I have never been a neat person. Ever. Try as I might, I just can’t seem to declutter or organize, like the way I can’t do home improvement projects or figure out maps. A gene has to be missing, or perhaps a wire’s gotten detached.
When I was living at home my mother used to say to me, “The state of your room reflects the state of your mind,” which I found impressive for its stunning accuracy. There really was alot on my mind as a teen and my inner world often prevented me from being able to process my outer world, like that of my desk, closet, bedroom or, later, apartments.
The first time Max visited my parents, to “ask” for my hand in marriage, my mother sat him down in a tearful one-on-one in the next room, which I eavesdropped.
“Ceci is a very good person, but I need to tell you something about her.”
My mother’s voice cracked toward the end and the room stayed silent. I could picture Max watching her intently, worried about what she was about to reveal just as he was planning to pledge his whole life to me.
“She’s – she’s -” The sobs started to come out.
“She’s…she’s very messy.”
Max let out a small laugh before stifling it.
“But I need to ask you to please try and forgive her. Because she’s a good person.”
Max is not a total neat freak, but he does, for example, have a specific system for our linen closet and dressers. Early on in our marriage I came home from work one day to find my panties and socks color coded in my drawers. My goal, on the other hand, is to simply make sure that our clothes make it off the floor.
Max has tried hard to remember my mother’s words. So much so that for much of our 9-year marriage I have been able to get away with being me. But there was one memorable episode, perhaps in year two of our marriage, when Max was vacuuming and in a shocking burst of anger, grabbed my clothes off our bed (and perhaps the floor) and threw them into another room. “I am sick and tired of you leaving all your stuff around!”
As a person who isn’t wired to see messiness it is hard for me to truly comprehend how my habits could bother another person. I love a neat room and I am always amazed at how great I feel psychologically when I do something as simple as make the beds or wipe a bathroom counter. The problem is that, most of the time when I walk into a room, I don’t see the piles of papers that need to be dealt with, or the different outfits I had strewn on the bed that I decided on not wearing. I am not sure what I see, because when I walk into a room all I am aware of is what I’m thinking. It could be what I have to do next for work, or what post I’m going to write about, or how I’m going to track down that other mother volunteer who was supposed to get back to my email. I just don’t…see. At least not until my stuff is piled up so high (and so everywhere) that I can’t avoid noticing. But by that time Max’s blood is already near boiling.
Yesterday was one of those days. There has been definite tension, and it made me guilty enough to drop the novel I was reading to instead check our bedroom to see what could be done. I changed the sheets, and that’s when I also noticed that the towels Max had put in the dryer were already done. So I folded those and put them away. Shortly afterwards I picked Fred up from school, and I proposed to him that we tidy up the house through a game. (We’d write down various tasks on pieces of paper and throw them into a box. Whatever task we picked out, we’d have to do.) Fred whizzed through the livingroom picking up all his origami and Bakugan balls, and stacked my magazines in a neat pile. Within 30 minutes our livingroom and diningroom had undergone a major makeover.
When I finally saw Max after his work some time later, his mood was light and happy. What’s gotten into him, I thought? And then it dawned on me. The house looked nice. I’d put in some effort. I’d showed that I cared.
It’s truly embarrassing for me to be reflecting and writing on this at my age, because you’d think I’d learned by now. I don’t think that there is anything horrible about being comfortable with clutter (I am not a hoarder, I should make that clear ;-)), but in my mind it is infinitely better to be neat. It saves time in terms of looking for keys, documents for tax filing time, etc. It also just feels so much better psychologically. And, being in a family, clearly my actions impact the emotional state of another person and the quality of our marriage. Finally, and this is perhaps most important, I need to model a better way for my child. My parents are very neat people, but early on my father had told my mother that there was no point in asking my brother and me to put away our toys when we would only take them all out again anyway. They’d argued about the merit of this, and my mom gave in reluctantly. And so here I am now. I am crippled in terms of how to both get and stay organized (papers, toys, random accessories like photos), and I see Fred following in my muddy footsteps.
For those of you who are neat and organized, how do you do it? Do you have tips, suggestions, advice, consultation services 😉 ?