When the Frog You Should Have Swallowed Becomes An Alligator

Okay, okay, I understand the biological nonsensicality of that, but play along with me for just a few minutes. I wrote last time about the fact that my mother’s leap into a downsized life has brought some new items, some new STUFF into my house. I chose these items, so it’s all stuff that I either like or means something to me, but it is still STUFF and we already have, well as much as I hate to admit it sometimes, a LOT of STUFF. I’d love to tell you that I am a mindful minimalist and every thing in my house is perfectly curated for my education, entertainment or joy, but yeah, that’s an avenue I’ve not walked down yet. I still have a lot of stuff of ambiguous origin.

Slide1Integrating this new stuff into our home has prompted some furniture moving and some questioning of how rooms and spaces are being used, which has prompted more furniture moving and amongst all of this shifting and shuffling, we could no longer avoid the alligator in the basement. The alligator in the basement started in the “tool room,” so-called because we used to keep the tools there, along with a backup fridge, extra paint from various paint jobs, some gardening supplies and the crab and roaster pots. Somehow, over time, the tool room became a dumping ground for out of season decor, bulk purchases that didn’t fit neatly elsewhere, and old curtain rods that had been taken down. We also began to keep tools for specific jobs in trays or boxes with the necessary parts and when those repairs got interrupted, we simply dumped the tray, to pick up later… you know when we decided to do more of that work… I think you see the trend here. What started as a few misplaced crates of Christmas lights became the beginning of a hoarding situation.

The thing is, it didn’t stop there. We became so accustomed to this catch-all space catching all that even when it was difficult to find a reasonable place to put things, we just kept bringing them down there, as though it was really the Room of Requirement and would grow to meet our needs. And so we began stacking things OUTSIDE of the “tool room.” In case you are wondering, searching for tools in the so-called tool room became increasingly difficult throughout this time. Over time a situation developed where walking down the steps into the basement meant walking into a haphazard pile of stuff that didn’t have a home. A giant wall of chaos and indecision. It drives me completely insane. In order to accommodate my annoyance with the wall of chaos, I simply stopped going down there. I don’t have anything I really need to do in the basement. Children can be sent for milk when we run out upstairs. People can bring things up when they come. I avoided the crazy way all of that stuff made me feel by literally avoiding the cause.

Now we have stuff to move around and things to repair. Now we have a vision for what SHOULD be happening in that space at the bottom of the stairs and implementing that plan would make this working Mom’s life SO much easier. Now there is incentive, but it’s still a giant wall of crazy. So crazy it makes my stomach hurt. So crazy I can’t possibly figure out where to begin. That’s what I mean by a frog turning into an alligator.  See, this problem started small. It started with the kind of task that you just do to get it over with and move on, the kind of problem people call a “frog.” When you have something you don’t want to do, you “swallow the frog” (which is really gross, why did I settle on this analogy anyway) and then get on with things that are easier, more enjoyable. This task could have been just that MANY MANY months ago. But now it is SO much bigger, it feels impossible. It feels unapproachable and even a little scary. I know I can’t swallow an alligator.

What to do in these situations? When we’re faced with something that is too big to tackle, consider, comprehend? The only way I’ve ever had any luck facing a giant looming wall of crazy is to stop seeing it as one BIG thing. Did you know you can scare otherwise aggressive animals by having many people group together and make noise together – to be ONE BIG THING? Now, I don’t recommend doing this on purpose, don’t test my anecdote with a grizzly or something, but I have heard, from Canadian park rangers, that this is the case. And it’s because to that big aggressive animal, a huddled group of people looks like ONE BIG NOISY THING. The bear (or whatever) retreats because it doesn’t want to fight a big noisy thing; it just wanted to get to the berry bushes on the other side. The bear doesn’t know that if it just took a minute to see that that big noisy thing was actually made up of several less noisy pieces, it might be able to get to those berries after all.

Slide2The truth is that most of our messes that seem unapproachable, intimidating, too big to ever really accomplish are really lots of little messes, which might not make them any more appealing, but most certainly makes them more approachable. If we can just be still and quiet long enough to look at that ONE BIG THING and see how it is composed of smaller pieces, we can get a handle on how to tackle it.

For my initial attempt to resurrect the purposeful tool room I used a method I favor for any housework related task that I don’t feel like doing (which includes most of them). I grabbed my phone and pulled up the timer and set it for 15 minutes. I then figured out a category of stuff that I could collect and put away. I work best that way, but I could have just as easily decided to clear an area or a specific space first. I worked at it for 15 minutes and because I focused on one part of the whole, I could actually see a difference after only 15 minutes. Now, there are many more 15 minute increments to go, and it still looks awful, but it’s not such a big deal in my head anymore. The alligator is gone. It’s just a bunch of frogs in the basement, and they need cleaned up.

What project or change have you been avoiding because it just seems to big to even think about? What frogs are you letting turn into alligators? How can you break it down? What are the smaller pieces making up the whole? What piece can you tackle that will help you on your way? As always, I’m just a digital message away if you need a frog whisperer or someone to huddle with and make a lot of noise.

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