Monday, January 8, 2007

My Mom on Being Organized

On Friday, I talked to my mom--we have a weekly (at least) phone call. Friday I emailed her with the premise for this blog entry and some questions for her regarding being organized over the course of her life. Here's what I wrote, asked and commented on:

I just got off the phone with my mom who has just finished her spring cleaning. It's January 5th. It's not spring yet. Not even close. She also sends out her Christmas letter early enough that it beats everyone else's. The only person who sent their holiday card to me earlier was another organizer, and it didn't count anyway because this year she sent a Thanksgiving card. I have not sent any cards or letters for 2006...yet...and maybe won't at all at this point.

My mom is very organized, as is my Dad, and presumably I learned a good bit about organizing and being organized from them. So I thought I'd pick her brain to get her impressions on some things. She's really into genealogy so hopefully she'll find the family-ties aspect of these questions interesting.

Question: Where do you think your sensibility about being organized came from? Nature? Nurture? Somewhere else?

My Mom: My parents always insisted we keep our rooms clean, beds made, clothes picked up, etc. Every Saturday we would "clean house" as a family. I feel it was definitely nurture! As I grew to adulthood and married, we lived in a small trailer while your dad finished his Ph.D. There wasn't a lot of room, so I immediately put my "organize and simplify" into action. When we moved into our first home, after his graduation, the "habit" just seemed to continue. By this time I had one child and we began "pick up the toys and put them back in the toybox before daddy gets home" attitude. This continued when you were born.

Question: What compels you to be organized and how would you feel if you were disorganized?

My Mom: My oldest daughter swears it's obsessive compulsive disorder. For me, I think it's that I just accomplish more when I am organized. My home is organized so both your dad and I can find most anything within a few minutes - or at least know in which drawer, box, etc it might be. When I go on a trip, I begin planning months - even up to a year - in advance. To me, the "planning" of the trip is half the fun, but the practical side is that when I get to where I'm going, I usually am prepared with maps, "necessities", adequate clothing, etc. If I didn't plan in advance I feel I would most certainly forget something important and an item impossible to find on our travels. When I cook I like to know where all my utensils are so when I need one I can grab it. If I'm making a series of recipes I clean up after each one before starting the next just so I can easily reach all my supplies and utensils. I guess I go by the old motto "cleanliness is next to godliness" - especially in my kitchen.

My Comments: My mom has been planning a trip to Alaska and has booked every aspect of it the moment she could (some hotels/airlines only let you book a year and in advance and stuff like that) and is mostly paying for it with various types of "points/miles" systems.

Question: Were you organized as a kid or do you think people just didn't have so much stuff back then?

My Mom: As a child, I didn't have a lot of "stuff". Everything I had stayed in my room. Our toys were in our room when I was little, and we always had things picked up from the rest of the house before my dad came home. As I grew to a teen, I didn't have a lot of material objects. Yes, my sister and I had our records and record player, etc which we kept with the family records in the downstairs family room. Anything else, I kept in my closet or in my drawers. As I mentioned earlier, our rooms were expected to be clean and tidy before we left for school each day, so everything had it's place. But, I must admit, I had a LOT fewer items to deal with than my children or for that matter my grandchildren.

Question: When Tina and I were kids, were you as organized as you are now (spacewise and timewise)? I don't remember us being overbooked with extracurricular activities and things seemed pretty balanced. You always had/made time to make dinner and come to our activities. I assume that Tina's dust allergies had a lot to do with your housekeeping but I don't know for sure. Was there any difference in your level of organization pre- and post- Tina being diagnosed with allergies.

My Mom: When Tina was 2, we learned she had severe allergies. After many tests, we discovered mold, dust, cat and dog dander were some of the worse culprits. Our pediatrician informed me it would be necessary to clean the bathrooms daily, dust and vacuum daily (or pull out all the carpeting) and if I didn't remove them, I would have to vacuum the curtains weekly, after they were sprayed with a special product designed to keep down dust. So, yes, Tina's allergies played a BIG roll in my organizing the house and keeping things up. After she had been on shots for about 5 years and her allergies improved, I tried to back off the "daily" regimen. By that time I was working full time, was scout leader for either Tina or you for 7 years running, then when Tina started playing junior high basketball and volleyball and then you were in high school tennis, I tried to be at every game/match. Unlike many families of today, we always ate dinner together (unless, of course, there was an out-of-town game), but we seemed to always pull things off. I think being organized gave me the freedom to feel I could go to work, attend your games and tennis matches and still have the house a "home". Of course, by this time you and Tina were young adults and pretty much in charge of your own things - I basically just had to keep the house "clean". I often referred to the house as my "kingdom" and you girls' rooms as your "castles". I insisted my kingdom was picked up, but couldn't always assume the castles would meet my expectations.

Question: How do you figure that Tina and I turned out with different tendencies toward organization?

My Mom: I ponder this question often and have NEVER come up with an answer!

Question: Do you have any thoughts about why a few of our family members have/had serious clutter/hoarding issues?

My Mom: Your paternal grandmother had a serious hoarding issue, but I think it can be explained. By the time the "clutter" started, she was pretty much house-bound. Her only enjoyment in life was ordering things that she thought she might one day take advantage of "when she was better". I think it was her way of holding out hope for returning to a normal healthy life.

I have an elderly first cousin, that has serious clutter issues. She tells me her mother was always a spendthrift, so I think she became the extreme opposite, spending very little and yet keeping EVERYTHING ever purchased.

My Comments: I believe my grandma was in the Level 2 range on the clutter hoarding scale. The cousin is probably a Level 2-3. I haven't seen her house but have heard about it in detail from my mom.

And now for some fun ones:

Question: Which would be worse: someone reorganizing your pantry without your permission? or someone turning your pantry into pure chaos?

My Mom: I REALLY have trouble with chaos. I might not like the way someone organizes, but at least there would be a pattern to it.

Question: By what date do you send out your yearly Christmas letter and are you actually trying to beat everyone else by being first?

My Mom: I always try to send our Christmas letter out the day after Thanksgiving, after all, that is when the Christmas shopping season begins. (I do have one cousin I try to beat - we have a lot of fun trying to be the "first".) Once my Christmas letters are in the mail I feel the holiday season has begun and then I can relax and enjoy, knowing I've gotten them out of the way. It's the same way with Christmas presents. I really dislike shopping in crowds and not being able to get what I want as a gift for someone, so I start early. For example, this year, I was able to relax, bake cookies, etc. because by the first of December my Christmas letters were out, my Christmas shopping done and wrapped. It was so relaxing to really be able to enjoy the holidays and not be stressing out.

Thanks Mom!

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