It wasn’t that I lived in total chaos. Not by a long shot. But there were piles all over the countertops (and sometimes the floor next to the counter), stuff at the top of the stairs, and zero cars parked in our two-car garage because it was full of other stuff.
We lived a busy life, and our spaces reflected it. Both my parents worked full-time, and with three active kids, all on multiple sports teams and involved in a variety of extracurricular activities, most weekdays our door seemed to constantly swing on its hinges. And between sports games, sleepovers, and family camping trips, weekends weren’t much different.
As long as it was just our family, it was fine. Sure, we had to clean off the table every night just to be able to eat dinner, but we still ate together as a family. Despite the piles, the stuff wasn’t usually a problem.
Except for the few times a year when it was.
Two or three times a year, we entertained extended family, of which I have a lot. My mother is the eldest of eight, and my father is the eldest of three. And, of all the extended family, growing up we lived closest to both sets of grandparents. So our house was often the place people crashed for holidays and family gatherings.
When this happened, my siblings and I knew we could expect two things in the couple of days leading up to our extended family’s arrival: lots of extra chores, and one stressed-out Mom. (Not exactly a recipe for the hugs and smiles that were expected of us as soon as family walked in the door!)
As the moment of our extended family’s arrival neared, it seemed like my mother’s level of awareness of our family’s piles increased. The more she saw our spaces through the eyes of our impending company, the more stressed she became. The higher her stress levels, the faster she moved. For a solid 24 to 48 hours before they arrived, she became a whirlwind, tackling piles left and right, clearing the dining room table, kitchen counters, and living room. Anyone who crossed her path (Dad included) ended up with a long list of extra chores.
Somehow, Mom managed to prepare platters of appetizers amidst the chaos of cleaning up, a feat that still boggles my mind today. Amazingly, we never ended up with paperclips in our dip or crackers tasting of soap suds or Windex. Not once!
Appetizers aside, there always seemed like there was just SO MUCH TO DO before company arrived. I often wondered whether some of this stuff could have been done earlier, and, if it had been done earlier, whether it would’ve allowed Mom to enjoy our family’s visits more.
Surely there was a way to stop this stressful pattern, I thought. Maybe if we just had less stuff…
But I was just a kid. What did I know?
25 years later
It turns out I was right on the money. It just took me about two decades to realize it. (Can’t be too upset. Lots of good things have happened in those two decades.)
After successfully raising three kids, my mom and dad happily retired. Today, thanks to my siblings, Mom is now a joyful grandma. She no longer seems to feel the need to clean everything up before anyone comes over. They’ve downsized, which helps a lot, but it also helps that the people they entertain most often are their kids and grandkids. There are still piles on the counter (smaller than they used to be!), but my little niece and nephew don’t care, and my siblings and I expect it. In fact, it kind of feels like home.
As for me, I took that childhood lesson about the connection between stuff and stress, and I ran with it. Today, I run theNeatNiche, an organizing company that exists to help people make room for life. We work with people, maybe like you, who are ready to clear out the stuff they no longer need. We create systems to easily access and care for the stuff you love, need, and use.
In our work as organizers, we talk a lot about stuff. But we know it’s not just about the stuff. By streamlining the stuff, we streamline the stress, too.
It works because the less stuff there is, the less you have to deal with.
Instead of stuff and stress, you have plenty of space and time to actually focus on living.
If that sounds too simple, take a look at your own life. What stuff causes you stress? What if there were less of it?
Would you have more room for life?