I celebrate the idea of beauty in chaos on a pretty regular basis. When someone asks me how things are going, you will probably hear me respond that life is good, albeit a little hectic. “It’s a beautiful chaos” has become my default refrain. This phrase is like a survival mechanism for this mama of two (soon to be three) little ones, who runs her own business and has a hunger for pushing her own continued growth. If I can’t embrace the chaos alongside all the plentiful good, I know that I will be missing the big picture.
That’s what I’ve been telling myself, anyway. Which seems pretty good on the surface.
But this last week, I found myself examining this supposed mindset that I was in. There is no doubt that I love my life and value the intense amount of beauty that graces my everyday from magical clients to my sweet family to my creative endeavors to my beautiful home and awesome community. BUT I had to ask myself: Was I really celebrating the chaos?
I noticed that these words had become such a rote part of how I described my everyday that they had lost a big part of their meaning. I recognize that the mindsets we hold have a major impact on how we walk through the world. Honoring that understanding and believing that “beauty in chaos” was a mindset worth holding, I’ve been exploring what it really means to me over the last few weeks. In today’s post, I want to share with you a couple of the insights that have emerged. It is my hope and strong suspicion that these reflections might spark something helpful for each of you, too. (If so, I’d love to hear about it!)
Insight #1: I learn a lot by sifting through disorder
I like to imagine a world in which my life looks a certain way. Everything is beautiful and organized, minimal but with personality, aligned in every way with my core values. Perhaps you have some vision yourself for what things look like when they are “perfect.” It’s a pretty human thing to do.
But I can say for myself, the instagrammable pictures in my head are not what I’m usually seeing in my everyday. (There! I admitted it!)
This week, for example, I began in earnest to move my office from a cozy room with a pitched roof on the third floor to a large, boxy room one level below. (The third floor is transforming into a whimsical retreat space for our kids.) I wasn’t sure how I would feel about packing things up and moving things around. If anything, I was feeling nervous. I like to keep a pretty organized work space and I knew the move would bring with it a certain amount of disarray.
I was right about the disarray being real: Laundry baskets piled high with books and paperclips and papers, furniture helter skelter in the middle of the room, an unplugged printer on a random twin bed that hadn’t yet found a new home. The thing that amazed me was how much energy I received from the process. While I have spent much of my life up until now valuing neatness and order, what I noticed in this move was a much stronger value for the process of seeking order from disorder, of noticing patterns, of playing in the mess.
I’m writing to you now from the comfort of my new office and all around me are things that need a new home, whether in this office, in the recycling bin, or in the donation pile. It’s not as crazy as when things first got brought downstairs, but it is very much a work in progress. A big work in progress at that. The awesome thing thought is that rather than feeling a sense of overwhelm, I feel a sense of momentum and excitement. I can’t wait to go through these bins. I can’t wait to reorganize the space. To decorate it and make it my own. It feels like I’m already clearing out the cobwebs in my business simply by being in this process. An inner calm and quiet anticipation have emerged. It is as if greater personal growth seems possible as I move intentionally through this physical room transformation. And that is a gift unto itself.
Insight #2: Small touches make a big impact
One of the things I did right at the start of going through the office transformation was make a few small purchases for the new space, specifically two low maintenance houseplants, a beautiful calendar by the DC-based stationary company Appointed, and a brass mirror. Nature, metals, texture, beauty – check, check, and double check.
Interestingly in all my time in my upstairs office, I never considered buying anything like this. I’m honestly not sure why – too frivolous perhaps? But when I looked at a room filled with a giant mess, I knew I needed my desk to be something that grounded and focused me. All the chaos in the world could exist behind me (my desk faces a wall), but in my view would be things that inspired.
And guess what? It totally worked. I felt immediately happier and more productive in this new space than I ever did working in my finished space one floor up. A real reminder to me of how something small can make a huge impact.
Insight #3: Letting go and letting be is a relief – for everyone
Boy is this a big one. And, as is so often the case, my kiddos were my big teachers on this one.
My morning drop off routine with my little bits is a pretty elaborate and time consuming process. If I’m lucky, I will return home about 90 minutes after it got started. If I’m heading into the city for work, that timing will be well over two hours, much of it in traffic, which is pretty soul sucking for a person whose spent most of her adult life commuting by bike or foot. (This is such an adjustment!) I’ve been committed to moving through this routine in the most positive way I can muster, but I almost always come out on the other end feeling exhausted.
It does not help that I’m often having pangs of parenting guilt throughout this process. I might snap at my kids because we are running late and I have been waiting through the same traffic light for 4 cycles. I might leave my son at the learning center bawling for mama. My daughter might refuse to enter her Montessori classroom thus beginning a dance of me trying to get her happily into the classroom and her saying she just wants to go home. Yes, these things exhaust me.
But I had a magical drop off day this past week. It was so strikingly good that I called my husband Colin immediately afterwards glowing with enthusiasm for the experience. Here’s the big lesson though. The biggest change between my magical drop off day and all the others was just me. I asked Colin for 20 minutes to myself in the morning so that while he got the kids and dogs fed, I could floss my teeth and wash my face and essentially feel human as I started out into the day. Having that little bit of alone time paired with not having to do some of the get-out-the-door tasks put me in a much, much better headspace.
We were also able magically to get on the road 10 minutes earlier than usual and I just felt happy, genuinely happy, through the whole routine. My energy was clearly lighter and as a result so were my kids. We all laughed together in the car. We made silly jokes. They both happily went off into their classrooms. (A New Year’s miracle!)
The same “slog” was still there. Traffic. Missed lights. Taking 15 minutes to get shoes onto toddlers. Forgetting something in the car and having to go back. Arriving back at home 90 minutes after I’d ventured out in the first place. But there was something that was different. Dramatically different. And that was just my mindset. Me letting go and letting be made me feel better and in turn made everyone around me feel better too.
I know I tell clients all the time that moods are contagious. This was a helpful for place for me to hold a mirror up and see what a huge impact my own mood has on those around me.
Insight #4: I choose how I feel
I can’t control if my kids listen to me when I tell them to put their shoes on. I can’t control if there is massive traffic on DC’s infamous beltway. I can’t control if my kid’s teacher is out on an unexpected leave. I can’t control how someone perceives me not showing up to a community event. The list of what I can’t control is vast. Infinite probably. But here’s one thing that is all my own: How I choose to feel.
Now let’s be clear. I can’t control my emotions. They will surface and happen and just be. But ultimately I get to choose my emotions. I might not get to have 20 minutes to myself before I set out to take my kids to school. (In fact, I wasn’t able to do that any other subsequent day this week.) But that doesn’t mean, I can’t still choose to let go and let be.
I get to choose whether I feel happy or grounded or peaceful. Or frantic or angry or resentful. This isn’t to say the choice always feels easy. It usually doesn’t, especially in the face of emotions that rile us up and feel negative. Knowing that I am ultimately the keeper of how I choose to feel, however, is incredibly empowering to me. And reminds me that when the going gets me down, I can decide to stay in the lows or simply let it go. Recognizing that the choice exists almost always shifts me into actions that spark positive change.
If asked this week how life is these days, I suspect I will still gravitate towards my same old answer. It is indeed a beautiful chaos. I’m grateful that this week that I can embrace this answer with a deeper understanding and with it an accompanying gratitude.