Making Order Out of Chaos

When I read Duncan Cross’s prompt for the latest edition of the Patients For A Moments blog carnival, which asks how we recharge, I was sitting in my home office. Stacks of bills and paperwork that needed to be filed took up most of the desk space. An assortment of mail, cards, and other mementos took up residence on top of the filing cabinet, patiently waiting to be stored more permanently. Folders filled with journal articles and research piled up in leaning towers on the floor, competing with books I need to read and review, files to read through for my teaching and research projects, and various stickers and drawings from my trusty little assistant.

In short, my home office reflected the state of my life the past several months—exciting and productive but incredibly intense and long, too. (Teaching an overload (4 courses), managing the pre-launch book tour and subsequent book tour, doing in-person book events and interviews, freelancing, helping out with care before and after my father’s transplant, etc.)

Having all these very big things happen all at once equals a lot of emotion, a lot of responsibilities, and very little sleep. My husband works weekends, too, and with some juggling the two of us we kept up with the basics: laundry, weekly cleaning (dusting/vacuuming/scrubbing), cooking, etc.

But the long-term stuff? The filing, the organizing of pantry and shelves, the sorting through drawers, the de-cluttering and boxing up of old toys and games? All that stuff slipped to the wayside. We were just trying to keep up with the everyday stuff; filing paperwork was just not a priority.

This all goes back to the central question Duncan Cross asks—what do we do to recharge when we are run down? After reading it, I ignored the looming deadlines, closed down my laptop, and spent some time organizing my office. The desktop was pristine. Each scrap of paper had its rightful folder. Each stack of folders had its rightful drawer. I felt a little less burnt out and frazzled.

For a moment, I debated sitting back down and tackling the deadlines, but something in me just couldn’t. I’d done that at the expense of so much for so long.

So then came clearing out all our drawers and closets, then the intense dusting behind and underneath the furniture, and I felt even less burnt out and frazzled. Then came the whole downstairs, too. A couple hours later, I flopped down on the couch, wheezy and exhausted, but it was the first time in so long I felt settled. Even though I was incredibly sleep deprived and getting over a sinus infection, I felt so energized.

While the examples are not always so extreme and time-consuming, I realized after the fact that putting my life into order in the midst of chaos is something that always makes me feel a little better. Even something as small as writing out a To Do list has the power to both calm and recharge me when I am a hospital patient and I am physically unable to make order out of the chaos.

After a 14-hour stint at the hospital the day of my father’s transplant, my husband made sure the house was clean and organized before I got home, because he knew it would make me feel better to have things orderly when I was in such an emotional state.

My office is now a sunny, neat place to get work done, instead of a omnipresent reminder of how frenzied the past few months have been, and putting more order back into the household makes me feel like I have more control over my life in general.

How do you recharge? What do you do when life and stress and illness start to spiral?

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5 thoughts on “Making Order Out of Chaos

  1. Funny you should write this. I find that change of season often increases my need for more order . I’ve known since I was a child how important it is for me to have clean spaces where I can find things. I’ve always attributed it to my cluttered mind. When my thoughts tune out, order makes it easier to focus them. I think this became even more important due to living with illness — and a body that is so demanding, When one part of the ‘system’ needs your attention, it’s a lot easier when the rest is humming and simple. The other thing that I rely on to create a sense of peace and order is to do mind/body work – meditation, tai chi. It soothes me tremendously.

  2. Totally agree! The change of seasons is always a big impetus for me to get things in order, especially when we move from summer into fall…working in academia, September always feels like the new year to me.

  3. Oh yes, I have a lot of big picture/little picture discussions in my head. When things are going crazy (as they almost always seem to be) a lot of the little stuff falls by the wayside, and I let it. Just aren’t enough hours in the day, enough spoons in my armory. I know I’ll get there eventually (she says, to the boxes in the cellar that she still hasn’t unpacked, three years later.)

  4. A year before my breast cancer diagnosis I got socked by a bout of pneumonia–never had it before and it knocked the wind out of my sails. I think I was operating at 90% after that. Then came stage iv breast cancer and a bone lesion that kicked off a diagnosis of severe spondylosis from a very old accident and surgery. I had to keep up with classes and other work while dealing with fatigue and pain. But that wasn’t the worst of it: my house was a disaster! I couldn’t keep up with basic chores and it really got me down. Everywhere I looked I was stressed. Everything was a crisis because my environment was declining. I finally bit the bullet and hired a housekeeper. That guarantee of cleanliness and order enables me to concentrate on being well. It is simply impossible to think clearly when your environment is as jumbled as your head and your schedule. I miss the personal satisfaction of putting it all in order myself, but just having an orderly environment is a continual recharge for writing and reading. (Reminds of grad school days where my apartment was never cleaner until I had a major paper due!)

    • Thanks for the note! I agree–it is impossible to think clearly when everything around you is jumbled, and it definitely increases stress levels. I love hearing that keeping things in order allows you to focus on wellness.

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