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Routine and Ritual

For many of us, the end of one calendar year and the beginning of another is a time of reflection, whether during the search for a parking space in the rain or while enjoying copious amounts of journal time at a secluded retreat center.

Every year about this time, I spend way too much money buying books that might point me in the “once and for all” direction of the meaning of life. But this year, a little voice told me to reread Joseph Campbell’s “Myths to Live By,” Campbell’s collection of essays on myth from his 1960s lectures, and so my new Kindle and stack of shiny titles from gurus such as Malcolm Gladwell and Mary Kate and Ashley Olsen have been put aside in favor of a dog-eared, much underlined paperback with browning pages.

As I reread Campbell’s discourse on the importance of ritual in giving richness, stability and even meaning to life on both community and individual levels, I recognized that this is the purpose behind being organized in our homes, with our time and in our businesses. A routine of good organizational habits creates a foundation for which ritual is possible.

Let’s look at Jackie Kennedy. Slim, always amazingly put together, incredibly accomplished personally and greatly admired as an inspired writer of thank-you notes,  she was a well-organized woman. This foundation allowed her to help create one of the most profound rituals our nation has witnessed — the funeral of her husband, John F. Kennedy. In the midst of grief, bewilderment, shock and horror, Jacqueline Kennedy (with help and major resources) organized an event that had tremendous impact for the nation on a mythical level and for her own family on a personal level.

This is a much bigger scope on organization than I typically look at in this column, but I think it is key to start any organizing project from the largest vision possible: “What do I want my life to look like/feel like?” Then work the opposite way, from the small projects (organizing the junk drawer) to the larger ones (a vacation for the whole family in the Caribbean or a holiday season full of meaning and tradition) that almost automatically get pulled into focus. The basic routines that I talked about in last year’s columns (putting things back, emptying the in-box, using your down time) create the basis for a richer life, whether you include ritual or not.

Once you get your small and medium projects organized, you might find that your larger hopes and dreams shift a bit (or a lot). For example, once you get your finances organized, you may find that a Caribbean vacation is not realistic and decide that a road trip to a Baja beach would be just as fun and less stress financially.

Another example is that many people would like to look back on a life filled with close relationships with family and friends. We start with the small areas of organization and ask ourselves a few questions. When is the last time I wrote a thank-you note? Do I have my stationary, stamps and address book in order? Am I constantly late to pick up my children from school? Do I forget the birthdays and anniversaries of my closest friends?

The more organized we are, the more ritual we can add to any of our endeavors. The Baja road trip could include a home-made booklet of favorite family road songs and games. The family could collect a small jar of sand from every beach visited along the way to be labeled and displayed as inexpensive, but meaningful, souvenirs for the family bookshelf.

In remembering a friend’s birthday well ahead of the date, everything from a timely card to a surprise party with all the thoughtful extras is possible.

Many of my clients fear that being organized will make their lives rigid and boring. Jackie Kennedy’s life and the lives of many other highly organized people are anything but. Through organization, suddenly dreamed-of goals become accomplishments and, moreover, an organized person is better-equipped to remain present, in the moment. He or she is not always wondering if the credit card bill has been paid or if their accounts are overdrawn. Instead, the opportunity is there to enhance each moment with a great deal of thought. So light a candle, ring a bell, burn some sage or create and embrace your own ritual and welcome in the New Year.