1. a state of things in which chance is supreme
2. the inherent unpredictability in the behavior of a complex natural system
3. a state of utter confusion
4. a confused mass or mixture
A lot of us spend our lives living in some degree of chaos.
Mine started when I left home in 1977. To a point, I blame my parents (like everyone else, I suspect). I was strictly regulated and given no real responsibility. My world was measured by the stringent rules and structure of our home. I was not allowed to make a private phone call, never mind a mistake. Although I was encouraged to get a job when I turned sixteen, I didn’t have control over my earnings. Everything went into the bank, with a small percentage given to me to spend, and not at my own discretion. Purchases had to be approved by my parents, and they didn’t approve of much.
Then, at age seventeen, on the day after my high-school graduation, I left home with a suitcase and a checkbook (for an account I had no idea how to balance) and no further regulation whatsoever.
And thus began a life of chaos.
Since I’d never been allowed to get into a situation with serious consequences, I never considered them when making a decision. My life was all about NOW. My decision process went something like this:
1. Do I want this?
2. Can I make it happen?
3. Well, all-righty then.
I won’t bore (or maybe horrify) you with the details of all of the situations I got myself into using this method. And, as this all happened over thirty years ago, I can’t blame my parent’s lack of responsibility training for anything that happened after that first couple of years.
Eventually, I developed the skills to consider outcomes before taking actions. Unfortunately, “skills” never really evolved into “habits.”
So, I continue to live with a certain amount of chaos. This has impacted every aspect of my life, not the least of which is my writing career.
I’ve made a million action plans to eliminate chaos from my life. I’ve read books, designed programs, and made so many lists that I should teach a seminar in list-making. (Actually, I have taught a seminar in list-making, or at least one where list-making was a major component.)
The problem was, I was trying to create plans that would eliminate all the chaos in my life in one fell swoop. And chaos loves nothing so much as laughing at plans.
For the last few months, however, I am actually making measurable progress. Not the two-steps-forward, three-steps-back kind of progress I’ve made in the past—actual, concrete change. A tangible, visible, demonstrable reduction in the level of chaos in all aspects of my life.
What’s different? Baby steps.
I started with something that seemed the least daunting: My home.
Don’t think that “less daunting” means “less chaotic.” I have always suffered from BTHSS (Born to Have Servants Syndrome). While I perform (and feel) better in a tidy environment, I am congenitally messy. My pattern for pretty much all of my adult life is to wait until the house looks like someone threw a grenade, then to spend several days doing nothing but cleaning until the joint is pristine. Then, I would (not so) gradually let the home descend into chaos again. This was progressively getting worse over the last few years, when I’ve been living alone. The slide into call-the-health-department status was taking less time, and the frantic cleaning sessions were becoming shorter and more infrequent.
The messy house became a metaphor for my life, a fact which was not lost on me.
Then I (re)discovered FlyLady. I say rediscovered, because someone had sent me a link to the webpage about this system of getting one’s home (and, consequentially, one’s life) in order a few years ago, and I gave it a try. It didn’t work, because I missed the fundamental point of the whole concept.
FlyLady defines CHAOS as “Can’t Have Anyone Over Syndrome.” I realized this applied to more than my home. Not only would an unexpected visitor throw me into a panic, I also didn’t want to let visitors into ANY aspect of my life. I didn’t want them to see the disorder in my personal life, my finances, or my spiritual life. A frank discussion of my writing career was out of the question, because it would reveal the mess I had allowed to accumulate there as well.
The reason FlyLady didn’t work for me the first time around is that I kept trying to be the overachiever and skip ahead–to do six steps at once instead of sticking to one, simple, achievable baby step at a time. This time, I just worked the teeny, un-daunting increments and kept repeating the program’s mantra: “You are never behind.” A tough concept for a Deadline Dame, but totally true and completely comforting.
I won’t try to explain FlyLady’s program here – it would take too long and there’s an entire website for that: http://www.flylady.net/. But the big point is that, by approaching my personal chaos using the weapon of baby steps, I am finally defeating it.
Many of you are not battling chaos, and I admire (and envy) you. But, for the rest of us, take a look at FlyLady and let me know what you think.
Dame Toni (owner of a shiny sink)