Executive function is a harsh mistress.
Last year I took like a month-long break from social media when I realized how burned out I was from election coverage. Part of my goal was to try to fix the things in my life that weren't working, come up with better routines for my day-to-day life and catch up with things around the house that needed catching up.
My bedroom and office — my private spaces within the house — were disaster areas, as a result of cycles of depression and physical infirmity. I did get my bedroom cleaned and completely rearranged in a way that I had thought would be easier to maintain, but that project alone took almost all my energy and time during the hiatus.
And, well... with my office (which adjoins the bedroom) very much unsorted, the mess sort of crept back in. I hadn't really come up with a sustainable routine. Hyperfocused mania is not actually that useful in the long run.
It might have been okay, if 2019 hadn't been 2019. If I hadn't traveled so much. If my mother hadn't died.
If, if, if.
I am a fantasy and science fiction writer. An author of speculative fiction. It's hard for me to get away from the ifs.
So, it's December again and I've been feeling... well, very little, and little of it good. I had been thinking about taking another social media break for a while, and what stopped me was a feeling that it would be irresponsible to step away now, and the thought that I might repeat last year's routine with the same lack of long-term gains.
But I realized today that I wasn't actually doing any good on Twitter. Entertaining pop culture jokes, sure. Angry snipe-fests? Check. Pointless dunks on horrible tweets and articles? I can do those on my worst day, and frequently, I do.
But anything of substance on current events? When I managed that at all, it was here, in my newsletter... which doesn't get written when I'm hanging out on Twitter.
I started this thing because I was going to be away from Twitter more, being down at the Flying Camel. Then the weather got cold and I went in less, and stayed in more. The newsletter suffered but Twitter didn't get better.
So I am taking another Twitter break, this time for a bit over two weeks. I am not going to be as ambitious about my plans during it, in the hopes that I can make more sustainable changes.
And I think I have hit on a framework. After trying to come up with a plan for getting my living and working environment workable and livable, I gave up and decided to tackle a smaller problem: how do I put my clothes away?
It would be a simple question if I had managed my living space effectively from the start, but I hadn't, and so my "clothing storage solution" has even at its best depended on a large number of my garments being dirty, ideally sorted into hampers but spread out on the floor when other parts of my life have spiralled out of control.
It isn't that I don't have places to put my clothes. I have a dresser, and a closet, and a very large old schrunk cabinet that came with the house.
But the schrunk is mostly full of stuff I had no other place to put when I moved in. Last year in my cleaning frenzy I got as far as clearing one of its shelves for my hats, which suffered more than my other clothes from not having a home.
It's easy to speculate about what I could do IF ONLY I had prioritized order and putting stuff away properly when I moved in, but I didn't, and while it's easy, it's also useless.
So lI tried turning my speculative imagination in another direction. The problem is I have a large laundry basket full of clean clothes and nowhere to put them away. If I don't resolve this by Monday, I'm going to hit a cascade problem where I can't do laundry and the dirty clothes component of the overall clutter will grow rather than shrinking, for the first time in a month.
(I have been making some progress.)
This is a concrete, manageable problem. As Mr. Rogers said (or at least Tom Hanks playing him did), anything human is mentionable and anything mentionable is manageable. The snowdrifts of depression throughout my quarters are a human problem, so there is no shame in mentioning them. If I can raise them, I can face them. If I can face them, I can work through them.
I have a speculative brain, so let's speculate.
IF I can clear the space in front of the schrunk cabinet doors in my bedroom, I can open it up.
IF I then clear out one big shelf in it by consolidating, rearranging, and eliminating, I can put the clean laundry sitting in front of my closet door away.
IF I can get into my closet, I can hang up the stuff that needs hanging up and declutter my bedroom entrance.
IF I can declutter my bedroom entrance, I can move the chair and things that are blocking the connecting door to my office/the cats' room.
IF I eliminate the mostly empty boxes which each have a few small things I haven't figured out where to put (or whose permanent homes are currently obstructed by boxes and clutter) as I go, the space freed up at each step grows and each subsequent stage becomes easier.
WITH that aforementioned laundry put away, I will have an easier time staying on top of my laundry next week.
WITH the space between the foot of my bed and the schrunk cleared, I can fix my laundry hamper situation which also makes getting laundry done next week easier and also makes it easier to declutter and stay decluttered.
And from there things spiral in a positive way rather than a negative one. Because if I can walk between my office and my bedroom it makes it easier to keep on top of things there. I have more space for playing Tetris with the currently irreducible bits of clutter, which will help me find places for things and put them away, which will help reduce said clutter.
And it all comes down to: can I clean the space between the schrunk and my bed tomorrow? Can I get that clear?
I can. I am sure I can.
And if I can do that, I can put my clean laundry away. I will have solved the problem I set out to solve, and in the process set myself up to solve the next one, and the next one.
Thank you for reading!
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