Monday, June 4, 2012

The Clutter Free mentality-a tribute to my dad

There was a time in my life where I thought that if I heard the phrase "A place for everything and everything in its place" from my Dad one more time, I would scream.  I had the usual teenage responses when caught in the act  ...."I know, I know" or "yeah, yeah"  and of course had the proper body language for it - rolling the eyes, stiffening of the spine, dismissive hand wave, looking bored, all while trying to emanate "cool". 

I don't think I ever knew if my dad was naturally neat or if his years in the military honed his skills, but the fact remains that his legacy is with me always when I am tempted to leave the yard tools out, not unload the dishwasher or more importantly for my art business, after using supplies in the art studio.

My dad's workshops, wherever we lived, had vast expanses of pegboard with items not only hung up but outlined with marker. His rationale, when asked, was that if there was an empty hook,  he knew what was missing by the outline and could look for it or  find the culprit who borrowed it and did not put it back. Nails, screws, wire, electrical thingies, all were sitting in clear plastic ("they don't break," he said) instant coffee jars on shelves. Everything had a place, and everything was in it's place.
It's hard to argue with that logic.

I think I rebelled for awhile. I am not anal neat. But I am, I discovered, anti-clutter. Weird. When it gets to the point where I feel there is too much clutter in every room, brain rebels and the "clean slate" mentality takes over and my family hustles. Ask my 4 kids who knew that if mom says she was going into their rooms the next day with a big black trash bag, ( after repeated, useless efforts to get them to do it themselves)  she WOULD fill it and she WOULD take it to the dump.  The amazing result of this happening, get this, one time, was that it never happened again (go figure).  After the first event, I would only have to give fair warning and it was like I switched on  hidden kid motivation motors and the room cleaning activity by four kids went into 4th gear.  They were too bent to the tasks in their rooms for me to see the eye rolling or hear the muttered comments, but I didn't care. Everything was going into....some place. 

The kids are all on their own now and there are only two people to blame if the clutter gets bad. My artist husband does not have my father's sense of cleaning up behind himself. He too has seen the results of my anti-clutter blitz. He may think that as a spouse he is exempt to my one woman war on "shit everywhere", but he knows better. Just like my kids, too much stuff means you don't really know what you have, even when it is gone.  And the Goodwill is all the better for it. 

Now let me clarify that it takes a lot to get me to the blitz mode. It is bad. It is 2 days of dirty dishes in the sink, paths through the studio,  unloaded art supplies from the vehicles from shows, classes, exhibitions.....all set inside the door like the area around the top of some attic stairs. When it is too cluttered, there is an area in my brain that is cluttered. Most importantly, it affects my creativity. There is something to be said for reaching for whatever supply you need and having it right there. 

Perhaps the one iconic moment that marked the end of my "oh it doesn't matter" attitude was searching for my car keys one day. My dad used to refer to such moments as  "the great treasure hunt."  When I found the keys where I had tossed them upon entering the house, it dawned on me as clearly as the sun outside that if today had taken twenty minutes to find this one item, I had probably wasted at least a year of my life, over time, trying to find something that had not been put back in it's place. It was one of those "Ah Ha!" moments. I could say that the apple didn't fall far from the tree, or I was truly my father's daughter but the truth was that I was tired of disorganization that affected my life. The car key problem was solved easily (and I might add for the whole family of driving teens) by putting a key ring hold by the front and side entrances to the house. Every time someone walked into the house with car keys, any keys, they were hung up in plain site. It worked.
I think it was like losing weight-once the first few pounds come off, the motivation to keep doing whatever you're doing, intensifies.   So I set about organizing everything, all the paperwork files for the business, appliance warranties, insurance papers, kids' papers...and the feeling of needing something and being  able to lay hands on it was.....miraculous.

Oh it creeps back and you have to stay vigilant. Yesterday I attacked the studio. It was actually unplanned. But I have a student art camp coming up soon and was not getting my act together to plan what I needed to do. My "list" was not growing. So one thing led to the other and I moved, tossed out, hung, secured, dragged and otherwise organized the art studio back to a positive, creative, "want to be there" space and I am happy. My brain is not cluttered in the art corner part of it and I am ready to attack my plans and organize the activities. It is a good place to be. :-)

Funny thing is that the trend today is to hire someone to unclutter your life, organize your closets, design the perfect clutter free environment, or join on line groups that make your lists for you .

But in the long run, you have to have the self motivation to do it yourself.
And it really is as simple as finding a place for everything and then putting it all back in its place.

Thanks Dad. You would be proud (mostly) :-)

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