If Everything is Important, then Nothing is Important

colorful flip flop shoes lined up on their sides in two rows

In college sharing a home with four other roommates

meant sharing a hall closet.  We each had our own shelf, and mine looked great.  My towels were folded and lined up perfectly.  I was the organized one.  Anyone looking in there knew which shelf was mine.

I try not to get too OCD,

and not every environment I have is as tidy and organized as I would like.  Even so, when I vacationed in Tahoe last spring, I emptied the linen closet and refolded all the sheets and towels.  

This, mind you, was a rental and these were not my sheets and towels.  I had some time to kill, and well, the closet was really bugging me.

Many years ago,

my late husband and I went to a surprise birthday party for his fishing buddy’s wife. We got there early, and someone asked me to get the blender out of the kitchen cupboard.  I took the blender outside where everyone had gathered, and went back into the kitchen.

pantry shelves full of canned and boxed foodsThe pantry had boxed and canned items, along with small kitchen appliances mixed on every shelf.  I began to isolate all the boxed items on one shelf, and the canned items on a different shelf.  The appliances got their own shelf as well.  Similar products were grouped together, and all the labels faced outward for easy viewing.

I had not yet completed my task when my late husband came looking for me.  He was mortified that I had taken it upon myself to rearrange their pantry.  What choice did I have?

His response was “Oh my God, stop doing that

and come outside!”  I went outside with him, and when no one was paying attention, I snuck back to finish my project.  Looking back, I should have said it was my gift for the birthday girl!

When the guest of honor arrived, and eventually made her way into the pantry, she simply said, “Elaine must have been here.”  I remembered at that moment, I had done the same thing in their former home.

Though my late husband was mad, my friend called me a few days later and asked if I could come back and help her sort out her kid’s room.  She was grateful for the help, and really wanted a hand getting a few other spaces in order.

I did go over for a few hours, and I hope it helped.  Unfortunately my regular day job prevented me from spending more time there, but I was always willing to tidy up whenever we went over for a barbeque!

My late husband had ADHD

(Attention Deficit and Hyperactivity Disorder).  People with ADHD thrive in an organized environment, but lack the tenacity to create or maintain one.  We had many “conversations” about this.  Aside from money, it was our biggest issue.

He was not a slob, and he didn’t like things dirty or messy.  It was hard for him to focus for more than 10 minutes on anything, especially organizing.  I don’t like to multitask, and I don’t do it very well.  I like to do one thing at a time.  Once I get started on a project, I like to stay focused until I’m finished.  He liked to start many projects but got bored easily and had difficulty finishing tasks.

When my father-in-law passed away,

dining room table full of cluttera great deal of his possessions ended up at my home, to be sorted and distributed at a later date.  And he had a great deal of possessions.  Many items were tossed or donated from his home, but a great many more made their way to my home.

My late husband became very sentimental about his dad’s things.  These were the very things he’d wished his father would throw out, but after his demise, they became emotionally very important to him.  A lot of the stuff was broken, or not usable, but he found value in each item.

It was very difficult for me.  

I did not want to be heartless, but the stuff was everywhere.  Items were moved into my home and dropped off wherever there was room.  The armoire in my entry was barricaded, and I couldn’t access it to get my coats and sweaters.  The file cabinets in the office were also blocked, leaving me no access to important papers.

A large, heavy electronic item was placed at the edge of my dining room table.  It had big bulbs, and looked like an old tuner.  Not old enough to be valuable, like an antique.  Just old enough to not work, and quite frankly it was ugly.  It was also heavy.  It was so heavy it broke two legs on my dining room table.            

dining room table upside-down, displaying two broken table legs

There was so much stuff on the table,

and it tilted to one side with the broken legs.  It stayed like that for 3 years.  No amount of nagging was going to clear off the table, or free the items trapped in the living room armoire and office file cabinets.

One weekend, when my late husband had to travel out of town, I took it upon myself to reclaim my home.  I threw nothing away that had been his father’s.  I moved everything out of the living room and dining room, and put it in the office.  As I unpacked each box, I grouped like items together. I repackaged everything and taped a large sheet of paper to the front of each box describing its contents.

There were categories like: crocheted doilies, Ukranian egg painting, latch hook rugs, cross stitch supplies, office supplies, woodworking projects, sewing items, and small hand tools.  There were multiple boxes of magazines and old record albums.

I carefully stacked the newly organized,

labeled and categorized boxes on and under the table tops in the office.  It looked like a wall in a mausoleum.  They were literally floor to ceiling.  Not everything fit in boxes, and some of the stuff was too heavy for me to move alone, but I got everything to fit.

desktop covered in stacks of labeled boxes                    These were not my things, and I did not want to be the one to make the decision on what was important to keep and what was ok to throw away.  That was up to my late husband and his siblings.  

There was no plan

or date for them to get together to sort through everything, and I couldn’t live in the chaos anymore, so I organized it.

I thought the office still looked very full and cluttered, but at least I could access what I needed, and knew it was way better than before. My living room and dining room had been restored to order, but I still needed to get the dining room table legs repaired.  Clutter can cause emotional stress, but also physical damage as well.

After my cleaning tirade, I was exhausted.  

I spent 17 hours non-stop moving, sorting and rearranging my late father-in-law’s stuff.  By the time I went to bed, I could barely walk.  Apparently what I lack in physical strength I more than make up for in stubbornness!

Because my late husband passed so suddenly and unexpectedly (heart attack), there were countless things that needed to be taken care of.  I had to have his siblings pick up their dad’s belongings before I could begin sorting through his things.  I felt robbed of my freedom to grieve because of the multitude of other things that required my attention.

Everyone gives the same advice, which is “don’t make any important decisions” after the death of a loved one.  There are urgent matters that bear down, and take no notice that one may not be in the right space mentally to make good decisions.  It doesn’t matter.  Some decisions can’t be put off.

Even if a person has everything in perfect order,

there are still many arrangements that need to be made upon their death.  I believe living in an organized environment makes my life better, and when I pass away, I hope it doesn’t take my heirs more than a week to go through my stuff.

In the meantime, I am constantly re-evaluating my belongings, and pare down my stuff frequently.  It is physically and emotionally healthier living like this, and I enjoy coming home.  I also enjoy helping others get their living spaces organized.   

I like to think when my time comes, I won’t leave behind a mountain of possessions that my family has to take care of.  That is a gift everyone should leave their loved ones.

What organizing challenges do you have?  Can I help you with them?

Let me help you turn this

desktop with clutter and boxes above and below it

Into this

clean and organized desks and workspace with two chairs and two file cabinets

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