We used to fold our clothes on the dining room table. Once about four loads of clean laundry sat in their baskets for four days or more, I would finally make it a point to start putting the underwear on the table. I would clear spaces for the towels. I would lay flat each and every child pajama. I would then put the things that were to be hung up on hangers and carefully dangle them from the chairs. By the end of the four loads, the dining room table looked like a christmas tree on its side, ornaments strung all around with plenty of tinsel and ribbons for good measure. Because we had laid out our clothes on the table, there was only so long that we could leave them there. Eventually we would have to eat. So, whether we wanted to or not, we would gather up all of the different piles and walk them to the right spot and put them away. It was something we couldn’t avoid, and that made the drudgery of it okay.
We don’t put our clothes out on the table anymore.
Now we just leave them in the sunken seating by our fireplace for a week or more. They are just as clean as before, but they seem so much more daunting. It seems as though they have multiplied five fold and there is no longer a reason to move them. We don’t generally eat next to our fireplace and the only people that use that seating for other than sitting next to a fire are our children who constantly want to jump into the sunken area. And a huge pile of clean laundry isn’t exactly a deterrent to jumping around.
The problem is that we no longer have made this one unrelenting thing into a prerequisite. We don’t have to fold or put away the laundry before we eat. We can leave it in the “pit” even after it becomes an eyesore because it still isn’t in the way of us doing anything. Sure, we can push it around, and even move it up to our bedroom. Even then, it can just sit there as we pull different things that we need from the piles.
Folding and putting away our laundry hardly seems like a prerequisite to having a well organized closet, now. Before it was something essential, and now it is something optional. It is a casual reward that we could take or leave. Eventually one of us will get fed up with the mess and just do it to be done with it, but it comes back with a vengeance later that week.
I believe that there are too few prerequisites in our lives now. We aren’t doing the things that need to be done because they don’t seem like steps toward something better. As children, our lives are filled with prerequisites. My children know that if they use “good listening ears” they may be able to watch a show after they wake up from nap. As unsatisfying as good listening ears are, they still take part in it because they see it as a necessary step to the good stuff. Everything they do is getting them one step closer to a dessert or to time reading with their stuffed animals in their bed. These things have meaning because they are part of a process.
This is not being punished by rewards, it is making things that lack order and importance into interesting games with rules that make sense. As an adult, I can eat the dessert before the dinner. I can look at Facebook for an hour instead of editing a spreadsheet. I can drink a beer in the afternoon instead of waiting until the evening. There are almost no prerequisites that we self-impose because that would be like admitting that we are not adults. In fact, we scoff at those who put those prerequisites in place. We malign those who do weight watchers as limiting their possibilities. We scoff at anyone who has not tried to watch a complete television series in a few nights. We are our own worst enemies when it comes to setting boundaries.
So, here is what I want:
A single system that I can plug in a list of things that I want to do and a list of things that I believe to be complete drudgery. I would like this system to then spit out an order for all of these things to be done in, complete with a series of prerequisites for the things I would like to do.
In short, I would like something to parent my life without it feeling like my choices are being judged. I would like to know what should come next with the knowledge that if I do that one thing, something better is coming down the line.
If I had that, I could justify even my most unproductive moments as the just reward of some pretty serious prereqs.