Welcome to a new series on The AQ Blog!
I was talking to The Atheist Wife last night about how things have changed in my life over the last while and I’ve still been thinking about it today. Very often we get trapped in thinking of ourselves in terms of who were or what we were like in the past. For instance, someone who grew up being/being told they were a follower may actually be a leader in their adult years. Sometimes we notice these changes, but more often than not we have to be told by other people that what we think we are like is not actually what we are like anymore. It’s all about self-discovery and reflection, about acknowledging how we have changed and improved, seeing how we have grown. So in the that spirit, this is the first post in a series of semi-regular posts examining how I’ve changed for better or worse and hopefully inspiring others to look at themselves in the same positive way.
A Cluttered Footprint
When I was younger, my mother would always be able to tell where I had been in the house, not because she was an especially perceptive parent with eyes in the back of her head and what had to be a magical sense much like Mrs. Weasley’s clock. Instead, it was because I left footprints all over the house – footprints comprised of clutter.
My mother eloquently dubbed these footprints as “piles,” mostly because I would leave piles of stuff wherever I had been sitting. Next to my favorite recliner was a pile of books and papers. On the desk was a pile of papers, a sweatshirt, pens, my unfinished homework, and usually about three dishes. My room was nothing but an obstacle course designed to challenge all who attempted to enter it. My shoes would be outside next to whatever toys I had been using and usually a towel or two from my jaunts in the swimming pool. In the back of the car, in the seat furthest away from the driver, was a pile of candy wrappers, usually a coat I had left in there, and whatever else I hadn’t taken with me on exiting the car. Wherever I had been, there was a trace of me – a messy, cluttered trace that drove my perennially neat and tidy mother crazy.
That’s who I used to be, but that is less who I am today.
Neat and Charlie
Today, I take care of the house. The Atheist Wife and I share chores and responsibilities, but overall, because I’m the one who stays home all day, I take care of things around here. Knowing what I’m like, you might and I definitely would expect the house to be cluttered and unkempt. But it isn’t.
Having my own home to take care of has really changed how I look at things. Nowadays, a pile of clutter anywhere drives me crazy. I don’t leave books and papers by my sitting chair in the living room anymore because it bugs me to have that space cluttered. Things actually get put back where they belong. It’s really too bad that my mom is a continent and a half too far away to see this. I think she’d faint.
That’s what’s changed and I’m very happy it has. But why has it changed? Why have I changed?
Mind Body Neatness
I used to be able to ignore the inherent chaos of my clutter habit back when things were easier and my mom was around to keep the rest of the house tidy. I could always escape and go to a room my mom had just tidied. Now I don’t have that. Now I have to do it myself.
But what has really changed over the years I think has been the state of my brain. I used to be careless. Even in college, clutter didn’t bug me because my brain was ordered and regimented by my class work and my lecture schedule. The occasional clean and tidy was enough to keep my roommate happy and myself able to concentrate on my homework. That’s not possible anymore.
My brain is more cluttered than my nine-year-old bedroom ever thought of being. It’s crammed full of information like bills, chores, appointments, meetings, projects in process, and a host of other things I’ve forgotten but will remember just in time to get them done before they’re due. And along with this mind-clutter has come a need of things in my life that compound that feeling of chaos.
I’m not just talking about trash and putting things away, though. The need for less stuff is often overwhelming for me. I want to get rid of furniture that serves no purpose, decorations that don’t quite work, things on the walls that attract attention but that’s about it. I told the Atheist Wife last night that if I had my way, I would live in a monastic cell with a bed, a desk and chair, and a dresser for my clothes. That’s all I need, you know. Having things you don’t need is a type of clutter that I just can’t stand.
Pro or Con
So is this change a good thing or a bad thing? That’s the real question we have to answer here. Change is inevitable, but that doesn’t mean it’s always positive.
In one big way I think that it’s a good thing. It makes my wife happy, at least. She shares the dislike of clutter with my mom. My house is certainly more pleasant to be in. And overall, I feel a lot clearer and brighter since I started caring about having things neat and tidy.
In another way, though, I’m slightly concerned. I can organize my kitchen however many times as I want, but that won’t necessarily keep my brain clear. A tidy home cannot necessarily make your brain tidy at the same time. A clean house is good, but for me it’s also a symptom of a brain that is in flux.
What do I do about that? I don’t know yet, but I’ve just noticed dishes in the kitchen and now I have to go take care of that.