Last weekend, as I was driving home from a weekend away, I drove past a traffic sign that said “Heavy Merge.” I have never seen this sign before. I have seen signs that read, “Lane Ends, Merge Left” or “Merge Ahead,” but never “Heavy Merge.” Had I not been driving, I would have whipped out my camera and taken a photo. The sign was clearly appropriate, as within a moment I could see a major road full of cars off to the right, about to feed into the road on which I was driving. As I drove by, I found myself considering this phrase, and how relevant it is to getting and staying organized.
As I see it, the purpose of this sign was twofold:
- The sign let me know that an influx of cars was likely to be moving into my space.
- The sign encouraged me to alter the way I was driving in order to accommodate the pending arrival of extra cars.
In this particular situation, my reaction was to be alert, slow down, and move over into the left lane. I noticed that many cars around me responded in a similar manner. These altered behaviors made it easier for the plethora of additional vehicles to safely enter the flow of traffic.
In life, we regularly face the need to assimilate incremental physical belongings and responsibilities into our existing “space.” For example, we buy a new sweater and need to fit it into our drawer. Or our child joins a team for which we purchase new equipment. As long as the influx is periodic and small, we often manage to incorporate it without too much difficulty.
However, even for those who do a good job of staying organized under normal circumstances, periods of “heavy merging” can be a challenge. For instance:
- We throw a birthday party for our child and suddenly we have 22 new toys to store.
- Halloween arrives and we have a houseful of candy.
- The holiday season ushers in a whole host of new possessions, some of which may be large or even alive.
- We move in with someone (or another moves in with us).
- We have a baby.
- We accept a new job only to discover it is going to require a lot more time than we had anticipated.
- A friend unexpectedly drops off five bags of “hand-me-down” clothes for our baby.
- Our college student moves back home after graduation with his/her college apartment’s stuff.
- A parent or other relative moves in.
- We downsize from a five-bedroom home to a two-bedroom condo.
- A relative dies and their belongings end up in our home.
- Our children come home from the last day of school with a year’s worth of artwork, projects, and desk supplies.
- We adopt a rescue dog and now need to find space for a crate, the leash, large bags of food, dog toys, etc.
- A child enters puberty and suddenly the bathroom counter explodes with deodorant, contact lenses, makeup, orthodontic supplies, hair dryers, acne medicine, flatirons, etc.
Regardless of the reason for the heavy merge, the lesson of the road sign can provide helpful insight into how we should proceed.
Acknowledge The Situation
Assimilating a substantial amount of new things is not easy. It is common sense that a large inflow of objects or commitments is going to stress our existing system. There is value in simply acknowledging this reality because it frees us from believing the lie that we should “just be able to deal with it.” Very few people have enough empty storage area or white space in their calendar to effortlessly absorb a significant increase.
Therefore, it is wise to be on the lookout for windows of heavy merging on the horizon. As the Latin saying goes, “forewarned is forearmed.” No matter the nature of the situation, we are likely to cope more efficiently if we know it is coming.
It is a wise human instinct to slow down when encountering an obstacle. We all need to stop and think in order to react and respond well in situations that are out of the ordinary. Many of the challenges of a heavy merge can be successfully managed if we pause and make a plan. Unfortunately, we tend to be so busy going “full steam ahead” that we fail to allot sufficient time to think the changing situation through. When a heavy merge is looming, set aside time to think strategically about what can be done to ease the transition, and who you might need to bring in to provide assistance.
Just as I pulled into the left lane to accommodate the steady stream of merging cars on the highway, we need to free up space in order to comfortably incorporate pending arrivals. Exactly what this space looks like will depend on the type of inflow we are anticipating. Maybe we need to cull through our toy collection and do a donation run before the birthday party. Or perhaps we need to step away from a few commitments to free up time for new ones we are about to assume. Maybe we hear that a snowstorm is coming, so we want to clear out the garage in order to be able to pull our cars inside.
Both square footage and hours in the day are limited. New arrivals necessitate that we clarify our priorities and proactively designate our space and time accordingly.
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Can you think of a time when you had to manage a “heavy merge?” What worked for you in this situation?