For forty-seven years, since I began living on my own, I have struggled to be a person who kept a tidy house. For forty-seven years I have failed, and now I give up. I don’t rob banks, wage war, or sneer at poor people, but I am a person who keeps a messy house, and that’s just the way it is.
Although I love tidy spaces and beautiful places, the real reason for my long struggle was What Will People Think. I don’t want people to think I’m a slob.
When my son was young and I was pretty young myself, family used to come down to Jacksonville to spend Thanksgiving with us. I welcomed house guests because it forced me to clean up. Before they arrived, I would tidy and clean to the best of my ability. But one fatal year I thought, ‘To hell with it,’ and my one incentive for a thorough cleaning was gone.
I’m much older now. My son is grown, and now it’s me, Joe, and Amanda. For several years a small, shabby house on five beautiful acres of land was available across the creek from our neighborhood. Joe had recurring fantasies of buying the land, fixing up or tearing down the house, and having a lovely, welcoming home with huge old camellias and azaleas, surrounded by woods and a creek at the bottom.
But Joe and I have different decision-making styles. He is deliberate (or dithering) and I am decisive (or rash). The idea of building or rebuilding a house together filled me with horror. There are approximately ten zillion decisions involved in remodeling, and I imagined years of discussing faucets and soffits.
Every few months Joe would bring up his dream again, and I would argue against it. The argument about our decision-making styles was unsuccessful (and provocative). The argument about the huge project we were already undertaking (Amanda) did not prevail. But one night I asked him to look around the front room where we were sitting together on the sofa, which is redolent of dog. I pointed out the television, which rested on several defunct stereo receivers and tape decks and was garnished with a towel. The wicker chair he had proudly purchased at a garage sale for $2.00, now Ouzel’s scratching post. Trisket’s cardboard carton of old bones.
And that was just the front room. I suggested that perhaps we are not the kind of people who live and entertain graciously in a beautiful home, like so many of our friends. Our decision-making styles are different, but our housekeeping is similar: sloppy.
Do I care? I like tidy. I like it when the yard, a collection of what you could euphemistically call ground covers, is mowed, when the wildflower (aka weed) bed is edged.
I love the sense of peace when the clutter is in tidy piles. But I don’t notice the piles that remain for months or even years. I’m capable of thoughtful, intentional decor. It’s just that things wander, land, and become invisible. For instance, look at this photo of our mantelpiece.
From the left we have a handcrafted baobab tree, a gift from Amanda’s adoption party, with a couple of matchbooks at its feet. Next, a box of thank you notes with an empty plastic bag tastefully stuffed behind it. The groovy silver plastic thing used to turn, making constantly shifting geometric patterns. The piece that broke off is barely visible next to it. Next, a lovely whiskered cat made by Amanda, three candles from our long-abandoned evening moment-of-silence ritual, and a collection of elephants and Buddhas. Above it all is a Christmas ornament made by Amanda when she was three, which hung for years above the door but recently graduated to the chimney.
Even as I write this I wonder about publishing it. I am appalled that I have not outgrown worrying what other people think. I don’t really believe in all the oughts and shoulds I’ve absorbed over the years, but they still nag at me. The pictures in the women’s magazines haunt me.
I’m sure I’ll continue with occasional clutter-busting projects.In a previous confession regarding clutter I hopefully asked, "Is it possible that at sixty-four I have finally conquered clutter?" click
Now I’m sixty-five, and the answer is no. But from now on, I’m no longer pretending to myself or anyone else that I’m a tidy person. I am a person with shoes in the middle of the living room floor, Bandaids in the middle of the kitchen table. And though it makes me uneasy to write it, I’m going to practice saying, "So what?" until I can really mean it.
The views expressed in this piece are solely those of the author, and do not necessarily represent the views of her nearest and very dearest, Typepad.com, or the World Wide Web.
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