This weekend, I cleaned house. Well, not literally because my house didn’t really need that kind of cleaning (okay, fine, it did but I was too busy renovating my new website that I acquired last week) but I did clear off and return almost every book I had sitting on my nightstand. The pile was way too big and every time I looked at it, I felt a panic attack brewing. It’s not a comfortable feeling.
I feel that my room, and my to-read pile, should be a calming influence, not one of extreme anxiety. I love to read but with 10 books beckoning me, I didn’t know where to start. Instead of following my own advice and starting with just one, I just left them all sitting there. I didn’t open a single book for a week. That includes the magazines I had and the books on my e-reader. For me to go an entire week without reading is a huge deal. But I couldn’t figure out a way to cope with the mess so I did what I do best—I ignored it and let it fester until I truly couldn’t take it anymore.
Then I took action and did something about it.
On Saturday, I put every book I had on my bed and sorted them into piles: work-related, nonfiction, and fiction. Then I compared what I had to my books to read Pinterest board to determine which ones I obligated myself to read and which ones were just stragglers I picked up along the way. Next, I made a list of those, separated out the work related books (on mentoring, blogging, and using Pinterest for marketing), put everything else in a bag and returned them all to the library. That included a movie I keep saying I’ll watch but probably never will (Inglorious Basterds, for those who are curious). I also paid my overdue fine (I have yet to conquer these. It’s absolutely atrocious) and gave myself a nice, clean fresh start.
While the action may seem extreme—after all, I could have just moved the pile of books to a different location and pulled them out one by one—it was necessary. I needed to clear the clutter, keep the important, relevant stuff, and stop feeling so overwhelmed. I needed to free my space and my mind so I could refocus on what’s important and get back to work. I needed to reclaim my soothing, relaxing space and stop feeling jittery and nervous about looking into my bedroom or confronting my nightstand. And, now that I’ve done that, what I’m left with is a few work related books and, instead of feeling the pressure of renewal dates and fines, I’m working through the books I’ve bought and have sat, neglected, on my bookshelf. Those have no deadlines or fines attached to them.
It’s a comforting feeling and I’m back to enjoying reading. And maybe one day, I’ll feel comfortable having a pile of unread books on my nightstand. I’ll look at it as a sense of enjoyment rather than dread. But for now, I’m okay with my decision to bring them all back to the library and pick them up again, one at a time, later in the year.
I’ve had to take similar drastic steps in my life. The most recently was in learning to manage my depression but, prior to that, it was in learning to deal with our debt and managing our money. In 2007, when my husband and I decided to focus on paying down debt, we took a number of drastic steps including:
- Swearing off credit cards and using only cash.
- Having a strict but revisable budget.
- Forgoing things like cosmetic home repairs, buying new cars, going on vacation, and purchasing anything frivolous that could be obtained for free instead (like my beloved books).
- Limiting birthday, anniversary, and other holiday spending.
- Obtaining part-time jobs, with all of the money (and I mean all of the money) going towards debt repayment.
- Eliminating friends who either didn’t support our choices or who encouraged us to keep spending money we didn’t have.
Handling all of that at once was excruciating. Giving up pretty much everything that had made our lives fun and enjoyable to that point absolutely sucked. But in order to secure our future, and our daughter’s future, we had to make those sacrifices. We had to redefine fun and enjoyable. We had to learn how to have a life without going into debt. We had to learn to live on what we had and, had we not done this, I probably wouldn’t know how to cook or be able to start my own business. The end definitely justified the means.
By taking those drastic measures and paying off our debt, we’ve removed much of the anxiety and trepidation from payday. We no longer possess an extensive list of creditors. We’ve been able to gradually introduce some of the removed items back into our lives, and let me tell you, the first time we booked a vacation because we could afford it felt damn good. Just like it’ll feel good the next time I can have more than one book on my nightstand.
Having to take such severe action in order to get aspects of my life straightened out isn’t exactly my first choice. It’s not my go-to choice either. But, after a number of failed attempts to control them in different ways, I’ve learned that the most serious action is the most effective one. By taking such a strong stand, it emphasizes the gravity of the situation and gives me incentive to work harder to regain control.
For me, control is a good, comforting feeling.
Readers, have you ever had to take drastic action to gain control over a situation or aspect of your life? How did it work out for you?