I have had certain shortcomings my entire life. One of them has been clutter. I remember my room as a child. You couldn’t even see the floor. It wasn’t that I didn’t have enough storage space to put things. I just didn’t do it. It was a major source of contention between me and my parents.
As an adult I thought for many years that the problem was self-discipline. If only I could develop and maintain a system for managing the paper, I would be able to solve the problem once and for all. I repeatedly cleaned up the mess only to have it accumulate again. I began to buy, (collect) books on the subject of organization. I set up filing systems. I just did not have the self-discipline to maintain them. That was the problem, I thought.
I had the same problem with food. If only I could learn to control the way I ate and exert some self-discipline I could get off the diet roller coaster. I would control for a while, on a diet, but then find an excuse to eat for comfort or pleasure. I would get discouraged, give up, and my weight would start climbing again, until I felt badly enough about my weight to start the cycle over.
Somewhere along the line someone pointed out to me the many areas of my life where I had plenty of self-discipline. I was confused. If I wasn’t short on self-discipline, why could I not maintain a clutter-free environment or a normal weight?
I have come to understand that my problem is not self-discipline; it is perfectionism. If I couldn’t do it perfectly (whatever “it” was), I became discouraged and gave up.
If I couldn’t figure out the perfect filing system, one that enabled me to store everything out of sight, find it again easily when needed, and not forget about anything that needed to be taken care of, I wouldn’t file at all. Perfectionism. I wouldn’t throw much away because, after all, I might need it again. So I ended up with filing systems too complicated to maintain or that did not meet my requirements, or else no system at all, and things would start accumulating. Again. When I saw the piles begin to grow, I became discouraged – again – and just gave up.
If I couldn’t maintain my diet perfectly, losing as much weight as quickly as I wanted to and denying myself anything that wasn’t on the diet, I would become discouraged, and give up. Perfectionism.
Do you see a pattern here? For some reason, in certain areas of my life, I naturally see only perfection or failure. There is nothing in between. When I can’t be perfect I become discouraged. And quit trying.
As a compulsive eater in recovery I have learned that diets don’t work for me. What I need is a plan of eating that I can live with day in and day out. Something that works for me and is sufficiently flexible for me to be able to adjust to the circumstances of my life. I need a plan that is not about losing weight, but about nurturing myself. I decided to turn my weight over to the Lord. He helped me develop a food plan that worked for me. It went through several iterations, and is still subject to revision as needed. My footwork is to use the plan to decide what to eat, how much to eat, and when to eat, one day at a time. His job is to help me maintain a normal weight. And if I eat something I should not have, I no longer see it as a reason to throw the whole food plan out. I just start eating abstinently again from that moment. I have put an end to the all or nothing thinking, the cycle of perfectionism and discouragement that kept me in bondage to compulsive eating.
(Some people do have trigger foods which need to be treated like allergies; they simply cannot have that food or they will be set off onto a binge. When the Lord helps them develop a food plan, it will not contain those foods.)
So what can I learn from my success with eating in a healthy way (overcoming perfectionism) that might apply to my problem with paper clutter?
- I need a spiritual solution to this problem, not an exclusively temporal one.
- I need to turn to the Lord for His help in developing a plan that is flexible (as appropriate) but effective, not about perfection, but about nurturing myself; creating a wholesome environment in which I can thrive.
- I need to do the footwork he gives me to do, one day at a time.
- I need to let go of all or nothing thinking, and be satisfied with “progress, not perfection” (a 12-Step slogan).
- If I fall off the wagon I need to get back on as quickly as possible.
- I need to recognize discouragement as a tool Satan uses to keep me from growth and recovery.
- I need to commit to never giving up.
I will keep you posted on my progress.
- What recurring problem in your life has not responded to all your efforts to find a solution?
- Are you willing to try a spiritual solution?
- Are you willing to apply the seven lessons listed above to your problem?
- When will you start?