Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Some thoughts on being organized, from a pretty impressive procrastinator -- Part One

The other day, as Alex spied an empty Wendy's cup in my car, he told me that what scares him the most about our relationship is that he's the clean one.

I mean, on the plus side, there are worse things to worry about in a relationship, so we should count our blessings.

On the other hand, touché.

This might also be a good time to confess bring up the fact that two of my New Year's Resolutions for this year are as follows:

1. Keep my apartment clean
2. Keep my car clean

I'm here to tell you that currently my apartment:

Could be worse

And my car:

Could be a lot better

Particularly the trunk.


Who wants cake? (Did I distract you with that?)

OK, OK, FINE! I have a problem. With cleanliness. And procrastination. And orderliness. Issues.

So let's talk about them, shall we?

What follows was originally a list titled: "What I've learned from organized people," but I wasn't really sticking fully to that theme, so I altered it a little. So what it has become is a random hodge podge of thoughts on cleanliness -- how I'm not clean, how in some ways I'm all right, and what I've learned/how I'm getting better.

And it is still my goal to, by year's end, maintain a relatively clean apartment and car.


So let's do this list. Here goes:

1. Organized and clean people of the world, Type A's, etc. etc., hear hear!:

I'm super jealous of you.

Let's just get that confession out of the way.

All you Paris Gellers and Monica Gellers of the world, I want your planners. I mean, I kind of like mine, with the slanty writing and haphazard stickers and little doodles and scribbles, BUT. I secretly love to watch you get 1,000 things done in one day and still get your beauty sleep and still wear adorable clothes, etc. etc.

I'm jealous. I admit it.

2. It's OK to toss papers with scribbles on them -- drafts, ideas, thoughts.

These ideas will come back to the top of the bubbling idea cauldron. It's OK to get rid of cluttery paper. In fact, if it sits in that pile/box/bag, it will do just that, and only that: sit.

It's great to have an attention to detail, but use that where it can be really useful, and where you really excel -- for me, for example, I love to edit. It's a better use of my time to really hone in on synonyms and commas and making writing more concise; to use my detailed eye for those kind of nuances, than to look at something I scribbled on a post it note three years ago and try and make sense of it and spend two minutes wondering if I should hang on to it.

(That said, Anne Lamott gives some great writing advice, and that is to write your writing ideas down. She suggests having index cards everywhere -- in kitchen drawers, in your pocket, in your car. I agree with this. However, one way I've figured out to simplify my life and to save time on the ruminating over scattered post-its is to keep a file folder (or a box or what have you) with these ideas in them. Then when I come across them, rather than sitting for several minutes thinking about them, I recognize them as a scribbled idea and just throw them in the idea pot for later. Then at another time I can go to the box for inspiration, etc.)

My point here -- and I realize I may have lost you with that rambly narrative above -- is that it's a great idea to scribble down your writing ideas, but don't waste time trying to keep them neat and cute. Just keep them in one place as you find them and then move on.

As I come across other things that I have many of -- like grocery receipts -- I just assume they are old, that the writing on the paper no longer applies, and I toss them. I couldn't tell you the last time I took a receipt into a grocery store to return something. And if I was going to return something (presumably) perishable, in all likelihood I would be able to locate the receipt easily, as I would have spent the money within the last week.

So, in essence, when I come across writing ideas, I file them. Most receipts -- toss. If they're for a more expensive item, like a pair of shoes I recently bought, keep.

3. While it takes time to organize in the first place, it does save time later.

And if I were more organized and clean, I wouldn't have to kick myself as much at deadline times.

Some examples of times in my life when it would have helped if I were more organized:

I wouldn't have had to apply to social work school the night that the application was due (and I wouldn't have accidentally applied to the undergrad program, and then had to beg later to have my graduate application accepted, after the deadline).*

I wouldn't do my taxes on April 15th every year.

I wouldn't have to pay my parents to renew my car registration, because I'd be taking care of it on my own by now.

*True story. And I did get into the master's program, thanks to much grace on the school's part. And when I later applied to my graduate journalism programs, I was very organized. I was still submitting most of my materials just before midnight, but I was much more on top of all the moving pieces -- transcripts, essays, reference letters -- and was able to apply to six programs (which I wouldn't recommend. It's a lot of work, and money, and time).

4. Doing a little bit at a time is way more effective than I originally thought.
I'm very much an all-or-nothing thinker, so for me I'm either cleaning or not cleaning even one little bit.

But I've discovered that, if my place is a wreck, even doing one batch of dishes makes a difference. Just cleaning the stuff off my bathroom counter affects my outlook. Taking the trash out gives me a fresh breath of air (um, literally).

So I've been trying to remind myself of this, and when I don't have a lot of oomph after work (by the way, I know mothers of small children are laughing at me right now), if I can drag myself away from the Internet and the cat for 20 minutes, I should probably just go ahead and sort a tiny stack of papers, or quickly vacuum my 400 square feet of space, or hang up my clothes.

Another tip: clean after working out. I'm already on my feet, endorphins are running. Just do it then, before I sit down and lose steam.

This whole concept is helpful with schoolwork, work work, and other personal, non-cleaning tasks at home. Intimidated by that cover letter you have to write? Do a draft in 10 minutes. That's it. Come back to it later to edit. Break the task down. You'll get a lot done and you won't feel like every project is a looming monster.

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