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Chatterbox: Keeping to the task at hand


I’m guessing there have to be other people like me, unaware that they were, or are, suffering from low level attention deficit disorder.

I remember, back in the ’70s, as a homemaker with a kindergartner and one newborn in a very small house, I started a project. It seemed a fairly simple undertaking at the time, but for my sort, whose behavior patterns resemble more a Pollock than a Renoir, cleaning out a drawer can become a monumental task, which will eventually impose its havoc on multiple people, in numerous places, for extended periods of time.

The original goal, way back then, has long been lost to my bad memory, but it may have been something as basic as putting away laundry. All I remember is, I started out in the bedroom closet, put something from there into a dresser drawer. At some point, I found myself cleaning out the whole dresser, its contents being reorganized on the bed.

Returning something from the dresser to the front closet, I found myself tidying up the closet by clearing it out onto the foyer floor. Then, the closet yielded a box misplaced during the recent move containing the curtains I had been searching for, to hang in the little dining area. Oh, but they needed pressing … mind you, the bedroom dresser drawers’ contents were still all over the bed in little piles. Well, we all see where this went.

Ultimately, by the time my husband came home, there were four disasters going in three rooms including the foyer. He could barely get into the house past the front closet’s open doors with its contents in piles and the ironing station fully operational to boot. His bewilderment became mine. How, exactly, had this happened when my motives were so pure? I felt alone and incompetent in my mismanagement back then.

Today, we not only talk about lots of things more than ever, but we know a lot more about things than ever. When the world began talking about ADD, I wondered, “Could I have that?” My case is pretty low key but, for anyone with it, there are avenues of behaviors that get us lost fast (I’ve traversed many). I’ve never been diagnosed with ADD, but I do have to work hard to not fit the profile.

Knowing anything about this when I was young would have made my life a lot easier. Necessity is, however, the mother of invention; I learned some tricks, albeit the hard way, that helped me handle the distractions and derailments common to people like me. As time passed, I began working on how to control things when a small chore had the potential to become a huge mess … okay, several huge messes.

For neat freaks like me, the idea of returning to tidy a space we’ve already begun to work on, when it means abandoning another space we’ve discovered which also requires tidying, is a tough pill to swallow. We’re incapable of just shoving a book onto a shelf that clearly needs a re-do. However, easily distracted, combining tidying jobs can result in a Jenga/Tetris tower of terror affecting many household zones. So, although sticking to one chore at a time may leave our Zen yelping for help, we learn to tune it out and move on, if we want to ever complete any task successfully.

Mindlessly filing things, whether they are toys, clothes, papers or donations, and allowing ourselves to just walk away – or back away slowly – from something that irks us or sticks in our craw, is essential. Many of us may feel like we have a rock in our shoe, or think of it as desertion or a cop-out, but it’s a skill that must be perfected. Personally, I often found myself repeating aloud as I slammed a door shut, “Finish the task at hand first. … Finish the task at hand first. …”

Focusing like a file clerk, it’s imperative that we learn to easily accept that, yes, that jacket can, indeed, be hung in a messy closet and remind ourselves, repeatedly, that the closet isn’t our project right now; it’s messy, has been messy, and will remain messy until we get to that project. In the meantime, we’ll rejoice in finishing the job at hand.

It’s okay to leave other things for another day – it has to be or we’ll always start cleaning a drawer and end up with four disasters that don’t end until we hit the foyer.

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