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Creating Flow Through Organization & Clutter Clearing

Updated: Feb 17, 2021

How fantastic to take a practice from one part of my life in agile software development, and apply it to a completely different part of my life, and be met with resounding success! Pairing is an innovative idea, and although it was born in the field of computing in the mid-1940's, it is clear it can be applied very successfully in many other fields, including coaching. As a woman with a foot in both software development and coaching, I was delighted to discover pairing was first devised and practiced by two women, affectionately known as the "two Betty's." Betty Jean Bartik and Betty Snyder were pioneer programmers in the US Army. Their innovative work on a computer called the Electronic Numerical Integrator and Computer (ENIAC) during World War II would change the world.

Photo Credit: Unidentified U.S. Army photographer, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

While revisionist history wrongly attributes the programming of the ENIAC to men, herstory can be found in a wonderful book titled "Broadband, The Untold Story of the Women Who Made the Internet," by Claire L. Evans. This is an inspirational read for women who've banged their head and scraped their knuckles against the glass ceiling, or had male colleagues take credit for their ideas and work. I've fought beside an army of women in corporate America who have developed callouses over the last 25 years dodging landmines and taking bullets from the "old boys club." The struggle is real.

As a Product Manager currently leading a team at Ford Motor Company, we practice pair programming on the daily (thank you brilliant Bettys). Pairing is the applied practice of collaboration. It is the knowledge that two brains, and two sets of eyes, are better than one. It's understanding we each view the world through a unique lens, and when we look at the same problem, what you see may be 180 degrees different from what I see. Between the two of us we'll cover more ground, expedite the transfer of domain knowledge between us, and hold each other accountable to get things done. As a pair we will consider more alternatives and more often than not, we will find an innovative solution in record time. I can tell you this works because I witness this daily with the brilliant software engineers on my team. Occasionally one of us may fall into the trap of being a solo act. We forget and beat our heads against the same wall hour after hour, day after day. Then we invite a second set of eyes to look at the very same problem and boom! We find synergies, get into creative problem solving, and before we know it we have a solution.

This felt harder than it should be. How difficult is it to organize files, paperwork, bookshelves, desk and floor surfaces? Organizing one small home office? Well the short answer is this: It's hard as hell and it's easy as pie.

So what does this have to do with catching a virus and getting knocked flat on my back for four months? Getting sick combined with a world-wide pandemic turned out to be the perfect opportunity to see the world through a different lens. I was literally forced to hit the pause button and re-evaluate everything in my life, from what I was eating, and how I was breathing, to what kind of self-care I was engaged in, my sleeping habits, what was important to me, and most surprisingly, how I was "pairing" in my own life.

I know from experience, paired programming is the way to go, but what about paired problem solving away from software development? I lay in bed assessing what I was capable of doing given my suddenly diminished state of health and well-being. Heck, even breathing the way I used to, breathing without thinking about it, was no longer a given. I could no longer yoga or ride a bike. I had lost my strength and the simple task of vacuuming the house would leave me exhausted in bed unable to get up the next day. Ironically at the very same time I had lost my health, I found something that had been sorely missing from my life for decades: Time. Due to the pandemic I was no longer commuting to and from work. The litany of 10 hour days followed by a marathon of tasks required to maintain a household and care for a family had disappeared as quickly as the virus that showed up on my doorstep. I had been gifted time with my son, time with my husband, time with my garden, time with myself. Everything felt upside down. It felt like I had woken up one morning in someone else's body and due to the pandemic's stay at home orders, it felt also like someone else's life.

With a plethora of time, it occurred to me the first muscle I needed to strengthen was my ability and willingness to ask for, and receive help from others. With so much extra time on my hands I also found myself wanting to increase my domain knowledge, and expedite finding solutions in some areas of my personal life that had been neglected due to time constraints. I thought about the many wins achieved through paired programming, and started creating a list of pairing opportunities in my home life. In the short term that looked like pairing with health professionals and my family. In the longer term as I began to regain my physical endurance, it blossomed into some other opportunities like pairing with an organizational coach.

As I began to create a more productive space in my home office to support a 100% work-from-home gig, I felt like I was swimming against an invisible tide that kept pulling me back and dragging me into a sea of papers and growing piles of what-nots. Keeping my space tidy felt harder than it should be. Of all the accomplishments in my life, how hard could it be to organize one small home office? The short answer is this: It's hard as hell and it's easy as pie.

This is was my home office on a good day

I managed to live this way up until 2020 came along and slapped me across the face and woke me up. I realized I was ready for an organizational overhaul and space clearing, and I intuitively knew this was a job for two.

The truth is I've never been one of those neat and tidy organized sorts. I used to lament each time I heard my grandmother's voice in my head, "a place for everything Karen, and everything in its place," because it felt like I didn't have a place for everything at all. In my world everything was always all over the place no matter how hard I tried. Even worse, when I needed to find it, it was no place at all. Looking back I realize my very sweet and tidy grandmother was trying to help me develop my organizational muscles. Indeed, I spent much of my adolescence and adult life attempting to find the key to organization as well. After many failed attempts and some half-successes, I have to admit I came to the conclusion that being neat and organized was simply not my thing. My motto became, a place for anything could be anywhere, so make sure you have some extra time to look for the things when you need them. Let us be clear, I keep a clean house, but a tidy house? Nope.

I managed to live this way until 2020 came along and slapped me across the face and woke me up. I realized I was ready for an organizational overhaul and space clearing, and I intuitively knew this was a job bigger than me. I consulted the Google and found a couple of Certified Professional Organizers that resonated. I quickly made some phone calls before I could change my mind. Within days I was actively working with an amazing organizational coach out of Ann Arbor, using Zoom. I was skeptical of doing this type of work virtually prior to the first meeting, and 100% sold afterwards. We've been pairing for several months now, meeting bi-weekly and plowing through the spaces in my home like a boss.

I began to see many of the things in my personal space as distractions that were keeping me from what was important to me now. I've learned to release those things from my past that once meant so much, but in the present simply evoked remnants of emotions and memories from a time that is long gone.

My office was only the beginning. I've also hit the basement, kitchen cupboards, front entry way closets, our bedroom, and am currently working on my yoga and Reiki room, and the downstairs family room. No closet, drawer or cupboard is safe. Much of what I've done has been off-line, applying my new habits and new organizational domain knowledge. It also helps to have someone on the sidelines who is holding you accountable. The container store became a familiar friend, and I quickly learned I have a thing for labels. Early on I picked up a labeling machine, (by choice not request), and have labeled my shelves, project boxes, trash cans, tea tins and file folders to name only a few. I've been in touch with my county and city offices finding the best places and times to unload shredded documents, old nail polish, batteries, electronics and other common hazardous household wastes. I've repurposed and re-homed items, giving them new life. I've donated loads of housewares, furniture and clothing. I now approach clothing with the mantra, "if it is too small or too big, it belongs to someone else. If I think I might wear it someday in the future, it belongs to someone who can wear it now. If it doesn't bring joy, release it back to the collective where someone else can find the joy in it today."

The joy of labeling is real!

I began to view many of the things in my personal space as distractions that were keeping me from what is important to me now. I am releasing those things from my past that once meant so much, but in the present simply evoke remnants of emotions and memories from a time that is long gone. If it makes me feel even a little bit sad or guilty, then it is most likely time to move that energy through me, out of my house and out of my life. Many of these things are just that. Things. Things that are at best meaningless weight, or in the worst case, things that carry the heaviness of unmet expectations and broken dreams. It is incredibly liberating to release them, and feel the burst of "ahh" gifting them back to the collective, knowing they might provide support and energy in helping someone else realize their own dreams.

This process has created incredible flow, and the energy is moving like a river now. Instead of a tide pulling me back, I am swept forward with ease riding the current. Suddenly I am finding the time and energy to do things that seemed impossible over the last two decades. Projects are getting done. Tasks, goals and ideas feel easy and possible. I truly look forward to my paired decluttering, organizing, rehoming, and releasing sessions with my organizational coach, and now my husband. I am grateful for pairing and I am grateful for the gifts my coach brings with her domain knowledge and expertise.

As I pumped up my organizational muscles and habits with my pair buddy, I soon started feeling the energy of my grandmother. She was right here with me, cheering me on and sharing warm hugs and laughter from the other side. "A place for everything, and everything in its place," and if there isn't a place or a use, release it back to the collective.

Truth be told I am grateful to all the amazing women involved in this organizational achievement. Thank you to the the Bettys who improvised and discovered the beauty of pairing. Thank you to Molly Boren, the owner of Simplicity Works Organizing Services who is supportive and equipped with the right combination of tips, tricks and wisdom to transform a mess into a miracle. Thank you to me for always having enough determination and courage to find a way through even when the going gets rough. Most especially I would like to thank my beautiful grandmother who never gave up on me becoming tidy. It's a process and it gets easier each day!

A place for everything & everything in its place

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