Elephants and Sheet Sets

Let’s talk about the big scary elephant in the room. The one that stomps in whenever we try to get organized. That elephant gives us a terrible feeling way down in the deepest pit of the stomach, so that we tip-toe around him, clutching our torn-out magazine articles full of tips for getting organized.

Forever convinced that this month’s magazine articles have the answer, that the latest organizing book is going to finally unlock the elusive secrets of organizing, we circle the elephant, never daring to meet his terrible eye.

This ten ton monster is the fear of not having enough. If you have this fear, most likely there was a time in your life when you were hungry and cold. You read The Glass Castle with a shiver of recognition at the extreme poverty it described. No matter how long ago that was, no matter how comfortable you now are, there’s a part of your brain that thinks its job is to stop you from ever being hungry or cold again. It thinks the best way to do that is for you to keep absolutely everything.

It’s why your linen cupboard is crammed full of torn sheets and threadbare blankets. Once there were kids who were cold and shivered throughout the night. There was no throwing out old sheets and blankets back then, covers were needed, no matter how poorly they functioned. A threadbare blanket was better than no blanket. Sheets were better than nothing.

One way to tame the elephant is to gently ask yourself how many people you’re responsible for right now. You may have grown up as one of a pack of kids, huddled together and fighting for your share of the blanket. Or perhaps it was you spreading that  blanket over your squirming children, trying not to think about the fact that there were more kids than blanket. But that’s not happening anymore. There’s you and your partner. The kids are grown, and your grandchildren are well taken care of. You don’t need to keep twenty or more blankets just for the two of you.

Asking your brain to do a reality check on whether what it fears is happening right now helps you speak directly to the fear.

The brain will then do a deep lurch from the past, when you didn’t have enough, to the future, where you may not have enough. It sees you destitute, out on the streets with only the clothes on your back. You’ll be glad of those blankets then. Better hold onto everything so that when the worst comes, you have something.

The antidote to fear is laughter

Can you picture yourself running from that imaginary terrible future clutching everything you’re currently saving? See yourself trying to somehow juggle the sheet sets, the extra blankets, 166 tubes of toothpaste and a million nails, screws, nuts and bolts that’ll come in handy one day. As Future You tries to balance all that, hand her the three toaster ovens you’re saving for parts and the button box. My guess is she isn’t too thrilled you saved all this stuff after all.

Okay, my elephant is getting smaller. But how do I organize my linen closet?

One way to make any task seem less formidable, is to break it down into smaller steps.

  • The first step is to go ahead and pull all the sheets out of the closet.
  • Gather any sheets that are somewhere else in the house.
  • Now sort the sheets into (1) Usable, or (2) Seen-Way-Better-Days. The sheets that are stained, torn or have a weird smell. Remember, we’re not throwing them out right now, we’re just sorting all our sheets into one of two piles.

Once you have two piles, one full of usable linens and one full of the less desirable stuff, it’s time to sort the pile of good ones by size. Make a pile for the twin sheet sets, another for the queen, and so on.

Now go look at the beds in your house. What size are they? Notice if you have a pile of king size sheets but no king size beds. Most likely it’s been years since you planned to make those extra sheets into curtains or tablecloths or clothing or quilts. Do you still have the desire, time and energy to do any of that?

If you’re saving multiple sheet sets for beds that no one ever sleeps in, save one sheet set to make each bed look pretty (we’ll deal with the bed surplus another day).

  • The ratty ones go in the pile with the torn, stained and odd smelling sheets.
  • The one that are extra but in good condition can be donated. Start a donation pile.

Now have a look at the number of people who ever sleep in your house. You, your partner if you have one. How many grandchildren do you have and realistically, what are the odds that more than one or two at a time will be staying with you? Your answer will dictate the number of sheet sets you hold onto.

Looking at your particular set of circumstances, come up with what seems to you to be a reasonable number of sheet sets and then add one. That extra set is for the part of your brain that’s worrying you won’t have enough.

Let’s say decide you want three sheet sets for each bed. Pick your favorites from the good sheets pile and add the rest to the donate pile. There’s no right way to choose which three sets you keep, but think about factors like

  • comfort,
  • durability,
  • beauty,
  • and most importantly, ease of care. Never, ever iron sheets if you can possibly avoid it.

Organizing your keepers

  • Roll them up so the top, bottom and pillowcase for a set are all together.
  • Or stuff the sheets in the pillowcase. Whatever looks best to you.
  • Folding is okay too, although things get messy quickly if your cupboard is very full.

If you have a linen closet, it’s nice to give each sheet size its own shelf. Organizing is all about making things very easy so if you have four people, four beds and four shelves, each person gets a shelf. If you have room, you can put each person’s towels on their shelf too. Get all fancy and give them a washcloth too.

Is your elephant still getting in the way?

If you’re still feeling that I just don’t understand what you’ve been through, it might help to get connected with a therapist who can help you deal with the elephant.

But hands-on therapy, otherwise known as decluttering and organizing, is useful too. As you physically touch the sheet sets, sorting them and rolling them up, you experientially feel how much you have. Opening your beautifully organized linen closet brings a smile to your face every time. The sheets are easy to get to, and easy to put back after you’ve washed them. You had a problem, and then you fixed it. That’s powerful stuff!

Is your linen closet bursting at the seams? Contact Joyful Surroundings LLC for compassionate, creative, and totally nonjudgmental decluttering & organizing services.

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