Laid Off? Clean Up!

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Laid Off? Clean Up!

Nobody, of course, wants to lose their job—especially when it was “nothing personal.” But it happens: one day you’re employed, the next day you’re sitting at home watching reruns on The Game Show Channel. Life isn’t fair, as the saying goes: wear a helmet.

There’s no point being Pollyanna about it, but there’s nothing to gained by wallowing in it. You didn’t exactly ask for more free time … but that doesn’t change the fact that you suddenly have more free time. Why not make the most of it?

Sure there are forms to be submitted and resumes to be updated, and those take priority. But this isn’t just a good time to reevaluate your career: it’s a good time to reevaluate your life, too. And if you’re like most people, that will probably me you feel the need to clean up.

Psychologists tell us that a sudden urge to organize is often the result of underlying mental angst or unrest: when our lives seem particularly uncertain and out of our control, there is a natural drive toward finding activities where we feel in charge—say, mowing the lawn, or cleaning out a closet, or even just putting all your playlists in alphabetical order on your phone.

At least one study has demonstrated how apprehension can more or less directly lead to  repetitive, ritualistic behaviors; cleaning or organizing falls under that heading. Links can easily be established between rising stress levels  and the need to put order to one’s surroundings. It’s just how we operate.

And that’s not inherently a bad thing: when other events in our lives make us feel helpless or impotent, tidying up can be psychologically settling. If you can exert some control over your inbox or your junk drawer, it can feel like the first step toward jumping fully back into the driver’s seat.

The thing is, tidying is finite: Point A to Point B. There’s a definite and satisfying ending. Yes, there is no telling what will be living in your couch cushions this time next week, but this morning, cleaning it was a job you had been meaning to get to for months … and right now, doggone it, there isn’t so much as a single errant Cheerio under there. Today the couch, tomorrow the world.

So cleaning up doesn’t just deliver a sense of control; it also provides the kind of resolution few other things in life do. As our world gets more splintered and tasks more abstract, it can feel impossible at times to get any feeling of closure or completion at the end of the day: we DO and we DO, but we never seem to get anything DONE.

In other words, going all Marie Kondo on your dresser can be immensely satisfying.

But there’s a dark side to tidying up, as well. If you’re spending all your time and energy on organization organizing can almost become pathological, interfering with your ability to focus or function—or look for a new job.

Certainly, a clean car can leave you feeling confident and accomplished … but so can many other things: dancing, exercise, meditation (check out what entrepreneurs do in their spare time), or even brushing up on your typing or spreadsheet skills.

Be open and honest (and kind) with yourself: if dropping off three bags of clothing at the local Salvation Army helps keep you out of the doldrums, go for it! Just remember that anything you clean or organize today will likely need it again next month. Tidying up can helpful, but see it for what it is: a Band-Aid, not a cure.