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Grains of Sand. (Wednesday’s Wisdom)

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Have you ever been in that place where you had more to do than could be done in a day, a week or even a month? Have you ever felt so overwhelmed by your “to do” list you simply wanted to run away from it all –the husband, the kids, the job, the demands — and not look back? Have you had those times when you can no longer see the trees for the forest?

At one time or another, I imagine we all have. Our lists stretch beyond our perspective and balance is lost.

About a month ago, I listened to my sister rattle off all the things she needed and wanted to get done. None of her “to do’s” was more important than the others; they were all top priority. None could be delegated or deleted. And at some point, she had mentally morphed her long list into one massive “to-do.” Of course, I knew that everything she wanted and needed to get done wasn’t a top priority, but during that call, that was her truth. It was clear she was overwhelmed. It was clear her perspective was skewed.  It was clear she would rather run away or hide under the covers. Above all, it was clear she had no idea where or how to start breaking things down, so I suggested she start with a grain of sand.

“A grain of sand” metaphorically means to focus on just one thing, not the entire beach; separate the trees from the forest. We talked about listing every one of her “to do’s” and then prioritizing them. We talked about releasing those things that didn’t really need to be done, or at least not done in the immediate future. And then, I advised her to select one grain, just one, to start with. Every now and then, perspective is regained when we narrow our view and lose sight of the bigger picture for just a little bit.

About a week later, I replayed those same words to my reflection in the mirror. Falling behind on my “regular to do” list while I was sick coupled with the rapidly growing number of things that must be done before C’s fast approaching graduation in May and the plethora of “spring tasks” had left me sleepless at night and harboring secret desires to slip out the back door and ditch all my responsibilities. I had become paralyzed by a list that grew longer by the day and deadlines and due dates that loomed ever closer. Guilt crept in and further clouded my perspective. And still, my list grew.  It was the perfect storm. Or so it appeared, until I narrowed my focus.

In an uncharacteristic move, I set aside my beloved day planner in favor of a standard yellow legal pad. At the top of the page I wrote the words, “Grains of Sand” and three subtitles: personal, girls, and household. Then, I began to list. I listed big things and small things. If it popped into my head, it went on my list. One page quickly became two as I poured  out my mental burdens. When my purge was complete, I reviewed my list and began assigning target completion dates to each task, which correlated to their priority. I took a deep breath and felt a wave of hope.

Then I set to work…on closing my books, my Facebook, email, limiting my phone calls, coffee dates, and even allowing my blog to sit idle for the last two weeks. Distractions, I had to admit, had been my escape and unless I put myself on a “distraction diet”, my list would continue to grow, along with my stress level. Though I’ve checked emails, I haven’t replied unless there was something urgent to address. And, while I confess I’ve dabbled with Facebook here and there, my pages have been left relatively dormant. I haven’t read the blogs I so enjoy, and even my new Kindle has gone virtually untouched since it arrived last week. Additionally, last week’s spring break allowed me to let go of teaching, and given the fact that C had her wisdom teeth out last Tuesday, my “taxi” remained parked in the driveway most of the week. With my distractions managed, C resting comfortably in the recliner, TV remote in hand, and her sister situated on the couch nearby, it was time to start the heavy lifting.

In the last two weeks, I’ve worked my list and regained perspective. With my master list readily accessible, I begin my days by choosing one or two items per “category” to focus on.  I’ve checked off some large and many small projects. I’ve decluttered, purged, and completely reorganized rooms. I’ve calculated academic hours and transcripts, caught up on grading, and begun planning a graduation. I’ve spent time researching and outlining the presentation I’ll give in two weeks at our local library and taxes, bills, and the start of a budget have been tackled. And in the process, my evenings have become more restful and my days brighter. Though still long, my list is not as long as it was two weeks ago, and that feels pretty darn good. With only one grain of sand at a time, I’m building a new, more beautiful and relaxing beach for myself and my family. Seems I won’t need to run away after all. Umbrella drink, anyone?

How do you regain perspective when your list of “to do’s” overwhelms? Do you slip away to cyber-land, under the covers, or out the back door? Or, do you reach for pencil and paper?

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Calming the mental clutter (Wednesday’s Wisdom)

Don’t be jealous, but I have my own “Ashi.” Well, that’s how my sister puts it when referring to my sage. My sister often comes to me in search of  advice when I soon realize it’s not mine she seeks. She’ll patiently hear me out before casually asking, “What would your Ashi say?”  I think she’s a bit jealous. I suppose if I was her, I might be, too.

Truthfully, I don’t have “an Ashi.” But, I do have a dear friend named Ashi, (pronounced “aw-she”–I know, cool name, huh?) with whom I have been friends for over 14 years. Initially, we worked for the same company, she as office manager and me as a contract consultant. I remember watching her in amazement. Despite the chaotic environment, her organizational skills were beyond reproach! So, when she ventured out to begin a contract administrative support business, I eagerly signed on as a client. Neither of us predicted what would come next.

Outside the confines of an office or a traditional job description, Ashi discovered her “real” gift beyond space organization; the ability to help people deal with their “stuff” and move in the direction of their dreams. While helping clients organize their work spaces, she recognized that the “external clutter” that covered desks and crowded offices often reflected the “internal clutter” that blocked personal growth. Soon clients, like me, were asking for her help beyond their work spaces. Kitchens, bedrooms, and family rooms were transformed from mere living spaces into breathing spaces.  Ashi couples her superior organizational and decluttering talents with her unique ability to guide and coach her clients in discovery of themselves as they release possessions (and the associated thought patterns) that no longer serve them. Her approach is gentle, intuitive, and perhaps most importantly, supportive, as she recognizes the immense emotions that often surround our internal and external “stuff.”

Over the years, Ashi has helped me as I’ve eliminated the clutter that crowds my counter tops, fills my closets and covers my desk. Long ago, she helped me realize that if anything, be it a pair of shoes, piece of jewelry, or a gift from a friend wasn’t something I still truly loved, it was clutter. And that running out of room to store my “stuff” didn’t necessarily mean it was time to shop for a new home; it meant it was time to release clutter, physically and emotionally.

The other day, I found my mind overflowing with thoughts. Like an attic bulging with “family heirlooms”, much of what filled my mind was simply clutter. There were thoughts of this friend’s pain, that friend’s hardship, and another family’s anguish. My husband’s certification exams, a daughter’s work schedule, my sister’s classes, and dirty laundry all vied for attention. My mind raced with thoughts of bills and financial markets and insurance claims and curriculum orders and prayer lists and emails and neglected gardens and arriving guests and… Comically, even the Grinch inched his way into my thoughts and cried out, “One thing I can’t stand is the noise, noise, noise, noise!”

Then it hit me; I had either truly lost it, or I had too much clutter in my mental closet.

Fearing the alternative,  I set my focus on decluttering my mind. Naturally, I turned to my “declutter guru,” Ashi. In her last blog post, “How much is enough” (http://graceyourspace.com/blog/?p=45),  she wrote of the overwhelming energy of the fast-flowing St. Vrain River. As she stood by the banks, she recognized her inability to fully relax as the water charged by. It was too much. Like too many items atop a dresser, the water’s dramatic flow cluttered her senses. She and her husband moved on to find a smaller, calmer creek offering her enough room to breathe and to think while enjoying the nurturing sounds of moving water. She had found her balance.

I reflected on her words and how they applied to the thoughts that rushed my mind like the fast-flowing water. I sifted through the mental demands as they came to me asking, “Is this one mine to do something with/about? How is this supporting me/my family?” When it was both mine and supportive, I held on to it. When it was neither truly mine nor supportive, I said a prayer and released it. And so went the decluttering process of my mental closet until, by the end of the day, there was room again for peace.  I took a deep breath and rested by the banks of the newly calmed waters.

Without material items to pick up, dust off, and physically place in a “keep” or “go” pile, the process of sifting through “mental clutter” can feel as emotionally taxing as sorting through my childhood memory box. However, as I have learned from Ashi, the rewards of a decluttered mind are as revitalizing to the spirit as walking into a freshly decluttered and organized living space. Perhaps, even more so.

She’s a wise woman, that Ashi of “mine.” I have been blessed by her friendship, and I have benefited from her wisdom, often. Whether through private coaching, her speaking engagements, her website, Grace Your Space, or her award-winning book, Bless Your Mess, I know many others have as well. But, shhh, don’t tell my sister cuz then she’ll brag she has her “own Ashi.”

For help with your own decluttering, visit Ashi’s website at:  http://graceyourspace.com/index.html

or check out her book on Amazon at: http://www.amazon.com/Bless-Your-create-feels-fabulous/dp/0982159706/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1313009127&sr=1-1