The house I grew up in made me allergic to piles of paper that accumulate on tables, to dishes that crowd in the sink, to laundry that stacks up outside of the hamper or on the bathroom floor. Clutter gives me hives. Outward signs of inward crazy. As a teenager, I would fly into a cleaning rage. I mean rage without a trace of hyperbole. While scrubbing the dysfunction off the walls, I would swear and slam doors.
This is not to say that I do not manage to gather my own piles and stacks now—I do. When I’m busy, or when I’m depressed (or when I’m too busy to notice that I’m depressed), life has its way of cluttering up surfaces with books, unopened envelopes, dirty towels, shoes, jackets, and half-empty glasses of water. Sometimes I stop going into rooms because I don’t want to see the mess. When it gets this way, I get itchy and self-judgmental. I don’t feel the old rage—maybe I’ve grown out of it—but I definitely hear the echo of my own adolescent frustration. There’s something about an orderly environment that feels like control to me.
Maybe I’m fifteen years late, but I’m starting to understand that girl and her bleach-filled furies (and, while we’re at it, this woman and her itchy self-judgment). I am earnestly trying to learn to let go of the names I call myself (Control Freak, Tunnel-Visioned Hypocrite, Judgmental Asshole, A Mess, those things) and simply observe myself where I was, or am. It’s not easy for me; judgment is a place I go quickly, whether it is a verdict on another or—much more likely—myself. I am resisting the urge to say “and I really dislike that about myself.” I will try something new, and attempt to not label myself as good or bad, likeable or unlikeable: Sometimes judgment is ineffective and gets in the way of my happiness or self-esteem. I would like to try something else.
My automatic impulse is to look back at my 15 year-old self with flashing eyes and a bottle of Windex and say, “Dude, talk about outward signs of inward crazy.” And as I gain more clinical language, the temptation to label that kid (and feel shame around those labels) is great. So here’s something new: When a person who has strong emotions grows up in an environment that is unpredictable, she might experience anger and desire control over her environment. Full stop. Sit with that. Be gentle.
And right now, as I notice the disorderly pile of books on my desk, the jacket thrown across the sofa, the few dishes of mine in the sink, I will try something new: It is understandable that, after a weekend of class and a long day of being present somewhere else, I might have a little housework to catch up on tomorrow. And that’s doable.
Also doable? Forming new habits: clearing out judgments, applying compassion, and polishing perspective.
The synchrobloggers are writing about a mess