No mess, less stress

On a recent questionnaire I was asked: How do you de-stress? I thought about it for a moment. A couple of months ago the answer would have been easy: something related to drinking Baileys and eating junk food. But now the answer was exercise, and organizing closets.

Truth be told, the latter is a very new discovery, initiated last week when I couldn’t find a particular polka-dot dress I really wanted to wear.

“That’s it,” I said to my kids, frustrated with not being able to locate yet another thing in my tiny, overflowing closet. “I’m pulling everything out and organizing it once and for all. Would you like to help?”

And with that, they were off like a flash.

For the rest of the night I emptied the closet and made piles. Clothes that currently fit and that I still liked went in the “keep” pile; everything that was too big or I couldn’t see myself wearing went into “donate”; anything too damaged went in “trash”; and all my too-tight clothes went in a bin marked “skinny.” I don’t have any intention of being “skinny” exactly, but I’m half-way to my goal weight and that’ll be close enough.

A job I naively assessed as a two-hour chore turned out to be so much longer and had me working well into the next day. But once I was left with a closet containing only clothes that fit me and that I would actually wear, I marveled at how wonderfully uncluttered it was, and I couldn’t wait to do more.

One drawer, cupboard and closet at a time I’ve been going through the house, room by room, transforming the chaos and clutter I find and leaving orderly beauty in its wake. So much so that I’ve become addicted to the organizing.

Because I’m limited on time I’ve been trying to be patient about the process. Completing tasks in bite-sized chunks I’ve been attempting to keep the whole place from feeling like a tornado hit it, but not always succeeding.

“Whoa,” my son said when he entered the kitchen as I was cleaning out the pantry. “I know you’re organizing, Mom, but right now it looks really bad in here.”

“Yup,” I said gleefully. “But it  will look great soon.” I was starting to feel rather Martha-Stewart-like, minus the cooking, sewing and hot-glue-gunning of course.

“Life is too complicated not to be orderly,” that famous domestic goddess once said. I agree. And the more complicated my life becomes, the more order I desire.

Previous half-hearted attempts to become that efficient person I’ve always wanted to be have fallen short due to my lack of persistence and forgetting to label.

“I didn’t know my headbands were in here,” my daughter said when she found a box of them in her closet. Of course she didn’t, there was no label on it. But there is now.

Another thing I’ve discovered is that deriving any enjoyment from getting organized requires being in the right mood to do it, and not expecting it to happen in a day. Similar to changing my bad eating habits into good ones, it’s a process that’ll take time.

And I am reminded of that fact every time I open my closet door and see my polka-dot dress that I can now fit into.

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Finding clarity in chaos

I can’t find my desk.  I can’t find anything really, but right now I’m just trying to find my desk.

The last newspaper I worked for I had a co-worker who had a practice of dealing with paperwork the moment she saw it so she would never have to see or think about it again. It didn’t matter if it was something that needed to be done that day, the next week or the next month, she would just take care of it like it was high priority and it would be out of sight and out of mind.

“That’s why my desk is the tidiest one here” she remarked. Looking around at all the messy work stations surrounding hers, mine among the worst, she was certainly right about that.

I just couldn’t wrap my head around working that way, and years later I still can’t. As envious as I am about having an empty in-tray, I’d rather do what I “feel like doing” and leave the rest until later.

The problem with that is twofold. The first complication is that I forget all the other stuff I need to do unless I immediately write it down on a sticky note. The second drawback is that I leave everything to the last minute and don’t tackle a job until I’m right on deadline. For example, this column I’m writing right now. It’s due in an hour.

“What can I do about my severe procrastination tendencies?” I asked my psychologist friend one day.

“What do you want to do?” he asked.

“I want to be more organized and feel less stressed.” I replied.

“Would that work for you?” he asked.

“Probably not,” I said.

“So why change?” he shrugged. “If your tendency is to do things right on deadline and you work well under pressure, why don’t you just relax and go with it. It’s obviously working for you.”

But if it was truly working for me, would I feel like a deer caught in the headlights when the overwhelming amount of tasks mount up right before my eyes?

“Yes,” he said. “ It seems to be part of your natural way of working.” His only suggestion of change was to take all my sticky notes and compile them into one list and then prioritize so I would feel like I had a better handle on my duties. Good idea. I’ve done that before and it works like a charm. Thanks, Doc.

Looking around at all my notes, I can see that I’ll have trouble deciphering my chicken scratch on the odd one. But just knowing I’ll be doing that as soon as this column is finished is already making me feel less panicked and more in control.

I just hope that the next duties I’ve ranked as high priority, like this column I just wrote, can also fall under the list of things that I “feel like doing.”

Lori Welbourne is a syndicated columnist. You can contact her at