Thursday, March 1, 2018

We Need to Sort This Out

We've now lived in our house for a little more than 3 1/2 years.  To those who helped us move, I remember promising you a party when we had been there for a year.  Little did I know that 1 year later me would laugh at such a preposterous suggestion.  Loyal readers will remember that we moved into the house from the Moneypit, only not nearly as glamorous.  It immediately began rejecting us, one failing system at a time.

Image result for money pit testing missiles
The front yard still kinda looks like that.
One of the many ways our house was, shall we say, sub-optimal, was that there was insufficient insulation in the attic.  Now when I say that, what I mean is that in many places there was no insulation at all.  In most places there was a dusting akin to snowfall in Georgia before global warming.  So we saved our pennies until we could add some insulation, got a quote, took a little side trip to have the roof replaced (!), and then pulled the trigger on the insulation.

Both the roof and the insulation requried that we empty our attic.  In the case of the roof, it was because the replacement process was going to rain down debris, uniformly coating basically the whole attic in a slurry of felt paper, nails, and shingle grit.  (Shingle grit will be my next cuss word subsitute, by the way).  In the case of the insulation, we needed to move the stuff so they could blow the insulation in all the places it needed to go.

They felt like it needed to go a lot of places, including over a significant portion of the area we had been using for storage. I'm actually ok with that, because more insulation means better efficiency and more savings.  Indeed, during the near-record cold that followed, our bills remained reasonable, and we didn't have the urge at any point to hang meat in Lucy's room, which had before that been the least insulated.

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Me in Lucy's room before insulation.
That said, less storage space meant we needed to release a few items from our custody.  Lisa and I have just a couple of rules related to storage of stuff.  First, we have a 2 car garage for a reason, and our cars will always be parked in it.  We can hang stuff from the walls or the ceiling or whatever else we can think of, but we can't limit the space such that we can't both park there.  Second, we will not rent a storage unit to store more stuff.  If it can't fit in the house, we don't need it.  (Related rule: if it doesn't go in the dishwasher or the washing machine, we don't need that either...meaning our drycleaning bill is exactly $0 most years).

So we had this pile of boxes in our front room that had been in the attic.  I cleaned up the attic space to define exactly how much room we had, and then we started going through things to determine what we needed to keep and what would be released.  We went through the wedding box, where we discovered our unity candle (nobody does those anymore) had melted a bit and assumed a new interesting shape, so we pulled the decorative paper off the front and tossed the candle part.  There were some dried flowers.  Not as beautiful as I remember.  There was some memorabilia we hung on from folks, napkins from the reception, receipts.  We also found 2 checks in the wedding stuff, one of which had been a wedding gift and the other of which was a paycheck from the job I was working at the time.  Is 17 years too late to deposit those?

Image result for bad check
Probably a bad idea.
Getting all this into the space required meant we needed to organize it carefully.  We sorted it all out.  We had birthday cards and Christmas cards from all these years (including a check that was a birthday gift as well...sigh).  For us.  For the kids.  From the kids for us.  Notes from Lisa's grandmother (which are worth an entire post on their own because they were hilarious mostly because of how mundane they were and also how judgy they could be).  We had work samples from the kids.  My old toys.  Our love correspondence sent way back in high school (notes which were passed from one school to another by way of an amazing priest and teacher, Father Fred, who would actually take a note from me at my school, drive it over to Lisa's school, where he would teach a couple of classes, and then pick one up from her to drive it back to me!).

I'm good at organizing.  I consider it a spiritual gift.  I'm good at sorting things out and classifying them.  It turns out this is actually a very important skill!  Did you know there are educational standards in kindergarten that asses a child's ability to sort items by various properties?  They call it visual discrimination.  The standards require that the child sort the items out by properties, count them, and then arrange them by count.  It's always sounded a little silly to me, but at the same time I have to admit it's a critical skill.  I use it all the time!  Way more than I use the 15 facts I learned about every President of the US (though there was that time I was held up in an alley and only released because I knew the first census occurred under George Washington).

Sorting is a powerful tool.  It's everywhere.  Think about your you have the glasses in one place and the plates in another?  You sorted that.  Even the junk drawer, which you might argue is completely unsorted, is actually sorted because it is the place where you put the things that don't have a place!  File cabinets that empower business (either paper files in cabinets or virtual files in computers).  Itunes.  The TV guide.  The grocery store.  Shoot, it's actually really hard to come up with an example of a place that doesn't make use of sorting in some way, shape, or form.

Like most tools, though, sorting can be misused or even abused.  There are traps you can fall into when sorting!  I've fallen into all of them from time to time.

One trap of sorting is rigid overcommitment to the categories.  When I was putting things in buckets, I was sorting things that belonged to Wesley, Lucy, and us.  But sometimes I'd find something that didn't fit neatly into one of those buckets.  What to do?  Well, if I'm overcommitted to the categories, I pick the one it goes best in and force it there.  But that's not fair, is it?  I might need to make a new category.  Or if one bucket got too full I might need to subdivide that category.  Sorting well requires flexibility.  Rigidity will ultimately compromise your ability to make sense of the sorting.

Another trap of sorting is making assumptions about what's being sorted.  Just like routines (I wrote about last week), our brains frequently try to help us and wind up being about as helpful as windows when it says it's going to optimize your computer but ultimately just deletes a whole bunch of your hard work.

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Yes means no and no means yes.
Delete all files?
When your brain is sorting things out, it starts to assign attributes based on its perception of patterns.  That can be helpful.  Except when it isn't.  Because sometimes the brain is tricksy.  If the first 3 things I pull out of Wesley's tub are trash, my brain begins to assume that things pulled from that tub are most likely trash.  Before you know it I've accidentally tossed that really cute picture of Wesley from when he was 1 year old and in daycare (fictitious event that may be a little too close to reality to be funny).

The worst trap of sorting is forgetting the point of the whole thing in the first place because you get so wrapped up in your amazing sorting.  The whole point of sorting out this stuff from the attic was so that I could optimize our storage and organize things so they will be accessible as needed.  It was not to personally guarantee the financial stability of the Rubbermaid company.

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Or to keep these guys in business.
That sounds silly, and in this case it mostly is.  But we don't just sort stuff from our attic or our beanie baby collection (worth, at least check, $12035987120395871209357).  We sort people.  And when we start sorting people...that's when it gets really sticky.  We can create labels--assume there are certain kinds of people--and then force everyone we meet into those nice little categories.  Worse still, once we have experience with a few people from those categories, we assume we know all about them (and sometimes we just flat make things up).  Worst of all, we can forget the point of the this whole experience we call life because we're too busy focusing on all these divisions our brains have very "helpfully" created for us.

I'm probably going to regret this, but think about politics for a minute.  Democrats and Republicans.  Conservatives and Liberals.  We could go on identifying categories that divide us.  Believe it or not, the presence of these labels isn't all bad.  A government made up of people with varying opinions, experiences, and points of view is critical to the functioning of a just government. guessed it...the pitfalls apply, and boy do they apply with a vengeance.  Mostly I think that's because when we sort people we are inclined to dehumanize them.  We get caught up in the labels.  We generalize.  We assume.  And we forget the whole point.  The point isn't to win, y'all.  It's to find solutions to the problems of our world.  We're so busy sorting, though, that we can't really do that.
Image result for sorting hat
Not Democrat.  Not Democrat.  Not Democrat.
Oh, we talk about unity and finding common ground.  Sure we do.  We could all get along if you'd all just agree with me, right?  It's more than finding common ground.  That's not enough.

We can sort ourselves out by color or gender or creed or political affiliation.  We can even sort ourselves out by our opinions on specific issues.  What we can't do is allow that sorting lead us to dehumanize other people or prevent us from seeking to understand those who aren't sorted into our particular bucket.

Prayer of St Francis

Lord make me an instrument of your peace
Where there is hatred let me sow love
Where there is injury, pardon
Where there is doubt, faith
Where there is despair, hope
Where there is darkness, light
And where there is sadness, joy

O divine master grant that I may
not so much seek to be consoled as to console
to be understood as to understand
To be loved as to love
For it is in giving that we receive
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned
And it's in dying that we are born to eternal life

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