Friday, March 28, 2008

Persimmon Tree, Very Pretty

The garden metaphors for organizing just keep coming at me. Not that I'm really doing much gardening, although I'm thinking about it. Besides, it's raining now, so I CAN'T go out and garden...

As it is softly misting in my back yard, I can see that our little persimmon tree is beginning to leaf out. (Yes, this is California and we've been having a beautiful–and early–Spring.)

This tree is a survivor like no other. When we bought this house about 3 years ago, it was quite tall and even had some persimmons on it. But it was misshapen and a very sad thing to look at. It is near our back fence, which had a huge growth of blackberries on the other side. These things are prehistoric remnants that I know will cover the earth someday if we ever do have a cataclysmic event. They and the cockroaches will rule. But I digress....

Not only had the blackberry vines entwined themselves into this tree, but a climbing rose had also declared the persimmon its habitat. It was a tall tree, but it really only had about a fourth of its crown that it should have had. The blackberries and roses had overtaken the tree on the back side and it was only a persimmon tree in the front.

I made the heart-wrenching decision to let the gardener cut it down, thinking I would soon plant one or two redwoods in its place, to complete a row (and privacy to our yard) of three others.

Well, procrastination does have its place now and then, (don't tell anyone I said this), and the next summer, a beautiful, healthy straight shoot came out of the little stump. Since the blackberries and rose had been cut back, it now had all the light and room it needed.

It did branch and leaf out last summer, although it did not bear fruit. It is now entering its second season of its second life, and it is a (shorter) but very beautiful and symmetric tree.

My connection with this tree to organizing? Yes, I'm getting to that.

Think about the clutter you may have in your home or life. Is it choking out the life in you, creating a lopsided version of you because it overshadows who you really are? If you cut it all out, would you then be able to grow straight and tall (so to speak), basking (basquing if you are Portuguese) in the sunlight now available to you? Able to bloom and fruit to your full extent instead of just a small percentage?

Yes, keeping the "blackberries" at bay will be a constant chore, but I can keep up with it a little at a time, especially since I can see how "happy" my persimmon tree is now. And now that I can see its full beauty.

How is your persimmon tree?

Are you ready for a new season with a new life?

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Compulsive Hoarding, Part I

I just attended a day-long seminar put on by the Institute on Aging in San Francisco, called Clutter Addiction and Hoarding. This was a completely separate event from the Mental Health Association's annual Conference on Hoarding and Cluttering.

There were at least 200-300 people in attendance. That was the part that astounded me.

I'll be writing more in the next few weeks about the complex issue of Compulsive Hoarding and all the attention it's gotten in the last several months–special episodes on Oprah, Dr. Phil and all those organizing shows, some of which touch on the most severe cases only occasionally.

This issue has finally come "out of the closet" so to speak. Well it had to because the closet was full.

I had never known about hoarding personally while growing up, although my parents did help "clean" a friend's house after she had broken her wrist and ankle. They had described to me what they found. (Absolutely all the earmarks of a hoarder, as I now know.) Little trails through the house–the only place you could walk. Piles of papers and stuff. Present after present that had never been given away. Just another crazy social worker, I thought.

I've been studying the issue of hoarding ever since I joined the NSGCD (National Study Group on Chronic Disorganization) in 2005. It was fascinating. I wanted to know more and certainly be "prepared" for when I might have a client in this situation. What have I learned? Oh, so much. And that it's hard to be truly prepared.

What I have learned is this: compulsive hoarding is as much a disease as alcoholism is. It's hard to understand, difficult to live with (or impossible) and there's no easy cure. That's what researchers are looking at now--how can people who have this issue be helped? What really is the problem? Is it in the brain? In the mind? In the heart? A combination of all these? I think yes.

What has become clear to me is not the answers, but the questions that now must be asked.

How do we help?

How do we fund this help?

How can we remain compassionate while looking for the answers and trying to help?

How do we get communities involved?

Since this is such a closeted illness, researchers are hard-pressed to give accurate numbers as to how many among us might have hoarding issues. One or two percent? Possibly 5%. That means in every large church group of 500 or more, there are 5 to 25 people who are living with this illness and maybe many more who are affected–children, relatives, friends, even pets.

In the next few installments, I will define Compulsive Hoarding, talk about the "what-not-to-dos" that well-meaning friends or loved ones might think is right. As well as give some resources for help. And probably come up with a few more questions. Maybe someone out there has some answers.

If you want more information right away, read "Buried in Treasures" (in the book list at the bottom) or visit the following websites. They have a tremendous amount of information about what this condition is, information to help you help yourself or a loved one, and links to more resources.

This is one iceberg that is just beginning to melt and we are feeling the affects of the flood.

Children of Hoarders
Squalor Survivors
Obsessive Compulsive Foundation Hoarding Website
National Study Group on Chronic Disorganization

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Kilroy was here.

I think I have discovered something in Chronic Disorganization I will call the
“Kilroy Was Here Syndrome.”

Discovered in myself first, quite by chance, I think it can only happen if you live in a house with other people, but I might be mistaken, since I’ve never lived in a house without other people.

Let me tell you my story.

I came out one morning to our nice clean kitchen. (I’d like you to believe it is that way every morning, but alas, the kitchen is one of my own personal issues.) I was happy that the Messy Fairies had left it alone overnight. I was the first one up, and I had used a water glass. As I was about to go through my self-questioning (Do I leave it out? Do I put it in the dishwasher right now?), I was thinking that if I put it in the dishwasher (as my Organizer Fairy was urging me to do), wouldn’t my spouse be proud of how conscientious I had been by putting it away right then?

And then another, more sinister thought (must have been from the Messy Fairy) entered my head. “If I put this glass away, he will not notice that I have put it away. He will not realize that I was even in the room. He will only notice that I have been in the room if I leave the glass out!

For a moment, I almost decided to leave the glass out! (I didn’t—I put it in the dishwasher.)

But it made me wonder about myself and my clients. Are we sometimes messy because we subconsciously (or unconsciously—I’m never sure which) want someone, anyone, to know that we have been there? Our own little “Kilroy Was Here” graffiti that confirms our existence to others.

It was a surprising thought, true at least for me.

When I see a mess my precious daughter has left behind, I try not to get angry, but remember that it is because we have a child (something we had really, really wanted), that we now have a mess in the house, or a toy tossed here or there. Shall I choose to look at it as another mess to clean up left by my ungrateful daughter? A task to remind my child about when she gets home? Or simply a token of her existence for which I am grateful every day, and I can easily and quickly swoop it up and put it where it needs to go? (With a smile on my face thinking about the day she was born, or the wonderful drawings she’s always making for us.)

The same can be said for things a spouse leaves behind—socks here and there, a towel on the floor, a dish out of place. I am often reminded of letters to Dear Abby and Ann Landers from widows who would give anything to have these messes back in the house if only their husbands were still there, too.

Now, that's not to say that I'm not teaching my daughter to clean up after herself (she's only in first grade, we have years left to work on it!) or that I'll excuse my spouse's messiness every time. But it does mean I'll try to lighten up on myself and the tapes I play in my head when I confront a mess--mine or theirs. I can also choose to still be conscientious about cleaning up after myself and still find ways to leave my mark. Cutesy things are fun and easy--a note in the lunch box, or the bathroom mirror. Or just a hug when they get home and an easy, "I love you, and I'm so glad to see you."

I can remember which "mark" I want them to see and how they might be thinking of me when they see it. Just as easily as I can choose which thoughts I will think when I see their "marks."

Have a great week!

Margaret was here.

(Clink the links on either today's title or the graphic to learn more about the original "Kilroy Was Here" drawing. He was quite popular during WWII and there are a number of legends, myths and information about how he came to be.)