complete tasks sequentially, but there are others that the steps can be done in parallel or in any order we choose. The key is to recognize ahead of time which tasks are dependent on others and which can be done at any time. Understanding that can help us to fill in the spaces in our schedules with tasks that can be done independent of other ones while saving tasks that must go together for a larger block of free time. This is why planning is such a valuable skill. Brian Tracy, author of Eat That Frog!: 21 Great Ways to Stop Procrastinating and Get More Done in Less Time, says, “Every minute you spend in planning saves 10 minutes in execution; this gives you a 1,000 percent Return on Energy!” I think the reason this is true is because you’re not going back and deconstructing your Lego® ship, you’re simply taking time to lay out the pieces before you put them together.
Many of you are nodding your head in agreement, and then those really creative types are thinking, “I don’t need no stinkin’ directions – I’ll create something unique.” I agree that there is a time for creativity and that a “mistake” or a task done out of order can lead to creative problem solving which may result in a similar, or even better, end product. But that end product will be different than the original goal. If the task allows for that latitude – trash those “constructions” and go at it – or find a different task or project that gives you the freedom to skip around from step to step. Unfortunately for the free-spirited creatives, many of the tasks we face at home and at work, as well as those our kids will encounter at school, require more precision to achieve the desired outcome, and this is why planning and chronology are key!
Lego® Instruction Manual
Tracy, Brian. Eat That Frog!: 21 Great Ways to Stop Procrastinating and Get More Done in Less Time. Oakland, California: Berrett-Koehler Publishers, Inc., 2017. Print.
I'm a recovering over-achiever people-pleaser. I had high expectations for others and even higher ones for myself. For 30+ years, I worked hard to be the best at everything I did. I had a plan and followed it – high school valedictorian, 4 year degree, married my high school sweetheart, got a job, then a house, then had a baby, then another, then developed a career. I was focused on how things should be without a realistic view of what I could handle. When I came to a point when I felt overwhelmed by my responsibilities, I didn't know how to function. Over the past couple of years, I've been getting my life in order and truly learning what that means. I want to share my ongoing journey with you and help you get your own life in order.
You may think of order as being organized and eliminating clutter. This is definitely part of it (and is a sure-fire way to make me feel a little better – I mean if seeing matching bins in your closet with labels from your label maker doesn’t make you happy, what does?) but there's more that I want us to dive into. I want to give you real life examples and techniques on how to organize your spaces and stuff, but also your calendar, your email, your time, your relationships, your interests, your dreams, and set boundaries and make decisions that will help you maintain that organization. I learned about these things the hard way – a lot of sleepless nights, long conversations with my mom (thanks, mom!), many sick-to-my stomach drives to work, hide-in-the bathroom tears, and self-induced guilt trips. I want you to know that you’re not alone in feeling out of sorts and knowing that you want order but not knowing how to get it.
If you’re anything like me, you crave routine but want to be spontaneous. You want a plan, but don’t know how to incorporate those pesky ‘other people’ that inevitably mess with it. You want things to be black and white, but you wish you were creative. Or maybe you’re totally the opposite and wish you could be satisfied with routine, not let others who are so interesting alter your focus, and be content with the cut and dry. Regardless of how you’re made, order is still a means to the end we all want – a joyful life.
I’m excited (and a little nervous) about sharing what I’ve learned and hope it helps you along the way. Next week, I’ll start a four part series about the definitions of order. I hope you’ll look forward to hearing what I have to say, and I hope you’ll share your insights with me, too.
A woman with many roles in life who knows the necessity of keeping things in order!