My Dad can be a tad melodramatic, so it was hard to evaluate just how dire the situation was. The biggest problem is that my parents are pack rats. I mean they keep EVERYTHING! So it wasn’t just that their basement flooded, it’s that it flooded under boxes and boxes and boxes of stuff.
When I arrived, my dad’s knee seemed in good shape and they had managed to move stuff around enough so that they could remove all the wet carpet themselves, but the place was a mess. Thirteen years ago I had tried to dig them out of their pack rat ways by spending a month organizing and de-cluttering their house, but my parents were still working at the time, so they weren’t deeply involved in the process. Plus, my Dad wasn’t super on board with the whole thing. This time however - he was. It was like he saw all the piles of stuff for the first time and he was ready to purge.
When I got to my childhood home and assessed the situation I knew we couldn’t start in the basement. We had to start on the main floor - in the living room, dining room, and kitchen. These are the places that they spend the most time in and that would have the most impact. Plus... we couldn’t bring another thing upstairs until we found some place to put it.
And so it began, the sorting and purging, the deciding what to keep and where to store it. We made some good progress, but it was hard. I was only there for three days and I wanted to see a marked difference before I left. I hoped to leave them motivated enough to keep going and with a plan to get the whole house done someday...soon.
It turned out to be a challenging yet successful weekend, and it solidified some answers I had been seeking recently. I have been wondering lately if a person can be both very organized and systematized, as well as highly creative and spontaneous? Can a person do both?
Sometime I get frustrated with the way I was raised, often yearning that my parents had valued organization and planning more. Wishing that cleaning and systematizing had been ingrained into my being since childhood. I find myself learning those skills now as an adult and hoping they will be second nature for my children.
On the other hand, growing up, my family loved adventure, exploring, and packing as much as possible into a day. We had a tiny cabin in the town of Kelwood, Manitoba were we spent most weekends and summers hiking, hunting, fishing, exploring, hanging out with friends of all ages. We would also drive to see grandparents and friends in Minnesota at least 3 or 4 times a year. If something fun was happening, we were up for it. There were no “Sorry, we have to paint the fence this weekend,” excuses, we were always looking for the next adventure.
Looking back now, I see it as a way of avoiding work; not wanting to deal with the maintenance and chores of life, but moving onto the next fun thing instead. Since that is how I grew up, I’m now always up for anything. I’m rarely overwhelmed by the idea of some crazy adventure, even with a 3 and 5 year-old in tow. We often pack one more thing into the day just to squeeze some more fun out of life. And I am constantly trying to create some excessive amount of artwork or doing some crazy project or exhibit that most people would not take on in the time allotted. Are these good things or not? Can I be both organized and up for anything? Can I be systematized, yet highly prolific?
I’m sure like everything in life, it’s a balancing act. I used to think balance was a destination, but I now know balance is a scale, where we are constantly adding some of this to one side, or taking away a little of that on the other. Going all out in one direction, and then counterbalancing that by focusing the other way for a while. It’s a give and take. I am learning that planning, creating systems, and being more organized is allowing me to actually get more done AND give me time to be spontaneous - and I hope my parents will learn this too.
Though there were many parts of this weekend that were hard and overwhelming, I am realizing that there are parts of me that are glad my family valued adventure over cleaning and maintenance. I’m wondering if organizing and systems are easier to learn later in life, versus trying to learn how to drop it all and go camping on 15 minutes notice or letting the housework slide when there’s a creative deadline looming in your 40's? Is it easier for a very organized person to learn to let go and be spontaneous, or for a hoarder to learn to be organized? Again, like most things in life, it doesn’t really matter what the circumstances are, it only matters how we interpret them. So I’m going to embrace my squeeze-the-most-out-of-li