Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Organizing Season: Tackling Visual Distractions

Have you ever heard of the concept of visual distractions as it applies to the home?  You might well have heard about it if you've dealt with a child who has ADD/ADHD or if you've been involved in getting a classroom ready for 30 students.  They even talk about it in the workplace. As for me,  I had never heard the phrase before a friend mentioned it in relation to her child's ADD and her need to combat visual distraction in his homework zone.    When I heard that phrase, a lightbulb went on in my head.  Finally, an explanation for why I work so hard to keep my house organized.

Visual (n):  Seen or able to be seen by the eye.

Distraction (n.):  something that diverts attention; something that interferes with concentration or takes attention away from something else. 

So, a visual distraction is anything you see that diverts your attention away from something else.  In your home, that can be too much stuff, stuff in the wrong place, stuff that isn't finished, and even not enough stuff or not the right stuff.  Think about it.  A visual distraction is a discordant note for your eyes.  You "see" it all the time, to the point that you can be blinded to everything else.  Alternatively, you can stop "seeing" it to the point that you don't notice it at all...no matter how big and distracting it really should be.

Think of it like this: Driving down a country road, you see trees and greenery. The occasional cow or horse brings a smile to your face. You notice more...you actually see more of what you're looking at. Looking around is actually calming. Driving in the city, on the other hand, you're bombarded by billboards, street signs, speeding cars, and storefronts. You literally can't take it all in, so you start shutting it out. You deliberately "don't see" what you're looking at because it is all too much...you simply can't process it all, so you don't. Definitely not relaxing.

The same thing happens in our homes. In our hurry-up lifestyles, clutter-filled surfaces become distractions so great we don't allow ourselves to see them out of self-preservation. The flyer from the kids' school, permission slips, homework to be looked over, the newspaper, the magazines, the stack of bills, yesterday's dishes, the overflowing trashcan, the pile of clean clothes, the pile of dirty clothes, the toys on the floor, the carpets that need to be vacuumed, the dust on the shelves, the smudges on the mirror, the cluttered bathroom counters, the dirty toilets...it all feels like too much, so we stop looking. We have to in order to go about our business with any sanity. The only problem is that eventually, as we avoid dealing with the visual distraction, the space we can still "see" becomes so small, we don't fit in it.  So we head out...we shop in nice big clean stores...we eat in clean restaurants...and suddenly, are homes aren't homes anymore.  They're way stations...

Now, I'm truly not OCD and no one in my family has been diagnosed ADD/ADHD (I'm not swearing that no one suffers, though.).  Through trial and error, though, I have discovered that I simply cannot function in a house with a lot of visual distractions.   It takes very little messiness to throw me for a loop...so, I try not to let that happen.   Even more importantly, I've discovered my children function far better with orderliness...clean lines, empty surfaces, etc.  For example,  I can't watch a movie with my family if the room we're to sit in is messy.   I can't sit down to read in a room that needs attention.   I simply can't relax.  I can't sit down to study in a room that is untidy.  (Man, oh, man, was my house clean when I went back to school to finish my degree!)  I have trouble writing blog posts if my desk is messy, even if it is messy for a good cause.  (Hey, it can happen!) 

For me, a harmonious home is all about minimizing visual distractions for all of us.  I like to decorate with clean lines (no ruffles, please), simple patterns, and colors that flow.   Let me be perfectly clear:  IT IS NOT ABOUT PERFECTION.  It is all about making a home that truly works for you, not one that you work around.   The macaroni and cheese room was fun for the kids, but it got very tiresome very quickly.   Suddenly, I realized I was working around it...I wasn't enjoying it at all...time for the orange to go.  Now the room works again.   Have you ever wondered why you feel so good after tackling a big clean-up project?  Being productive feels good, but looking around and seeing everything in place actually calms your mind.  Think about it...you know I'm right.

So, what does this have to do with Organizing Season in my house this year?    Let's face it, we all have weird situations we face when attempting to organize our own homes.  Each family is unique.   In my case, 

I find myself amused to see hamster supplies next to cat supplies...I don't know why.
Part One:  The Garage - I know, it sounds weird, so let me explain.   Pulling into the garage everyday, I was always frustrated by how much disorganized clutter I had to walk through to get into the house.   We have seven mammals that need to be cared for, which means I'm always struggling to deal with pet supplies.  (I looked for "before" pictures, but, for obvious reasons, I don't have a lot of pictures of our garage...I mean, it is the garage.)  We had trash cans and recycle bins and dog food bins and cat food bins and bins for the cat litter and bins for the hamster bedding and none of the bins went together.   Some rolled, some didn't.  Some were big, some were little.  It was really inefficient, too.   In order for the kids to get to them, they were always pulled out of place and left in the way.  (Translation:  left out for me to deal with!)  With Superman overseas, I have been dealing with the garage more than ever before and it was making me crazy.   When Superman is home, I don't "see" the garage.  It is his domain.  These days, however, I'd want to head out to do a quick project and I'd be so visually distracted that I couldn't focus on my intended project that I'd spend two hours cleaning, organizing, reshuffling, whatever, in a vain attempt to make it all work and it didn't. 

Clearly labeled.
I finally conceded defeat and got rid of all the mismatched bins.  I liked our recycle bins (lids keep the animals out), so I kept those.  But I invested in new pet supply containers.  Then I labeled everything with vinyl from my Silhouette (still love that machine!) and set it all out. 
Cutter free...and definitely usable.
Now when I pull into the garage, this is what I see.  I feel happier when I walk through the door into the house because I didn't have to walk the gauntlet of "stuff I should be dealing with".  I've dealt with it...it is done...and I like it.   My solutions were simple and sustainable, even for teenagers.   Best of all, I'm pretty certain Superman will approve!

To be continued...

Part Two:  My Closet!


Sew Ducky said...

I am not ADHD and never have been, but I find the older I get the more I get distracted by all the clutter.

This is such a timely post, since I am in the middle of it myself, and I didn't know it was a real thing either.

Erin said...

It was really an epiphany and made so much come clear for me to hear it put in those terms. Hope it helps!