It was sometime around midnight.
“I can’t sleep,” I said.
“Maybe you should stop talking about Tupperware,” Katy mused.
It was true. Sometimes Spring cleaning got out of hand and this year was worse than normal. Owning a business gave us control over our time, which magnified quirks other careers would have left unnoticed. This year I learned I was a hyper-organizer.
Lying awake intensely focused on Tupperware was the climax of two months of purging, streamlining, and brainstorming ways to store things. I had emptied closets, cleaned out bookshelves, repaired old furniture, added a few hundred square feet of shelving to our mill studio and, donated bag after bag to Goodwill and our dumpster. Eventually, Katy, who felt like she had been enabling an addict, asked if we could have just one week off from organizing. I agreed, but I was weak and so there we were (*I was), talking about Tupperware as the clock struck 12:00.
It had all started simple enough. I wanted to set aside time in the morning to contemplate, write, and read. Life rushed us along and without reflection, we would miss it.
Unfortunately, clutter made it hard to sit still. Piles I hadn’t noticed in all the to-and-fro came into focus when I sat down and sipped my coffee. It might sound as easy as putting things away, but that would be like squeezing more olives into a full olive jar. Truthfully, this had been years in the making. We had endured the perfect storm of stuff: My parents moved to Madagascar and we inherited or were storing a cascade of family items; around the same time, we had Makayla.
With her, came a crib, a changing table, another dresser, bag after bag of clothing, and toys, which multiplied like jeweled goblets under a doubling charm.
Perhaps the worst was everything from the business. We did photography, experiments, and assembled orders in our apartment. This meant constant schlepping between our mill studio and home trying to maximize Makayla’s nap time and work together as often as possible.
When I was a kid my brother and I were sent to clean our room. Efficient and strategic, he thought of shoving everything in the closet. A budding strategist, I followed suit. Our mom inspected our work and went on and on about how neat and organized everything looked. We smiled confidently.
As she was leaving, she paused and said, “Let me just check the closet” and our smiles faded. I’m sure it’s exaggerated, but I remember her opening the door and drowning under an avalanche. Eventually, she emptied it into a huge pile and left us with instructions to start again. After she left I sat down on the mound dejectedly surveying what would take the rest of the day to clean up.
Lesson #1: Organizing isn’t easy.
It takes time, effort, and intentionality. We can take shortcuts and stuff things in drawers and closets, but we are taking out high interest loans and the debt is always hanging over us.
For many, being disorganized isn’t about being naturally messy or naturally neat. More often, it’s because it feels like investing time in things and, ultimately, we believe people are more important. Hanging shelves doesn’t further relationships and coming up with a filing system isn’t the same as meeting up for coffee. Most of our flexible nights are spent with family and friends and something tells us that’s how it should be. Better to close the closet door and ignore the bulging hinges.
That might work for a while, but one day we wake up like Harry and Hermione, surrounded by golden goblets with no way out. We go to move stuff to the closet and the closet is full; we go to put it on the table, but the table is full too. Then it’s time for a reckoning and this year our reckoning was Spring cleaning.
Lesson #2: Time spent organizing is time well spent.
A few days ago we had a family dinner, just Makayla, Katy, and I. Usually, meals are a little matter-of-fact for us, especially for me, something that fills a need, but isn’t cherished. That night treasuring our time felt natural. Katy prepared something tasty and we lit a candle. It wasn’t planned, but the table didn’t need to be cleaned off, Makayla’s toys were put away, the bed was made, and there was even some extra space on the bookshelves. Looking around the apartment I felt deeply relaxed. Spring cleaning had paid off.
The truth is, I’m grateful I’m a hyper-organizer. In the long run, getting rid of things and building systems saves time and is a catalyst to enjoy the many blessings we’ve been given. We live in a beautiful place with wonderful friends and a loving family. When we feel rushed and the clutter piles are high, stress levels are as well. Is it worth reworking the Tupperware at midnight? Probably not, but a little organization lets us savor the best of life.