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Sunny Schlenger

Spring Cleaning for the Soul:
Removing the Deadwood
by Sunny Schlenger

A few years ago, my group of trees were suddenly gone, everyone. The tall, beautiful hemlocks that edged my patio had been dying for several years – victims of an incurable disease that transformed their hardy green branches into empty brown twigs.

Organizing for the Spirit by Sunny Schlenger

I resisted, but we finally had to have them cut down, and all of a sudden I could see into my neighbors’ yards and into their houses, and this was very interesting. No, not because I am a nosey busybody but because, although I’ve always been one to treasure my privacy, at the same time I’m incredibly curious about the rest of the world. So while we waited for the new bushes to be planted and grow, instead of staring out at a wall of green, I found myself enjoying the antics of children on their sliding board and watching retirees relax in the springtime sun, reading the newspaper.

Sitting at my desk and taking in this scene one day, I began to think about why I’m so fascinated with what people do and how they do it. It truly is the foundation of my organizing and coaching business, and it’s why I see everything as connected: how people spend their time, what sorts of dishes and pens they like to use, what papers they save, what magazines they look at, the things they collect, the music they listen to, the stuff on their closet floor – all are evidence of unique personalities.

Although it’s fine to improve your organizational skills purely for productivity’s sake – to be more efficient, effective, streamlined, and functional – the bottom line is how everything fits together in the jigsaw puzzle that’s your life. The goal should not be just to have the pieces fit well but to produce a picture that pleasing and that’s truly you – today.

And that’s why we need to clean out the deadwood once in a while – so we can get a clear view of what’s actually there now. Removing the deadwood is not always the easiest thing to do, especially for pack rats. We get very used to having our belongings around, even if they’re serving no useful purpose. That was the case with my hemlocks. When I thought of the years I’d spent staring out at them while I worked and all of the experiences I’ve had that they’d borne silent witness to, the idea of chopping them down seemed impossible. But that was then, and this is now.

And that is one of the keys to being able to part with things. Often it’s not the things themselves but the memories they represent that we’re holding onto. But memories can be preserved in other ways, such as in pictures. So many times when I’ve run out of space to store items and have to make choices about what to save and what to get rid of, I’ve taken a picture – of my favorite raggedy Mickey Mouse sweatshirt, a shelf of old college texts, a broken baby toy. And my row of hemlocks.

How to Be Organized in Spite of Yourself

Through the years, I’d taken many pictures of them through the patio doors – pictures of them loaded with snow and sheltering a cardinal or two, and several showing the soft shadows they cast in the summer sun. And those are what I remembered as their remains were taken down. And, there were bright open spaces, waiting for new bushes to grow and a whole new view of the landscape. That’s the upside of getting rid of your deadwood – cleared spaces to keep clear or fill with whatever gives you pleasure today.

Organizing is definitely a means toward and end, and not just an end in itself. As teachers of Feng Shui know, everything has its own energy, and working with that energy in a positive way can make a significant difference in your life. Keeping things around you that are broken and unfixable, dirty or disorganized is not a good way to keep your energy flowing and healthy.

Think of spring cleaning for the soul as a way of removing the deadwood that blocks your perception of your best self, and enjoy the present-day vistas that emerge!

© Copyright 2005 Sunny Schlenger.  All Rights Reserved. 

Sunny Schlenger
Sunny Schlenger has been a professional organizer for over 25 years, working with large and small corporations, non-profit agencies, and individuals to help them manage their time and space more creatively and effectively. She does personal coaching as well as group training and special project facilitation. Sunny is the author of the best-selling How To Be Organized in Spite of Yourself, a Book-of-the-Month-Club featured selection. Her next release will be Organizing for the Spirit, to be published by Jossey-Bass/John Wiley & Sons in April, 2004. Sunny has degrees from Johns Hopkins University and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Her clients have ranged from the producers of Live with Regis and Kelly, to her husband, an air traffic controller who tells us that the skies are now safer, thanks to her assistance.

Her website is www.suncoach.com.

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