I was told once that there is FREEDOM WITHIN STRUCTURE. For naturally organized people, that probably sounds obvious. To someone like me, it was a zen koan I struggled for years to wrap my head around.
I’m an ENFP on the Myers-Briggs, the least organized and detail oriented personality type. Extroverted, Intuitive, Feeling, Perceptive. We prize freedom over all else. Our minds float around in the larger Universe of big ideas and concepts, and the mundane is just too….well, mundane.
As fate would have it, I was a single Mom to an ENFP kid. How either of us made it through his school years is a mystery filled with frantic races to buy school supplies and last minute project materials, and running back and forth to retrieve forgotten jackets, assignments, etc. Wisely, I chose to spend his elementary years as a counselor at his school, so the cafeteria could always find me for lunch money, and teachers could track me down for permission slips.
It didn’t occur to me until he had left for college that there might be value in having a place for everything and everything in its place. It’s not that we didn’t try. We would put everything for school in his back pack by the front door. That worked for a few days until we both forgot to do it. We made a pact to take everything out of the car every time we got out. What a joy that clean car was for the few weeks we fulfilled that pact.
My house always looked de cluttered because I am a minimalist at heart, and because there were always drawers and closets to shove things into and then forget about. I once left a box unpacked for ten years, and just on the verge of tossing it, opened it to find beloved books I had been missing, and nostalgic items from my son’s childhood.
His room was another story. That was a battle I chose not to fight. When my friends were over I closed the door. There were times there was no clear path to walk through. Every few months he and I would go through and throw out or give away large boxes of “stuff.” I swear toys and Pokémon cards copulated and reproduced during the daytime when we were out of the house.
So why, now that he is grown and I am not on Mom alert 24/7, have I decided organization might not be such a bad thing? That perhaps my well-meaning friend with the zen koan might have shared some true wisdom with me those many years ago?
For one thing, I’m older and don’t have as much energy to run through the house frantically searching for keys, purse, glasses, and jacket, as I am running late to go places and be someone. For another, I have gained some small measure of recognition as a wise woman with truth and experience to share, and showing up disheveled and stressed to teach a seminar on stress management is too much cognitive dissonance for me. Although I have certainly done this. It makes for an interesting intro.
My keys, purse, glasses and jackets now each have a home, and have had for going on a year now. My pens are in a holder and folders are in file cabinets, more or less alphabetically. If this seems only logical to you, you are obviously an organized person. I envy you. But please read on. The waters get deeper.
In the past, this relative state of organization might have lasted three months before my inner rebellious child started saying, “Screw this, I’m gonna leave stuff wherever it lands. You can’t tell me what to do.”
One of the last times she stomped her feet, I decided it was time to deal with the real issue. I REALLY like freedom, but I finally achieved the satori. The koan made sense. I needed to let the little kid inside play within a structure that was not overwhelming to her, but was satisfying to me, the adult. We didn’t have to be antagonists. We could have even more playtime when we knew where things were. There is more room to play when usable things, like clothes in the closet, are visible. We can have more friends go places with us when there is room in the car for them to sit.
As a Gestalt therapist, I always knew about my rebellious kid. We are all composed of many parts, some contradictory, that make up our complete selves. Gestalt is about discovering, embracing, and integrating all parts. My inner rebellious one still doesn’t love structure, but she loves having more time and room to play. So she agrees to let me clean the closet and I agree to take her dancing. Win/Win. (We are still working on that closet).
This, as you see, is not an essay on organizational techniques. Find someone with a TJ (thinking/judging) in their Myers -Briggs for that. Their advice will be way more practical. This is more about knowing and loving who you are. Sometimes that means laughing at our own silly selves. Sometimes it means having two or more parts of you agree on a goal.
The rebellious part of me is, unfortunately, the person my son saw most when it came to organization. I’m sorry, kid. Find your own Gestalt therapist and get it together. Just keep dreaming big and seeing the larger picture, as I know you will. There is room for all the parts of us at the Freedom Within Structure table.