Like many professional organizers and productivity consultants, organizing is not my first career. In 2017, the production company I worked for got word that the independent film studio where we had our deal was closing its doors. I saw an opportunity to transition into a new industry that had long been a “side gig” and a passion of mine.
I launched my own organizing business and joined NAPO, the industry association for organizing and productivity professionals. The organization was a terrific resource but the array of courses, certificates, and certifications seemed overwhelming. There was so much to learn and so much, it seemed, to worry about. What was I doing right? What was I doing wrong? How long would it take to know if my business would succeed?
At the urging of a family member, I signed up for Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MSBR) – an intensive eight week course created by Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn at the University of Massachusetts in 1979. Inspired by a blend of medical science and Buddhist meditative traditions, MBSR was originally developed to help chronically ill patients take an active role in their health and wellbeing. It turned out to be remarkably effective, with benefits proven in clinical trials.
Over 24,000 people from all walks of life have now completed the program, and I am one of them. The practice of mindfulness helped me take my organizing journey one step at a time, to focus on the present rather than the “when” and “what ifs.” I have a tendency to perpetually be planning for the future and suspect many can relate. Mindfulness teaches us that those thoughts may be keeping us from all that’s possible in the present.
I began to relate mindfulness to my client’s struggles as well. There were clients who held on to overwhelming amounts from their past – papers from old jobs, clothing their children had long outgrown, bins of expired hotel toiletries, closets full of items inherited from loved ones. These things that held memories (not always good memories) were taking up space in a way that made their present lives more stressful. They were not able to park a car in the garage; not able to list the house for sale; not able to offer visitors an inch of space to hang their clothes.
Other clients were afraid to let items go that they might need in the future. They’d keep every product manual and reference book and the packages that things came in, just in case. They’d stockpile trash bags or rolls of paper towels beyond what they could comfortably store. They’d have duplicate items, because what if one breaks? Anxiety about the future – not trusting their own ability to access goods or information – was getting in the way of creating the space to live their best lives in the present.
Mindfulness gives us the tools to quiet our preoccupations with the past and worries about the future. We recognize a thought, refuse to pass judgment on it, look at it as if from a distance, and watch it go. We know that we are not alone in our feelings, that they are universal. Gaining influence over our thought patterns this way takes practice and isn’t easy, but I try to remain mindful in my own life and pass on what I’ve learned to my clients.
At one of my final MSBR sessions, as the group practiced a slow walking meditation on the street outside the institute, I looked down and noticed something shiny. It was a small diamond ring. I turned it in to the institute’s lost and found, smiling at the symbolism. Only when we unburden ourselves of the past and the future, can we discover the treasures of the present.