Heavy Merge

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:

1. Awareness:

  • The sign let me know that an influx of cars was likely to be moving into my space.

2. Caution:

  • 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.

Slow Down

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.

Make Space

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.

*     *     *     *     *

Can you think of a time when you had to manage a “heavy merge?” What worked for you in this situation?

27 thoughts on “Heavy Merge”

  1. I’ve seen that Heavy Merge sign on highways every so often. I’ve had several heavy merges in life, the most significant being 2 moves in 3 years from 2500 sq. ft. to 1200 sq. ft. (both with a lot of closet space) to my current 900 sq. ft. with minimal/abysmal closet space. My whole attitude about possessions changed…that’s not what makes me happy these days. It was a process though and the attitude adjustment curve was steep.

    1. I love that you mentioned the attitude adjustment. Moving from 2500sq. ft. to ultimately 900 sq. ft. was a significant change! It requires a shift in priorities, and the process can be both difficult and freeing. There was a time we were renovating our home and had to temporarily move into an apartment. I remember sitting on the balcony of that little apartment with my husband, commenting on the fact that we seemed to have a higher quality of life and more time to relax living in the apartment than when we were living in the house. Of course, we were “underway” with the renovation at that point, but that moment of revelation has always stuck with me. I can see us returning to that situation, and I think I would approach it with less trepidation that I might have before having had that experience.

  2. I totally agree that the addition of a new baby is the perfect example of a heavy merge in life from my own past experiences of having my own babies here. That said, I have never seen that sign on the road. But definitely now gave new meaning to this sign and saying. So, thanks for sharing with us here, Seana.

    1. I was so struck by the sign since I have never seen it before! The arrival of little ones definitely means the appearance of a ton of stuff. I always thought it was hilarious how such a little human being ushered in so much extra stuff!

  3. I’ve seen merge signs on the road, but I don’t recall if they were “heavy” merge signs or just regular merge signs. And I guess that brings up another aspect of your excellent point. While there are transition times in life as many of the ones you mentioned that bring a massive influx of things to be accommodated, there are also regular merge times too. And I suppose if we don’t give those minor merges notice, they can add up to have the effect of a big merge situation. All of this is to say that there are different types of “signs,” and if we develop an awareness of them, we have a better chance of maintaining some calm, organization, and order in our lives.
    LInda Samuels recently posted…What Are Today’s Interesting Finds? – v25My Profile

    1. For sure, Linda! Unaddressed, routine merges can certainly pile up and create a big problem. The thing is, stuff just doesn’t tend to clear itself out of our space. If you aren’t letting go on a regular basis, you set yourself up for an even bigger challenge in the face of a heavy merge.

  4. I like your suggestion to take time to pause and plan. I agree that we are so very often going full steam ahead and perhaps wearing blinders (only focusing on the horizon and not on the things in our immediate vicinity) that we run head long into the next thing without a plan. I recently saw an interview with Jay Shetty. He was talking about his about to be published book ‘Think Like a Monk’ and advocating we should Spot, Stop, and Shift when dealing with new issues – like a heavy merge!

    1. Sounds like a great read, Diane! Times of “heavy merge” can also be very BUSY times, making it even harder to slow down, think and plan. Nevertheless, I find that as little as 30 minutes of planning can result in a huge savings of time and hassle in the face of a major event.

  5. Wow, you are so smart to make that connection! And I didn’t realize there were so many life events that could trigger the need to “merge” our belongings. I know that some people prepare by having their children select toys they no longer play with to donate before Christmas, so they can go to children who are less fortunate while making space for the new ones they’ll be receiving.
    Janet Barclay recently posted…Photography + Productivity = PerfectionMy Profile

    1. I love that idea of going through toys with your children and helping them cultivate generosity. This discipline then has the very practical benefit of freeing up space. Sorting toys with children can be tricky. Some will easily let go, while others struggle. I think this reflects that the relationship between people and stuff is part of our personality. If a child has a hard time letting go, he/she may carry this tendency into adulthood. All the more reason to help them learn how to manage the process of circulating possessions both in and out!

  6. Great post, Seana! As I have two kids in college, I can relate to the “heavy merge.” Planning helped us with all the influx of stuff they needed for the dorms. Determining where items will go and what will be needed was essential. Since we have a pretty organized but small garage, we decided that a corner would be for one child, and the other corner would be for the other child. It works for now. Hopefully, they don’t need furniture for the apartment they will be in in the future. We may have to rethink this plan if that is the case.
    Sabrina Quairoli recently posted…15 Things to Toss for a Stress Free PantryMy Profile

    1. We have kept reworking the plan up here as well, Sabrina. The season of young adulthood is full of transition, so it is a wonderful gift if you can offer your children some space to store things as they move through these mobile years!

  7. I have done a few heavy merges in my life so far and will probably do a few more. I love the analogy with driving and the concept of acknowledgement, slowing down and making space. Thank you!

  8. I feel Fall is a heavy merge time. Changing seasons require putting away summer clothes and getting out the winter clothes-the holidays come in rapid succession and require seasonal decorating, closing the patio, preparing for company and extra cooking, baking, events etc.

    Anticipating all this and taking early steps if possible is a good suggestion.

    1. Good point, Dianne! The holidays definitely usher in a “heavy merge” of extra items. Having a plan in place to use the fall months to prepare is a great way to have a smoother holiday season!

  9. I like your advice to ‘lookout’ for the Heavy Merge–that way it can be planned for. I’m grateful for the clothes but when my siblings say they have bags of clothing for my kids I start to shudder! In order to accommodate the Heavy Merge, I remove any clothes that I know for sure my kids won’t wear (such as Minecraft T-shirts, bright red sweatpants) and then I check the condition of the clothes. I have found it helps to do a ‘Heavy Purge’ during this kind of Heavy Merge! Great post!

    1. Gotta have our eyes on what is coming down the road, right Nancy? That is one of the services we offer, and it can make a big difference in how clients experience life events.

  10. I love how you take everyday things and relate them to organizing. You must always to thinking in the respect. Our heavy merge client are people who are moving and you are absolutely right about this.

    1. I think I always have an eye out for “object lessons” that might resonate with readers. That said, I was pretty surprised to see a road sign I had never seen before!

  11. I love this new analogy works for us all. It’s a reminder that a “heavy merge” might also be what we experience on a routine basis. That’s when life gets very disorganized and unproductive when there are too many tasks, projects and time commitments on our daily schedule. Thanks for this new perspective.

    1. Times like you describe are very unpleasant, aren’t they? When we are burning the candle at both ends and still feeling like we aren’t making anybody happy, including ourselves? Beware the heavy merge!

  12. I have seen those signs! Not often, though. And I like them because it seems like people don’t merge well. When what we really should all do is take turns, right?
    This is timely for me because we are thinking about a new business decision, that would be like dropping a bomb in our lives. So it’s like I want that heavy merge sign to be first and foremost in my mind!

    1. Wow, now I’m super excited to hear about the new business idea. Just be sure to make some “space” before you dive in. Fun to think about though!

  13. I loved the way you related a road sign with personal life situations. I absolutely agree with you, we should slow down sometimes and make necessary space for the extra clutters in our life.

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