Growing up, our house was always neat. Even when it wasn’t sparkling clean, everything was in its place. It wasn’t something my mom talked about or drilled into our heads; it just was. I remember being confused when I went to friends’ houses whose parents didn’t have the same knack for neatness. Why was there so much stuff everywhere? Before that, I didn’t realize that there was any other way to be. Other than our individual messy phases (mine in high school, his in college), my brother and I both inherited the neat gene.
The first test to my neatness came in college. Roommates. Let’s just say, I was a difficult person to live with (though I prefer to believe that they were the difficult ones). My Freshman year, I lived in a dorm on campus. By the end of the year, I had drawn an invisible line across the room. When it was time to pick up, I simply pushed all of my roommates stuff to her side. The next year, I was lucky to live in a dorm where I had my own room. I shared a bathroom with one roommate and a living space with 2 others who had their own bathroom. I kept up my bedroom and bathroom, and it worked out just fine. I had a few off-campus roommates after that, but not surprisingly, none of them lasted more than a year. It generally did not end on good terms. One summer, my brother and I lived together and fought endlessly over the chore list I made that he couldn’t seem to follow (Remember, this was his messy phase). The following year I rented a duplex with a couple of friends. I taught one of them how to mop the floor. The other insisted on keeping her dirty dishes on the floor of her room. You can guess which one I’m still friends with.
I had a blissful year of living alone before meeting my now husband. As many of us know, living with someone you love and plan to spend a lifetime with, can certainly be a balancing act. Figuring out who does what in the family without breeding resentment was essential. I found that the best way to do this was to talk about it! When I would like him to help with something around the house, instead of huffing and puffing that he didn’t think to do it on his own, I’ve learned to simply ask. It took me several years to figure this out which is a little embarrassing. But, I think this lesson can be applied to many issues in a relationship.
But the thing that has created the most stress when it comes to my neatness is most certainly motherhood. Babies have SO MUCH STUFF! Once you get through that, you get to the phase where they are aware that they want things. My daughter is well known for being a mini hoarder. She keeps tags, rocks, all kinds of broken things, and approximately 75 dolls and stuffed animals. I’ve had to be much more intentional about making sure things are picked up and even letting go of some things. I have to remind myself that I don’t want to stifle her imagination or squash her creativity. While I do my best to make sure she is keeping things picked up throughout the day, I fail often. We also found a good “compromise” on all of her trash and trinkets. She can keep whatever she can fit in a designated drawer in her bed. If she wants it and it fits, it stays. This has been a huge help for keeping things out of sight and out of mind for me.
I’ve long suffered with anxiety, and a messy house is a sure fire way to make me feel like my life is chaotic and spinning out of control. I’ve spent many nights tossing and turning thinking about things that need to be picked up. The simple act of keeping my home neat has an almost magical calming effect. The comfort of knowing that everything has a place and the process of putting things away can melt my stress away. That doesn’t mean that we never have stacks of paper on the counter or piles of clothes on a bedroom chair or a teddy bear and doll tea party on the living room floor. But, life is just a little bit easier when everything is neat.