Containers are so seductive. They are the one thing about getting organized that people enjoy.
Not the already full ones!! Oh no, not those hidden, dusty things in the garage or in the back of the closet. Those represent the unknown and avoided.
And yet, most of us are drawn to the new, clean, cute ones at the store or the ones with cunning latches that stack so neatly. These boxes speak to us of order and most of all: containment.
When you place things in a box, you have made a decision. If it belongs with the other stuff in the box, it usually feels good. This is the best use of a container, and it has the added benefit of making more space outside of itself. Obvious, right?
The trouble starts when boxes help you avoid a decision.
And I think this is the dark side of their attraction. A nice clean empty box can become a nightmare of sorting choices gone very, very wrong in no time at all. And then that same nice tightly lidded and well designed tub joins the ranks of the avoided…out in the garage.
But why does this happen??
Naturally, I have a theory, and it extends beyond boxes to how we handle our minds. I even have an illustration of how it seems to work, using email as a vehicle.
Last months Organizing Tip was a software add-on that manages email subscriptions, called Unroll.Me.
I have been using it this past month and am a total convert. It has cleaned up my in-box to an amazing degree, even beyond my admittedly high standards.
What it does is package all email from repeat sources and delivers them to me in a list once a day.
They come in a container!!
I can choose when to manage what is in there and not be pulled and pushed by information and distraction all throughout the day. It is totally controlled by me, I choose what goes into the roll up and what stays as a message in my in-box. And as some arrive that I no longer want, I can unsubscribe with a single click. No messing around with a web site and being asked to explain why I no longer care to hear from Best Buy.
This is a great use of a container, and it frees up both my time and my attention.
So back to why boxes are reflections of your mental state…
It has to do with accepting limits. You know that your pantry only holds so much and beyond that it spills out somewhere else. Your head has limits too, yes, it does, and when you try to hold everything in there all at once, you get overwhelm, confusion, and stress.
While helping clients deal with physical boxes of possessions I see many of them struggling just as hard with personal issues, challenges and decisions as if they have to hold it all in one big container, called MY LIFE.
Ultimately that may be true, and certainly the whole pattern is a life, but the creative ability to separate and contain issues and problems is just as powerful as knowing how to sort your underwear.
You’ll know when your mind and attention hit a limit when you can’t get beyond a decision, or function with ease, or more common: start going in circles around the same issue or problem. How about using the process of sorting to place the issues into mental boxes that can be faced one at a time, rather than all at once?
Sometimes I sit down and make a paper list to define the mental boxes and what’s in them. Once they are separate and not in one big jumble, things get easier!
- family drama
- thinking about planning a trip
- deciding how to budget car repairs
- writing letters that require research
- juggling my calendar
You owe it to yourself to manage both the cereal boxes and the emotional boxes. None of them deserve to be gathering dust in the garage!