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Angela Hoxsey, House in Order: The value of constraints

Angela Hoxsey, House in Order: The value of constraints

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There are two types of youth: one that can’t stand constraints and spends time trying and doing as much as possible and the other that insists on or needs constraints and keeps a lot of metaphorical doors closed in order to focus.

Aging tends to even the two types out. The free form, “try anything once” types identify their paths and responsibilities, and the more rigid, “gotta get straight A’s” types start to loosen up and explore their options. Ideally, both types learn to employ constraints in ways that allow the highest and best use of their time and expression of their talents.

Organizing, or being organized, is a constraint, but it is a constraint that ultimately allows for a lot more freedom. A calendar that you can depend on is one example.

Having a calendar is crucial for being able to manage your time. My favorite thing about my smartphone is the calendar app. I track everything in my calendar, from appointments, obviously, to workouts, home care schedules, personal care schedules, auto care schedules, etc. I love using the word search function to find when the last time I did “x” or when the last time I saw client “Y.”

In the case of the calendar, a paper calendar is too constraining because it can be misplaced, or too big to carry with you at all times and, if you have a pocket version and a desk or wall-sized version, needs to be synced by hand. Then there is all the erasing and crossing out when appointments are changed or canceled. A paper calendar can easily become confusing and undecipherable and commitments fall through the cracks.

Speaking of changes and cancellations, it is so easy to contact people by text and e-mail that there is a lot more shifting and canceling of commitments than ever before. We used to have to show up somewhere when we said we would because it wasn’t that easy to change appointments before cell phones.

A good constraint to put on ourselves that greatly aids organization is to show up and suit up to our commitments. I’m a member of the Rotary Club of Napa, Sunrise, and the examples of my fellow Rotarians of showing up and keeping their commitments has been extremely refreshing. Knowing you can depend on someone and being dependable yourself takes an incredible amount of stress from your schedule and your psyche.

Another constraint that helps immensely in staying organized and keeps us from last-minute cancellations and changes to our appointments is not overscheduling ourselves. Knowing how long an activity takes is a skill we develop with age, but as Yoda would say, pay attention you must. I always advise using time estimated based on your experience, for example, getting my car washed takes about half an hour.

Once you’ve got your best time estimate, add another 10-30 minutes depending on the activity and current conditions. For example, because of the recent fires, getting to Calistoga from Napa can take me 40 minutes or an hour due to tree and road work. If I don’t pad the amount of time I need, I could be late.

Think about constraints in your space as well. A drawer or bin can only hold so much. Will you give yourself the freedom to flow into a second drawer or do you need the constraint of paring down some things in order to fit them into one drawer or bin?

When we constrain our wardrobe to only things that fit, flatter and we feel great in, the saying, “Less is more” comes quickly to mind. Suddenly it seems like you have a lot more clothing even if you’ve purged half your closet.

When we keep ourselves to a tight budget, definitely one of the most difficult constraints to commit to, we have the freedom and peace of mind to know what we can truly afford and what purchases we might need to postpone until we have put aside some savings.

Think about where you might benefit from some constraints in your life in order to enjoy more organization and peace of mind. Constraints are a way of seeing what’s true in your life: there are only 24 hours a day, we only have so much energy, there’s only so much money in the bank. A few constraints, along with the truth, can give us freedom.

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