Organized Treasure: Blog
Katie McAllister, Professional Organizer
We're all familiar with the children's book, "If You Give a Mouse a Cookie" by Laura Numeroff, in which our furry friend is offered a cookie, and asks for milk, a straw, and a napkin. He then needs to check the mirror for a milk mustache, which reminds him his hair needs a trim. The stray hairs on the floor means he needs to sweep. EVERY ROOM IN THE HOUSE. AND THEN MOP THEM. He is worn out, so he heads for a nap and a bedtime story. The pictures inspire an ART PROJECT. And, the reason it is a personal favorite, because I love a story that circles around to the beginning... hanging his drawing on the fridge reminds him he's thirsty, so he asks for a glass of milk... "And chances are, if he asks you for a glass of milk, he's going to want a cookie to go with it."
But who among us can't relate to this use of an afternoon? You start out with one main thing to do, and get sidetracked by all of these other things that may need doing, but weren't the goal of your day. Your goal was to sit down and enjoy a cookie. Now you have trimmed your hair, scrubbed all the floors in the house, completed a creative DIY home project, and are overwhelmed and exhausted.
That can be the thing with clutter and disorganization - it robs us of our peace. We need calm surroundings to decompress from our busy weeks and days. And our brains have a HARD time doing that when our surroundings are a mess and keep our brains wondering what we "should" be getting done. We don't have the energy to complete the tasks we come up with, so we stay put on the couch, but we aren't relaxed, we are frustrated with ourselves, and we can even get discouraged or depressed.
I love the David Allen quote, "If you go on a vacation to relax, and you don’t relax, that’s an unproductive vacation. Productivity simply just means producing some desired outcome." So, we do need to create those places in our homes where our minds and bodies can rest, even if at first, it is just a small corner! And we need to really be intentional about finding our rejuvenating activities - Note to self: scrolling social media is usually NOT the answer! We need to be "productive" in our relaxing moments by actually RELAXING!
So, to create those spaces, we need to do some decluttering and re-homing chores. Here's the moment when we are MOST in danger of the "Give a Mouse a Cookie" distractions. We pick something up, move it to another area, find 10 more tasks waiting there, and never make it back to the original space, never finish that original project.
Here's an email I wrote to a friend 6 years ago (I've been thinking about this phenomenon a good while now!) empathizing with the frustration by sharing a recent "episode":
I think the end of winter, everything starts to feel a mess. I know for me it just takes one or two things going "wrong" at this time of year, and I start to get down on myself and am VERY easily overwhelmed… then I try to tidy ONE area, just to feel better, but the chaos feels so deep, it is not possible to get feeling on top of it
(Yesterday I said "let me just get the groceries put away", but I'm getting a migraine. Let me get an Aleve from the downstairs bathroom. That bottle is empty. Let me find its replacement in the upstairs linen closet. HOLY COW, what a mess. Did my husband put the REFRIGERATOR filters back up here after I asked him to find them a home in the basement? Look at the scatter pattern here, as though my family literally stands back and TOSSES items in. I am very akin to "If You Give a Mouse a Cookie". It is crazy.)
No "extra time", but any chaos in your life will come back into order with a couple sunshiny spring days!!.
(I still feel the same way about the end of winter and days of sunshine, but we won't go down THAT mouse-trail here!!)
I have some clients who have been through the ringer on this, and recognize this tendency in themselves. When we are working together, sometimes I catch them self-correcting as we move around a room, "I'm getting distracted here, but I'm focusing on the closet."
Sometimes I get credit for the reason they are able to stay on track during our sessions, and I DO think having someone working in the same space (you can't just wander off and leave them alone) who doubles as an accountability partner (accountability always helps keep us on track during tasks we are prone to put off) are both HUGE plusses! BUT, I think some other items come into play:
1. We have defined the project, which makes it easier to stay focused. We are working on a closet, decluttering, and will have it back in order before I leave. So, decide what you will work on and BE SPECIFIC. Say it out loud. Make a list of what you will accomplish and KEEP IT WITH YOU. Check off items for today as you complete them. As you think of items that need done, that you would usually run off to "do real quick", write them down instead. Now your brain knows it has back up and can go back to focusing on the area at hand. One of my classic distractions is when I find something I need to order. "On AMAZON". "Real quick." Don't hop on the computer to place that quick order. Write it down instead!!
2. We have defined the length of our session. Knowing that we will be stopping at a specific point helps two ways I think: First, you know the end is coming, you know you can find the energy to power through for this defined amount of time. Second, you are under the buzzer, it has to get done in this amount of time. I pace us through 3 hour client sessions, and clean up starts about 15-30 minutes before the time is over. I do the same at home thought, with timers - I especially love Pomodoro 25 minute timers for many tasks, that quietly tick to keep that tiny sense of urgency and focus!
3. When they correct themselves, they are saying it OUT LOUD - this is totally natural of course, with me in the room, but say it to your child, your dog, in a prayer or song, or just to yourself. Talking to yourself is just NOT that weird!! Acknowledge you are getting pulled away and are CHOOSING to come back to the task at hand! You're the best, and you make great choices, and this space is going to feel better by the time that buzzer goes off!
When You Give a Mouse a Cookie Brain - it's one of my favorite, universal tendencies to laugh about. So, be kind to yourself! Giggle when you recognize it when you're working. Let it tickle you when your brain is supposed to be on "Cookie Break". And find solutions that work for you to stay focused on your task, or, even better, your mental vacation!!
Embracing my love for organizing and the joy of encouraging others as we journey through the ups and downs together!
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