Jean Croker Petke



I spent part of Saturday cleaning my space. I’m not often motivated to clean but occasionally it seems like a good idea. Saturday was the day.

There can be lots of reasons to clean:

  • avoidance of more difficult tasks
  • inability to find certain things
  • my feet stick to the floor
  • papers are piled on every available surface
  • completing a long project
  • getting ready to start a new project
  • company is coming

So I filed, I mailed, I completed sticky note lists, I trashed, and I put piles of music away. I’ll spare you the details, but suffice it to say there was too much stuff cluttering my space and stifling my ability to work. After the decluttering, the cleaning was easy.

My main reason for clearing out and cleaning up was I am tackling the family archives — the biggest project I’ve assumed in recent history — and one I’ve put off for several years. Nearly fifteen boxes of family history, memorabilia, and photographs are in my garage. Since I’m the only one who knows what’s in the boxes, I could just throw everything away and no one would know the difference. However, I feel an obligation to share these treasures with the family, much like my parents’ courtship letters I typed and bound and gave to  the relatives. My challenge is how to preserve the stuff and at the same time make them accessible to my siblings, our children and grandchildren.

Once order had been restored to my work space, I brought the archives into the house. My goal was to empty every box, sort the contents, and in the process create a plan for how to proceed.

Because no work could begin until I knew what I had, I unloaded the boxes all over the dining room table, the chairs and the floor. Since the items had not been saved and stored with any order in mind, it was the only way I could make sense of the chaos. For example, I found genealogy notes, employment information, and awards in every box I opened.

During several days of reminiscing and discovery and wondering “why did they save that”, I sorted everything into two piles: one for Dad’s side of the family, one for Mother’s. Then I sorted each big pile into categories: ancestry, childhood, school, work, retirement, death and memorials. After the last sort, I labeled each stack, and reboxed them in the order I plan to work.

Yes, a plan emerged during the sorting.

I tell you this process because we often get bogged down by the enormity of a project or the lack of direction in what we want to do. So we do nothing.

But even big, chaotic things can be managed. Consider this process then adapt it to fit your needs.

  • Identify what you have. Look at the stuff.
  • Do a big sort. Leave the minutiae for later.
  • Keep notes of ideas that come to mind about the project.
  • Do another sort into smaller categories. No “miscellaneous” allowed.
  • Write down the work sequence.
  • Begin at the beginning. Set the rest of the project aside.
  • Allow the project to change and evolve as you work.

This process reminds me of the adage: How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.

Once you have a plan, once you’ve made order out of chaos, beginning is much easier.

My work will begin on tomorrow. How about you?

Until next Tuesday. . .


4 Comments - Leave a Comment
  • Joan B. Wilson -

    A friend told me he had been advised to create a to-do list when he had trouble starting a project. One of the entries was to be ‘eat a frog’. If you start there, everything else is much easier!

  • Mary Patton -

    Jean: I’m so glad you are starting this project. At church I see hand prints of your parents in so many places: the furnace–your Dad wrote the operating manual, the banners, your mother made so many, and a paint job here and there, their dream for a remodel of the chapel,and on and on. “Well begun is half done.” Good luck. Mary
    I am still reading their letters. They are not forgotten.

    • jcpetke -

      Thanks Mary, for your encouragement. This project is much larger and more complex than the letters, but now that I have begun there will be progress. Stay tuned.

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