True confession: I am a messy person. It’s not intentional and it’s not due to laziness. I’m not a sloth. It’s just very hard for me to keep things organized, and it always has been. In school my locker was the one that spilled its contents whenever it was opened. My notebooks were the ones with papers sticking out every direction. My desk, even when I was a teacher, was the one stacked with piles of papers in a system only I could understand, when I could remember what was in each pile. My room always looked disheveled. You get the picture.
This has been a HUGE source of shame for me for as long as I can remember. I felt like nothing I ever did in my entire life would matter to anyone because I was messy, and since that’s such an outward appearance issue, there’s really no hiding it. People judge by what they can see most of the time, and it takes about 4.2 seconds to be in any environment I’m in charge of to see that I am deficient in the tidiness arena.
I read a study a year or so back that said people with bad handwriting-also a problem I have-are actually geniuses, and I want to say there was a study that said disorganized people were insanely creative, so that gave me comfort for a while. But it’s not super hard to figure out I’m not a genius, and though I’m creative, it would be nice if the evidence of that could show in what I create and not what I destroy upon entering a room.
I’ve grown into how I am wired a bit more, but it still bugged me that I couldn’t keep things organized. Since having children, it’s bothered me less out of shame and more out of practicality: I don’t have time for messes. I have four kids. Tidiness would mean not spending precious time trying to find toys, keys, phones. It would mean a sort of freedom.
With this in mind, and totally prepared to fail again, I grabbed the book The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up. I read it in two hours the day I picked it up from the library. Then I systematically destroyed our house, but with a purpose this time.
I’ll tell you this up front: I don’t thank my shirts when I put them in drawers or ask my house where it wants me to put things as the author suggests. But almost every other piece of advice in this book made so much sense to me that I almost fell out of my chair over the simplicity of it all. Don’t have a lot of crap, put it where it belongs (I’m paraphrasing).
I truly believed myself a minimalist until I started getting rid of things(there is an order and a system for doing this that works, so get the book and follow the directions) but two boxes of books, six bags of clothes, an entire storage box of CDs and almost 10 empty storage containers later, I now have my doubts. And I’m not even finished. This process will take about six months if done properly, but then it should never need to be done again.
What I’ve learned: we have four spoons for six people and I don’t own a ladle. That’s why soup nights have always been disasters in our home. D has almost no underwear. Over 80% of our book shelves are full of D’s books, not mine. I actually don’t like to own books but prefer to borrow because it lends an urgency to reading them that owning them doesn’t (this is a sign of a procrastinator, and I fall into that category as well). There is so much paper in our house-homeschool work, grad school work, writing assignments, art assignments-that we have probably destroyed an entire forest on our own.
There were many pieces of this book that made the tidying experience different, but the big one was this: the focus on what brings joy. Instead of grudgingly throwing things in a box to get rid of having the whole process be about deprivation, this process is about what you keep and the happiness it brings you. Most stuff doesn’t bring joy, and we can easily live without most anything we own. But focusing on the joy part makes the getting rid of part easy.
Oddly, that’s part of the reason I finally think I was able to tackle this and see real signs of success. I didn’t do it out of obligation or shame. D’s view and the kids’ view of me are not tied up in my tidiness skills. In fact, whenever D sees me picking up toys he always says, “That is futile. Go write. Go soak in the bathtub. Read a great book. Do something you love.” He knows what I love and he knows me and he’s never seen me as I’ve seen myself, missing some kind of outward appearance gene that makes me defective. Because I didn’t fear failing, I finally succeeded. I went into this looking forward to the change, knowing that even if didn’t work that was okay because I was not defined by this.
It’s a lesson I need to remember with my kids. No one has ever nagged me into doing a better job at anything. By recognizing what I could already do, others have challenged me to step into the unfamiliar because their confidence in me was contagious, and I absorbed a portion of it. It’s the path of joy and the one of least resistance and I need to practice it every day.
Our pastor has said many times that God is a God of order. This makes more sense to me now, not because I think Jesus would come in the door and access the tidiness of my pantry but because this order is calming and unhurried, freeing up time for what’s important. It is as liberating as I hoped.
If you come to my home in the next six months, you may not see the results of this tidiness on full display just yet. However, it’s a work in progress, and an exciting one. I’ll never be described as the organized mom, but people might not describe me as the lady who has paper following her around like Pigpen has dirt surrounding him all the time. Little by little, change comes.