On January 1, 1999 I awakened like everybody else, with the same New Year's resolution I had had my entire life: Get organized.
For 25 years, I had bought self-help books and motivational tapes, only to be overwhelmed after a few weeks. I tried very hard to follow their directions, but, in the end, I'd get discouraged. I just accepted the fact that I was born messy. I would always be living in CHAOS (Can't Have Anyone Over Syndrome) All my good intentions failed before 1999.
On that January 1, I was determined to try again. So I pulled out the only system I had used successfully for any length of time. It was a card-file reminder developed by the Sidetracked Sisters, Pam Young and Peggy Jones. My problem with this system was too many cards. I had 500. My card-file wasn't a little recipe box, but a card tray. I thought, if one card would help, several hundred would accomplish even more. Boy, was I wrong.
Why couldn't I be like other people? I thought. I know I'm an intelligent person, and I have a lot of common sense. I wanted a cleaned, organized home, and I didn't have a clue how to accomplish it. I realized that I tried to do too much, too fast, and I crashed and burned. I had also never established any one habit that had stuck with me.
Psychologists tell us that it takes 21 days to establish a habit. Well, I had tried to establish habits before, and the minute I messed up, I gave up. I was tired of failing. I wanted to find things and not miss appointments. I wanted to feel good in my home instead of trying to escape it. Right then and there I decided to quit beating myself up over all the failures I had had in my life. I was going to be nice to me by not trying to do too much too fast.
I considered picking one habit – it could be organizing the dining room table, the bookshelves, even the coffee table – and practicing it for a whole month. Eureka! I could do that. I decided to let go of being perfect; I was looking for progress. So, instead of 21 days I would take for 28 days, or the entire month of January. If I missed a day, I would pick up where I left off and continue to work on this one thing.
What did I choose to work on? Keeping my sink clean and shiny. My sweetie had asked me to keep one side of our double sink empty so he could get a drink of water or make coffee. He was nice about it, when he asked me. We had been married only two years, and I wanted to make him happy. How was I to know that this little habit was going to make me happy, too, and change my life?
I took the dirty dishes out of the sink without washing them. My goal was a clean and shiny sink, and I was on a mission to get it. Our stainless steel sink was 25 years old, and calcium deposits had built up due to hard water. I chiseled away the deposits. Then I I scrubbed it with a scouring pad and cleanser to buff the finish. I cleaned around the rim and the faucets and finally I rubbed the sink with liquid car wax, to prevent calcium from building up again. I know this sounds obsessive, but I was enjoying making my sink shine. We're good at hyperfocusing even when we don't need to. But I was having so much fun.
After I shined that old tarnished sink, I thought twice about putting a dirty dish into it. I unloaded the dishwasher, so that I'd have a place to put that dirty dish. My dishwasher became the dirty-dish disposal unit. Then I cleared off the counters - you can't have a messy counter when your sink is beautiful. My stove said, clean me, too.
My one-habit resolution led to many things. All this did not happen in one day. I walk into my kitchen each morning and see a shine that puts a smile on my face. The smile makes me shine, too? Imagine that. It's contagious, and it all started with a dirty sink.
I learned a lesson: I need to be kind to me. My shiny sink was the reward. I had given myself permission to be imperfect. This helps with any habit we want to establish. We have to give ourselves room to be us. Accentuate the positive and declutter the negative.
Pick one little habit you want to practice for the month of January. As the habit becomes automatic, add a new habit to practice. It's like learning a dance step. Before you know it, you will be dancing through your day as your habits becomes routine.
This article appears in the Winter issue of ADDitude.
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