Things around here are reaching what I call a "critical mass".
You know the critical mass.
It is the counter packed full of 3 dozen and some odd tomatoes waiting to be canned, a shoe box full of spices waiting to be shelved (somewhere unreachable by little hands that fancy them to be sand), and three baskets of overflowing kitchen utensils and office supplies waiting to be properly organized.
It is the old refrigerator accumulating an abundance of Dip-N-Dots-like ice crystals on both levels due to improperly-sealing doors on a cattywumpus frame--and it is the inside stuffed with contents waiting to be cooked and cleared.
It is the unreturned Kohl's bag on the shelf, the summer clothes on the bed, the box full of shelves and picture frames still waiting to be hung after 10 months.
"There is not enough space on the disk"--my external hard drive alerts me as I try to load new pictures onto it.
Yes, that is the critical mass.
There are certain tasks that must be done to get through the day: laundry and dishes, cooking meals, paying bills.
But do the pictures, the shelves, the tomatoes, the refrigerator need my attention now? No, they don't.
Until they do.
I was out of the house working one of my cleaning jobs Saturday. While there, I noticed that a duct-taped cupboard door that had been swinging open involuntarily for the last several weeks had been ripped off its hinges.
That is the critical mass.
When all the back-logged and pushed-aside projects suddenly command my attention:
when I can't do laundry anymore because my children are climbing through broken partitions to the other side of the basement and jiggling knobs on the hot water heater;
when I can't cook because my counter spaces are stuffed and my carrots are covered with ice crystals from a malfunctioning fridge;
when bills are unpaid because they are lost in piles of clutter:
it is likely the critical mass has been reached.
I'm still puzzling over the chicken-and-egg relationship between the internal and external critical mass. Which came first? The psychic stress or the mess?
Has the pile of tomatoes backlogged the creative flow of thought? Or has the pile of clutter in my head prevented me from really seeing the mess on the counter?
"Outer order contributes to inner calm" columnist Gretchen Rubin often writes in Good Housekeeping magazine.
Or is it the other way around?
I suppose how and when I tackle undone tasks is a matter of priorities. And my priorities fluctuate with the day, the season. Grow tomatoes in the summer, can them in the fall.
"The unexamined life is not worth living": there has to be a balance between the mundane and the mighty lest I overwhelm myself with the weight and meaning of life, or I float off on the kite strings of daily trivialities.
Caught up as I often may be in the trivial, though, at some point, I have to sort through the backlog, the basement. And when I get edgy and stressed, sweating the small stuff and yelling for no good reason, it's possible that the time for sorting has come.
It is possible that the critical mass comes about less from a lack of discipline or motivation and more from a failure to connect.
Hanging things on the wall, painting, hunting for a new refrigerator, combing the resale stores for organizational gadgets and shelves: these are jobs that are done better with a partner, or at least with someone who can keep an eye on the kids while I do the jobs.
But when I'm so absorbed in running through daily tasks on my solitary hamster wheel, I often forget to look outside myself and find the friend who's waiting. The structure of routine can become a prison cell when I never let the light of spontaneity break through, most of all the warming balm of family and friendship.
May spontaneity warm us.
May we find the time for each other.
May we buoy each other above a burdensome critical mass.