I have always detested clutter.
Whenever I see things like dishes in the sink or the Sunday paper on the table or Jeff’s tools from the basement not put away or Owen’s toys out on the dining room table… it kind of stresses me out.
Or course it has to do with control. All of it. I might not be able to control the fact that there are people who seem to want a dangerous, sexist, bigoted, arrogant pseudo-Republican to be the next President… but I CAN make sure that my counters and tables are clean and everything has a place and our house feels open and spacious.
My house, then, gets cleaner whenever I feel out of control and uncomfortable. Which is okay, mostly.
Except I live with two other people on a daily basis. And those two people are fundamentally different from me. Not only do they have a higher tolerance for clutter, in general, but they both also have a different process for cleaning.
I like to clean as I do something. When I make dinner, for example, I’m multitasking while everything cooks – putting the dishes I use in the dishwasher (or rinsing them and stacking them in the sink), rinsing out the recyclables, wiping down the countertops.
Jeff is the opposite – he cooks, focused only on that, then cleans up, focused only on that. It’s like his cleaning is project-based: he will focus on the project at hand and complete it, then work on cleaning up after the project.
And Owen seems to be similar, at least right now. In his own room – which we allow him to keep the way he wants it kept – he tends to leave clutter when he’s in the middle of a project and then cleans up when he’s either done or uninterested in finishing whatever he’s been doing.
I spent the first decade of my marriage trying to get Jeff to see the value in cleaning as you go. Which he does. But seeing the value in doing something one way is different than actually DOING it.
And I spent a fair number of years being pissed off and resentful about it, actually. If he really loved me, I thought, he’d help keep our house clean and neat and the way I’d like it.
That kind of thinking, in a marriage, is really, really, really bad. Putting conditions on your spouse, focused on him proving his love by doing something that’s not natural to him, and then telling yourself he doesn’t love you because he’s not doing what you want him to do? Recipe for resentment and anger and pain and suffering, right there. On both of your sides.
Because the thing is: watching him work, I’m a little in awe of the fact that he has this amazing ability to focus, that he can lose themselves in the task at hand. When he reads the paper, he’s IN those words. He hears nothing else, sees nothing else. Same with cooking – he’s in this zone of just working and doing, and isn’t thinking of anything else.
I do not share that ability. I am always planning and thinking and figuring out what I have to do next, thinking 4 steps ahead and working on getting everything done efficiently. So yeah, I am damn good at Life Tetris and fitting a lot of tasks into a given timeframe, which is a good skill to have, too.
But my way isn’t necessarily best.
So I’ve been practicing living with clutter, allowing my husband and son to have their process. It’s hard, especially now, during times where I am unsettled with a lot of change. I tell myself a lot, we’re different, we have different ways of doing things, and that’s okay, Karen. And I’m trying to look at the clutter as evidence that my boys have been absorbed in what they are doing, which makes them happy. I keep my office space clutter free and open and spacious. And when the clutter gets too much for me, I ask, nicely, if they would help me clean up a space so I find it less stressful.
It’s helping. I can’t say I’ve found peace in the clutter yet, but I’m getting there.
Do you clean as you go, or prefer to focus on your task and clean afterwards? Do you mind clutter?