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By Marge Knoth, Author, Activity Professional
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Marge Knoth attended Purdue
University and took her activity
director training at Indiana
University and her social
service at Ball State. She is
the author of ten books for
activity professionals. Her
books have been used as
teaching guides in colleges,
trade schools, and in activity
director courses throughout the
U.S. and Canada. They have
won both national and state
awards from the National
Federation of Press Women
and Women’s Press Club of
Marge has written a monthly
column, "A Letter from Marge"
for Current Activities in Long
Term Care. She has been
published in Family Circle,
Lady’s Circle, Women’s Circle,
Indianapolis Woman, Christian
Science Monitor, Event,
various Christian and craft
publications, and other
magazines and newspapers.
She wrote a weekly newspaper
column called “Do You
Remember?”, and wrote and
recorded a long-running series
of nostalgic radio
commercials. Also, she is a
motivational speaker having
traveled the United States and
Canada speaking at many state
and province activity
Clutter, Confusion, and Chaos
By Marge Knoth
Help!” You may feel like screaming. “My life is out of control."
If you are like the rest of us, occasionally you find yourself feeling overwhelmed by it all—
so many decisions, so many choices, so many demands, so many responsibilities.
And with barely enough time to keep up with it all, clutter mounts. The clutter causes
confusion to set in, and before you know it, everything in life just seems chaotic. Oh, for
a while you ride the wave pretty well--even thrive on all the activity. You fool a lot of
people who think you have it all together. But then one day the blinders fall and you
shriek, "My life is a mess! I can’t go on like this any longer."
Maybe you are one of the 16-million women with children under 18 who are holding
down a full-time job, or a working father who is active in your kids' lives. Even if you are
single, or your children are already reared, there are still too many things to be done
and not enough time or energy to do them all. It seems like the more money we make,
the more things we buy, and then the more time it takes to care for those things. It can
be a vicious circle.
David Sharp in a terrific article, "So Many Lists, So Little Time," in USA Weekend (March
15-17, 1996) describes our situation pretty well: "These days, speed is of the essence;
anything that can't keep up becomes the cultural equivalent of roadkill. All the elements
that represented life at its most leisurely in earlier eras--picnic tables, porch swings,
letterwriting--have given way to the manic pace of fast-food, drive-throughs, computer
games, and e-mail. The overstuffed "in" box that sits on our desk or blinks in the corner
of our laptop screens isn't just a sign of how backlogged our schedules have become--
it's a symbol of our overloaded lives."
Sharp quotes Marcia Lasswell, a L.A. based therapist and president of The American
Association of Marriage and Family Therapists: "The standards we've set for ourselves
are based on the traditional family model from the 50s and 60s, when the husband
supported the family, and the wife had to look after the home and get involved in
community and school activities. Women, in particular, have never given up that model."
Stress-related illnesses cost the nation $300 billion a year in medical costs and lost
productivity," says Sharp. He adds that, "In the last five years, 28% of Americans
voluntarily made changes that led to less income, but a more balanced life."
Unfortunately, as professionals, we are not immune to the stress and chaos that
plagues the rest of the country. So we, like them, have got to find ways to bring some
order back into our lives, to make them less stressful and more enjoyable. Let's explore
some things that might help.
1) Take a good hard look at your situation. Where are you really? Are you happy there?
What would be your ideal lifestyle? What changes can you make to bring your
present lifestyle nearer to your ideal?
2) Identify what's important. We set goals for our residents--a long-term goal that often
requires meeting several short-term goals first. But what about you? Are you so busy
just keeping up that you do not have time to think seriously about where you are going?
Don't you deserve the same consideration with a seriously thought-out goal plan for
Time management expert, Stephen R. Covey says in Bottom Line Personal: "We
cannot identify what is truly important unless we step back and think at length about our
daily routines. Only after considering what life is really all about will you be able to set
He recommends that to determine which roles and values are most important to
you, that you visualize your 80th birthday celebrating with family, friends, and business
associates. What would you like them to say about your achievements--as a spouse,
parent, neighbor, teacher and manager? Write down the comments you would like to
hear. Covey says, "This exercise helps you prepare a personal mission statement
which summarizes the values and lifetime goals to which you aspire. With this done,"
he continues, "you are ready to plan your time. Your objective is to balance your
activities so that you can devote adequate time to advancing toward your personal goals
in each of your roles."
3) One expert recommends establishing an "everything book” and advises you carry it
with you everywhere. Some call it a Daytimer or Day Runner but it might be just a 3-ring
binder filled with paper and have a weekly, monthly, and yearly calendar fitted inside.
Whatever, this book is so much more than a calendar; it is your life in a book. Do you
ever find yourself asking, “Where did I write that number?”,” What is the name of that gal
I met at the spring workshop?”
If I could just remember that joke!/-What did my spouse ask me to pick up on the
way home? What size of shoes does Tommy wear? What is the color of my favorite
lipstick? What was my New Year's resolution? How much did I weigh at the start of the
year? When is Aunt Mary's birthday? What's the name of that bed and breakfast Mary
told me about? What was the title of that book? What was my starting milage? What did
I spend on groceries last month? You get the idea. You also keep your goals and your
dreams written in it and, most importantly, your master list.
4) Work from a master list. As you may remember, a master list is a list of everything in
your life that you have to or want to do-- big or little--from sending out invitations to taking
flying lessons, to painting the kitchen, to planning a vacation. It is an overview of your
responsibilities and your dreams that you can work into your calendar as time permits.
Remember, "The shortest pencil is better than the longest memory." Once it is on
paper, you do not have to clutter your mind with remembering it.
5) Get your finances in order. It doesn't matter whether you make a lot or barely get by,
you can still be in control of your finances. In the past, easy credit and so many buying
temptations have caused reckless spending to run rampant. Thomas Stanley and
William Danko, in their best seller, The Millionaire Next Door write that 62.4% of
millionaires know exactly how much they spend each year for food, clothing, and
shelter. In comparison, only 35% of high-income producing non-millionaires know.
And how about the rest of us? Are we in control of our spending, or does it control
Establishing a budget helps keep us on track. It allows us to plan ahead as to how
we will spend, save, and give. If we don't already, we can save our receipts in a monthly
expandable file folder and tally up totals each month. Then we can record them on a
column analysis pad and at the end of the year, know exactly where our money has
6) Establish a regular planning time. I like to do this on Sunday nights with a new
week's calendar spread before me. Covey recommends that you plan weekly because
"scheduling day-by-day leads to a focus on urgency and a loss of perspective." He says
planning weekly permits you to concern yourself with people and relationships, not
schedules. Also, while you are planning, allow yourself some creative time to dream of
what you would like to be, do, or accomplish.
7) Establish a quiet time. A man told me of seeing a girl from his office at lunchtime
sitting alone at a picnic table outside the building with her Bible open before her. She
told him, since she was not a morning person; she was having her "quiet time" during
her lunch hour.
Quiet times can be used to pray, think, read, or plan. You may want to take a
breather occasionally from the daily pressures of your job. You might eat your lunch at a
nearby park while you watch the squirrels play, or you might sit in your car and flip
through a new magazine.
8) Forget perfectionism. Often, perhaps because of the way we were raised, or because
of some driving force within us to perform, we push ourselves to do everything 100%.
And that's just unrealistic. We are imperfect people. Once my daughter quoted me the
old proverb, "If it is worth doing, it is worth doing well." I told her not all things required
perfectionism. Sometimes it is better to "get the top layer off," so to speak, than to avoid
tackling a job because you can't finish it perfectly.
9) Get the clutter out of your life. Look at your office and your home through new eyes, as
someone else might see it. Has clutter slipped in unaware? Ask yourself, "What can I
live without?" Go through closets and get rid of things that you don't wear. Check
knickknacks setting around the house. Are there too many? How about the refrigerator
door? Or your desk drawer? Have a garage sale, or give away extras that clutter up your
life. Clean out one file each day. Use your waste basket freely.
10) Quit spending time doing things you don't really want to do. Experts say, if you keep
putting off some task, maybe your heart isn't really in it. Forget it or delegate it.
11) Take care of yourself. When things get out of control, we don't always eat right, but
just grab what is quick. Without adequate nutrition, we cannot function at out prime.
Sweets may give us a quick high, but when our blood sugar drops, we are worse off
than when we started.
Plan ahead what foods you will eat. Consider carrying your lunch. Center in on fruits,
vegetables, dairy products, and whole grains. Exercise, too, is a great stress reliever.
We often think we are "too busy", but it pays big dividends in providing extra energy to
complete our tasks.
12) Take advantage of five, 10, and 15 minute segments of time. In these short
fragments, you might file your nails, make an appointment, write a letter, water plants,
take a shower, clean a shelf in your refrigerator, call a friend, sweep out the car, mend a
hem, chop vegetables for tomorrow night's supper, or clean a drawer.
13) Plan ahead. Plan yours and your children's outfits for the week. Plan menus for two
weeks in advance and shop for everything at once. Buy gifts in advance when you find
them on sale. Give gift certificates or magazine subscriptions. Order books and gifts on
line. Fill the car with gas at low-pressured times. Have extra keys made and keep them
My daughter, Toni, in Florida, once had a weird key situation:
She arrived home, parked her car in her unattached garage, took her one-year-old
and her two-year-old children into the house, gave the baby her keys to entertain
herself, and went back to get the groceries out of the car. She shut the trunk, and
“Ouch!” She caught her finger inside the closed lid. Now what! The babies were inside--
with the keys! Inside the garage with the overhead door closed, no one would have
heard her yell. Desperate, Toni first prayed, and then considered all her options. Finally,
for some reason, she reached into the pocket of her husband's jacket that she was
wearing, and, low and behold, there were his keys. But having a Honda, with the key
hole on the far right side, and her finger caught in the far left side, it took some
gymnastics to unlock the trunk--but her unattended babies inside motivated her. Thank
goodness, she found the extra keys, and eventually maneuvered the key into the lock
and got free.
So you don't get locked out, store an extra key somewhere outside, like in a shed
that requires a combination lock to get into. This prevents an intruder from having
access to a key stored outside the house.
14) Avoid interrupting yourself. Think twice before giving in to the urge to take a break
from what you are working on. We are a people on the move; sitting still is often difficult.
Consequently any opportunity to get up and do something else is welcomed. Discipline
yourself with the prospect of a reward: If I work on this for five, 10, 15, or more minutes, I
can take a break, have a cup of tea, or walk around the block.
15) Carry a "just in case” bag with you in case you get stopped by a train, or have to wait
for the kids at school, or at an appointment. It might contain reading material, stationery,
bills to pay, or handiwork.
16) Read while you drive. No, don’t really read while driving. That could be catastrophic.
Your library has novels on tape. A man who travels widely for S&S Worldwide told
me that he "reads" five novels a week this way.
17) Other things you can do: Shop by phone. Order by catalog. Order gifts and books
Take advantage of businesses that deliver such as pizza parlors, restaurants, dry
cleaners, copy shops, and pharmacies. Pay bills by mail. To avoid trips to the bank,
consider direct-deposit. Turn off the TV and put on some peppy classical music on to
motivate you to get your chores done quickly. Or maybe you'd like to just kick back and
reminisce with the oldies. Keep a list of frequently-called numbers posted near the
phone. Use a cordless phone so you can do two things at once. You don't have to
answer the phone just because it rings. Get caller ID. It is so worth the few dollars it
costs. Or, let the answering machine get it and call back at your convenience. Get
organized. Store things together that go together (I put coffee filters in the top of the
coffee canister, and the roll of garbage bags in the bottom of the wastebasket). Use
plastic baskets to organize small things on the pantry shelf and in drawers. Do the
most difficult tasks first each day. The rest will seem downhill.
Attach a notepad to your dashboard. Keep a mini-tape recorder in the car to record
things to do or neat ideas that come to you while driving.
18) Relax and do nothing occasionally. As successful people, I know this is difficult, but
life is too short to work all the time. As the old saying goes, "Don't forget to smell the
Life can indeed be overwhelming at times, but hang in there. Remember you don't
have to be all things to all people; just be true to yourself. Keep striving to alleviate the
clutter, to avoid the unnecessary, and to take time for yourself and those you care about.
And keep reassuring yourself that with proper preparation and precautions, you can
manage it all. After all, stress is just a little six-letter word.
God bless you all. Marge