I have a problem with organization. Though my resume may tell you that I am a “detail-oriented person,” rest assured: I can only focus on details some of the time. Either I focus on details when everything else around me is settled or ordered the way I want it to be, or when nothing is settled or ordered. In the first case, I am efficient and productive, even inspiring with my attention to detail. In the second case, I am overwrought, overwhelmed, and feel a little like a bit of butter that’s been spread over too much bread.
When things are in an “in between” stage, I can let details fly out of the window.
There are many examples of this: my writing, for instance. Or, writing a grocery list before I go shopping. Taking the coupon stuck to the refridgerator before going to a store. Not making plans to meet with someone until just the last minute. I’m sure you have examples of details that you let slip when things are just a little off.
So I started reading a website for messy people to become better organized. For me, it’s a messiness of mind that makes my emotional and spiritual outlook seem out of whack. Calm the clutter in the surroundings, calm the clutter in the mind and vice versa, right?
One tip on the website said to write a “letter of intent” to your house. I’m sure I would know what this means if I were to buy the book advertised on the website, but the phrase caught my attention as a useful idea. If the house is the place where we start and end the day, where we spend much of our work or leisure hours, then it makes sense that you should have a clear sense of what you want to do in your house.
I’m not just thinking about activities in your house. Surely, actions are important: the things we do help determine the person we are. Cooking and eating–activities–nourish the body (and the soul). Cleaning makes four walls a livable space for humans, animals and plants to live in. Working well leads to having a greater sense of purpose in life. Having friends over makes for a better life, too. Drinking a cold beer on a warm autumn evening with loved ones really does remind you that God loves you and wants you to be happy (a la Benjamin Franklin’s famous quote).
I’m also talking about the ways you are in your house. Are you a hospitable person? Do you welcome family, friends, and strangers who may need you? Are you a kind person–to the people and animals living in your home and to individuals outside your home? Are you a healthy person? A charitable person? A calm, collected, creative person? A firey, emotional, energetic person?
Who you are has a lot to do not only with what you do, but the way you do it.
By definition, a letter of intent is a written document that outlines the terms of an agreement between two parties before that agreement is entered into. Writing a letter of intent to your house, then, is a very silly thing indeed. Technically speaking, a house is not a party in any agreement. It is a place, a thing, a site of activity, a stage, a series of rooms tied together under a roof.
But really, the act of writing a letter of intent to a house is not so silly as it may seem. It is an act that you complete for yourself: to set the terms of the kind of person you want to be in your home and how your environment inside your home ought to be in order for you to become that kind of person.
Because really… when do we ever have everything the way we want it? Always in process, always in transformation, we and our surroundings are never entirely settled or ordered exactly the way we want them. So what do we do, when we feel overwhelmed by the “up-in-the-air”-ness of our situations? Maybe just writing down a vision of the kind of person we want to be is a good start.
So I sat down and wrote out a letter of intent to my house.
I’ve been living here happily for two months now. Not a long time, to be sure, but you’ve been good to me so far. I really love that magnolia tree in our front yard, and now that the leaves are changing in the backyard, things are feeling very cozy indeed.
You might have noticed, but I’ve been feeling a little, er, scattered lately. Looking for a job is the pits, getting started on my own at-home business can be overwhelming. So I’ve not been my best, and I’m afraid I’ve been mistreating you a bit. Let’s make this better, shall we?
First, I want to be the kind of person who is more willing to take chances. To put herself out there on a limb. To do that, I’ll need you to be more put-together. So, I’ll do a better job of picking up messes and having a routine cleaning schedule, and you’ll provide me with a safe, normal place to come back to after I’ve been dangling on a limb all day. Cool? Ok.
Second, I want to be the kind of person who has more energy to be creative during the day. You know, to get a better handle on that at-home business I’ve been ranting about these past two months. To do that, I’ll need you to give me a place to be nourished spiritually and physically. So let’s talk about the kitchen. It needs to be a place where I can cook something hearty and substantive. So I’ll agree to stock our kitchen with healthy stuff: organic fresh veggies, whole grains, organic dairy, etc. Sound good?
Third, I want to be the kind of person who is generous of heart and of spirit. The kind of person who has folks over for dinner, a beer, or just whatever and for no particular reason. The kind of person whose doors are always open. To do that, I’ll need you to be warm and welcoming. Well, I figure if we tackle the first and second point, we’ll end up at the third. Great! Sounds like we’re on a roll!
I hope that’s not too much for you and me, house. I’m really greatful you’re here and that I get to live under your roof. You have a seriously cozy floor plan, and I’m loving the location. You and I will become good friends one day.
In the process of writing this letter, I discovered that I not only wrote a vision of the kind of person I want to be, but that I also wrote list of things I need to do to become that person.
And I may not have all the details down, but at least I am in a good place: knowing where I want to go and some general guidelines about how to get there.
I hope you do the same. Find out the kind of person you want to be, and start imagining creative ways of getting there.