Why Am I Suddenly Disorganized? Experiencing Life Transitions
Do you consider yourself an organized person but all of a sudden feel disorganized and out of control? You are probably experiencing a life transition.
I experienced a major life transition in my late 20’s. Within the span of 2 years, I moved from New York to Maryland, and changed my lifestyle from a business-travelling marketing executive to a stay-at-home mom. My days centered around diaper changes, naps and feeding instead of business meetings, market analysis and networking. After a while, I adjusted to and even embraced my new role as Mom. I joined the PTO (formerly known as the PTA), volunteered, and met other moms through playdates and park outings. However, for years I held on to all the brochures and marketing materials from my old job as I mourned my former identity. It took 10 years before I was finally ready to let go of the remnants of my old life and embrace my new one.
WHAT HAPPENS DURING LIFE TRANSITIONS
Life transitions are life-changing events. Some examples of common life transitions are having a new baby, moving, taking a new job, retiring, or experiencing the death of a loved one. A life transition can often involve a combination of many smaller changes. We are all experiencing a life transition now due to the pandemic. Here are some important facts about life transitions:
We all experience life transitions
They can be caused by both positive or negative events
They often upend all habits and routines
They cause a temporary increase in anxiety
They cause us to rethink our former selves and our identity
In Bruce Feiler’s book “Life is in the Transitions: Mastering Change at Any Age”, he calls major life transitions “life quakes.” Life quakes are often involuntary, but the choices we make to rise above them and to move into the next phase of our lives are the real life transitions.
Feiler identifies 3 stages in a life transition: “the long goodbye,” in which you mourn your pre-transition self; “the messy middle,” in which you transform your habits and routines; and “the new beginning,” in which you emerge from the transition with your new identity.
LIFE TRANSITIONS BRING CLUTTER & CHAOS
Many of my clients reach out to me during a life transition such as a move or the death of a loved one. Here are some things that I have learned from these clients:
Face the “Long Goodbye”
Bruce Feiler characterizes the first stage of a life transition as the “Long Goodbye,” and grieving that change is an important part of a successful transition. Grief is a slow process. It takes time and there is no way to speed up this stage. Listening to clients who are grieving a person or a former way of life is an important part of the organizing process. When encountering objects or spaces that stem from a life transition, I give the client space to describe any feelings or emotions that come up. This is an imperative step the client needs to take before moving forward with reorganizing his or her mental and physical clutter.
Take Advantage of the “Clean Slate”
A life transition is the perfect time to start a new habit. For example, were you frustrated by the mounds of unopened mail piling up in your entryway? A new move is the perfect time to set up the habit of opening your mail the same day it arrives. Or perhaps you found yourself eating unhealthy lunches? Well, you can establish new routines in your new job that will support a healthier meal plan such as frequenting the salad bar down the street or bringing meals from home. When a client is in transition, I often help that person set up new systems and routines that help them take advantage of their new situation.
Go At Your Own Pace
People need to move at their own pace when navigating life transitions. For example, one empty nester might transform their child’s room into an exercise room the day after the child moves out. Another person might need to mourn this life change by leaving their child’s room untouched for a year or two. When working with a grieving client, I am careful not to push the client to make any rash decisions. I might help the client create a pile of “maybe” items and put a date on them. When that date arrives, we revisit the items to see if my client is ready to “let them go.”
Use Rituals to Embrace Change
Rituals help us make sense of life transitions. For example, when a family welcomes a new child, they might schedule a photo session so they will have pictures with their latest addition. In contrast, after a divorce or difficult breakup, a person might purge their space of photos with their former partner. When I am organizing with someone grappling with a life transition, we often utilize rituals. For example, I had a client leaving a 20-year career who had difficulty throwing out multiple items related to their old line of work. I suggested that they choose one or two commemorative items or awards from their old job to frame. After hanging up those items, my client found it much easier to toss all the unnecessary papers, files and binders.
Life transitions can leave us shell shocked, and it takes time to recover. However, the resulting struggle with disorganization is only temporary and we emerge wiser and more empathetic and resilient.