Tag Archives: organization

tidying up

I’m a terrible digital hoarder. I had something ridiculous like 6000 unread messages in my inbox until last month. This was mostly spam or things I had read that I wanted to go back to, or things I had just forgotten to look at. I have known for quite some time that the organisational system I adopted when I started working in Australia was not working at all. I could not trick myself into going back to the so-called new messages because I knew I had already read them. So they accumulated. Before school started this semester, I spent a few hours and deleted all but 3. Now I’m back up to about 8, but I know what is in there. On the other hand, I have more than 16,000 messages in my inbox.

Somehow digital hoarding is not something I can overcome. My computer has so many files on it, even from my student years, that I feel I may someday need with urgency. They have come in handy when giving talks about now defunct websites that deal with memory or in dredging up old teaching materials, but honestly, most just lie there dormant cluttering up my hard drive. They are innocuous because I do not see them, they do not hinder me from moving about, and my computer behaves as if unfettered by their weight. But I think the burden of that endless archive may catch up with me and entrap me like a snowball gaining momentum on its downhill journey.

new tricks, old dog

ImageOnce upon a time I believed myself to be good and quick at answering email. I had a certain reputation to uphold. It attracted my husband to me in the first days after we met. Then one day when I moved to Australia, I could no longer be bothered to answer emails quickly. The wonderful “no worries” attitude made me way too chill about my email. At some point in the last twelve months, I learned a new trick.

Step 1. Read a message on your cell phone.

Step 2. Decide if it’s important.

Step 3. If yes, mark as unread.

Step 4. Remember later when you’re on the computer to address the message properly.

It’s a wonderful organizational trick. Except, I’m not an idiot. I know I’ve already read those unread messages, so I don’t go back and look at them and they get lost in my inbox. 

Simply another horrible behavior brought to you by a hoarding compulsion. See you later when I’ve cleaned out my inbox.



I’ve been wondering lately if everything I’ve believed about myself up until recently is false. I always prided myself on my sense of focus and my ability to organize. I’m writing this, weeks after the thought first crossed my mind, and now with a  sense of humor. Desktop update? Here’s a corner of the debris in front of me right now.

If I’m organized, it isn’t very obvious. Although I have no trouble focussing on an activity, my focus is probably not apparent. When I’m engrossed in a task and another item arises needing attention, I’m either unable to consider the new issue (I can even manage to block it out completely) or I get so involved in it, I cannot remember what I was doing before. I then go from one item to the next to the next. I appear very distracted, yet I’m fully attentive to each thing. It concerns me that I see my daughter exhibiting the same behavior. Getting her dressed in the morning is sometimes a drama because she gets fixated on other things and can’t easily complete the task at hand. In her defense, she’s three. What’s my excuse?

When I was younger and busily affirming my sense of self, I had a near obsessive rein on myself. I had my mornings rigidly organized into 15 minute increments. This helped me accomplish what I need to do: 15 minutes breakfast, 15 minutes shower, 15 minutes makeup and hair, 15 minutes meditation, until I was out the door. At some point it became unrealistic to get up two hours before I needed to leave. I slowly abandoned the schedule. Now, and for the last twenty years, I’ve been living on a university schedule. I shift my habits every 15 weeks and each day has a different dynamic. Today is “research day” (reminds me of “steak night”) and I get to sit at home and think about the world and scold myself up for not writing faster about it.

I think the reality I’m coming to is that organization does not really come naturally to me. It’s something I’ve learned to impose on myself when necessary because it keeps me afloat. Sometimes it becomes a tricky web to navigate, but without it I might just be endlessly engrossed in the shiny objects dangling before me and never find time to articulate what’s so fascinating about them.


As I was catching up on my pile of unread blog posts from others affected by hoarding, a word popped out of one of Sidney’s posts at www.milbetweenus.com that set a sharp pang through my heart. She said Greg had been churning.

Churning – I’m not sure how those who don’t experience it personally or see it first-hand understand it. For me, it’s painful. For the majority of my life, it was just a normal unconscious activity. Now when I see it happening, it sends me into a sinking sense of despair. Churning feels like sitting in a boat that’s quickly filling with water and you only have a bucket to try to bail out. Churning is like a dog chasing its tail: so funny to watch, so frustrating for the dog.

I sat at my desk yesterday working in a flurry. I jumped from one task to the next, to the next, accidentally got lost in a Google search for something completely unrelated, started browsing Pinterest, jerked myself back to a grant application, stumbled upon papers to mark, marked two, remembered an assignment I hadn’t posted, went to post it but instead changed the layout to my course website. In the tangled mess of activity, perhaps in spite of it, I managed to finish the grant application, the marking, the lesson planning… I found my way out the other side. I don’t know how.

Why is churning painful? I recognize it now as a response to extreme stress. I get totally lost in the activity and I have to sit back and think about what is causing this before I can get out of it. I know it’s an inherited behavior that indelibly links me to my dysfunctional father. I cannot stop the activity from starting: I can only disentangle myself by realizing it is occurring.

What stimulates churning for me is not always clear. The first time I fully realized I was doing it was only in July when we first arrived in Australia and didn’t yet have a home. I felt I was sinking and grasping onto illogical pieces of debris to pull myself up from the drowning waters. I wanted to keep disposable containers, tin foil, used tape, even though I knew I didn’t need those things. I was uprooted and lost: I wanted to create stability. I churned.

Yesterday I churned for numerous reasons combined: we’re buying a house, I’m resigning permanently from my former position to remain in this one, D. is going to be away for a week, I have numerous looming deadlines at work… Not to mention the normal stressors of sleep deprivation and a child’s temper tantrums. Oh, and PMS. I’m a downright mess. Except I’m fine. Even better than fine, I’m really good. I just churn as a coping mechanism. Familiar repetitive behaviors anyone?


disorganized or too much stuff?

Mason Jar Monday - organization projectI’ve fallen off the planet for the past week or so due to my new addiction to Pinterest. Seeing all my fields of interest converge visually on pinboards has given me a better perception of my work and life. The downside to it all is the accumulated information on how to better organize and clean up my life. One more thing to feel guilty about as I look at my cluttered desk space even though I know I’m being tremendously productive.

Part of me really loathes these DIY organizational tip sites. It’s the same part of me that grew up with a hoarding parent. There seems to be a real misperception among hoarders, at least my HP, that the problem is not, “I have too much stuff.” The problem for them is, “I am too disorganized.”

I love organization. I love filing, I love sorting, I love to know where everything is. But my organizational systems become so complex that it gets difficult to put anything away. And when I do put things away in the most logical place ever, I often can’t find them again. If it’s out on my desk, I know exactly where it is.

Sound familiar? It’s the same excuse used by hoarders everywhere: “I need to go through my stuff and put it away.” “I don’t have time to go through my stuff…” and so on, while the piles just grow bigger. More moves in, nothing moves out.

All of this advice about better organizing your closet, small bathroom, or tiny kitchen cabinets, require additional purchases and new projects that the hoarder in us already can’t find time to pursue. So tempting though to think, “If I just put new shelves up in the garage, then I could put x, y, and z away where they belong.”

No, the real chore is not organization. It is simply getting rid of things we don’t use. Even better, stop buying those things in the first place. It takes time and dedication to constantly purge, but it’s infinitely better than finding a new space in an already crammed home.

(You can follow me on Pinterest at http://pinterest.com/amylya/.)

no resolutions

I’ve been in Australia for six months now and it took until today to file away my documents in a reasonable system. The actual filing took about fifteen minutes. The time I spent thinking about it: six months, on and off.

This is just another reason that I do not bother making resolutions. It’s better for me if I just do the things I know I’m supposed to do when I am supposed to do them. If I were to build up ideals and save them up to start all at once, the pile would be unmanageable.

why we collect stuff

In case you missed it, the New York Times ran a collection of pieces in Room for Debate on 30 December 2011, “Why We Collect Stuff.” Randy O. Frost defines the moment when collecting becomes hoarding, and Philipp Blom has a well-written piece, “Objects of Desire and Dreams.” Blom explains:

Collected objects are like holy relics: conduits to another world. They have shed their original function and become totems, fetishes. Collecting by its very nature is animist and transcendental.

The objects and their organization bind us to something larger than ourselves, and as religion was born out of a fear of death and the wish of eternal life, collecting expresses the same fundamental urges.

This gets to the crux of my interest in memory and hoarding. The objects we cling to attempt to say something about ourselves and tie us to a broader spectrum of people, eternalizing both the objects and the sentiments behind them. The object becomes symbol of both self and community.

This works for collecting, but what about hoarding? The desire to preserve begins the same but the attachment to the object seems to be as linked to decay and destruction as it is to safeguarding. Amassing the sheer volume of things surpasses the ability to control and the collection implodes. Items are lost in the debris even if they remain in the hoarder’s memory.