Tiny Wisdom: Relaxing into Chaos

“In chaos, there is fertility.” ~Anais Nin

I am someone who strives to maintain some sense of control amid chaos. One way I do that is by obsessively organizing my space.

For example, there can only be four pairs of shoes left by the downstairs door, in a place where exactly four fit—and they need to be lined up neatly to look like tiny foot soldiers, standing at attention.

During my third day recovering from surgery last week, while I lowered myself in a squat to pick up a fifth pair that didn’t belong, my mother reminded me how I can be obsessively neat and suggested I let things go.

At first this seemed as impossible as asking me to walk backwards on my hands. Letting things be felt completely unnatural.

Then something happened. The other day I looked down at my coffee table, with Starburst wrappers, magazines, and take-out containers scattered across the surface, and suddenly I felt relaxed.

My space felt far more lived in; and I felt far more comfortable when I consciously chose not to be distracted by the imperfections. Instead of being things that didn’t belong, they were things that belonged for now.

It wasn’t about consenting to be a messier person; it was about learning to relax into the messiness for a while, and knowing eventually, when the time was right, it would be clean.

Isn’t that how it so often works in life? We need to get messy in our creative processes before eventually sculpting something polished. We need to get messy in exploring problems in relationships or at work to eventually find solutions.

And we need to feel comfortable in that messiness, or else we’ll be tempted to try to control the chaos—the contain it, simplify it, or maybe even run from it.

But the chaos is often where we make our greatest discoveries. It’s where we really come alive, if we’re willing to lean into it.

This week I’m doing far less than usual, but I suspect on some levels, I’m actually doing more. I’m learning to relax, focus, and create without needing a rigid control over everything around me.

Life is chaos. Our job isn’t to create perfect order. It’s to explore, create, expand, and evolve within the inevitable disorder.

Photo by h.koppdelaney

About Lori Deschene

Lori Deschene is the founder of Tiny Buddha and Recreate Your Life Story, an online course that helps you let go of the past and live a life you love. Her latest bookTiny Buddha's Gratitude Journal, which includes 15 coloring pages, is now available for purchase. For daily wisdom, follow Tiny Buddha on Twitter, Facebook & Instagram..

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  • Drunceasimona2005

     Dearest Lori, I’m  really happy i found your blog. U make so much sense in this material word by your words and attitude. l.I,m trying to do the same here, in Romania iI live in Bucharest and I practice  jungian  psychology.   I find your sayings very interesting.Sincerelly, Simona Drunce, Jungian  couselour

  • Love this post Lori. Controlling our environment can become an obsession for us. I think your approach of being comfortable with the “messiness” takes the fear or need to control your environment out of the equation.

  • One must still have chaos in oneself to be able to give birth to a dancing star. ~ Nietzsche

  • …this made me smile because it really hit home…I find that when I over focus on the “mess” (of either the literal or figurative type) I disconnect from the moment…and become this fanatical “fixer” who barks orders and complaints at anyone within my field of vision; scurrying around in a cloud of frustration. My agitation, I am convinced, can only be quieted when everything is in order…organized.  This works until another dust-up blows into my life. 
    I have become aware that when I can relax into the messiness and slow down enough to examine what I’m feeling…interesting lessons pop up…and yes it is most always related to my fear of losing control…
    Namaste. Peace and speedy healing to you. 😀

  • prestonc

    Your observations remind me of Christmas presents. Some people very neatly unwrap their neatly wrapped presents, while others (like me) tear into them with untidy abandon. In the end, the wrapping papers end up in the recycler, some neatly folded, most wadded up into balls.

  • Lean into the chaos. 🙂 I like that!

  • Susan Viera

    Hi Lori, Once again I can relate to you so profoundly and it helps to know that someone so cool has the same (I call them my OCD issues) coping behaviors. I do try to regularly try ‘letting go’ of my need for complete neatness and control of my surroundings and that does provide some stress relief in one way.  But I also acknowledge that I do derive a good degree of comfort from my strange orderliness and really appreciate it since there are so many other things that I have absolutely no control over. My guess is that you know exactly what I mean ;~) Thanks again for the sharing.   

  • Thanks so much Simona. It’s a pleasure to e-meet you! =)

  • I love that quote. =)

  • Yes, I feel the same–about becoming a “fixer.” I could have written your comment myself. Thank you for the well wishes. Namaste. =)

  • It’s a nice feeling to just rip through it! I’ve done it both ways…but usually I throw all the wrapping paper away as I go. (I am the one passing around the trash bag on Christmas morning.) Perhaps next year I will challenge myself and do it differently!

  • Thanks Lisa. I’m glad you enjoyed my post!

  • Yes I think so too. I never realized I actually have a fear around disorder, but sometimes it does get me agitated. Sitting in the messiness is definitely a big lesson for me!

  • I DO know exactly what you mean! I suspect it’s all about balance. I also get a lot of joy and comfort from organizing, cleaning, and creating order. And sometimes it’s freeing to let go, and know I’ll get to it later.

  • If you keep things clean and in order as you go you offer yourself the luxury of “letting go” at any time you choose. It’s a win-win. I stock items and place things in a particular order that facilitates inventory and efficiency. I rarely, if ever, waste time looking for items when setting upon a task or seeing what I may need at the store.

    Note: I do not spend inordinate amounts of time that would constitute OCD. I just arrange things “as I go”. Living alone is also an important factor in maintaining this method. I have been with partners who saw my reasoning and adapted quite well. =)

  • Tinarose29

    Love this article!!!

  • Thank you! I’m glad you like it =)

  • We recently blitzed our house and got rid of all the possessions that were no longer serving us. It felt good to do so – releasing our attachments to ‘stuff’ was very therapeutic! But at the same time, I have to accept that we don’t need to live in a show house. My boyfriend’s always telling me that it’s ok for our space to feel lived-in. After all, we do live here! We do dump stuff on tables and leave them there for weeks. We do end up with one too many pairs of shoes on the shoe rack by the front door (I totally related to your comment about that!). But maybe I should spend less time worrying about the perceived chaos and accept it as part and parcel of the life I lead.

    “Life is chaos. Our job isn’t to create perfect order. It’s to explore, create, expand, and evolve within the inevitable disorder.”

    Amen to that. Embrace the messy middle and acknowledge the chaos that often surrounds us.

  • That’s the big thing for me too Rebecca! I often find myself trying to make my space look like a show room…completely neat and organized, and not at all lived in.  And then when I visit friends’ houses, and they seem cozy and maybe even somewhat cluttered with photos, books, and whatnot, I wonder why I’m so overly organized. My space is actually pretty minimal, but I’m learning to enjoy intermittent chaos, knowing I can clean later!

  • Rishabh

    this is so beautiful… there is so much of perfection in every imperfection… 

  • Thanks so much, and I couldn’t agree more. =)