Thursday, February 9, 2012

Martha Doesn't Live Here Anymore

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     Okay, let's face it, Martha never lived here. If you walked into my house right now and looked around you would not believe what I am about to say, you would not believe that "I can be a bit of a perfectionist." Not only would you disbelieve this statement, you would probably choke on your own laughter, the ridiculousness of my statement would shock you so. It's true though and I think that many of us are perfectionists--or maybe perfectionists in a Slobs clothing.

     It may be that some of us were raised by a generation that was rebelling against the rigid structure of an earlier time, and now we crave structure and order so much that we take it to the opposite extreme. Or it may be that we live a society that asks us to "Keep up with the Jones's" and so we try desperately to do it. It may be that we live in a time when everything is changing faster than ever before and that very element of constant change makes us want to hold on tightly to some control somewhere, even if it's just about something as simple as demanding "No more wire hangers!!!"  Whatever the case may be, I think many of us are perfectionists in our own ways, I think we often judge ourselves, place high, sometimes unreasonable expectations on ourselves, and feel the stress of trying to be well...perfect. This aspect of my personality is never more magnified then during my Ladies Holiday (menstruation.) I crave order, I crave clean open spaces.

     What I really crave is peace, peace of mind, and having order around me helps quench that longing. There's really nothing wrong with that, I mean there's a reason why publications like Martha Stewart Living, and Real Simple, are so popular (I have a subscription to Martha's mag myself.) There's a reason why I can't wait to open my daily email subscription to iHeartOrganizing, and why The Cozi Family Organizer is one of my favorite Apps ever. There's a true power to Feng Shui. Order is good, it's helpful. The problem is the way we approach this idea of order and the way we judge ourselves constantly for not getting it "just right." I tried Feng Shui for awhile, a friend suggested a book on the subject that was absolutely fantastic--the problem was I dove in head first and wanted to change everything NOW. I burnt myself out. I totally could not handle it. This is what I do. It's almost like "nesting" during the third trimester of pregnancy, this crazy urge for order overtakes me and I dive into big changes too fast, I burn myself out, then I give up. It's a vicious cycle. I judge myself for not doing it right, for not following through...and then finally, I judge myself for...well...judging myself. That's just messed up. But I have heard so many people, women especially, say that they do the very same thing.

     So what's a Lady to do? Do we become a Martha Hater? Give in to the chaos and tell ourselves that all those Martha's out there are a bunch of stuffy B---ch's? No, because we don't really believe that (OK, maybe sometimes in our bad moments we do) we just want to be more like Martha, learn her rad tricks (yeah, I said "rad"'s totally making a comeback, Dudettes) and get on with our orderly lives, but we want to do it without turning the quest for order into a process of chaos that is ultimately counter-productive. Am I right?

     Recently I have been so inspired by people who are making small changes over time to create more order in their lives, like my dear friend Seana who yesterday shared photos of a beautifully organized refrigerator that made me want to cry Tears of Tidy-Lovin' Joy! I took one look at that fridge and wanted to go clean mine out right then and there. I stopped myself though and opted instead for a pen and paper. I made a list.

     Stopping myself from leaping lately has been a helpful practice for me, akin to my pal Deirdre's recent exercise in breath-work. I have had a tendency to flutter around my house from one "to-do" to the next, without really thinking--or actually while thinking too much and too fast. "Gotta do the dishes! [flutter to sink and start washing, seeing the dishes makes me think of food] Gotta eat breakfast! Haven't had breakfast yet! Nourishment should be a priority! [stop doing the dishes and start to look for a meal, looking for a meal reminds me I have to pick some things up at the market, stop looking for food and start putting on shoes] Gotta go to the market! If I go now it won't be so busy! Then I can eat when I get home!" You get the idea. I'm trying to stop doing that. Now when the thoughts start to over-take me, instead of beginning an action I begin a list and I prioritize. I realized that a lot of times my race to take action on every thought in my head is really out of fear that I have so much to do that I will forget to do something important if I don't get on it right away.

     Another hugely helpful resource has been the FlyLady, her website has fantastic tips on getting organized and tackling the self-loathing and the perfectionism that often gets in our way. I highly recommend you check it out. One of the single best practices I have adopted from FlyLady is using my kitchen timer. I set the timer for say 5 min, or 15 min, just a short stint that is totally do-able in my busy day. I tell myself I will de-clutter this one spot until the timer buzzes. When it buzzes not only am I off the hook, but I promise myself that I WILL stop, I WILL NOT say "just one more thing!" It is an end point, a limit that I must place to keep myself from going over-board and you know what? It works. I look around and I see that things are not perfect, but they are good, and progress has been made.

     Today I was reading about mathematics' Chaos Theory (don't even ask) it was actually quite fascinating and what I found within the explanation of chaos theory was an explanation of the Butterfly Effect which I thought was really pertinent to this post. So check it out, the Butterfly Effect works like this:

The flapping of a single butterfly's wing today produces a tiny change in the state of the atmosphere. Over a period of time, what the atmosphere actually does diverges from what it would have done. So, in a month's time, a tornado that would have devastated the Indonesian coast doesn't happen. Or maybe one that wasn't going to happen, does. (Ian Stewart, Does God Play Dice? The Mathematics of Chaos, pg. 141)
     This made me think of Seana's fridge, and my desk (see my recent post on Creating Sacred Space) and that these small changes can have a much larger impact than we give them credit for.  Yes, as the theory states the effect can be negative as well, most of us know how skipping one load of laundry can result in an overabundance of laundry that ends up taking a week to catch up on. But focusing on the positive side of things, this idea seems magical to me. Like a butterfly dancing on a breeze, the idea of small changes made me feel lighter and more free somehow. I felt like I could take a deep, clear breath. I felt like I could tackle the chaos and bring "Martha" home.


     By letting go of perfectionism and believing in myself and in the power of small changes to make a big impact, I feel that life is more in order already. The power is in my hands and it's not the rigid and stress-inducing power of a Mighty Organizing Goddess ready to conquer the clutter, rather it is the quiet, peaceful power of a calm and cool Chick who does the best she can, here a little and there a little. Who loves herself, respects herself and pats herself on the back for one little feat at a time. It is knowing that I am perfect. Perfectly good, perfectly right in my actions and my desire for order. It is about finding the intention, something that is talked about a great deal in yoga, when the intention is coming from a good place and the intention is carried with you through your actions that is perfection, that is bliss. It doesn't mean that my house looks like it came from a magazine page, but it does mean that I can feel good about my intention, my efforts, my small progress, and the knowledge that small changes do lead to great ones. It's a fact. Math says so.
The Lorenz Attractor (James Gleick, Chaos - Making a New Science, pg. 29)

     What small changes in your life have created the greatest impact? How did you learn to give up perfectionism or to create order by thinking in a less rigid way? I'd love to hear your stories.

Imperfectly Yours, 

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  1. I moved to a plant based way of eating. By sharing my decision and telling people about the great CSA (Community Supported Agriculture)I joined 30 families have decided to join my CSA and eat more local fresh foods.
    I never want accolades for it, but I just enjoy knowing I've made a difference in peoples lives :)

    1. Wonderful! One small change for you, and now so many others are benefiting as well. Thank you for sharing, this is a great example!

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  2. So much to soak in here. I do think as a society we have gone so far away from the tradition and order of the pre-1960s that we now actually crave order.
    And I totally see myself as you describe how easy it is to become distracted during a task by other tasks that also need your attention. So me! I will have to try the timer idea.
    What I know is that I feel much calmer and better about myself when I do actually make it completely through the task I have at hand and when I add a little order to my world.

  3. Absolutely, order is good and is the goal, it is how we go about obtaining it that can be a sticky spot. Glad the post spoke to you and thank you for sharing your insights. Here's to a calmer way of approaching our goals, and most of all, here's to feeling good about ourselves!!

  4. I find the timer to be a fabulous tool! I need it to fold laundry, otherwise I think it will take forever. Same ith a quick "pick up and put away" throughout the house.

    Lists are an excellent idea, too. Good luck. Sounds like you're progressing.

  5. OMG girl! I love this, so true just take the first step no matter how small, it all adds up!

  6. I needed to read this right now, as I've been so busy this week. It's been hard to just sit down and relax, but I'm learning that it's something we all need to make a conscious effort to do.


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