Wednesday, July 1, 2009

I can’t afford the mess!: Boomer women and the price we pay when we clutter our lives

I can’t afford the mess!:
Boomer women and the price we pay when we clutter our lives

The other day my pal Cindy said, “I am feeling so disorganized lately. I used to keep it all together but now I can’t find socks that match! My files at work are a mess and my kitchen is a disaster area! Don’t even ask about the closet where I am supposed to hang my clothes!”

I knew that I heard right about the place where she was “supposed” to hang her clothes. Last time I visited her house I had noticed that the coats in her downstairs hallway closet were sort of shoved in between layers of way too much stuff already on hangers. I guess the closets upstairs were equally scary.

I made the appropriate, I-feel-your-pain gestures – nodding and raising my eyes to the skies as though saying, “me too sister!” But she continued: “This week I spent way too much time looking for my property tax bill, and that little card from my doctor’s office with the date for my next appointment. And for the life of me I can’t find my calendar. So I don’t know if I’m supposed to be at my Pilates class tomorrow night or at the Chamber mixer.”

Wow. As she talked I felt my heart clench, my throat tighten, my pulse race. I was feeling what it must feel like to have lost that much control over her environment. And then I wondered wow – how much does it cost her to be this disorganized?

At age 55 Cindy is earning decent money. Her monthly take home is $7000 a money so her net is approximately $12,000. Breaking it down further, she’s earning about $75 per hour. If it takes her 2 hours to find socks that match (okay, no one will look for a matching sock for 2 hours. Okay, some people might), then how much does really cost her to find her socks, and calendar, and everything else. And if she decided at some point to stop looking for the socks, and instead go out and shop for more socks on her way home from her 40+hour per week job, how much is she now paying for a disorganized life? Finally, if she never made it to the Pilates class or the Chamber mixer, how much did she really lose by losing her calendar? Where the Pilates could have worked out her body, Mixers always have a way of energizing her mind.

I described my musings to Cindy. We calculated that if she were paying her own salary, it would cost her $35 for the 30 minutes it took to hunt for her doctor’s appointment card. This revelation led us to a conversation on the value of her time. It was a light-bulb moment.

“Nearly every day on my way home,” Cindy explained, “I always think about how great it would feel to slide into a hot bath with a good mystery.” Being single has it strong points. Divorced, and her daughter away at college, Cindy knows the value of a quiet, uninterrupted household. She is never able to reach this coveted goal however, because, as she tells me, “I always feel that there’s too much to do when I’m home.” Indeed.

Ironically, Cindy traces her daughter’s leaving for school as the starting point for her current state of disorganization. At a time when all she had to do was take care of and be responsible for only one person, Cindy became increasingly disorganized.

During this mini-emotional meltdown, Cindy was confiding in me as her friend, and also as her professional organizer. She knew the exact right person who could empathize with the mess that had taken over her life! And irony of ironies… the reason why it took her a while to call me, even as the clutter piled higher and deeper was because…wait, I’ll let her tell you: “Regina, the reason I didn’t call you was because I didn’t think I could afford you! HA! But really – I can’t afford the mess!”

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