How I Use a “Ready Action” List to Organize My Home Without Tearing it Apart
You know you have an organizing problem when you find yourself re-organizing the way you organize. This has been the dilemma plaguing my summer. My fiancé and I bought a home together less than a year ago and have been slowly — and painfully at times — moving forward on our ever-evolving to-do list of minor renovations, major updates, and organizational overhauls. At the same time (because I’m not stressed out enough!) we’re planning a wedding that’s less than two months away.
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To describe my brain and bandwidth over the past six months as a profound and unrelenting shitshow would be an understatement. And recently, when I pulled my entire house apart trying to move the dishes from one cabinet to the other (and then moving the dog’s supplies to a closet, and then reorganizing the linen closet, and then reconfiguring the laundry room, and then…) I realized I had not done a good job organizing at all. In fact, I stressed myself out so much that I had to call in an expert to undo my self-inflicted damage: my therapist and personal hero, Kate.
The best way I could describe my issue to Kate was as follows: Sometimes, to accomplish one task, I have to start another task, which triggers another task, and slowly my to-do list is in varying states of completion with nothing actually being done at all. Having been my therapist for over a decade at this point, Kate knows that when my home is a completely disorganized disaster zone, my mental health is the first thing to go directly to hell. She also knows that sometimes, the best way to propose a solution is through our shared love of nerddom.
Enter: Dungeons & Dragons. As it turns out, there are many lessons to be learned through the iconic tabletop role-playing game. And one concept in particular has completely shifted the way I approach major home organization projects, helping me slow down and complete pieces of the puzzle in easily digestible steps. That concept is called Ready Action.
I asked my campaign’s Dungeon Master (aka “DM”), Chicago-based James Harvey Freetly, to provide an explainer to the uninitiated. “Sometimes, in combat, you want to take some action, but there’s something stopping you,” Freetly says. “The ‘ready’ action lets you declare an action you want to take, and as soon as a condition you declare occurs.” Thankfully, Freetly provides an example: “Maybe you want to crossbow an evil mermaid, but it’s underwater. You could declare, ‘I’ll ready an action: If the mermaid pokes his head up, I’ll shoot at him.’ The ready action gives you the chance to use the action of your turn later, if the conditions aren’t right now.”
You might be thinking, “Okay, Sarah, how do you apply a bunch of stuff about mermaids and crossbows and use it to (checks notes) clean your kitchen?” It’s simple. I now keep two to-do lists: one that’s my Go-To, with tasks and chores that can be done any time, without any obstacles blocking my path to completion. And my new second list is my Ready Action list.
The Ready Action list includes all of the pending tasks I want to accomplish but can’t until its corresponding Go-To task is completed. On my Ready Action list might be “donate gently worn clothes.” But I can’t get to that task until I’ve crossed off “clean out closet” from my Go-To list. This might seem obvious to people who are not me, but I’m hoping there’s some other poor, overly ambitious soul who has found themselves tearing apart every cabinet, drawer, and closet in their home, trying to rearrange everything and optimizing and paring down and classifying “trash” or “donate” or “storage” all at once. There’s a better way, and it’s Ready Action.
Now I’m going to cross off “submit Apartment Therapy article to editor” from my Go-To list, which will trigger a task I’ve been looking forward to all morning … lunch!