“You’re the messiest girl I ever met.” So spoke my brother-in-law almost 15 years ago, when I was renting out part of his condo. Personally I think he had dramatic tendencies; still it was true I was not tidy. I’m not that sensitive to my physical surroundings, I was living alone with no one to answer to, and had a great desire to do many things other than straighten up. My mess provided me with a lot of extra time, and I lapped it up.
But though there was mess, there wasn’t clutter, and I was organized. Laundry was done weekly (weekly! do you remember the time?) and I separated my colours, returning clean clothes immediately to their hangers and stacks. And I still remember my brother-in-law’s unmasked surprise when I once needed a document and wasn’t at home, and talked him over the phone to its precise location in my mismatched files on the floor of my bedroom closet. He had assumed the unmade bed and other evidence of disarray equated with disorder, but it didn’t.
Fast forward to now and the equation has changed. 5 people (including 7, 5 and 2 year olds) + 1400 square feet + 1 closet + 1 bathroom = everyday chaos. Techniques I relied upon in singledom – like putting something down and it staying there – don’t apply anymore. Disarray does reflect disorder now, with a dollop of clutter to boot.
I’m good at not shopping and I’m not a hoarder, but I don’t really want to rid myself of the things in my home that contribute to the clutter. Before kids, my interests took me largely outside the home (dance and yoga classes, socializing) or centred around largely clutter-less activities (reading and writing). I’ve morphed some since then, and now I find myself wanting to make things within the home (cooking, crafting, knitting, gardening, woodworking, sewing), all of which require materials and tools that quickly become a steaming pile of clutter in a small house with little storage if I’m not really careful. Which I’m not.
At some point last year I decided I was not too proud to borrow from the library books with titles like, “Organize Yourself! Reduce Clutter!” and “161 Easy Steps to an Ordered Life.” Did you know you can save an extra step of clean-up in the kitchen if, after using an item from the fridge, you immediately return it to the fridge, rather than placing it on the counter and then putting it back in the fridge? I try to employ this tip and I think it helps… a little.
A primary complaint with clutter and mess – and trying to eliminate them – is that it’s all a soul-sucking waste of time. And it does take time and money to tend to our things, so it’s wise to watch what you allow into our homes. But having made that calculation, I find I want to keep much of what we have and I’m motivated to spend time to keep it orderly because doing so actually creates time. If I’ve got 45 minutes to create something – and I often have no more – I can’t afford to spend 20 minutes of those searching for (and sometimes failing to find) supplies.
There was a period in my life when ignoring mess gave me time for the things that mattered to me. Not so now. As it turns out, I can live quite well with either clutter or clean, and I choose between them according to which gives me more of what I always want most: time.