Sorting and Settling

So you’ve sat with your mess for a while. The jumble of life (inward, outward, or both) has been bravely acknowledged. You’ve managed to draw close to Jesus in the middle of the chaos, and He assures you it has no power to define who you are. What a cool place to start untangling the strands, right? (If you have no clue what this looks like, check out last week’s post.)

A practical tip: this process is a million times more pleasant if you begin by lighting a candle and turning on some good music. You’re establishing a rhythm to work by already, and it’s exerting your God-given authority over decay.

For physical messes, like a room (or a house), there are a few options. If you like to group things together, just tidy one kind of thing at a time—re-shelve all of the scattered books, then throw away all the trash, then carry all of the dirty dishes to the sink, etc. If you prefer to start at one point and make a clean trail through the area, working your way deeper into the physical space, go for it. The idea is just to make a significant dent in the clutter. (Crunched for time? Clean for as long as it takes to listen to one song. Then go do something else and come back for another song. You’d be surprised how much you can accomplish in 3-minute increments.) Those who work better over longer stretches might set aside a couple of hours to dedicate to restoring order.

For mental messes, like having four planners, start a list to dump your brain onto. Include items you need to buy at the store, appointments you’ve made, things you’re worrying about, projects to finish (or start), responsibilities that depend on you, anything you’ve been carrying in your head. It’s okay if the list is a mile long and really messy—at least it’s out of your mind now and somewhere concrete. Ever heard of the Zeigarnik effect? Apparently unfinished tasks roll around your mental space forever, but even simply jotting down those items makes the perpetual motion stop. Once everything is out on the table (or legal pad), then you can consider how to organize it—maybe by daily, weekly, monthly, or someday tabs. Condense all of those plans into one place.

I know this can seem overwhelming, so it’s helpful to regularly pause focusing on the clutter and shift attention back to Jesus (who never stops smiling over you, even when you can’t find yourself because you’re neck-deep in clutter). This reordering, settling practice of work and watch, work and watch, is good for the soul.

Tons of books have been written on how to reorganize parts of your life—here are a few of my favorites.

Taming the To-Do List by Glynnis Whitwer

Glynnis literally writes the book on procrastination. If there are things you need to do but just don’t want to do them, read it. If you feel swamped, read it. If you deal with guilt or willpower problems or time management, read it.

“Here’s a truth to hold on to: you are not a machine! You cannot run nonstop, 24/7, pushing yourself to exhaustion, using caffeine as your energy source, and caring for everyone else’s needs forever. You will implode. When we try to do this, we become worn-out, burned-out, broken-down versions of ourselves with nothing left to give anyone.”

Having a Martha Home the Mary Way by Sarah Mae

31 days to a clean house? Yes, please! Each day of this study includes a Mary challenge (things to believe, reflect on, or pray about) and a Martha challenge (rooms to tidy up, organize, or purge).

“Cleaning isn’t just about scrubbing floors, making beds, and clearing out clutter (although those are good things); it’s also about creating an environment that encourages people to feel welcomed, loved.”

When Wallflowers Dance by Angela Thomas

Angela writes with firsthand experience to women who have been through the emotional wringer. Her state of chaos was brought on by a sudden divorce. She provides practical insight about how to restore order to the home, the body, the mind, and the heart after trauma.

“I talked to a woman a few months ago who had gotten herself into some of the biggest life messes you can imagine. She was literally losing everything, all at the same time. She couldn’t think or even begin to start untangling the wreckage she had caused. She said, ‘Angela, my whole life is a mess. I don’t even have any clean clothes and the sink is full of dirty dishes.’ As you already know, all that overwhelming, outward disorder is a direct reflection into the soul.”

The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin

Gretchen experiments for 12 months through different ways of boosting her overall sense of satisfaction in life. While it’s not a Christian book per se, she does start the project off with the mental benefits of clutter busting and includes specific types of accumulation to be on the lookout for (no more bargain clutter for me!).

“I sat down and wrote a five-page to-do list. Writing the list was sort of fun, but then I had to face the prospect of doing tasks that I’d been avoiding—in some cases, for years. For the sake of morale, I added several items that could be crossed off with five minutes of effort.”

Organize Now by Jennifer Ford Berry

Jennifer offers a week-by-week manual on how to create order in just about any aspect of reality you can possibly imagine: from the obvious (priorities, closets, exercise plans) to the more obscure (emotions, expectations, fun time) and with a few surprises sprinkled in (what, you’ve not planned your own funeral yet?), readers are guided along a thorough and refreshing journey.

“Physical clutter is often a by-product of emotional clutter. How many times have you removed piles of clutter from your home only to have piles reappear a few weeks or months later? It’s possible that you’re surrounding yourself with stuff on the outside because you don’t know who you are or what you want on the inside. It’s easy to wrap your identity up in physical things.”

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