My whole life I’ve been a bit of a slob. If you met me, you get it. There’s always something awry. My shirt twisted, bra strap hanging off one shoulder, my closet a disaster, kitchen drawers stuffed full of knick nacks and utensils, handbag chock full of crap nobody—especially me—needs. I’m a grave disappointment to my mother who is meticulous in all things, owns many tiny containers for storing things neatly and can save a single green bean for later and even find it in her fridge when she wants it.
This chip is so far from that block. In fact, I’m a lot like my father. After he passed away, his wife began sorting through the plastic shopping bags that he used as briefcases. She found uncashed cheques, bills, moldy 5-year-old sandwiches (!!), and many, many bank cards that had been reported as lost. This is me. I am like him. I’ve had five credit cards replaced in the last year only to find them at the bottom of a shoe or in my coat pocket.
Let’s be clear: I’m not a hoarder or a pack rat. I don’t feel driven to keep stuff around me. It’s that I can’t be bothered to throw it out or make neat piles or file it or organize it or fold it. I’m not a dirty person, either. I hate dirt. If I find a spot on my cuff, it will drive me batty until I can change my clothes.
It’s just that I’m messy. A slob. I’m perpetually what your sock drawer would look like if you let a three-year-old organize it.
To quote myself, I’d clean/organize/sort _______ right now, but actually, I’d rather be doing just about anything else.
That is, until about until the beginning of February. Then the game changed.
I’ve struggled in the last year with anxiety and depression. As I began to deal with my core issues of self-esteem, control, and lack of focus, I realized that disarray not only bothered me but was interfering with my ability to be productive. It caused me stress which in turn locked me up. I don’t think it was the mess that created the anxiety per se, but rather the constant knowing that I needed to do something about it.
It was bearing down on me.
Each time I’d walk by my spare bedroom stuffed with product samples and swag, I would cringe and then go play Candy Crush ’til my lives ran out. When I’d pass my extremely disorganized closet, I’d just looked away. As I would paw through the piles of clean laundry on the floor, I’d get disheartened. I could never find anything to wear so I’d just wear whatever I could find. I’d notice baskets of laundry that needed to be folded, piles of paper that needed to be sorted or recycled, and a messy kitchen that stayed as such all day and refused to clean itself. And I’d keep on walking.
I was so stuck. I never did anything. Not only did I leave the disaster areas be, but I would then be crippled by remorse for hours afterward. I experienced vicious cycles of procrastination followed by guilt and anxiety.
The thought of taking action to change that which was causing me stress was nearly intolerable. I knew something had to give, but it was going to take too much work to change the status quo so I just pretended it wasn’t happening. And when I’d let people into my home, I’d apologize for the mess, make jokes about how I was a borderline slob, naturally untidy, one of those who thrives on clutter, and happy about it, too.
One day, while my morning coffee was brewing, I opened the dishwasher and saw that it was full of clean dishes. I went to close it again, and then I remembered something I’d read in one of my anxiety books about procrastination.
It was this: When you’re about to avoid doing something ask yourself, “Why not do it now? What is your reason for NOT doing it?”
I didn’t have a good reason for leaving that dishwasher full of clean dishes and the sink full of dirty ones. Even though I work from home and seeing that messy kitchen irritates me to no end, the only excuse I could come up with was: Because I don’t want to.
So I emptied that dishwasher. And I loaded up the dirty dishes. And by the time my coffee was brewed, the kitchen was clean, and ready for the day.
Every time I walked into that room, I saw how tidy and neat it was. I even popped my head in to surprise it a couple of times but it was still clean. When I made my lunch, I kept it that way. And when it was time to cook supper, it was refreshing to know that I didn’t have to clean up before I could make a mess.
The experience was enlightening.
The next day, I did the same thing even though I didn’t want to. And the day after that, too. Every single day since that day I’ve emptied the dishwasher while my coffee is brewing.
Every single day, I hesitate because it’s against my nature to get things done. But I do it because it makes me feel good. It makes me feel in control of my life and makes me feel like I can conquer the world because I can conquer a simple set of tasks before 8 o’clock in the morning.
Once I started emptying the dishwasher, it was like the floodgates opened. I was a new woman! I organized the spare room within an inch of its life. I lined up the shoes in the front hallway and I started folding the laundry (nearly) the same day that it was washed. And I tackled my closet. It took six hours and five bags of unwanted clothes and garbage to realize that closets have floors. And rods to hang things on. And doors that close when unblocked by piles of purses.
My closet has been tidy for almost 6 weeks (at this writing). I look at it on the hour, with pride. I feel free. I’ve been freed from my mess.
Today I made the bed without realizing I was doing it. I almost fainted from the shock. But I felt compelled and I couldn’t sit down to write this unless I made my space orderly. I almost don’t recognize myself.
I joke to my family that I’ve become a neat freak, but I haven’t. I’m still me and I always will be.
I’ll always put things off—now against my better judgement—and I’ll always have an internal argument with myself about doing the things I need to do. I’ll never voluntarily organize anything. I’ll always misplace important things, and I’ll go to appointments on the wrong day, and I’ll walk by the pile of stuff next to the stairs at least 30 times before carrying it up.
They say that it takes 30 days to make a habit but I disagree. Because it took me just one second to decide to change my life and it’s taking a lifetime of small steps to make it happen.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I have a sock drawer to organize.