When I was a kid, I remember feeling oppressed by rules. Rules at school, mostly. I’m not talking about my teenage years when rebellion is a common way we mark our identity in the world. I was only about ten when I had the good sense to listen to (and not just hear) some advice from an adult.

I was at my Uncle Dominick’s house, which was always immaculate and in perfect order. My Aunt Ada would regularly get up, make homemade bread and pasta, walk miles to and from the store and serve a three course lunch to whoever dropped in that day. She was so organized, she even had a different coffee pot for each number of people she served.

I remember remarking in amazement about all this as I had one of many delicious lunches at their home. My uncle responded with a bit of wisdom I’ve never forgotten.

“Many people think order is oppressive. Actually, it’s freeing. You always know where to find something. You don’t have the stress of rushing, the fear of loss. Order gives you space and peace.”

He’s right. I can really feel the stress of clutter and the anxiety of moving forward blindly without a plan. For me, especially now that I’m older, it’s disorder that’s oppressive. I’m not talking about vacation. Or when you’re in the middle of a creative act. I’m talking about everyday life when you have things to accomplish in a normal day. Routine gives me a structure to start from. Things in their place give me satisfaction and a serenity that actually helps to unleash my creativity. I feel good.

If you walked into my home right now in the middle of April, you’d see lingering Christmas decorations–but the tree is down (although the box is still in the living room). There is some mess here and there, but the reality is I live with other people (and one of them is a 2-year-old). Each day I have to prioritize what’s the most important thing to address, and even more crucial–what’s the best thing to say.

And so I maintain order in the places where I spend most of my time–my office and my meditation area.  I focus on the actions that will advance my goals each day. And I accept a slower pace to restoring order in all the other areas of my life. Each day there is a little more progress.

I may never reach the level of order that my parents, aunts and uncles have achieved. Even though we all have the same amount of time in a day, they had (and still have) different priorities. Hey, wait a minute–maybe that’s what I’m missing!

(Photo: Aunt Ada with her coffee pots.)