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.

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