Boxes, labels and shelves


My condo is usually at least a little bit messy. Right now, two empty water glasses sit on the end table beside my couch amongst nail polish bottles, earbuds and a plate from last night’s dinner. My kitchen counter is evidence of a busy week…a mix of lunch containers, shopping bags, mail and dishes sprawl across it. All the shoes I’ve worn this week messily line the hallway in front of my door.

I’ll clean it up, but for the most part, a little bit of mess doesn’t bother me (sorry mom). I’ve never been a neat and tidy kind of girl. As much as I try, the “a place for everything and everything in its place” lifestyle is not my MO, and I’m okay with that.

But mentally? The way I process and figure out the world? I desperately want “a place for everything and everything in its place”. I want to put concepts and experiences and situations in a box, carefully stick a label on them, and place them on the shelf next to similar concepts, experiences and situations. I want to keep a log of all the boxes and cross-reference them.

However, much to my dismay, this isn’t how it works.

I can’t have a shelf for happy experiences and another for sad experiences. Because happy experiences can have twinges of sad, and sad can have twinges of happy.

My friend’s husband died five years ago. It was horrible and heart wrenching and one of the saddest stories I’ve ever heard. But when she was ready to date again, we bonded over being in the trenches of online dating, of awkward first date stories, of balancing loneliness with independence. We became really close friends.

Something really good came out of something really bad. It doesn’t mean I’m happy the sad thing happened – it still breaks my heart and I wish it didn’t happen. But I’m so happy for the friendship that developed in the years since he died. Those two opposite feelings can exist in the same box. It’s taken me a long time to reconcile that and package them together, and I’m still not sure how to label them or what shelf to put it on. But that’s okay. Maybe that box can be on the floor, with items spilling out of it. Something I trip over and, depending on the day, smile or cry when I do.

I also can’t have a shelf for “vital” and another for “Not vital”. Because sometimes what makes something vital is the fact that it isn’t vital at all.

Like writing or our own form of creativity. For me, writing isn’t vital. I will certainly still be healthy and be able to pay my bills if I didn’t make time for writing. But the fact that it’s not a vital part of my life makes me want to do it all that more. Making space for things that aren’t vital is actually a vital thing to do.

And this makes my head spin.

But if I try to put the writing box onto a “vital” shelf or a “not vital” shelf, it would keep moving back and forth. Because it’s not vital, it becomes vital. (I’ve now said “vital” so much, I’m not sure it’s a word anymore…)

I think I need my mental space to take a lesson from my physical space. I think I need to be okay with a little bit of mental mess. Where things don’t necessarily have a place, and if they do, they’re rarely in them. Where things are on the floor, out of boxes and don’t spend a lot of time on shelves. And where I’m okay with this.

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1 Response to Boxes, labels and shelves

  1. Marilyn says:

    You’ve got me to thinking Lindsay. I think the blurring of mental categories helps us to be more empathetic, less judgmental, more accepting… of other people and ideas. Not rigid in our thinking. Great post Linz!

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