Donna was feeling bogged down by her lack of organization, as she put it. “I have so much stuff in my life (things!) that I can’t seem to organize, and it feels like it holds me back.” This is surely a common complaint and frustration for many people. From the outside, it seems like an easy problem to solve: devote small amounts of time regularly, sort items in boxes, and handle disposing of or packing for storing the easy stuff first. Donna, of course, knew that drill and had tried it many times without success. She had just turned fifty and wanted to “put her house in order,” literally and figuratively, but she was frustrated and discouraged.
Donna is easy to talk with. She has a very animated and engaging communication style. She likes the give and take of collaboration, so problem-solving by discussing ideas and feelings seemed natural and the obvious thing to do. However, it didn’t get us anywhere even though the talking felt good and was focused.
In one of our conversations Donna said, “I can see all this stuff in my world and it’s organized in neat little categories . . . and I keep moving things from category to category. Everything keeps changing, yet it stays the same. It represents my whole life.” At that point it made sense to stay in the visual-spatial (and logical) realm of her imagination, so I asked if she could arrange the categories in some kind of chronological order.
Donna found this mental, visual-spatial/logical task relatively easy and as she was doing this visual manipulation she had an epiphany. “If I get all this stuff lined up properly, so much of it will be far away and invisible, and I lose my connection to my childhood!”
Of course as she said this, she knew it wouldn’t literally be true. She didn’t need all the “stuff” to remember the joys of her childhood and she didn’t need to validate her life by holding on to all the artifacts that were literally cluttering her life and bogging her down.
We then talked about how conversing only with words hadn’t helped her understand why she got mired, but thinking in pictures and working the problem in her visual-spatial/logical world had connected her to a deeper understanding, where she found clarity. It’s not to say that our discussions hadn’t had any value. Donna’s coming to an understanding was a process that involved working in many domains over time, but she became more conscious of how important thinking in pictures is to her and how she can be more intentional about using this processing component to navigate future issues.