Who Is This Crazy Person?

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One Highly-Crookedy Path To A Simpler Kind Of Life

As a professional-organizer-cum-accountability-guru, I spend my time teaching folks how to make their days easier. But that doesn’t mean I’m some kind of Little Miss Smarty Pants Perfect — who’s known the answer to life, the universe, and everything since conception. (It’s 42, by the way.) My own road to simplicity is littered with plenty of curves, twists, and brake-slamming crank-that-wheel-hard-to-the-left-before-you-smash-into-a-brick-retaining-wall u-turns. (Need proof? Read this, this, this and this!)

When folks express envy about my existence as an entrepreneur and full-timer, I make damn sure they understand that nothing about this lifestyle is the result of any single magical event — it’s a gigantically messy culmination of the many choices (both wise and dumbshit) I’ve made, serendipities I’ve experienced, boners I’ve pulled, trains I’ve wrecked, pooches I’ve screwed, and lessons I’ve (hopefully) learned up to now.

A Little Left Of Center

Ramona Creel SkeletonI was born in Alabama — and even though I say “y’all” and “fixin’ to” (and know what “bless yore heart” REALLY means), I’m kind of a fake southerner. My folks had parented three kids amid the Birmingham race riots of the early 60s in one of the country’s worst school systems. Not particularly excited to have me experience the same upbringing a decade-and-a-half later, they (for no other reason than we’d vacationed there and my father liked fishing), moved me to the gulf coast of Florida when I turned four.

I spent 100-degree summers parked in front of a box-fan, burned to a crisp every time I set foot outside, came to accept sand-in-my-crotch as a functional inevitability, and grew up talking like a snowbird. I’ve been mistaken for Canadian (quite the compliment) — but I draw a big ass line at Dubuque or DesMoines. When folks ask what part of the midwest my accent-less-self is from, that’s when I pull out the really thick twang. (I can sound like a hillbilly if I need to — I just try hard not to need to very often!)

I may have been surrounded by transplanted yankees, but I was still brought up (at least to some degree) the southern way — like all G.R.I.T.S., being “good” was drilled into my head from ejaculation. However, my beloved clan was just the right brand of eccentric (‘cuz no one’s ever really “crazy” below the Mason-Dixon line) necessary for me to avoid the shy-wilting-magnolia-syndrome which took down so many of my peers.

I was an A+ student, well-behaved enough to dodge both jail and knocked-up-ed-ness. But I was taught to have a mouth on me, to speak up when I encountered something unacceptable in the world — which got me booted straight out of the “southern belle” category at an early age. (They repossessed my hoop skirt in kindergarten, when I asked too many annoying Sunday school questions. My revenge? Stealing that damn bonnet for costuming purposes!) When I look back at what I might have become if I’d had different parents (and especially different SOUTHERN parents), dear lord am I grateful for the unconventional upbringing!

As the first in my family to attend university, I was expected to make a difference with my book-learnin’. I’d spent years lecturing loved ones about everything that was wrong with the world — so of course majoring in Social Work was a no-brainer. Pairing a B.S.W. with an M.U.R.P. (to create an educational experience that sounds very much like serious digestive difficulty), I was going to improve conditions for the bungled and the botched — to quote either Nietzsche or Terry Gilliam, depending on your frame of reference.

Post-grad, I did what I thought was expected of me. I busted my ass, stayed nights/weekends, and took my work home with me — giving 110% to my career (the way I thought you were supposed to when you loved your vocation). No one clued me in that it was important to have a life outside of work, as well. Dammit!

An Unexpected Turning Point

Ramona -- What I PlannedI climbed my way up the non-profit step stool (you get three rungs max, then there’s nowhere else to go) — and was eventually put in charge of my own welfare-to-work program. I can safely say that I ran myself ragged, trying to create an environment supportive of client self-sufficiency.

But it was near-impossible to change lives without resources. (No supplies, no cash, no staff — if I couldn’t beg-borrow-steal it, my peeps were S.O.L.) When I suggested increasing the budget to “more than zero” so I could actually help some folks, I was told point-blank that our only goal was increasing enrollment to get H.U.D. off our backs. This most assuredly was not MY top priority — and I decided if that was all my employers cared about, they could make it happen sans me.

Peace out, bitches!

So I went home and (at the tender age of 26) had my first nervous breakdown — I spent the weekend eating chocolate, drinking red wine, watching Lifetime  women-in-jeopardy movies, and wondering what the hell I wanted to be when I grew up THIS time around. (Mid-life crises ain’t just for half-centenarians — they’re incredibly cathartic at any age. I’ve experienced several not-yet-menopausal meltdowns, and found each to be tremendously beneficial. In fact, I plan to have a few more before I’m done!)

With every godiva dark truffle, I contemplated my talents — somewhere around the half-dozen mark, I wondered if I couldn’t turn natural anal-retentivity into some sort of a career. (The mental health community may have deemed O.C.D. references “offensive,” but they can’t take Freud away from me!) As a kid, I’d sorted Barbie’s wardrobe by season, arranged picture books categorically-then-alphabetically, and stored my homework in a Trapper Keeper far more orderly than most corporate filing systems. But if “organizational proclivity” was a valid job-skill, why hadn’t a single teacher (especially one who’d suffered through my infamous color-coded class reports) ever suggested that I could be methodical for a living??

It was during the darkest moments of this career conniption (when things got so bad, I actually turned to Oprah for inspiration) that serendipity hit — thence, I tripped over the organizing industry, like a pile of kindercrap left lying on the floor. (And with it, a whole cadre of overly-efficient-excessively-tidy-wonderfully-systematic-ducks-aligned-with-a-yardstick-and-spirit-level folks who greatly resembled me). They spent hours talking about racks and hangers and calendars, they took field trips to IKEA and The Container Store — what’s more, clients actually paid them to fix their broken homes/offices. That’s what I was gonna do!

As I typed up a letter of resignation (and put it in my bag for Monday), I was struck by the impending magnitude of this potentially-hasty decision. My parents had practically tattooed it onto my brain that quitting was bad, quitting was for losers, quitting meant giving up. I’d suffered through several truly horrible experiences earlier in life because I feared losing face if I bailed — what made this situation any different?

Then at the juncture where total surrender and deepest despair intersect (surrounded by bon-bon wrappers and pinot bottles, with Terms Of Endearment  on the tube) — something wonderful happened. I learned that walking away from a “toleration” is the most empowering thing you can ever do. Common sense told me, “Sleep on it.” But my heart sat straight up in bed the next morning and said, “I’m quitting my job today!” That’s how a little W.C.-Fields-ian wisdom became the core of my personal and occupational philosophy. (“If at first you don’t succeed, try try again. Then quit! There’s no point in being a damn fool about it.”)

Now I’d aligned and containerized and labeled like a pro since pre-K — but I knew nothing about being da boss, so I consumed every business manual I could find. I became an expert on the agreement-structuring-finance-managing-interest-protecting-customer-servicing side of things. But I also got really good at telling anyone and everyone I met how much I could improve their lives by clearing their clutter. (This was before I’d landed a single paying client, you understand. Fake it ’til you make it, right?) I was so convincing that folks hired me for realz — and I figured I must be doing something right when they proclaimed my services more valuable than therapy. Plus no employer over my shoulder, no bureaucracy clogging my work, and I called les shots. Screw your swimming pool and big-screen TV — entrepreneurship’s the American dream!

Taking A Bite Out Of The Web

Ramona Creel -- VampireI’m sure you know the punchline before I even tell it. After a couple of years, my fabulously autonomous self-employed way of life was now feeling a few sizes too small. I’d escaped the horrors of cramming my time card into someone else’s slot, but I still had what amounted to a 9-to-5 job — no appointments, no bacon. Even as lead mariner, I was still butting heads with that age-old dilemma of money versus freedom. Dammit!

At the same time, I’d unearthed a whole heap o’ cool storage what-nots and clutter-controlling doo-dads, paper paraphernalia and time-saving gizmos scattered across cyberspace. But much as they could use the help, I knew my already-inundated clients weren’t going to spend hours grandma-googling organizational resources. I was convinced that what the interwebz needed was a comprehensive, cohesive portal for the chaotically cluttered!

Maslow had it right — when you’re holding a hammer, every frustration resembles like a nail.

Being addicted to problem-solving (and now seeing “digitization” as the key to professional independence), I had a vision. I’d launch a website that assembled every component the overloaded and overwhelmed needed to successfully simplify, all in one location. I pictured myself reclined in a chaise lounge — as I lived off selling-productivity-merch-from-around-the-globe commissions. Moron! If I’d known what it took to build a multi-vendor e-commerce company, I’d’ve hightailed it. (Good thing my motto is “jump first, look later!”) Luckily I struckpaydirt, and OO became a truly awesome sight (site?) to behold — a super-duper-one-stop-shop-clearinghouse-a-rama for service referrals, D-I-Y products, and insane quantities of information.

I adored being a virtual touchstone for those in need of structure — but it tweren’t all about me, anymore. I now represented POs all over the world. Their behavior reflected back upon my business, and that mirror image needed to be a prepossessing one. No matter how touchy-feely-hearty-warmy yanking a client away from the very brink of disaster might be, it was still a professional enterprise. And we anal-retentives had some flippin’ standards to uphold, if we were to gain the respect and recognition we deserved! I didn’t want our collective web presence to become the online equivalent of holding hands and singing Kumbaya with the discombobulated masses — so I took it upon myself to raise the bar through education and training.

“Teaching-colleagues-to-kick-ass-and-chew-bubblegum” became one of my services — and I discovered a whole new raft of coaching aptitudes, along the way. I pinpointed (then maximized then marketed) strengths, identified wet-dream clients, led my peeps over/under/around obstacles, and offered the kind of ongoing guidance necessary for long-term success. Holy-lo-and-behold, I’d become a career mentor!

While I still dearly cherish my organizing/simplicity folks, tutoring self-employment tribe members on the business of doing business fulfills me in a completely different way than curing clutter.

(And combining both is downright orgasmic!)

Not Such A Bright Idea

Just as my company was seriously taking off, I decided that I’d grown tired of my living environment. (Isn’t that always the way?) I was sick of featureless apartments, bent venetian blinds, someone else’s feet all over the carpet, everything either beige or bone — and a $150 penalty for changing the wall color without your landlord’s permission. Weighty first-world concerns, indeed.

Worse yet, I’d been seduced by the idea of urban homesteading. (Blame them damn modern-day hippies and their dreams of a utopian society.) I wanted to garden and compost, to escape the grid and recycle greywater — live as an anti-suburbanite, if you will. And that, dear children, is when I bought hook-line-and-sinker into America’s favorite white picket fence myth. Dammit!

I spent six months converting my new real estate holdings into exactly what I always thought I’d wanted — turns out, I didn’t want that at all. The place was magazine-spread-worthy. But acting like Martha-Stewart-with-a-hard-on was so stressful and expensive, I couldn’t enjoy the process. And that godforsaken yard? Not even close. I did build a compost bin and make a half-assed attempt to beat the weeds into submission (yay me). Then I wore myself out on interior design before said external eco-transformation ever got started. (Never grew one vegetable, set up a solitary solar panel, or converted a single trickle of sink-water.) What’s worse, that fucking house signaled the beginning of the end for my marriage. Double dammit!

Once I realized that debt slavery in the name of domiciliary territoriality wasn’t my cup of tea, I got the freak away from home as often as possible. Yet every time I hit the road, I doubled my expenses — the usual monthly-bill-rigamarole PLUS hotel, airfare, and restaurants. (Another nail in that by-now-well-sealed ownership-coffin.) I’d moved my business online so I could work from anywhere, and I was supposed to be a frigging minimalist — this was all wrong! I wanted freedom. I wanted simplicity. I wanted out. But how?

Then one fateful day, I passed by a beautiful silver Airstream travel trailer while driving down the road — and the first thought to enter my mind was, “Hells yeah!” The idea of being a full-time RVer, living and working on the road, going wherever-I-wanted-whenever-I-wanted-whyever-I-wanted — oh-my-god-yes-please! And there are just too many places in this magnificent country that I’d like to experience for me to stay in any one forever. I was going to run-Forest-run away from that buying mistake, and keep on running!

I’m not-even-close-to-new-age-flakey, but I do believe in kismet. I’ve experienced it over and over — when the time is right for something to happen, the necessary components just seem to magically self-assemble. And this was certainly the case when I went Airstream-shopping. Once I told the universe what I wanted (via a cheesy-ass vision board), it appeared almost overnight. In April, I posted a classified — by June, I was the proud owner of a 29-foot Excella (named “Stella,” for heavens sake) that had been renovated to better-than-move-in condition. Best of all, I paid for my digs in cash — with the extra dough I’d been stashing away in that stupid second-mortgage-equity-line-of-credit. Could it get any more fawesome?

I spent 18 months re-organizing my existence to suit the full-timing way of life — turning what most folks consider a weekend “recreational vehicle” into a permanent home, selling everything that didn’t fit in my trailer, handing that blasted house over to a rental company, moving my financial accounts online, declaring domicile, setting up a mail forwarding service, you name it. The day I rolled out of the driveway was simply sublime — but with all that weight off my shoulders, I almost immediately started to notice troubles in my professional life. (Seriously? Can’t both parts ever run smoothly at the same time??)

Starting Over Again (For The Third Time)

Ramona -- Same Mistakes My site had grown into one of the planet’s largest virtual organizing resources — and at some point (when I clearly wasn’t paying attention) became a more-than-full-time job. I realized with dismay that I was at the world’s cyber-mercy, the morning I awoke to 2,500 in-box messages. (Interwebz is a bitch of a boss — 24/7, no patience, zero grasp of office hours, and completely unforgiving of vacation days.)

Even with help from a VA, I was chained to my computer, unable to walk away for just one blessed afternoon. I’d dreamt of being footloose and tether-free, managing my affairs from anywhere — unfortunately, “anywhere” was only as far as my longest extension cord and wi-fi signal would reach. Dammit!

I’d grown to hate, like “with-a-flaming-hot-passion-that-would-burn-satan’s-heinie,” my work. (Never a good thing.) I had problems with staff, problems with vendors, problems with customers. I dreaded e-mail, knowing how many motherfrakkin’ fires would need extinguishing — instead of making anyone’s life better, I tracked lost packages, fielded service complaints, and (even more awesome) refunded my hard-earned income when some drop-ship manufacturer screwed up an order! I loathed the fact that my reputation hinged on whether or not OTHER people did their jobs correctly. But I stuck with it waaaaaaay longer than I should have, because I was making money hand-over-fist. (Yes, even I am capable of selling my soul.)

Then W. took over, the economy tanked, revenues flagged, and my mortal spirit suddenly seemed a hell of a lot more valuable. Enough! I chucked that towel as hard as I could, and put my company on the market.

They say your business is like your child — well, I sold mine. (Like I’d prolly do if I had human offspring!) I did my baby’s hair up in curls, slapped some rouge on her cheeks, pulled out her best party dress, and put her on display. (I won’t bore you with the details, because they are highly damn boring. Suffice it to say, if I never see another  spreadsheet in my life, it’ll be too soon.) The whole thing felt like it took forever — I wanted to be free today, not tomorrow! But everyone I’ve spoken to is amazed at how quickly I found a buyer on the front end of a recession. (I closed just 58 days after posting my “sale” listing.) I was officially unplugged, and had been rewarded for my efforts with a nice wad of dough in the bank. Hallelujah!

I did some traveling, took up photography, published a couple of books (including The Professional Organizer’s Bible and The A-To-Z Of Getting Organized ). Got to enjoy my freedom for exactly two years — then life went into a SERIOUS tailspin, far more dire than anything I’d experienced before.

First the property management company I’d contracted with to rent-maintain-and-eventually-buy my house defaulted on the mortgage, forcing me into a panicked short-sale — then the woman who’d purchased my site declared bankruptcy while still owing me money. (Both are looooong stories best told over many drinks.) The next year sucked even bigger donkey phalli, when I lost my oldest friend and most ardent supporter without warning, the day my mother died. It was like having an icepick stuck through my heart. Not a nanosecond passes even now that I don’t miss her terribly — I’m forever changed by her absence.

One Relationship Ends, And Another Begins

Ramona And BenBut the pièce de résistance was still yet to come — when my rock-solid marriage flamed out and melted down like a ginormous dumpster fire. What had been 25 years of friendship, love, and business partnerhood devolved into a series of hateful screaming matches that ended with me spending more-nights-than-not on a friend’s couch. Blame it on whatever you like (wed too young, incompatibly different from the start, grew apart) — we’d stopped bringing out the best in each other. I’d been tolerating a lot of intolerables, and was no longer willing to compromise my life.

I fell down a deep dark couple-year-long bipolar-tinged hole. Most of the time, I gave not one shit about anything. (Couldn’t focus, couldn’t sleep, couldn’t work, couldn’t think.) But those other-end-of-the-spectrum shifts were marked by a crazed level of activity, designed to distract me from the mess my life had become — a year of manic travel, writing 16 hours a day with no break, spending more waking hours at the gym than at home. I experienced here-and-there periods of pleasure. But I also entertained the idea that I could just quit (I mean REALLY quit) if it ever got to be too much.

I extricated myself from marital bliss in the most painful manner possible, doing great psychological harm to us both. I ran away from everything, landed face-first in the city of angels, and skidded full-length down the boulevard of broken dreams — until I eventually came to rest, bloodied and battered, on the front doorstep of some very dear friends from college who’d offered me refuge. As I set about recovering my rolling home and rebuilding my shattered existence, I wondered if I’d forever ruined my life — or finally done something I should’ve had the courage for years ago. I doubted that I’d ever be happy again.

Then I found my soul mate on hide-my-face-as-I-admit-it-match-dot-com. (I cringe every time folks ask where we met — in my worldview, online dating equals stalkage by some dial-up-AOL-chat-room-weirdo-who-might-be-a-serial-killer. Fortunately, only one degenerate sent me an unsolicited penie pic. And he left me alone after I suggested that if this was the best he had to offer, he should keep it to himself.) I was blessed to connect mind/heart/body/soul with a kind and gentle man, also recovering from a terminal spousal situation — going through much the same process of re-evaluation and reclamation as I.

Ben’s laid-back nature balances my high-strung-ed-ness, but he’s also an active partner-in-crime — so refreshing after years of dragging my other half begrudgingly along behind me every time I got silly or outrageous. My man randomly bursts into both dramatic soliloquy and song, willingly dresses up like a fool, ain’t afraid to commandeer playground equipment, gets naked with me at Burning Man, and encourages all my creative endeavors (even the misguided ones). Out of nowhere, he’ll grab me for a spontaneous public dance or a smooch, never worrying about people “watching” us. He tells me (several times a day) how brilliant I am and how much he adores me. How could I NOT fall head-over-heels with that?

His honesty and tenderness have thawed my cynical heart, teaching me what true intimacy feels like. (And when we got affianced, that sweet boy custom-designed a SKULL ring for me — is he perfect or what??) I’m more closely linked to Ben than I’ve ever been with another human being He’s exactly what I always needed but never had, and I’m that for him. Together, we’ve discovered that it’s possible to come out the other end healed — wiser, better, stronger, more fulfilled. It’s been said that one day someone is going to hug you so tight that all of your broken pieces will stick back together. We did that for each other.

Finally Coming Into Focus

Ramona Creel -- Skeleton FairyOnce the cracks in my personal life had been sealed with psychic crazy glue, it was time to rebuild my poor neglected bidniss. Ye olde professional life was a hot freaking mess. For starters, my code-monkey-ex was halfway through a million programming projects when our coexistence spiraled down the drain — every vital functionality on my site was irreparably broken, and had to be rebuilt from scratch. (Party!)

I was also contemplating a parachute color shift. While I loved left-braining for my clients, I was tired of going in circles, listing to port. I wanted more balance between logic and creativity — time in my day for writing, making art, sharing both the beauty and absurdity of the world with my patrons.

And I still had to take into account the whole “recovering-from-fuckrupt” factor — if I couldn’t muster enough will to shower or get dressed (as had been the case off-and-on for months and months and months), I certainly wasn’t going to give a shit about marketing. It was a glorious day, when the sun broke through the clouds and I actually CARED about my career again. At long last, I was ready to don those fairy wings, throw on some sugar-skull makeup, grab mah glitter wand, and get back to causing occupational mayhem!

I returned quite eagerly to direct client services — this time focusing as much on tough-love-reality-check accountability coaching as hands-on/virtual organizing. I expanded my mentoring of other entrepreneurs, devoted more time to public speaking, and dug back into my blogs (sprinkling each with a nice dusting of swear-words this time around, just to keep things interesting). And I developed an including-the-kitchen-sink line of products designed to support my D-I-Y-ers — toolkits to e-books to audio recordings, and then some.

I dabbled in every possible visual arts medium (emphasizing sinister/impertinent subject matter as much as inspirational) — and started doing weird things with my photography. I flipped Shakespeare’s Taming Of the Shrew on its head, began a young adult novel about middle-school sexuality (as well as a musical about serial killers), and committed to finishing my delayed-on-account-of-divorce RVing travel narrative. I also added new titles like “fixer/ass-kicker,” “not-so-tortured artist,” “talking head,” “wordsmith,” “philosopher,” and “wanderluster” to my list of creds. Finally, outlets for all the different aspects of my personality!

I was in heaven — and the best news is, I’m still there.

A Different Kind Of Family

Admin -- Ramona Creel Cats

One thing I haven’t mentioned throughout this whole story of simplification is children — a hugely complicating factor in most folks’ lives, and one I’ve quite purposefully chosen to avoid. (Fortunately, my sweetie’s solidly on board with that one. His first birthday present to me was a vasectomy.)

When a stranger asks if I want kids, my response is generally something along the lines of, “Heeeeeell no! Although I actually did have a maternal instinct once in grade school. (Thank god it passed.) Then I asked for a tubal ligation on my 16th birthday, but I got a stereo instead. Honestly, the only way I’d have children is if they invented an automatic rug-rat-feeder, like I have for the cats — and even then, prolly not.”

When I’ve delivered my humor-tinged-yet-deadly-serious no-kidding spiel, most folks laugh, exchange some witty banter about the not-so-joys of raising offspring, then move on to the next subject. But eeeeeevery once in a while, I’ll hear the word “why” escape someone’s mouth. And that’s when all hell breaks loose!

Now, I’m pretty fairly easy-going. (I hear those peals of even-as-you-read-these-words laughter, thinking I’m about as high-maintenance as they come — but I’m talking about one’s ability to avoid PC-panty-twistage.) I truly never get “offended.” However, the fact that I’m expected to defend a perfectly valid personal decision in a way that someone who’s squeezed a mini-me through her southernmost bodily orifice isn’t, makes me snort milk out my nose. I made the active, conscious, and completely intentional choice not to reproduce. I took the batteries out of my biological clock a long time ago, and I regret nothing!

I knew early on that I didn’t need crotch-droplings to lead a full and complete life — and I never could have experienced the amazing things I have with a passel of mealy-mouthed brats in tow. (Melanie Wilkes, anyone?) Plus, I’m way too “selfish” for a house-ape. (Some of my cohorts prickle at that word, but I’m reclaiming it as a positive accolade — like my L.G.B.T. friends’ co-opting of the term “queer.”) And there’s nothing more satisfying than beating conversational troublemakers to the punch with a little reverse psychology. When I suggest that I’m too egocentric for parenthood, even those who might oppose child-freedom can’t help but argue — “Gosh no! You know what you want and don’t want, and that’s great.” Win!

I’ve given this a lot of thought. I have many friends who’ve reproduced. (I was even a birth partner myself.) I know exactly how hard it is to raise a child, and I’m just not interested in adding that much stress to my life — nothing about modern parenting comes anywhere close to resembling my definition of “simple!”

It’s not that I’m lazy. (Anyone who knows me will tell you they’ve never seen someone cram as much activity into a single day.) And I’m certainly not allergic to responsibility. (I’ve run my own business since 1998, and that’s at LEAST as hard as converting a baby into an adult.) I am however, fundamentally averse to screaming, crying, tantrums, drool, snot, diapers, and something three-feet tall telling me “no!” ‘Nuff said.

Up, Up, And Away

Ramona Evolution

It’s only after typing all this, that I can see how much my life resembles the Up documentary series — which makes me inordinately happy, ‘cuz it’s one of my faves. (Follows a group of British primary school kids, revisiting them every seven years to see how life has evolved — fascinating sociological stuff. Go check it out on netflix. Right now. I’ll wait.)

So the $64,000 question (at least in my mind) is how much of who you become’s determined by socio-economic status? Upbringing? The choices you make? Random encounters and dumb-fucking luck? In a nature-versus-nurture cage match, I’ll vote for self-determination to kick predestiny’s ass any day. But I also recognize that in many ways, we’re like tiny leaves floating along in a cosmic sea of opportunities. Our final destination depends a great deal upon where that day’s prevailing current is flowing — and even the most meticulously-scouted course means exactly jack shit when you get caught in a chaotic riptide! Next time you’ve got a few free minutes, try to recall what your life looked like as you entered each new septade:

  • age 7 — living in South Florida, I was a girl scout and straight-A-gifted-program student — I dressed the cat in doll clothes pretending he was my “baby” (??), and spent my free time at the beach — a short-haired tomboy with an anal streak (already organizing my toys into neatly-aligned-color-coded categories), I wanted to be a doctor or the first kid in space — even wrote Ronnie a letter suggesting the addition of a new NASA division, but he could smell a liberal-in-the-making and turned me down
  • age 14 — still a Neapolitan, I became a clarinet-playing-band-geek and possessing-more-shoes-than-Imelda-Marcos-crazy-80s-fashionista, plagued with braces and a horrendously regrettable perm — I went through a vile “week-old-burrito-under-the-bed-total-slob” phase, a rebellious “screw-homework-call-your-teacher-a-bitch-get-in-school-suspension” phase, a pathetic “crush-on-a-drummer-I-relentlessly-stalked-but-never-spoke-to-once-during-three-years-of-infatuation” phase — I wanted to teach elementary school, but flatly refused to babysit because I thought little kids were “retarded” (??)
  • age 21 — now at college in Tallahassee, I was a Social Work major and Marching Chief, pledged to the Tau Beta Sigma music service sorority — I’d dated my high school sweetheart since age 16, wore yuppie-esque shoulder-padded power suits (??), and had grown my hair down to my ass (which earned me comparisons to Nicole Kidman) — I spent weekends scouring yard sales for books and cheapie home decor, pranking my brothers/sisters with TP and shaving cream, and making wedding plans
  • age 28 — having married and moved to Atlanta after graduation, I quit my job running a welfare-to-work program to start an organizing and coaching business — I downsized to a minimalist condo in midtown, dressed like a hippie-chick in birks and long skirts, ate a mostly-raw-vegetarian diet, and worked out six days a week at a kickboxing gym — I hacked my hair pixie-elfin-boy-cut short (??), sang in a feminist choir with 60 lesbians and two other straight girls, and had firmly decided to never breed
  • age 35 – now settled outside DC, I bought-and-fixed-up-a-house-’til-it-nearly-killed-me, and had been running a successful retail website with the husbert for almost a decade — I dyed my hair flaming red, got my first tattoo, then added a nose piercing for good measure — having embraced international globetrottage (Canada/London/India), I was gone from home 1/4 of the year, trying to become a travel photographer with my point-and-shoot (??) — I’d joined a simplicity circle and grown weary of suburbia
  • age 42 — living on the road as a full-time RVer with Los Angeles as a semi-home-base, I’d sold the web business, ditched the house, bought an Airstream, and upgraded to a professional DSLR camera — I was split from my ex, and had met what would turn out to be the love of my life — I got four more facial piercings (including an eyebrow ring), then expanded my tattoo up my back and around my stomach — I’d traveled around the country multiple times, and had also visited Tokyo — published two books, become a public speaker, expanded my coaching/organizing, and even acted in a play (??)

So what’s the point behind this whole “life story” thing? Aside from my needing to do some public processing as I embark upon that next phase of evolution, it’s to let you know that achieving your dreams ain’t an overnight chance occurrence — it’s about conscious decision-making that sparks a long, slow, gradual coming-together of goals and fortuities. The cool thing is that ANYONE can make it happen. Long as you’re aware of how the available options align with your values at every fork/knife/spoon in the road.

(Sounds commonsense. But you’d be amazed at the number of people who find themselves careening the wrong direction down a one-way street headed straight for a concrete abutment — and just keep going!)

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Ramona Creel is an award-winning 15-year veteran organizer and member of the National Association Of Professional Organizers. As well as having birthed “The A-To-Z Of Getting Organized,” Ramona is also the author of “The Professional Organizer’s Bible: A Slightly Irreverent And Completely Unorthodox Guide For Turning Clutter Into A Career”—and the creator of more than 200 “quick-start” business tools and templates for use by productivity professionals. She writes seven different blogs, has worked with hundreds of clients, and has delivered scores of presentations on getting organized. Ramona resides on the roads of America as a full-time RVer—living and working in a 29-foot Airstream. Learn more at and RamonaCreel.com.

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