28 February 2007

Anti-Authoritarian Organizing

Twice recently I've been misquoted. One woman, who was in the process of clearing out her closet, proudly insisted she was following my advice by getting rid of anything she hadn't worn in a year. Another was astounded to learn that my house, while tidy, is far from passing the white glove test; she was certain that I had a regular cleaning schedule.

Hey, folks -- pay attention. I'm an organizer, but that doesn't mean I advocate (let alone implement) rigid rules and routines. In fact, I find rigid rules and routines disturbing. (The FlyLady's advice drives me up a wall.) I realize that people -- especially people who are struggling with problems resulting from being disorganized -- long for structure, for someone to come along and tell them what to do. There are people out there who crave an authority figure.

But I'm not that figure. I have never said that, if you haven't worn (or used) something in a year, you should get rid of it. In fact, I quite clearly state that this advice is "arbitrary and externally imposed. I want you to make decisions based on your own needs, values, and goals, not on some magic number dug out of an organizer's advice bag" (page 126, The Spiritual Art of Being Organized).

As for a regular cleaning schedule -- ha! Yes, I have my daily chores, morning and evening rhythms that I've molded for myself, and just as often modify to fit my mood. I enjoy sweeping my floors in the morning, feeding the cats, feeding myself. I like the feel of soap and warm water, so washing dishes is a pleasure. And there's a calming satisfaction to hanging my laundry to dry. But I hate dusting, vacuuming, mopping, scrubbing the toilet, washing windows. So these chores get done when I feel up to them, not on any schedule. Not very efficient, perhaps, but that's okay. (Besides, trying to keep surfaces clean during the wet season, when four cats are constantly painting the floors, counters, and dresser tops with dainty mud prints, is like sweeping back the sand at the beach.)

Being organized means being "at ready." It's what frees us to share our talents with the world, and what helps us to easily find our toys. The whole point of being organized is to make our lives easier, fuller, more meaningful. Organization is a supportive structure that allows us to ride life's rapids, to flow with the anarchy of existence. Constricting that anarchy with rigidity and rules stifles our life energy, which is the exact opposite of organization's goal.

My cousin David is one of the most famous anarchists in the U.S. His ceaseless work to bring justice and equality to all takes the form of teaching nonviolent protest, puppetry as political theater, and consensus as decision-making procedure. David is the youngest of his siblings, while I am the oldest of mine. At either end of the sibling spectrum, we joke about being the two organizers. Ostensibly, he is a political organizer and I a personal organizer (although I prefer the term "professional" so as to make clear that I am a consultant, not some indulgence of the privileged class). He is considered the radical, I the non-political liberal. And while it's true that David is politically active and has been arrested innumerable times for his activism, I think of my work as equally subversive and revolutionary. He takes his lessons to the street; I take them into people's homes. Together we hope to change the world for the better.

And that certainly doesn't mean dutifully following the dictates put forth by organizers -- professional or otherwise. Think for yourself, and do what you can to make the world a better place.

27 February 2007

Finding Our Direction

Our landmarks have changed.

When I give directions to my home, I speak of passing two covered bridges, then going six tenths of a mile until you see a cream-colored duplex with lipstick trim on the right. There are two black mailboxes out front, and a big red round sign that says "Elk River Courts" is just past my driveway. My house, I say, is the one with the deck.

I was visiting an old friend in Santa Rosa this weekend. He asked me to come down for his dog's burial, which was a lovely ceremony that began with an invocation of the directions, followed by song and poetry, then the physical placing of mementos and ashes into the ground. After planting a dwarf bottlebrush and a leptospermum to mark the grave, we gathered round the kitchen table for coffee and homemade scones.

Somehow, the conversation got around to restaurants, with hearty recommendations of favorites. The neighbors were explaining where these hidden treasures could be found. The Japanese restaurant is over by Carl's Junior; the good Chinese restaurant -- the one with enough class to make walnut prawns sans mayonnaise -- is in the downtown mall. (The theater that airs commercials before the previews -- how obnoxiously crass! -- is next to Bakers Square.)

Listening to their conversation, I realized: it's come to this. Our destinations are malls and our landmarks are chains. The great American individuality and creativity upon which we pride ourselves is being devoured by conformity and mediocrity. Across our nation (and across Canada, I'm sorry to say), our towns look just like the other one with strip malls and fast food joints and that cancerous WalMart spreading over the land.

Get me out of here.

But maybe there's hope. Arcata, California -- the town that Fox News loves to mock -- has limited the number of chain restaurants and is exploring implementing a ban on chain stores. A few years ago, my fellow voters in Eureka, California, defeated a zoning variance, effectively blocking WalMart from building a store in our community. Today I read that Stockton, California, is considering an ordinance that would block new big-box retail stores from setting up shop. (http://www.mercurynews.com/mld/mercurynews/news/breaking_news/16789225.htm) Across the country, communities are waking up and saying enough's enough; they are successfully stopping the spread of sameness and superstores.

So what can we do? The one thing we have some control over is our own behavior. I included a quote from Wendell Berry in my book (The Spiritual Art of Being Organized) that applies here:

"What we must do is use well the considerable power we have as consumers: the power of choice. We can choose to buy or not to buy, and we can choose what to buy. The standard by which we choose must be the health of the community—and by that we mean the whole community: ourselves, the place where we live, and all the humans and other creatures who live there with us. It is better to buy at a small, privately owned local store than from a chain store. It is better to buy a good product than a bad one. Do not buy anything you don't need. Do everything you can to see that your money stays as long as possible in the local community."