Systematic? Or Problematic?

“Should we throw these lamps out?”
“There’s nothing wrong with them, I just don’t have a place for them.”
“Then should we give them away?”
“Maybe, but I’m trying to work through the house systematically, and I haven’t gotten that far yet.”

Systematically. I love that word. And not just because it’s five syllables long and makes me feel smart. (It’s okay to count them.)

Systematic is efficient. Systematic is thorough. Systematic is relatively thoughtless, saving energy for the task that would otherwise be committed to figuring out what to do next.

Systematic takes time. Because it is thorough, and touches everything once. But it touches everything.

And sometimes, I don’t have time to be systematic.

For example: To do laundry systematically, I sort adult clothes from kids’ clothes, then I sort between hang, fold, and socks/underwear. Then (choose one to do first) hang, fold, fold underwear, or match socks for either the adults or kids. Doing like actions at the same time saves brain power, and allows me to move more efficiently.

But if I don’t have time to sort and fold and put away the laundry, it all ends up back in the laundry basket. Sure, it’s sorted, but it gets a bit jumbled up in the process.

If I have a Saturday afternoon to devote to laundry, I can get several loads of laundry put away in a matter of hours. But if I don’t, I repeat the same task several times over the course of days. That’s when “systematic” becomes “problematic.”

This doesn’t apply to just laundry. It applies to just about every aspect of life housekeeping. Even meal prep can be simplified if you have an afternoon to make four meatloaves and freeze three, reducing dishes because you only wash the onion knife once. But if I plan to do it and don’t, the ingredients all end up spoiled.

When “systematic” is “problematic,” sometimes we have to do the job one article at a time. It’s not systematic. It might take several days to finish the job. But every opportunity we take little steps toward actually finishing the job, rather than restarting it every afternoon. For laundry, that means grabbing a pair of underwear off the top of the pile and putting it in the drawer. Sure, it would be more efficient to fold all the underwear at once and make one trip to the drawer, but if we never get to step five in our systematic list, we never get any underwear in the drawer, and end up frantically scrambling through the laundry basket with bleary eyes at 6am hoping there’s one more pair buried in there somewhere.

(Can you tell I’ve been working diligently to catch up on laundry?)


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