Saturday, October 01, 2011

Day 1: The Many Faces of Chaos

Why are you here? No, really. This is my personal chaos and my very personal attempt to emerge from it. Right? Are you here because you think this should be good for a laugh, like watching people do very embarrassing things on reruns of America's Funniest Home Videos? Are you here because you have an endless fascination with watching a train wreck, like the lookie-lou gawkers who slow down as they pass a traffic accident, or the crazed mobs of Nascar race fans? I hope not. Maybe you here because you can identify with my need to emerge from the chaos. Maybe you are feeling it, too. That would be great.

If you are here only because your house gets a little cluttered now and then, you might want to go back to the list of 31 Days blogs and find one that focuses on solutions to clutter. There are several of them. My house is cluttered; there is no doubt about that; but that's not the only source of my chaos.

Incidentally, I checked a few of those 'clutter' blogs out today, and was fairly disheartened to find that some of the 'before' photos posted in their 'before and after' segments looked pretty darn good to me. I'd love to get to the point where my afters look as good as their befores. That alone would be a triumph.

Chaos is a tyrant, and a master of disguise as versatile as The Scarlet Pimpernel. When I really stop to analyze it (as I've been doing for the last week as I decided if I had the courage to tackle this 31 Days project), I think that a cluttered house is only one face of something much larger, something broader, something more all-encompassing.

Chaos reigns when a basic and reasonable, though flexible, daily schedule is not adhered to.

Chaos reigns when piles of mail, emails and voice messages go unopened or ignored.

Chaos reigns when meals are eaten on the run, in the car, at the desk.

Chaos reigns when the midnight oil has to be burned to accomplish basic tasks and sleep is restless, the brain spinning on all the things that didn't get done.

Chaos reigns when the internet pulls like a magnet and hours slip away unnoticed, when a little surfing around ceases being a minor distraction and turns into an obsession.

Chaos reigns when a person becomes known for always being late, rushing in at the last second in a whirlwind.

Chaos reigns when wasted minutes turn into wasted hours, searching for things that weren't put where they belong--if they even have a place to belong at all.

Chaos reigns when keeping track of one's finances takes a back seat to the urgent tug of 'now.'

Chaos reigns when children are not held to the expectations that have been placed upon them and consequences for poor choices vanish.

Chaos reigns when ideas for new projects move to the forefront, while unfinished ones are placed on the back burner.

Chaos reigns when self-discipline is depleted to the point where anything goes, as long as it sounds better than the current situation of the moment.

Is any of this sounding familiar yet? Do I have to go on? Good. Then I will stop with the listing.

Oh, but one more: Chaos reigns when a living space has become so cluttered and dirty that its own registered inhabitants no longer like to be in it and certainly wouldn't want to invite any others to come over. Even though I have never really been a neat freak and domestic responsibilities have always been a bit of a challenge for me, I honestly think that just cleaning up is a small part of the overall problem.

As I said, chaos is a tyrant.

That's the point of this 31 Days project. If you are still reading, then perhaps some of this resonates with you. My husband and I, and our two children (Tano is 14 and Ellie is 11), have slowly sunk into a pit of chaos, and although we still enjoy life and have lots of friends and do lots of fun things, our lives could be better. So much better. How am I so convinced of this? I will tell you.

Earlier this year, we had an opportunity to travel for our home business. We were gone for most of November, home for a few weeks, and then left again in mid-December and didn't return until the first of April. We zig-zagged back and forth, up and down across the USA, driving our van and staying primarily in hotels in cities where we didn't know a soul. Two adults and two adult-sized children (we grow 'em big in this family) spent countless hours driving, driving, driving in our van, nearly every night for months sharing a hotel room with two queen beds, every meal gathered around a small table together either at a restaurant or a hotel's continental breakfast bar, every weekend in a convention center working at trade shows, and every spare moment, those not accounted for by driving, sleeping or working, touring historic sites and famous places together--in crazy-close proximity. Sounds like it would drive any family crazy, right?


I loved it. I would do it all again in a heartbeat, and--Lord willin' and the crik don't rise--we might get the opportunity in January, February and March. Why did I love it so much? Aside from the travel aspect (I DO love to travel), I realized a few things.

1. Our time was strictly scheduled. There was no sleeping in, no dilly-dallying, no wasting time at all.

2. Our meals were fairly simple to plan. Breakfast was in the hotel's breakfast room (and traveling with a 14 year old boy, one must thank God for the all-you-can-eat breakfast bars). Lunch was sandwiches, fruit, veggies and pretzels from the cooler--whether we were en route or at a show. Dinner was either something I could throw together using a hotel room's microwave, at a friend's home, or at a sit-down restaurant--all simple without much planning (or failing to plan, as the case may be).

3. Routines were essential and rarely ever varied. For example, when we pulled up to a hotel, usually late at night after a long day of driving, Andy parked out front and went in to finalize the room arrangement (usually a Priceline reservation); Tano followed him in and came back out with the rolling luggage cart. Meanwhile, Ellie and I began pulling things out of the back of the van. Four nearly identical rolling black suitcases, one cosmetic bag, one laundry bag, one extra bed roll, two stacking milk crates of food and kitchen-ish items, two backpacks full of school books, the laptop, the camera bag and the power strip with all the various chargers needed for our electronics. We knew the best way to stack it all. We'd done it dozens of times. By the time we had loaded the luggage onto the cart, Andy would be returning with the room keys. He would hand us one key and we would roll into the hotel and find the elevator while he went and parked the van. By the time he returned, the cart would be unloaded, the room arranged with everyone's suitcases in their proper positions, the cosmetic bag hung on the back of the bathroom door, the power strip plugged in and outfitted with electronics to charge overnight, and the luggage cart returned to the lobby. Like clockwork, baby.

5. Our schedule required that laundry had to be done on Thursdays. All of it. Washed, dried, folded and put away. Every Thursday. No exceptions. Free Travel Tip: Don't pack whites. Bring colored underwear and socks. This means that every item can go in any load. Everything gets washed. Nothing has to be set aside because there just isn't enough to justify a load.

4. Hotel rooms come with maid service (can I get an AMEN?) and must be tidied up every morning if we were staying for a few days, or of course packed up if we were ready to move on. Clutter could not be tolerated and the toilet was always clean.

5. No sudden changes in plans ever came up. No nagging home maintenance issues left us feeling guilty about going out to have fun.

I could go on, but I think you get the idea. When we were traveling, we were not in chaos mode. We couldn't be. Our lives were very simple. There wasn't room for any chaos. When we got home, however, we all fell right back into our very bad habits. I felt it. When our friends at home and the nice people at church greeted us upon our return, the first thing everyone said, it seemed, was, "Aren't you so glad to be home?"

I forced out a smile and nodded politely every time because it was indeed good to be back among our friends, but I secretly missed the simplicity of life on the road. I will tell you, though, it was nice to have a private bedroom back. That's for sure.

That's why I'm here, friends. I want my regular life, my home life, to be peaceful, uncluttered, relaxing like life on the road was for me. I want my house to be a place I enjoy, a place my children love to bring their friends because there is always fun and laughter and good food, a place where my friend can stop by unexpectedly for a cup of tea or my husband can invite a business associate in for a quick meeting. I want kids who aren't exhausted in the morning because they went to bed on time and relaxed. I want my own bedtime to find me on the sofa in my pajamas, face washed, sipping a cup of tea or a glass of wine with my husband. Maybe I should start by just having a bedtime. I want to fall asleep peacefully, my brain content to shut off after a productive day.

I want out of the chaos.

I'm sorry that tonight's post, the Day 1 post, didn't come until nearly Day 2. I don't have them prepared ahead of time and I have blocked out 9:30-10:30 PM to write them (part of my handy-dandy plan for emerging from the chaos--like it?), but I spent more time than usual on this, my introductory offering. I will try to post by 10:30 PM, U.S. Mountain Time (GMT-7) in the future.

Tomorrow's post will include some of the reasons we have sunk into this pit of chaos in the first place, as well as some of the things we hope to do to get out of it. Later on in the 31 Days, I will tell you why it's so important to change things now. It really is. We have some great motivation.

So there you go, reader. No train wrecks today. Try again tomorrow. May God bless you as you go along your own journey.


Annie H said...

I am so with you on all of this! I need to emerge from the enclosing chaos also. My children are a bit younger though - 2 & almost 5. I really need out of this chaos so that I can better enjoy my children.

Thank you for stepping up and participating! I look forward to learning from you on this adventure!

vikki said...

I appreciate your candor and am looking forward to your journey. I used to be very organized but as time has gone on I am getting more and more disorganized. Thanks for doing this for all of us.

Alana in Canada said...

I am not here to watch a train wreck. Please. I am here because no matter what my house looks like today--I struggle with keeping my house clean and picked up. It doesn't matter if the floors are cluttered or not, the counters cleared, the bookcases stuffed or nicely styled--the problem isn't the stuff--the problem is US.

It's in our heads--and in our actions (or non-actions).

We're on the same journey--no matter if your path seems more strewn than mine or not.

I think of it like I do addiction. An alcoholic 10 years sober still has the same struggle as the alcoholic sober only one week: it's just that the mess of life is likely more visible to others in the case of the latter.

Sherry C said...

Thanks, ladies, for your great comments. It is so encouraging to know that dealing with my own struggles can helpful to others.

Annie, I remember the days of 2 and 5. Those are tough times!

Vikki, I really am doing it for all of us. I'm glad you're in.

Alana, you're right--it's not the stuff; it's us. That's where we need to start.

Have a great day, and take some small steps toward making a difference!

Anonymous said...

Hi, this is Sharla! Well, as a comrade in sphere of chaos, I was excited to see what you are doing. Years ago on the phone, hands in soapy water, I said to you, "Wow, I now see why people might do their dishes every night! A clean kitchen is nice." (I've never understood the compulsion to clean the kitchen EVERY night [ugh]. Turn off the light! Out of know. At least for the moment.)

Living with a self-starting detailed finisher has kept me out of complete chaos, pushing me to complete more. He has a running TO-DO list in his head, including the things I am supposed to cover. I can't find the "Mom's Calendar" I bought that has my to do list in it. Or the ones that I wrote on a scrap of paper. Not that I have looked very hard. My thorn in the flesh is laziness. It is a result of choice. Choosing TV mostly. Hate that. I know how harmful it is to my to-do list, that it's such a time sucker, that most of what I watch is drool at best. I crowd my work time into the last bit of time before the kids come home, often. Means I am "working" when they come home, instead of fully devoted to them for those precious few minutes when they want to talk. It is embarrasing that I get so little done, it is hard on my husband, affects my kids.

I am closer on the scale to cluttered than choatic these days, but wholly inefficent during the bulk of many days. I have some goals, but taking a picture...well sounds like a lot of work for my low tech self. I have enough undone things to finish. Either way, I am with you.

Good luck! I'll keep reading.

Gale said...

I can so relate. We had a very full "vacation" recently (the vacation was a vacation, but it was also to see my ailing dad and help with some things that needed to be done on the house he was no longer able to live in). Coming back to the chaos at home was hard.

We don't invite people over because of our house. I am daring to plan a birthday party here in 3 weeks and the hardest thing will be getting the house presentable. So, I'm following you in this.

But I have seen improvements over the past year, and one reason is this is this blog:

If you go on the sidebar and scroll way down, you will see a sectioned titled "A Reasonably Clean House." I started with the item titled "The Blitz" (suggested on another blog) and saw results...hopeful results. I am slowly (very slowly) working through the other items on that list starting with the fist one. Her's is the first articles about housework that didn't make me feel hopeless and depressed. I wanted to pass it on to you.

Sherry C said...

Sharla! What a treat to see you here! Wish it could be in person, though. We all have our personal downfalls, don't we? What small changes will you make this week that could help you form new and improved habits? I'm so glad to have you along for this ride.

Gale, thanks for the link! Can't wait to check it out. You're going to rock that party coming up--I just know it. Don't lose heart!

Tina Hollenbeck said...

Hi, Sherry. Thanks so much for stopping by my blog for my 31 Days of Being Real. :^) I haven't had enough time this week (chaos anyone?!) to browse around the other 31-day blogs so I'm glad you found me first. I especially love connecting with other home educators so that's an added bonus.

I can relate to this post in so many ways - yep, because homemaking doesn't come naturally to me...and because I'm a night owl by nature but have to function on early-birds' schedules! I planning to read your other posts now to get caught up and then sign on to follow you so I don't miss the others. I also look forward to reading posts on other topics later (homeschooling, etc.).