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All I really need to know I learned on the farm

By Amy Keeling Walton


When you grow up on a dairy farm you realize a few things about life. Before I go any further I want you to have an accurate picture of my life on the farm. My grandparents owned the farm, but my dad managed the day-to-day operation. For reasons I will not divulge, my sisters and I never milked a cow.

We did, however, perform other farm jobs, most of which we did not enjoy. We would “run” the cows when they got out. This usually happened on Sunday morning before church, but not before we were already dressed for church. I know a neat trick to turn your skirt into pants in only a few seconds. This is helpful when jumping ditches while keeping your “church clothes” clean and dry.

We also fed calves for many years of our lives. The feed was housed in a semi trailer once used to haul cows that had been strategically dropped on the ground and ingeniously converted into grain and supply storage. The mice (and therefore the snakes) also enjoyed the grain, so getting “feed” into our buckets required superhero bravery. Once filled, we would take the bucket into a fenced area where the calves would be eagerly waiting for their grub.

Lessons learned:

  • I did not want to be a farmer nor marry one.
  • Although a 6-inch “barn nail” can be used to hang a gardening tool organizer in the garage; it also can go through to the other side of the wall and create a hole in the living room wall.
  • Duct tape can really fix a lot of things, for a little while, then another layer of duct tape usually really does the trick.

I even absorbed a few fundamental organization principles throughout my life as a farmer’s daughter. 

  • Put like with like. On the farm this wasn’t a pretty sight, but when my dad needed an engine component to fix some piece of machinery he would go to the pile of engine pieces and parts located outside one of the barns. It saves your brain energy and your body time if you know that all the light bulbs are in the hall closet or the beach towels and swim gear are in a large bin in the basement or attic.
  • Sometimes it doesn’t have to be perfect; it just has to be done. The duct tape experience fits here. When you get a new pair of shoes put them away. Don’t tell yourself you first need to go through all your old shoes, try them on and see if they go with an existing outfit. When you get photos printed don’t stick them in a “safe place” on the mantle because you really want to make a special album of all the summer vacation photos. Instead get a photo box and stick them in there behind a divider titled “Summer Vacation.”
  • Seek professional help. When the cows needed medication, or a cow was ready to deliver a calf, my dad was ready. He knew how to do those tasks when things went as expected. But when the situation got too complicated, he called the vet. When you have tried to get your life together and you know that certain things you have done work, you’re good to go flying solo. But if you have read articles and implemented systems and you are still frustrated, then you need to seek the advice and services of someone who can handle your complicated situation.

I am proud of who I have become due in part to the experiences and subsequent lessons learned from my childhood days growing up on a farm. Now I get to help people, not cows, which is far more rewarding for me and a lot less smelly. Keep reading for more of my life lessons to help you get organized in 2009. Good luck.

Amy Keeling Walton is owner of The Neat Freak Professional Organizing in Bardstown. If you have a question for this column, email amytheneatfreak@yahoo.com.