It is the first working day of the new year. The kids are all off at school, which should feel like a relief. My house is quiet and will be for the next five hours. I like quiet. Instead some voice in the back of my brain is crying out “Incoming!” and expecting a blitz of both homework stress and emotional drama to come blowing in the door with the children. They will come home to me with attached chores. Not that my children themselves are chores. They are marvelous people. But any person who is facing a challenge will reach out for support. I must arrange myself to either be there for them or to firmly tell them that they can handle it themselves.
Before the children arrive home, there is work. The first week of January is always crazy. I have to tie off all the loose ends from last year while simultaneously launching this year’s focus. Top of the list this morning are the loose ends of: accounting, royalty calculations, emails, costumes for a school play, the never-ending query process, and house cleaning. In the category of launching we have: tax accounting, emails, organizing Howard’s art workload for the next weeks, planning for presentations, knocking out a wall in my office, and merchandise considerations for the coming year. At least five of these things are vying for the “first thing I do” slot.
My head is full. It has been full for more than a month. It is going to be full for at least another month more. Because my head is full, and because sleeping has been trickier of late, I’ve been making stupid mistakes. Not many. They’re all small. I catch them before anyone else notices them. Mostly. I fix them and life moves onward. Yet the accumulation of mistakes worries me, because I look ahead at all the things I’ve got to do and I know there are going to be more mistakes. I’m going to mess up something, but I don’t know which thing, so I can’t plan ahead to allow for it. I never considered myself a perfectionist, but this state of brain proves otherwise. The thought of making some stupid mistake, and disappointing someone who counts on me, is enough to make me want to curl up and cry. Logically I know this is ridiculous, particularly since I often set the bar for “other people’s disappointment” in places which are long before those other people would actually notice that I’d failed them.
In all the mess of swirling thoughts, a story keeps surfacing. It was told at church some time in the last three weeks, but I’ve lost any other context for it. There was a young woman who had to attend a church leadership meeting. She went begrudgingly, expecting to be told to work harder. Instead the man in charge said “You are all busy. Instead of improving your life by adding something, take something away. What thing can you eliminate from your life?” That last thought is what keeps coming back to me. What things in my life can I let go? I love clearing out and discarding physical objects, the process of clearing mental space ought to be similarly satisfying.
I had an argument with Kiki about organization yesterday. She feels like all of her things and space are jumbled. She would dearly love to have more space in which to spread out her things. I contended that learning to live inside the space you have is an important life skill. Then I tried to show her that perhaps she was holding on to too much. If she would just sort through, store, and discard then she would have the spaces she needed. Kiki argued back that she needs all her things. She needs six bottles of hand lotion because they all have different smells. She needs the clock and the ipod player, the nail files and the lip glosses, the seven pads of art paper and the thick files of reference art. Everything. She can’t let any of them go. The only resolution we reached was to realize that we were arguing needlessly. Kiki knows how to sort and make use of space. She’s done it before, she’ll do it again when she is ready. Mostly we just needed to walk away from each other and deal with our own things. Today I can’t help feeling like my mental/emotional space looks like Kiki’s bedside shelf, stocked with six bottles of hand lotion and multiples of almost everything. Then I become the one who is saying “But I need all these things!”
Do I really? What can I take out of my life to create the space I need to handle everything else?
I don’t have the right answer yet, but I’m fairly certain I’ve found the right question.
Answering this question will require me to re-think the things I am holding on to. I’ll have to look at the items in my brain and realize that some of them are only still here because I haven’t bothered to look at them in months. That will be like Kiki’s bag of candy, none of which she wanted to eat, but which she’d kept because they were gifts from people she liked. Candy doesn’t make a good keepsake. Some of the things in my brain have long outlived their purposes. Perhaps I could start letting other people decide when they are disappointed instead of me deciding that they are before they’ve had a chance to notice anything. I know that I want to get rid of all the useless anxiety, but it is so tangled up with everything else that I can’t start there. It is also possible that I need to containerize. Twenty small things loose on a shelf are a mess. Those same twenty things placed in three containers are neat and handy. Just as Kiki is the only one who can make sense out of her spaces, I am the only one who can make space in my brain. I’m trying to keep too much.
Thus “Brain organization” becomes item one on the To Do list. It is the sort of item that makes a difference for everything else. Perhaps I can apply a rubric similar to the one I use when sorting through books. As I look at each item on my list I can think “Do I really need this? Does someone else really need this? Does this have to be done by me rather than someone else?” If the answer to all three is No, then it doesn’t belong on my list.
What can I take out of my life to create the space I need? It is a question well worth answering.