Advertising
Advertising

How To Stay Organized When Life Throws You a Curveball

How To Stay Organized When Life Throws You a Curveball

“Things went downhill when we had three family crises in a year,” said a new client who was explaining how her lovely home had evolved into a cluttered, chaotic mess.

It is very common for people to lose control of the order in their homes during times of crisis. Crisis situations that go on for an extended period of time consume time, energy and the motivation required to maintain an organized home.

Advertising

    It’s not uncommon for people to find that once they’ve gotten past the personal crisis–illness, death in the family, caregiving for aging or sick relatives, recovery from surgery–they have another crisis on their hands, a living space that is such a mess that they have no idea how they will ever get it back to its more orderly state.

    Twice in the past year I’ve been thrown into crisis mode, first when my step-father began deteriorating mentally and had to have brain surgery and then when my disabled brother developed a serious infection in his artificial knee joint requiring surgery, weeks of IV antibiotics and another knee replacement. Both events were incredibly energy consuming for me because I was a key decision-maker, the coordinator of communication between family members, a key source of emotional support, and I had my own fears and other feelings to manage.

    It was all I could do to get through each day dealing with the crisis at hand, much less tend to my small business and maintain order in my home. Those two crises were an opportunity for me to learn how to get through difficult times without losing control of other parts of my life.

    Advertising

    Here are 6 of the important lessons I learned:

    1. Identify tasks to be done no matter what.

    Then do them! I am the money manager in our house. So, making sure bills got paid and that money was in the right accounts at the right time were two tasks I had to get done so we could avoid consequences like ruining our credit rating. Keeping us afloat financially during those difficult times helped ground me. I liked knowing that no matter what else happened, we were operating on a firm financial foundation.

    2. Defer whatever tasks you can to other people.

    Instead of trying to keep everything in order by myself, I asked my husband to do many tasks that normally I would have done to maintain our home and our lives together.
    Also, people offer help during times of crisis. Let them! Last summer when I had bi-lateral bunion surgery I asked friends to help provide food and walk my dogs. They were happy to have something to do that would help me, and their help provided a type of emotional support I really needed.

    Advertising

    3. Lighten your load by eliminating obligations.

    It became clear to me pretty quickly that helping my mother and step-father through my step-father’s health crisis and staying healthy myself during that stressful process was more important than writing checks for a professional organization. I actually chose to resign from two volunteer positions because taking care of family and myself were the priority.

    4. Control paper flow even if you can’t regularly process it.

    You may not have time to do much with paper that flows into your house on a daily basis, but you can make sure that it all flows to the same place. That way, when you need to find something in that pile of paper, you have only one place to look. You might stack it in piles in your home office or get an open box and store it there. Just don’t let it float throughout your space!

    If you want to go one step further, pull out bills and magazines/catalogs/newsletters. Put the bills in a highly visible location so you don’t forget about them and so they are easily accessible when you are ready to pay them. Place the magazine, catalogs and other reading materials in a location where you spend time reading. Removing those items from your paper pile will make it shrink and also make it easier to access things to read when you need a source of distraction.

    Advertising

    5. Resist the urge to do nothing.

    In times of personal crisis it is very normal to shut down because of overwhelm, fatigue, or just not knowing what to do. While it is important to take breaks to rest, recharge, and recover, it is not a good idea to go to ground and let everything go. It takes only a day or two for your space to go from being a peaceful haven to a chaotic nightmare. Then you not only have a crisis going on outside your home, but also inside your home. You have no safe place to retreat. Messy houses scream, “You slob! Why don’t you do something about this mess!” Make yourself do at least the bare minimum to maintain order, like controlling the paper flow, washing the dishes, straightening up daily.

    6. Remember that maintaining a basic order will ground you during difficult times.

    You may resist doing maintenance activities because you are exhausted, but if you override the urge to stop and plop on the sofa and instead do a few tasks to keep your space neat and organized, you will find that doing those things will help ground and calm you. You will then be better able to go out and deal with whatever challenge is going on. If you are physically incapable of maintaining order yourself, because of illness or disability, ask others to help you do that. Many people want to help in some way. Let them know that their help will ground you and facilitate your recovery.

    Image: evelynshire

    You should follow Lifehack on Twitter Here

    More by this author

    7 Ways To Stay Grounded by Staying Organized 12 Tips for Being Good Feng Shui Children Gone: What to Do With Belongings Left Behind How to Organize Your Paperwork to Boost Productivity Paper Piling, Horizontal Filing, and Other Filing Options

    Trending in Featured

    1 The Science of Setting Goals (And How It Affects Your Brain) 2 How to Stay Motivated and Reach Your Big Goals in Life 3 How to Take Notes Effectively: Powerful Note-Taking Techniques 4 How to Stop Procrastinating: 11 Practical Ways for Procrastinators 5 50 Businesses You Can Start In Your Spare Time

    Read Next

    Advertising
    Advertising
    Advertising

    Last Updated on July 17, 2019

    The Science of Setting Goals (And How It Affects Your Brain)

    The Science of Setting Goals (And How It Affects Your Brain)

    What happens in our heads when we set goals?

    Apparently a lot more than you’d think.

    Goal setting isn’t quite so simple as deciding on the things you’d like to accomplish and working towards them.

    According to the research of psychologists, neurologists, and other scientists, setting a goal invests ourselves into the target as if we’d already accomplished it. That is, by setting something as a goal, however small or large, however near or far in the future, a part of our brain believes that desired outcome is an essential part of who we are – setting up the conditions that drive us to work towards the goals to fulfill the brain’s self-image.

    Apparently, the brain cannot distinguish between things we want and things we have. Neurologically, then, our brains treat the failure to achieve our goal the same way as it treats the loss of a valued possession. And up until the moment, the goal is achieved, we have failed to achieve it, setting up a constant tension that the brain seeks to resolve.

    Advertising

    Ideally, this tension is resolved by driving us towards accomplishment. In many cases, though, the brain simply responds to the loss, causing us to feel fear, anxiety, even anguish, depending on the value of the as-yet-unattained goal.

    Love, Loss, Dopamine, and Our Dreams

    The brains functions are carried out by a stew of chemicals called neurotransmitters. You’ve probably heard of serotonin, which plays a key role in our emotional life – most of the effective anti-depressant medications on the market are serotonin reuptake inhibitors, meaning they regulate serotonin levels in the brain leading to more stable moods.

    Somewhat less well-known is another neurotransmitter, dopamine. Among other things, dopamine acts as a motivator, creating a sensation of pleasure when the brain is stimulated by achievement. Dopamine is also involved in maintaining attention – some forms of ADHD are linked to irregular responses to dopamine.[1]

    So dopamine plays a key role in keeping us focused on our goals and motivating us to attain them, rewarding our attention and achievement by elevating our mood. That is, we feel good when we work towards our goals.

    Dopamine is related to wanting – to desire. The attainment of the object of our desire releases dopamine into our brains and we feel good. Conversely, the frustration of our desires starves us of dopamine, causing anxiety and fear.

    Advertising

    One of the greatest desires is romantic love – the long-lasting, “till death do us part” kind. It’s no surprise, then, that romantic love is sustained, at least in part, through the constant flow of dopamine released in the presence – real or imagined – of our true love. Loss of romantic love cuts off that supply of dopamine, which is why it feels like you’re dying – your brain responds by triggering all sorts of anxiety-related responses.

    Herein lies obsession, as we go to ever-increasing lengths in search of that dopamine reward. Stalking specialists warn against any kind of contact with a stalker, positive or negative, because any response at all triggers that reward mechanism. If you let the phone ring 50 times and finally pick up on the 51st ring to tell your stalker off, your stalker gets his or her reward, and learns that all s/he has to do is wait for the phone to ring 51 times.

    Romantic love isn’t the only kind of desire that can create this kind of dopamine addiction, though – as Captain Ahab (from Moby Dick) knew well, any suitably important goal can become an obsession once the mind has established ownership.

    The Neurology of Ownership

    Ownership turns out to be about a lot more than just legal rights. When we own something, we invest a part of ourselves into it – it becomes an extension of ourselves.

    In a famous experiment at Cornell University, researchers gave students school logo coffee mugs, and then offered to trade them chocolate bars for the mugs. Very few were willing to make the trade, no matter how much they professed to like chocolate. Big deal, right? Maybe they just really liked those mugs![2]

    Advertising

    But when they reversed the experiment, handing out chocolate and then offering to trade mugs for the candy, they found that now, few students were all that interested in the mugs. Apparently the key thing about the mugs or the chocolate wasn’t whether students valued whatever they had in their possession, but simply that they had it in their possession.

    This phenomenon is called the “endowment effect”. In a nutshell, the endowment effect occurs when we take ownership of an object (or idea, or person); in becoming “ours” it becomes integrated with our sense of identity, making us reluctant to part with it (losing it is seen as a loss, which triggers that dopamine shut-off I discussed above).

    Interestingly, researchers have found that the endowment effect doesn’t require actual ownership or even possession to come into play. In fact, it’s enough to have a reasonable expectation of future possession for us to start thinking of something as a part of us – as jilted lovers, gambling losers, and 7-year olds denied a toy at the store have all experienced.

    The Upshot for Goal-Setters

    So what does all this mean for would-be achievers?

    On one hand, it’s a warning against setting unreasonable goals. The bigger the potential for positive growth a goal has, the more anxiety and stress your brain is going to create around it’s non-achievement.

    Advertising

    It also suggests that the common wisdom to limit your goals to a small number of reasonable, attainable objectives is good advice. The more goals you have, the more ends your brain thinks it “owns” and therefore the more grief and fear the absence of those ends is going to cause you.

    On a more positive note, the fact that the brain rewards our attentiveness by releasing dopamine means that our brain is working with us to direct us to achievement. Paying attention to your goals feels good, encouraging us to spend more time doing it. This may be why outcome visualization — a favorite technique of self-help gurus involving imagining yourself having completed your objectives — has such a poor track record in clinical studies. It effectively tricks our brain into rewarding us for achieving our goals even though we haven’t done it yet!

    But ultimately, our brain wants us to achieve our goals, so that it’s a sense of who we are that can be fulfilled. And that’s pretty good news!

    More About Goals Setting

    Featured photo credit: Alexa Williams via unsplash.com

    Reference

    Read Next