Neat or Clean or Organized: A Holiday Reflection

When I think about preparing for the holiday season, I’m usually focused first on an outcome. What’s the goal? For example, this year we’ll be traveling for Thanksgiving. Our daughter is appearing in a theater

When I think about preparing for the holiday season, I’m usually focused first on an outcome. What’s the goal? For example, this year we’ll be traveling for Thanksgiving. Our daughter is appearing in a theater production in her college town and can’t make it back home that week, so we’re bringing the feast to her. I already have a vision in my head of the condo we’ve rented, how we will likely be seated, what we’ll want to eat, and what we might do during the days we’ll spend there. But I’m also thinking:

 

  • OK, cool – I don’t have to deep clean the house (no guests coming). The pressure is off there.
  • I do have to grocery shop a few days ahead, and pack it up (I’d rather shop here at home).
  • I don’t have to ask (nag??) my family to pick up their stuff in our family spaces before anyone comes over (shoes, mostly).
  • I will plan to delegate cleaning up after dinner.

 

There are other things to consider, of course – how many days to pack for, taking care of the dogs, getting the car serviced. The whole process I go through in my head beforehand is, essentially, organizing. I’m making decisions about what’s going to affect the outcome that will allow us all to have the best experience. I’m choosing how we structure the pieces of that weekend to create our version of Thanksgiving this year. Some of it involves being neat, but that’s not the same thing as being organized. I could just as easily throw a few jumbled grocery bags and a laundry basket of clean clothing in the trunk as I could carefully pack in a suitcase and cooler. I would still know where everything I needed was, and the result would more or less be the same. I just happen to feel better if things are in more order when we travel.

 

In my experience, people often confuse neatness, cleanliness, and organization. How many times have you, before a holiday gathering, scurried around your home picking up paperwork, craft items, pet toys, etc., and pitched them all in a closet or cabinet minutes before guests arrived? Yeah, I see you, and I may have even done it a time or two myself. Your home likely looks very tidy as a result, and you may feel totally confident about welcoming others in for the celebration. But a few days later, when Fluffy’s beloved squeaky ball goes missing, and you have to spend 30 minutes digging through several “clear outs” to find it…how organized is that?

 

I know others who clean surfaces obsessively, but are perfectly comfortable spreading out the mail, coupons, Christmas cards, stocking stuffers, and the like on the counter – and leaving it all out for days at a time. They aren’t concerned with how all of that stuff looks, but more with the satisfaction that there isn’t a layer of grime underneath. In fact, spreading things out may be their particular version of organization, because it makes things quick and easy to find.

 

You know that out of sight can certainly be out of mind. Have you ever bought gifts, hidden them, and then not been able to find them (or even totally forgotten them) when it came time to give? Have you ever unearthed a brand-new pair of gloves or a book in a drawer in June, and thought, “Oh shoot…” It kind of makes a case for giving experiences and not things, but that’s a topic for another time.

 

When I go to homes – whether family, friends or clients – I frequently pick up on a concern that the way their spaces look will be assessed. I promise that isn’t what’s on my mind, especially on social visits. What I am curious about is how spaces function. If I see someone struggling to reach a box of ornaments, or if they can’t locate the container of cinnamon they know they just bought, I wonder if:

 

  • they’ve considered the best, most natural home for things;
  • they have so many items, or commitments, that it’s hard to keep it all straight in their brain;
  • they are utilizing other kinds of support and spreading the responsibility of “stuff care” around; and/or
  • they pause for a moment before they “just put” something in a place where it doesn’t belong.

 

When considering organization, how could functioning in your home, especially during a busy holiday season, be easier? Think: in 20 seconds or less, can you put your hands or your brain on exactly where the family heirloom angel tree-topper is? Seriously, time 20 seconds for yourself to find something, anything – it’s an eternity, really. If you didn’t beat the clock, how long DID it take you? What could you do to improve your time? How could you rearrange or simplify things? Is cleaning or straightening going to make a difference there?

 

Certainly, being neat and clean can contribute to comfort and familiarity in your spaces. I’m not advocating for you to let the dust and dirt collect, or never make the bed or pick up clutter. But those factors are not the same thing as being organized. What it all comes down to is your level of physical and mental comfort with how to find what you need, when you need it – and put it back again. And of course, the more you have, the more you have to manage.

 

I hope you and your loved ones have a lovely, peace-filled holiday season.

 

AND!!!  If you’re looking for a fun gift for yourself and a different perspective on ways to be organized, I’m excited to announce I have a new book coming out! Check out Organizing and Big Scary Goals: Working With Discomfort and Doubt to Create Real Life Order– available on Amazon or directly from me in December. Watch for updates on a release date on my website: www.skillsetorganizing.com.

 

 

 

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Sara S. Skillen
Sara S. Skillen is the owner of SkillSet Coaching & Organizing, a professional organizing and ADHD/productivity coaching business. Her passion is helping all kinds of people manage their stuff, their time, and their tasks. She is a Certified Organizer Coach®, a Certified Professional Organizer®, and an Evernote Certified Consultant. A member of the National Association of Productivity and Organizing professionals since 2012, she has served in various leadership positions at both the local and national levels. Sara’s writing has also appeared in Music City Moms, Entrepreneur, and Angie’s List Experts, as well as her blog “The Stuff Behind The Stuff.” She lives in Franklin, TN with her husband, two teenagers, and two extremely productive and focused Labrador retrievers.