Fine Art of Tidying Up for the Disorganized Brain

cluttered officePropensity for organization is an inherited gene, which I lack. Tidying up will never come naturally, but I thought reading Marie Kondo’sThe Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing would spur me into action.

That clever little Japanese lady created a brand name consultancy agency and reality TV show based on her KonMari Method to eliminate clutter. Combining philosophical wisdom, Japanese cultural traditions, and practical advice, she makes staying organized sound easy.

“The act of tidying is a series of simple actions in which objects are moved from one place to another that involves putting things away where they belong.”

Therein lies my problem. I truly believe books belong under my bed, words belong on paper everywhere and clothes belong on chairs (to eliminate folding.)

Ah, clothes tossing, a big no, no. Marie elevated folding clothes to an art form claiming, “Every piece of clothes has its own sweet spot.”

“By folding clothes,” she explained, “we transmit energy to the fabric and show appreciation for the way clothes support our lifestyle.”

Sun set on yet another day before I finished blessing all my favorite basketball T-shirts.T-Shirts party

It took an additional week to “energize” my closets by hanging items from heavy to light.

Following her crucial adage “sort by category not location” can be exceptionally challenging in compact Swiss homes where little rooms are stacked atop one another like Jenga blocks.

As a writer, you never know when the muse will strike, so we have a desk in our bedroom, the guestroom, the loft and the living area. Pencils, pens and papers litter every room except the bathroom. Little notebooks fill every coat pocket and drawer.

Worse yet, bookshelves abound in every available space including hallways. When Marie Kendo insisted books should be sorted by dumping them out on the floor, I wanted to cry. Laid out, my book collection could loop around the block twice. How can I limit my love of literature to a mere dozen Hall of Fame books?

To further add my dismay, she insisted that you keep your papers in one spot.

“Put your house in order and your life will change dramatically,” Marie Kondo claimed. “Effective tidying requires only 2 parts – discarding and deciding where to store things. Visualize your destination.”

I breathed deeply and meditated as instructed. But when I opened my eyes, I was still surrounded by the same damn mess.

I wanted to give up. Then a miracle occurred. After searching on 2 continents to no avail, I was convinced my prize boots had been confiscated by border control during one of those random luggage searches on a trans-Atlantic flight.

“No one would steal a pair of boots!” my husband exclaimed.

lost & found boots“It wasn’t any old footwear,” I whined. “They were new Vasque ultra dry, winter- proof boots guaranteed to keep toes warm up to 40° below and I only wore them twice!”

Miraculously, during my Japanese inspired cleaning frenzy, I found my “stolen boots” sitting on a shoe rack in our entryway where they had been hiding in plain sight for 2 years.

Bless you Mari Kondo.

Still I wonder if putting things where they belong only befuddles more so my chaotic brain.

Wild Ride Driving on the Wrong Side of the Road

Though Americans may share the same language as the British, we differ in many ways especially when it comes to cars/driving. In the UK and Commonwealth countries such as Australia, the car’s steering wheel is on the passenger side. The driver sits on the right, yet drives on the left side of road.

In England, I fear going anywhere near traffic even as a passenger. On recent trip there, my son sat on the right side to drive on the “wrong” side, the left. I rode shotgun- a hair raising experience – I kept thinking we would crash in a head on collision.

As we wound through villages on pencil thin roads through a maze of round-abouts, I felt like I was on Mr. Toad’s wild ride in Disneyland.

In England, I start stimming every time I get into a vehicle. Granted my anxiety may be greater because I am directionally challenged. I am one of the 20% percent of the population that has trouble orientating themselves in space and distinguishing right and left.

Left-right discrimination involves higher neurological functions integrating sensory and visual information, language function and memory. This problem, more common among the left-handed, women and people with a high IQ, offers no consolation.

I blame my older brother for my directional disability. Born with a map in his brain, he hogged our family’s spatial orientation gene.

The only thing scarier than driving in England is walking in England. As a pedestrian, I am afraid to cross the street; I can’t figure out which way to look for oncoming traffic. Like a deer in headlights, I freeze on the corner too terrified to set foot off the curb.

The roadways through villages are so narrow that even while walking on the sidewalks, I hug the brick facades fearful of being sideswiped by those wrong way drivers.

Driving on the wrong side will never be on my bucket list, but if you do dare to drive in the UK here are few tips.

  1. Hang a ‘think left’ poster on your dashboard. Remember to look first to the right when crossing the road. Take care when pulling out of junctions, one-way streets and at roundabouts.
  2. Beware that unlike the rest of the continent, which gives priority to the right, there’s no priority to the right or left on UK roads.
  3. An octagonal stop sign with a solid white line on road or a triangular give way sign (dotted white line on road), where a secondary road meets a major road.
  4. At all crossroads and junctions, ‘Stop’ or ‘give way’ may also be painted on the road surface. But in England’s typical rain and fog, I doubt you will ever see that.
  5. Traffic flows clockwise round round­abouts and not anti-clockwise as in countries where traffic drives on the right.
  6. UK drivers set a lively pace, which is often way above the prevailing speed limit.

Lastly, if you do drive in England, be sure to slow down and wave when you see me still standing on the corner, waiting to cross the street.

Beware of Bear in Wyoming

Beware of Bear in WyomingWhen you hit the trails in Grand Teton Park you will be reminded over and over again “Be Bear Aware”. Even the out houses, which by the way are very tidy considering they are used by millions of tourists, post warnings. When you perch for a pee, a sign on the back of the outhouse door offers wise advice.

“Do not feed the bears. Do not leave food around. If you see a bear, do not run. Carry bear spray.”

Before beginning our exploration, we stopped at the ranger station and bought an over priced 50-buck can of bear spray. I thought it was an -over-the-top-precaution tourist trap until we ran into Yogi. In true Wild West form, Gerald carried the repellent on his hip like a gun, ready to spray an attacking beast for protection.

At the Jenny Lake Trail, we started our hike and as usual I lagged a bit behind Gerald, the billy goat out front. I heard a rustling noise of what I thought was a small animal like a raccoon in the brush behind me. I turned around to see a big brown animal.

“Uh oh. A bear.”

My natural instinct was to run, which they warn you never to do. While back peddling in slow mo, the fearless Frenchman turned and charged toward the beast, dropped to his knee and began shooting. No, not bullets, or bear spray, but pictures. I held my breath in awe as Mr. Bear lumbered across the footpath 30 feet away.

For the rest of the hike, I tripped over boulders and stumps never paying attention to where I was stepping, because I was so Beware of Bear in Wyomingbusy scouting right and left in the berry patches and forests. I expected a grizzly to lumber out of woods any minute.

Further along our hike toward the water falls, we heard what sounded like campers singing, “Hi ho, hi ho its off to work we go” coming from the opposite direction

Around the next bend we crossed a family with 6 kids in matching T-shirts and marched by single file singing at the top of their lungs. “Keep your eyes peeled,” the mom said jiggled bells. “We crossed a grizzly on the path back there.”

“Whaaat???” said the Japanese couple behind us. Pointing to Gerald’s six-shooter on the hip, they asked, “Can we hike with you?”

We made it the falls without incident and headed across the river to the other side of trail along Jenny Lake where we met up with a French tourist. He warned, “On a juste passé un grizzly.”

They had been way laid by a grizzly that refused to budge from the trail where we were headed. To my relief and my husband’s disappointment we never faced off with Mr. Grizzly.

Later, when we met Canadians from Winnipeg, we warned them about bears and they scoffed, “It’s no big deal. At home Bears live in our backyard.”

I guess it is all what you get used to.Beware of Bear in Wyoming

Seriously though do take precaution and play it smart if not yourself then for the wildlife. Bear in mind these sad statistics : fourteen bears are killed every year due to foolish tourists, so if you hike the Grand Tetons be bear aware as much for their safety as yours.

Hiking Jura Mountains – Paradise Outside My Window

Paradise lies outside my window and yet when you see beauty everyday you take it for granted especially when caught up in the frenzy of working and raising a family. Retirement allows one to slow down and appreciate the view. Limited by bad feet, bad knees, and a bad back I minimized movement when teaching, so that I could make it through the day. I stopped doing things that I loved because it hurt too much and I needed to save energy. Now if I need to rest half a day to recover, that still leaves me a half a day to play. So I set a new goal – conquering the Jura Mountains outside my window.

The sub alpine mountains, which follow the French Swiss border, separate the Rhone and Rhine river basins. The name Jura with its dense forestation was derived from the Celtic term for forest. Within a 20-minute drive, we can be up in the Jura where hiking, biking, snow shoeing and skiing trails crisscross the centuries old mountain range that lent their name to the Jurassic Period of geology.

Like a race-car driver, Gerald maneuvers our car around hairpin curves of route de Nyon, a favorite of motorcyclist that leads to St. Cergue, a small mountain village. On the outskirts of town, we park alongside the route de France next to hilly pastureland. Cows graze while giant bells around their neck jangle with their languid movements. Though the placid scene looked inviting, a sign warned beware of cows with calves. Perhaps, it was an omen when our ill-fated hike started with a detour around the cows.

A few hundred feet away from the livestock, we climbed the stone fence and cut across the lumpy terrain toward the forests. The evergreen tree lines and boulder filled fields remind me of the hilly parts of America’s Wisconsin dairy land. The difference lies in the dimension. Once you leave the pasture, sheer mountaintops open to sumptuous views of the valley. Wild flowers dot the fields; sycamore trees turn hues of red, yellow and orange in the distance.

I struggle to keep up with Gerald who sets such a fast pace I never have time to savor the majestic sights overlooking the Geneva basin.

The higher you go, the more rugged the terrain. The dirt cow path gives way to needle covered trails that intersect oak groves, beech and pine trees. Some stretches of trail go straight up. Fortunately rocks, chipped pieces of the eroded mountains, offer footholds at regular intervals.

Above the tree line at 5,300 feet, hardy Alpine grasses grow in the chalky soil. The Jura’s highest peaks lie in the south near us in the Geneva area. A yellow pedestrian sign points toward the Dole at 5,500 feet altitude, but after an hour of steady climbing my legs feel rubbery and my lungs burn. Instead we opt to turn to head back down, but which path takes us back?

Too many signs point too many directions towards too many paths. Though I trust my fearless Frenchman, who has an uncanny sense of direction, we hike for hours with no civilization in sight. I fear his “short cut” will turn this 2-mile walk into another one of his famous all day treks. (I am not exaggerating family members can attest this.)

At long last, we spot a chalet where we ask for directions and realize we missed a turn and ended up at the lower end of the village. Our car is 2 km away uphill. By that point, my knees twinge each step I take.

I hobble along ready to hitchhike home while Gerald jogs ahead back alongside to interstate to pick up the car.

Unable to move my limbs for the rest of the day, I treasure the luxury of retirement. I laze about with ice packs on my knees enjoying a good read while feeling chuffed. My Fitbit recorded a personal best 18,352 steps (7 miles). Every single cell of my body screams with inflammation from over exertion, but sometimes the pain is worth the gain. It is not everyday that you conquer a mountain.

Celebrate Happy Feet Day

Hallmark has us hooked. We celebrate every Day from All Fools to Groundhog’s to Columbus, a real misnomer, showing gratitude for everything except what we take most for granted – our feet. I propose we give our tootsies a holiday and declare Happy Feet Day.

Imagine the pressure those little bones endure everyday hauling our carcass around, not to mention those extra pounds we’ve been lugging since last Thanksgiving.

Good feet are gifts from above. I should know; I was not gifted.

I used to tell friends that I wore baby casts on each toe after my feet got run over by a truck. One look at my crooked toes and they believed my harebrained story.

My feet plagued me from the day I took my first steps. I went to a podiatrist, long before anyone knew what a podiatrist was. Good ol’ Dr Heffelfinger or Heffle”toe,” as we fondly called him. He explained that my big toe was shorter than the rest of my toes. To avoid face planting every step forward, I clawed the ground with my toes.

My grandma told me that having a second toe longer than the first one is a sign of intelligence and insight. My dad, however, swore I’d hang from trees by my toes and threatened to prove it, if I broke another window playing ball in the yard.

To make matters worse, I developed Ledderhose Disease, a thickening of the deep connective tissue, leading to nodules in the arches of my feet. Though a nuisance, the disorder, named after a German surgeon, Dr. Georg Ledderhose, triggers fond memories of my time living in Germany.

Yep, those 26 bones, 33 joints, 12 tendons, and umpteen muscles stretch like a suspension bridge over our arches, but get no credit. Feet carry the weight of the world and live in shoes – the most uncomfortable homes on earth. Women’s footwear – back breaking, toe crushing, pointed high heels – keep doctors rolling in dough for life.

Born with bad feet, I swore off fashion in my teens and worn tennis shoes everyday since then. I also wear orthotics. To prevent blisters between my toes, I bandaged every one until my French podiatrist solved the problem. He molded toe separators out of pink silicone. Now I wear silly putty between my phalangies.

While studying my off-balance, barefoot gait he declared, “Madame, you have no feet; you are walking on another pair of hands.”

According to leading sport podiatrist Dr. Murray Weisenfeld in The Runner’s Repair Manual, feet were never designed for walking or running. Feet evolved out of the fin of fish designed for swimming and later developed for grasping to let creatures squat on branches without falling out.

Don’t believe me read Christopher McDougal’s fascinating bestseller Born to Run, where he studies a hidden tribe of the world’s fastest, long distance runners, who race barefoot or in sandals.

So, go on. Don’t feel guilty. Give your tootsies a holiday. Kick off the heels. Forgo weight bearing tasks. Doing dishes, a no no. Cooking, over a hot stove, out of the question. Standing in line to buy groceries, pay bills, pump gas – absolutely forbidden. Lying on a couch and wiggling toes to smooth jazz is highly recommended. Mud baths are fine. Hot tubs excellent. Swimming supreme.

You really want to show appreciation for your feet? Walk barefoot across the grass in a sunbeam’s shadow. A card of praise in the mail would be nice too.

Are you a pitcher or a saver?

pitcher or a saver?Were we were born with a genetic propensity to be a pitcher or a saver, a hoarder or a heaver? Some people like my sister never let unnecessary items accumulate; others like me have trouble throwing away anything.

While spring cleaning, I finally parted with possessions that had been with me for most of my European life like a bottle of Chanel perfume that I received as a gift in 1979, my first year in France. With my Multiple Chemical Sensitivity I could never wear it, but every time I saw that bottle I was reminded of the kindness of strangers, those Parisians, who first welcomed me to their homeland.

I no longer have storage space for my coffee cup – gifts from family, pitcher or a saver?friends and students – an eclectic collection of ISU, UWSP, Manchester, London, and my all time favorite a cream-colored cup imprinted with a pitcher or a saver?sketch of the United Methodist Church, my dad designed. Some cups mean too much to me to use, so they decorate my mantel like the one with a photo of a former basketball team.

I also save baseball caps from every major sporting event I ever attended and every team I loved. Ditto for those team logo t-shirts.

My kids, young adults now living thousands of miles away, have no desire to keep old scrapbooks, school awards, sports medals, so why do I save them? Why keep the clay mold of a 5 year olds handprint, odd shaped vases, lumpy hand made pottery, a glazed chicken, and dozens of paintings. Silly me, hanging onto old toys like Playmobil and Beanie Babies for the memories they evoke.

pitcher or a saver?Dozens of picture albums clutter our home with old pages falling apart filled with photos of places I no longer remember and people whose names I have forgotten.

I have good intentions. Every time the urge to organize strikes, I buy another beautiful colored folder that then sits empty on a shelf like a heirloom.

But by far my worst vice of all is an obsession with words. I saved cards from my grade school BFF, sketches from college roommates and letters from grandparents. Books spill off my shelves. I have – yes I counted – 86 binders in shades of red, blue, green, purple and orange filled with half-baked story ideas, travel notes, family research, book drafts and kids’ essays. For a writer, words are the hardest possession to part with.

Call me a hoarder, but I am not materialistic driven to buy, buy, buy and accumulate more goods. It’s just that pitching out sentimental, memory-evoking possessions feels like sacrilege. Out, out, out. Gone the memories.

With the advent of technology and information updated every second – text messaging, Instagram, Snapchat – everything changes so fast, and is forgotten even faster.pitcher or a saver?

Could our brains intentionally be wired this way into pitchers and savers? Some minds are designed to discard and downsize to make room for the next generation, while others like me cling to the past to record our passage in time.

I am like the beekeeper tending the hive, honing the busy nest of our lives, gathering the honey of our collective memories.