Reflections Of A Professional Organizer
Defining Moments: How It All Began
We are commonly defined by what we do rather than who we are. At a recent gathering of old friends we played the game, “write my epitaph”. A friend who has known me for over thirty years suggested mine would read, “Sue Marie Bowling, she went neatly and on time!”
Organizing has certainly somewhat defined my life for the last 24 years, but it is not the whole of it. My background also includes public relations, retail, performing in music ministry, studying communication and psychological services, eleven years in dentistry and more. But today I am usually identified as that organizer.
In a recent conversation with my brother we marveled that either of us actually learned anything in school. I attended no fewer than 14 schools prior to high school, including a two-room schoolhouse named Dry and Dusty School. Living such a transient life as a child was certainly disruptive. But on the positive side, I grew up learning resilience, resourcefulness and creative home making. Like a migrating bird, I had to nest over and over again. I learned the skill of ordered and minimalist living.
As a young adult I finally firmly planted my life in a lovely New England Log Home on ten acres of wooded Virginia hillside and stubbornly remained there for 35 years. During those years the two greatest defining moments, the birth of my two children, Brandie and Brad changed my direction, my perspective, my desires, my entire life. Becoming a mother was a gift through which I learned all things good and I am so grateful to God for that precious privilege.
In 1993 life events and challenges compelled me to do something independent of an employed position. I bravely asked myself the popular life-coaching question, ‘What would I do if I didn’t have to worry about income?’ Without hesitation I answered ‘I would organize the world’!
At that time, however, professional organizing was a little known profession. I didn’t even know it existed and I certainly couldn’t imagine making a living at it. Through what some people would call coincidence but I believe was divine intervention I learned about NAPO, the National Association of Professional Organizers. Within a few weeks I found myself at their annual conference in Dallas TX. I returned home with a name and a very vague plan, gave my employer ten weeks notice and launched ignorantly into the fragile world of self employment.
I never dreamed that organizing lives would be so incredibly rewarding and actually contribute to improving the quality of life for hundreds of people. I just simply loved doing it. And I certainly never thought I would be on the public speaking circuit, which has turned out to be icing on the cake.
And then in 1998, I received the news that no parent should have to hear. My lovely 22 year old son Brad, the young man we called “sparkle face” as a child because he was never without a contagious smile that lit his face and our hearts, was gone from our lives. In the seconds that it takes a pickup truck to turn over, Brad’s life on earth was over. A few years later, my marriage ended in divorce, creating another re-defining opportunity.
Life is full of the unexpected, things that challenge our strength and our hearts. It may be the death of someone we love. It may be challenges in our relationships, our finances or our health. There will be things we have no power to prevent that will leave us feeling vulnerable, defenseless and lost.
There is, however, something in ordering our space that restores our personal equilibrium and gives us some sense of control over at least a portion of our lives. Simply put, grief is a beast. But suffering in a lovely, non-chaotic nest can help soften our time of healing. It can free us from having to spend so much time and energy which the grieving have too little of already on exhausting day-to-day messes. It enables us to think beyond the emotional chaos and make quality decisions about how and where to spend our life energy.
Someone once said “God doesn’t always lighten our load; sometimes He strengthens our backs”. And over time I learned the slow wisdom of grief, that it is not what we have lost, but what we have left that qualifies life. The upheaval of death, divorce, selling a home, relocating a business to another state, leaving my friends of forty years, the insecurity of the unknown, all of these gave me anxiety. But my ordered life eventually afforded me clarity of thought to make necessary decisions that set my sails for the rest my life.
That clarity of thinking led me to Florida. My grandsons and their mom and dad live in Florida. In his book ‘The Man in the Mirror” Patrick Morely said “Why not prioritize everything we do on the basis of who’s going to be crying at our funeral.” I wanted to make peanut butter sandwiches and hear about the newest electronic game and pick up my grandson from school and simply be available to my children. So this is where my ship sailed.
For almost twenty-four gratifying years I have helped hundreds of people enrich their lives by creating order and beauty. It is what I do, I am that organizer. Who I am is a whole other story.