I have always found being organized and decluttering forms of self-care. This is not true for everyone. I remember vividly the day I discovered that some people do not fold their underwear before putting them away. I was in the second grade. I was enjoying a play date at Colleen’s house. We were happily engaged in some activity or other in her bedroom, when I noticed the open dresser drawer.
To my horror, it was overflowing with what seemed like hundreds of pairs of “panties.” (At my house we just called them underwear.) Colleen’s “panties” were thrown pell-mell into the abyss. There was nary a crease line in sight and no order whatsoever to their arrangement. “My gosh,” I thought, “Who are these people? Should I call my mom to come and get me?” I hardly knew what to think.
Prior to my discovery of the state of her panty drawer, Colleen had seemed like a perfectly normal girl. I loved going to her house because her parents were very kind and she had many pets. I tried hard to put the sight of that open drawer full of panties on the loose out of my head and to go on with our play. Truthfully, though, I saw Colleen, and her mother for that matter, differently after discovering that they had no idea how to organize their things. To me, that was a very serious character flaw.
At my house, in contrast, underwear was kept in the top drawer of a dresser. Socks were kept in the second, t-shirts in the third, and pajamas in the fourth. When my mother put away laundry, she folder underwear into uniform shapes and stacked them neatly. I took things a step further by subdividing the stacks into light colors, dark colors, and patterns. I don’t know why I didn’t think to subdivide the patterned panties into light and dark too. I was not to adopt that practice until much later in life.
Today, you will not see a navy pair of striped panties next to a pastel pair with flowers in my drawer. No way. Socks enjoy similar treatment: white sport socks, ankle high, black anklets, black trouser socks, white crew socks, and fuzzy socks that I use as slippers are all folded Mari Kondo style and filed in their respective categories. Thankfully, despite the company I kept as a child, my underwear and sock sorting skills were not seriously impaired. For that I am thankful.
I have always disliked clutter and disorder. I suspect it stems from being raised in a family that, unlike our underwear and sock drawers, was very chaotic and disorderly. My father was an alcoholic. That means that one could never count on life following any kind of discernible pattern from day-to-day. My mother used to say that the only thing predictable about my dad was his unpredictability. It stands to reason, then, that I would try to create the order that our household lacked in the spaces over which I had some control.
It isn’t surprising that I took, and still take, great pleasure in “nesting.” I never had to be told to clean my room because I loved keeping it tidy. Everything had a place. I took great pleasure in carefully arranging my precious collection of dog ornaments–Mitchell, Rex, Prince, and Danny Boy were among them–at particular angles on my shelf so they could see each other and not feel lonely when I was at school. My desk in elementary school and my lockers in junior high and high school were similarly tidy. Even now, colleagues, students, and custodians alike comment on how homey my office feels, which makes
me very happy. I want people to feel at home in the spaces where we spend time together.
Anyone who wants to know what kind of mood I am in or what kind of day I am having has only to look at the condition of my office to find their answer. If I have a messy desk, it means I am really stressed and probably overwhelmed. I have a dirty little secret though. I have been known to throw caution to the wind, to pack my bag quickly at the end of my last class of the day or week, and make a beeline for home leaving in my wake a nest of chaos and disorder on my desk.
Between you and me, it feels deliciously liberating to leave all that crap behind to deal with on another day. It feels good knowing that I have broken the rules–MY rules–by leaving the evidence of my shortcomings as a human being in plain sight for the custodians to see when they empty the trash or for my colleague Shannin to mock when she scams the key to my office from our administrative assistant to loot chocolate from my Drawer of Sin. (Okay, she only did this once…14 years ago.) “Take that!” I think saucily as I lock my office door behind me on those sorts of days, “Let them think ill of me! I do not care a lick!” Of course, no one else does care a lick–whatever a lick is–because everyone is dealing with his or her own stress in his or her own way on any given day. Whether or not my office or home is cluttered is probably not on the top of anyone else’s list of concerns.
For me, keeping clutter at bay and purging it when it accumulates are some of the ways in which I keep up and/or regain a sense of balance when life is stressful. Discarding material clutter, whether at the end of a day, or in a seasonal purge, makes me feel in control of my work or living space even when other aspects of life feel like they are out of control. Although I recognize that others find decluttering a chore they’d rather not do, so they don’t, for me, the act of decluttering is a form of self-care. It restoreth my soul, much like an afternoon spent writing or reading in a coffee shop.
It occurs to me that it is probably as, and likely more, important to have strategies for clearing our mental and emotional clutter too. That kind of clutter influences our well-being in ways that we’re only just beginning to understand. As I’ve thought about the pleasure I take in decluttering the spaces that I inhabit, I’ve wondered if I have similarly effective strategies for decluttering my mental and emotional spaces. If so, what are those strategies and am I using them often and effectively enough? How do you “declutter” the areas of your life that can weigh you down and get in the way of your ability to live your best life? What has worked or not worked and how have those strategies changed as you have changed? Please share!
As always, thank you for reading. I appreciate you.