Rediscovering Zen

Uncategorized Sep 28, 2020

Many of us are spending way more time at home during this pandemic than we otherwise would. Some of us are actually working from home, and the vast majority of us have dramatically curtailed our social activities. 

It’s hard to keep from blurring the lines between our work life and our personal life, when they are co-existing in the same space. And when the family room rather than the theatre or night club becomes party central, our surroundings become so familiar that it’s easy not to notice that clutter is beginning to accumulate.

At work, I’ve always maintained a neat and tidy office space. It’s a habit I learned in my very first job, as a bank teller. I was trained to keep my station organized, so that any other teller could step into my wicket and have all that they needed ready to hand. (This was back in the days when customers had to fill out deposit or withdrawal forms – you know, the dark ages!)

My home office, in contrast, has always been a different story. By some mysterious law of the Universe, it has always seemed impossible to maintain a tidy environment simultaneously at work and at home. Piles of paper would accumulate, eventually covering every square inch of the desk – at which point, I would simply grab the lot, toss it onto the floor and start a few new piles.

It’s never really made sense to me, but I didn’t overthink it. About once every 3 months, I’d get fed up with the chaos, and carve out a weekend to overhaul the home office.

Rinse and repeat.

It worked, after a fashion – until my home office became my “day job” office, too. After a few days, I noticed the usual paper tiger starting to growl softly, and realized I needed to nip this thing in the bud.

At the same time, I noticed that my usual routines of picking up after myself, tidying the kitchen and washing the dishes every evening before bed, and even things like getting dressed in the morning and flossing my teeth at night, were starting to slide.

The less order I had in my daily routines and in my surroundings, the more out of control I began to feel. I was constantly on edge, and I was getting less and less productive.

That’s when I took a step back, and reminded myself that being in command of our lives and at peace, all begins with our environment. Our sense of sight uses an incredible proportion of our total brain power, and studies have shown that simply being in a cluttered environment can activate a stress response and/or lead to depression.

It’s one thing to do a ‘clean sweep’ in a fit of fury, but quite another to maintain some sense of order on an ongoing basis.

The key is to implement triggers and routines that, over time, become ingrained habits, so that it’s not a chore to keep up with it. Here are a few of the steps I’ve implemented which have helped me keep things in order since my little meltdown a few months ago:

  1. Maintain a strict divide between the work area and your personal spaces. I actually have two desks - one for my “day job” activities, and another for my coaching practice. If you’re working from home right now, but you’re not running a business, you don’t necessarily need a formal office space. But you should still have an area separate from your working environment in which to process any personal paperwork that may arise, such as paying bills, writing letters, etc.

  2. Set a quitting time, AND a ‘wrap-up’ time about 15-30 minutes before that. It’s not enough to say you’re going to stop work at 5 pm. Even if you set an alarm, when 5 pm rolls around, you’ll inevitably be in the middle of something and will want to ‘just finish it off’. So, set the alarm for 30 minutes ahead of your chosen quitting time. This will give you a cushion to wrap-up that last activity of the day, file away all the papers you’ve been working with, and if you’re really disciplined, you will have a few extra minutes left to clear out a few emails or do some pre-planning for the next workday.

  3. A place for everything, and everything in its place. You’ve heard the saying all your life, and it might seem cliché, but that’s because it’s really true. If every item you own has a place where it lives, tidying up as you go becomes a breeze, because it doesn’t take any extra brain power to figure out where to put things. In fact, the moment you catch yourself pondering where to put something, that should be an immediate trigger for you to contemplate whether you honestly do need that item.

    One of the main reasons clutter accumulates in our homes is that we’ve mindlessly acquired things without seriously considering whether they are truly needs, or just wants. If we have a genuine need for a physical object, chances are good that we already have an idea of where it should be stored. When we are dazzled by something new that we would like to own but don’t really need, figuring out where to put it usually becomes an afterthought.

    Getting into the habit of doing the ‘needs vs. wants’ evaluation on a regular, daily basis, will not only give us a tidier living space, but it will also make us more resourceful and thus save us money, as we rediscover ways to use what we already have rather than chasing after the latest shiny new toy.

After a few weeks of implementing these strategies, I’ve rediscovered the zen in my home and in my life. I’m more in tune with my environment, and I’m having to expend less effort as I go about my day.

If you choose to try any (or all) of these suggestions, I’d love to hear how it transforms YOUR life. Let me know in the comments below!

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