When I was little, my room used to get unbelievably messy. By the end of each week, clothes would be tangled in webs all over the floor, books would be piled in corners, dolls were everywhere. I would bravely attack it each and every week as part of my parents’ ingenious earn-your-allowance plan ($1.00 for cleaning your room, $.50 for feeding the cat, etc.) And each and every week, I would wind up huddled in the corner crying.
My dad would peek into the room and say, “Honey, do you need some help?” I would wipe my eyes and nod. Here’s how he helped. He would lay down on my bed, point at something, and say, “What’s that? Pick it up. Put it where it goes,” over and over and over again.
I just read an advance copy of Malcom Gladwell’s new book Blink, about the way we can make decisions in the blink of an eye. One of the most interesting sections of the book to me was where he talked about how sometimes too much information can cloud decision-making and shut us down. Sometimes we’re only able to make quick, effective decisions when the amount of information we can access is limited.
That’s what my dad was doing. I was crying because the sheer amount of things in my room that needed to be somewhere else was totally overwhelming. I couldn’t decide about any of them because I couldn’t even figure out where to start. So, he would pick one thing—a sock, a book, a doll—and limit me to just thinking about that one thing. I would make one decision, and then another, and then another.
This weekend, we started purging all our belongings as a precursor to packing, and after a few hours, I was having childhood flashbacks. So, Sandy stood with me at the hall closet and showed me sweaters. I went sweater by sweater, shoe by shoe, purse by purse, and in the end, I got rid of a lot of stuff.
The next challenge is picking colors for our walls. Sandy and I have already stared at the paint chips at the hardware store and considered painting everything black. There are a hundred kinds of green! Where do you even start?
So, we’re going to go room by room and color by color. Hopefully nobody will end up huddled in the corner of the room crying. But, if worse comes to worse, we’re totally going to call my dad to help us limit our choices. It’s perfect. He’s colorblind.