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You’re Not Lazy – You’re Just Overwhelmed

Today’s post is by Shoshana, a dear friend of mine who also happened to be one of my roommates from seminary.  I always enjoy reading her insights into life, whether it’s large philosophical concepts or tips on minimizing laundry.  You can read more over at her blog, Clutter Recovery.  

I’m a clutter coach. I like to get to know my clients a little better by asking what they think might be holding them back from being clutter-free. The almost-universal response I receive is “Well, really, I’m just lazy”.

I don’t agree.

I am (very) naturally disorganized, and struggled with this for most of my life.

I tried many times in the past to ‘get organized’ ‘once and for all’. I would read any tip I could get my hands on about organizing and then make sincere efforts to whip my disorganized self into shape. One example- a book recommended chopping lots of onions, pre-frying them, and freezing them in individual bags so I could have them at an arm’s length for all of my fried-onion needs, minimizing cooking time and mess. So I tried it one morning. I got it all done and felt momentarily accomplished.

And then I looked at the mountain of onion peels, pots, and bowls, and suddenly felt the onion-burn in my eyes, the soreness in my hands, and the fatigue from a long stretch of standing and chopping that giant bag of onions, and I just wanted to do nothing for the rest of the morning. Even though I was supposed to START cooking dinner then.

Was I lazy for not wanting to cook dinner that morning? At  the time, I would have said yes, of course.

Today, I say no- I was not lazy, I was overwhelmed. I was facing tiredness PLUS an inaccessible sink of dirty-but-needed dishes, a counter I couldn’t see (let alone prepare dinner on), and a pantry that had a vast and chaotic blend (as usual) of too much and too little: 15 bags of rice, no eggs, 4 aluminum foils, and no oil. These were factors that made dinner prep that morning genuinely daunting.

This led me to ask why a friend of mine, despite having over 10 children and running a chesed organization, seemed to be so NOT overwhelmed- was she hiding it? Or life truly a different experience for her?

I started noticing that, actually…many naturally-organized friends of mine weren’t huffing and puffing all day long. They were not over-scheduled, their handbags were not over-stuffed, and they just seemed to breathe a little easier in most situations, most of the time.

Whenever I’d catch them in an organized habit (like washing dishes after use, not upon need), I’d often remark ‘you’re so good’. To which they would shrug and say ‘I’m really not. It’s just easier for me to do it this way.’

I started to realize that THEY were the ‘lazy’ ones- and were openly admitting it.  They were self-protectant against chaos- they knew instinctively that the easiest way was the organized, preemptive way.  They had zero desire to struggle or feel pressure, and they had many habits that prevented the pressure from occurring in the first place.

They seemed to allow themselves greater margins.  Margins of time, margins of space, margins of energy (“I need to take a nap now, talk to you later”), even margins of money.  These margins acted like buffers against chaos, that would absorb most of the unexpected events (like traffic jams- that would just use up their 1/2 hour margin and they would arrive on time as opposed to early).  Obviously their lives weren’t perfect and things didn’t always run like clockwork, but at the same time, there really WAS less pressure.

I decided to start allowing myself these margins.  It was hard at first- I didn’t feel like I was worth such pampering.  But I stuck with it.  I started saying ‘no’ a lot more- to stuff I didn’t love/need, to extra commitments, to ringing phones at the wrong times, to late-night projects when I really just needed to go to sleep already.  I became ‘lazy’ like my organized friends- I wanted things to be easy and not hard.  And guess what?

I survived and thrived.  I have a lot less stress, yet a lot more gets done.  Although my house is now completely organized, I am still disorganized by nature- and that’s okay with me.  When the overwhelming feeling of chaos starts cropping up, it simply means I need to break things down and be easier on myself, and then everything will be just fine.

If you relate to any of this, try giving yourself margins as an experiment.  You can also call it loving yourself, or taking loving care of yourself.  I’m guessing you’re NOT lazy right now (even if you think so) – but I challenge you  to become that way.

8 thoughts on “You’re Not Lazy – You’re Just Overwhelmed

  1. “Self-protectant against chaos”-I love this! (Also the rest of the post.) I had a girlfriend in college who exemplified this. I didn’t get it. Now, I strive to emulate that and feel much better for it all.

  2. I am super organized and while I dont consider myself lazy by any means it does allow me the free time I want to JUST DO NOTHING. I get it!

  3. Chanale, that’s exactly what I meant! It’s not really laziness, it’s just giving yourself a break. It feels ‘lazy’ at first, to those of us who aren’t accustomed to having the space and downtime that we really need. And thank you, Deborah, so glad you enjoyed it!

  4. This is a great post Shoshana! The way you differentiated between “lazy” and “overwhelmed” is so insightful and is a great reminder that we shouldn’t be so hard on ourselves.

  5. I see this is an old post but I was wondering if there’s any way to read her blog it seems that it’s “protected” and not open to the public?

    1. Good question. I’m not sure it’s even an active blog anymore. There’s an option to request access, I’d try that and see what happens. Let me know!

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