Two little boys return home from school to find a mound of horse poop on their front lawns. The first little boy flies into a rage. “Who’s going to clean up all this horse poop?” he asks. The second little boy beams with joy and shouts: “Where’s the pony?” In my life, no matter the challenge, I try to look for the pony. This July 26 I will celebrate my 16th year as a cancer survivor. There is no other journey in my life that has taught me more or that was more difficult to navigate. Perhaps the biggest gift was seeing my work as a professional organizer in a new light.
I was an actress for the first part of my life and like most actors I needed ‘a side hustle.’ After cycling through a series of part-time jobs, I decided to start my own business. I think there were three books on organizing in the marketplace at the time and no one had a clue what a professional organizer might do for them. I felt it was right for me to pursue because I was raised by a very organized mother and I had always enjoyed the process. I remember telling my mom when I was about five that the reason I was always reorganizing my toy chest is that ‘the boxes had to be edge to edge’ in order for me to know which game I wanted. What can I say? I exited the womb with a deep appreciation for order.
Going through two surgeries and six rounds of chemo meant not being able to work for a few months and calling on the kindness of friends to help with things like grocery shopping and errands not to mention transport to treatments. I became acutely aware that having an organized environment did several things for me. I could direct someone to anything I needed because I knew where everything was located. I always knew when I had to add an item to my shopping list because when you organize by category you have automatic inventory control. Categories put you in the driver’s seat no matter what the category holds.
My home was filled with peace and calm. Cancer brings chaos because the trajectory of your everyday life is uncertain. No matter what was happening in my schedule, however, my home provided a base of peace from which to face the crisis. It was easy to calm my mind and meditate. I wasn’t able to work with clients during those months but I was able to write everyday and much to my surprise I turned out two books and prepped for a TV special on Zen Organizing TM, which is the name I gave my style and approach.
Cancer as Teacher
If this sounds a bit too ‘tidy,’ don’t ever think I didn’t have difficulty adjusting to the diagnosis. The day I heard the news (I was diagnosed with third stage uterine cancer), my best friend at the time flew to my side. I told her I could not possibly endure a second surgery much less six rounds of chemotherapy. She quietly asked me what I taught my clients. I was in the middle of the ‘ugly cry’ with tears streaming down my face and snot coming out of my nose. Why in God’s name was she asking me about my clients at a time like this? I asked her what she was talking about.
She reminded me that one of the hallmarks of my style was that I taught clients to go step-by-step breaking projects into small increments. This simple step enabled them to avoid being overwhelmed by the whole. She said when I woke up every day for the next three weeks all I had to do was get ready for my hysterectomy. After that I would have two weeks to prepare for the first round of chemotherapy and so on. At no point in time did I have to prepare for all the treatments at once. It was one of the biggest ‘Ah ha’ moments of my life. This meant that my approach to organizing was really a life approach. What I was asking clients to do was practice in physical space the mind set that would help them in life. I share this experience in the epilogue to One Year to an Organized Life.
Everything Is Part of the Whole
As a long time practitioner of yoga philosophy (the postures are only one component), I believe that everyone is born for a purpose. Getting and staying organized will help you better prepare for, achieve and maintain your unique life’s work. I believe that we are holistic beings who tragically compartmentalize our life experience. Zen Organizing TM allows you to tear down those self-imposed walls and see that all of life is connected.
Do you want more money? How respectful are you of the funds you have now? Do you want to lose weight? How well do you organize your shopping, cooking and kitchen experience to achieve that goal? Is better health your desire? Have you chosen the diet and exercise that are right for your body and your lifestyle? Do you want to have a regular Spiritual practice? If your home is in chaos, where will you successfully meditate? Clutter is 'noisy.' It makes hearing the still, small voice of Spirit more difficult. The bottom line is that health, money, career and Spiritual practice are all parts of your one, precious and spectacular life. The skill of organizing can help you achieve success with each and every aspect without exception.
Soon after my diagnosis, I talked to a uterine cancer survivor in New York City. I can’t remember her name or how we were connected but I do remember the profound words she said to me. I was maybe a week into this new reality and finding my way. I was crying and upset. She said that while she understood my reaction it was time to move beyond it. “Right now you think cancer is doing things to you. One day you will see it is doing things through you and for you.” It took a few months for me to realize the beauty of her words. I share them with you now and ask that you substitute your challenge for the word 'cancer.' Everything is a gift and a teacher. If your home is in disarray, celebrate it. As the person who created this chaotic mess, you are the all powerful person who can create something better in its place. I hope you learn more about Zen Organizing TM and that it fires your life with vitality, order and peace. May it provide the perfect foundation for the important and unique work you were born to accomplish.