Paper is strewn everywhere creating the drifts of a winter wonderland.  Books teeter in tall piles like drunken snowmen whose heads are on the wrong end.  Dust motes are thick in the air and soften the hard corners of academia.  It is like a blizzard of chaos and confusion that comes with no warning and leaves you feeling chilled and breathless.  What just hit me ? you wonder with eyes blinking in surprise.  It is the life of a mature student and it has been blown in to my life like the great storm of ’79.  Success will depend on how prepared I am to weather the storm and what I choose to have in my emergency kit.

 My house is awash in binders, page protectors, text books and computer cords.  Everywhere you turn, signs of learning are blinking like a faulty 50’s diner sign with a funky bulb.  Only there is no wise-cracking, coffee pouring waitress to tidy the mess away.  There is only me balancing school, family, and volunteer work like dirty dishes and trying to eek out some kind of “me-time” which seems to be deemed oh so important.  This me-time only adds to the piles of books as I am also a bit of a bibliophile, collecting everything from vintage cookbooks to murder mystery.  My sanctuary is being obliterated under a blur of words and paper cuts.

The fact that I am not the most organized person you’ll ever meet presents a constant challenge in my life.  Surprising to me every time is the comment by friends and fellow volunteers, “oh my, you are so organized!”.  Little do they know about the multitude of organizational tools I keep at the ready and the constant battle that I face to remember to use them.  My brain functions like a super-computer on speed.  Thoughts whizz and bang against each other trying to remember doctor’s appointments, assignment deadlines and to feed the squirrel before I have to add a memorial to my list.

For the longest time, well before embracing the life of a student, I lived with the perpetual feeling of mental malaise.  With young children comes the inevitable clutter of toys and books and clothes and the battle to keep them contained: Kids and clutter alike.  Add working full-time with two toddlers and a husband who loves doing dishes but fails to see the shiny happiness of a 10 second tidy and you can see where the malaise began.  It was insidious.  This is where being an avid reader comes in handy.  The golden words appeared one day on the pages of one of my many trusty magazines – clutter contributes to depression !  Hallelujah.  I wasn’t crazy – just allergic to clutter.

 This aversion applies not only to visual clutter but mental clutter as well.  My reaction to this is to create copious lists and to utilize every possible organizational tool ever imagined.  From top of the line student planners to the lowly notepad by the bed for those late night “what am I forgetting now” moments.  I use them all.  Wall calendars, phone apps, email calendars and to do list options (double bonus – way to go Bill Gates !), iGoogle apps –  you name it, I will try it.  These tools are the King Kong sized snow shovel I use every day to clear some of the blizzard of thought in my swirling brain.  I devour articles on organizing.   Consider every Dr. Phil-esque tip on reducing mental clutter from meditating to drinking yak’s milk under a full moon.  I fantasize that the famed Canadian decorator Sarah Richardson, queen of organizing in bright colors, will come sweeping in to my home, announce it to be her latest project and magically transform my cluttered home in to an oasis of serene cupboard space and soothing wicker baskets with matching sofa slip covers.  Oh to dream …   

 My point is the importance of staying organized and occasionally allowing the sun to melt the drifts of clutter and chaos.  As I read once in Best Health Magazine, clutter can affect not only your mental well-being, but your relationships, your ability to deal with stress effectively, people’s perception of you at work, cause injuries (who hasn’t tripped over a forgotten something on the stairs at least once in their life ?) and cause weight gain as you deal with the strain of clutter by munching on that soothing box of cookies.  Sugar might not judge or criticize but you will certainly notice its impact the next time you try to slip on your favorite jeans.  And nobody needs that added stress at all.

 It is paramount to anyone’s well being, never mind a mature student with $10,000 riding on that clutter free space, to make every effort to stay on top of things.  Not taking that 10 minute tidy time to mentally shake the cobwebs out will only serve to affect academic performance in the most negative way.  Forgotten or late assignments.  Sloppy work hastily prepared before class.  Team members (and possibly future colleagues) becoming frustrated and annoyed by your lack of quality contribution.  Mounting stress and sleeplessness as you struggle under the piles of deadlines that are written on the back of a napkin lost at the bottom of your school bag.  No wonder the freshman 15 is synonymous with first year students.  They are cocooning themselves against the onslaught of the mental, emotional and physical clutter maelstrom they create by not staying organized.

 It is armed with the knowledge that clutter control is paramount to my academic success,  that I continue on in student life.  While the piles and drifts occasionally reach blizzard levels, it is with the wisdom of a parent who has done battle with Lego’s and Barbie shoes that I embrace the 10 second tidy rule.  On a regular basis, for which I use the wonderful StickyNotes feature on my computer, I take the time to update my various organizational tools, clear the clutter of books, corral the paperwork which has escaped the clutches of my binders and engage in some mental housekeeping.  What choice do I have about this ? None.  My success depends on it.







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