We’re always on the look-out for the ideal gift, aren’t we? I have the perfect one, though wrapping it might be a bit tricky.
Let me back up. In addition to writing books and plays, I write for a lot of women’s magazines. But I’m going to risk offending those editors by saying I think it’s ridiculous to run a “how to get yourself organized” piece every month. Invariably these articles tell you how to use bins, files, binders, and boxes to tame your unruly world and the papers they think are fluttering about you in a perpetual whirlwind. Each month they try to put a new twist on it, maybe tell you how to recruit your kids, maybe come up with a snappy acronym to get you to analyze and possibly purge every item your own.
So what’s ridiculous? We all should be organized, right? A house of order, helloo? The problem is that not everyone is wired to be organized the same way as the next guy. People who are naturally organized do not need more ideas of how to be so. And people who are not organized can read articles all day long and it won’t change them.
I will admit that I am one of the few people who should not attend a lecture on getting organized, as I am already in danger of driving my family crazy with this, and should actually sign up for a “how to lighten up and relax” class. People like me already use bins, labels, files, the gamut. And those less enlightened baffle us: How can they stand to rummage through an unorganized closet, or rifle through papers on their desk for an overdue bill? To the slightly compulsive person, these loosey-goosey ones seem like evidence of de-evolution. People like me have their tools hanging in the garage on a pegboard that looks like an ad for Home Depot. Our canned goods are alphabetized to save time, and we have our Christmas shopping done by November. We are hyper, we are list makers, we are always on time.
I once heard someone say, “There are Filers and there are Pilers.” And instantly I recognized that I am a Filer and my husband is a Piler. I keep our dining table set at all times, simply to prevent it from becoming another “pile spot.” One time I made him a wonderful file cabinet filled with files labeled “Automotive,” “Banking,” “Computer,” etc., all in alphabetical order so he could keep track of records and correspondence about these things. It sits empty to this day as these documents lay stacked on Bob’s desk. Is Bob wrong? No. He is simply not me, and the sooner wives realize this, the happier they’ll be and the happier their husbands will be. Honestly, I wish I had a nickel for every minute we wives spend trying to turn our husbands into ourselves, instead of simply accepting that we’re all wired differently.
It used to frustrate me to go grocery shopping with Bob, if he should get a call on his cell phone. This meant all shopping must come to a screeching halt. He would stop walking, the cart would stop, and his complete focus would go to the caller. I, like most multi-tasking women, would have taken the call and continued to walk and shop, tossing items into the cart, waving hello to someone across the store, tying a child’s shoe, and sorting coupons as I went. I read an article that said men simply don’t multi-task and we women shouldn’t expect them to. It’s not how they’re wired. So, it’s like they’re special-needs, I recall thinking. And it made me more sympathetic. He isn’t stopping to irritate me; he’s stopping because he cannot shop and take a phone call at the same time. Okay, then. I shall be the magnanimous, patient wife, and stand there until he finishes his call. And feel superior, of course. I was oozing pity. (Nevermind the disrespect we show the caller when we do a dozen things at the same time we’re speaking to them.)
And then I had the dreaded humbling moment when I realized I was dead wrong. I read about a recent study done at UCSF, which found that multitasking may actually impede short term memory. Turns out all the distractions I used to thrive on, were in fact diminishing my overall mental performance. So these one-thing-at-a-time guys were right, after all! I was the doofus! And guess what? I do wonder about my short term memory! Bob never has to make the lists I do; it goes into his brain and he remembers it. Appointments, shopping lists, it’s all in his head. Does he ever wonder where he parked? Never. Does he remember airline flight numbers without having to look it up? Always. Does he realize the movie he’s about to watch is one he’s already seen? Invariably. I, on the other hand, will get halfway through the movie and say, “Wait a second. I think I’ve seen this.”
So maybe he’s onto something by being a piler instead of a filer. For one thing, piling can cause you to think and remember, whereas filers might put stuff away and forget about it. Maybe there are a multitude of personal styles and approaches to handling life that articles on getting organized don’t even acknowledge. And maybe those other ways are actually better, or at least healthier! This realization, that my way of doing things might not be the ultimate goal all sensible people should have, has changed my entire outlook. It has knocked me down a few notches (a knock I truly needed), and made me less judgmental. It has opened my mind to the possibility that other ideas can actually be better than mine, and that going through life at breakneck speed has a price we Type A people might not wish to pay. We need to step back and strive for B-plus, perhaps.
And so this brings me to my gift idea. This Christmas, how about giving the Gift of Acceptance? Let’s live and let live, allowing our loved ones to find their own style, their own pace, their own priorities? Instead of trying to remake our husbands into some contrived image of our own design, why don’t we celebrate who they are in the first place? And instead of insisting our kids study or work the way we would, why don’t we find out what works best for them?
You’ll notice I called this gift inexpensive and always-appreciated, but I did not call it easy. To be sure, it’s difficult to hold back when you think you know a better method. But we have to remember that the methods we’ve fashioned for ourselves might be grating or at the least, unnatural, for someone else. Would you want someone else to organize your kitchen? Choose your wardrobe? Style your hair? Tell you what you have to eat and what you can’t? No two people would ever agree on those very personal choices, and we need to honor the agency we fought a war over, and let people develop their own battle plan for meeting the day’s tasks.
Acceptance is warmer than a blanket, more welcoming than a cake, and one size fits all.