Sunday, February 2, 2014

housekeeping for the messy?

For some time now, I've been trying to figure out the secret of tidy houses. Now, I don't mean soulless, bare places; I mean just pleasantly orderly but very much lived-in, with enough detritus to show who lives there. I get so overwhelmed in my house because so much stuff doesn't have a home. I don't seem to know how to set up systems so that everything has a place, and I also don't have the habits to put things away (the few that have homes) on a regular basis.

I don't much about permaculture, but I know it's about creating systems that are self-sustaining. I think something like that could help me keep my home more comfortable. If there are systems that work in our homes for managing our stuff, maintaining the space to be calm and peaceful could be easier.

Recently, I've come to the conclusion that there is some fundamental gap -- in skills, knowledge, experience, or maybe something else -- between me and people who can keep their homes relatively tidy. It's not that I have no interest in it; I do, tremendous interest. The mess in my house, in every single room, stresses us all out. Although I only notice this by its absence, when we get a corner tidy and it feels like a big sigh of relief. It's just so nice to be in those spaces.

Anyways, the gap: it's something that tidy people take for granted; they aren't even aware of it. So when they write books or try to help people organize their homes or keep them cleaner, they miss it entirely. I'm sure it's something I can learn, but I need to discover what it is first, so I can learn it consciously. Is there a book about permaculture in the home (vs on the land)?

The other day, I was reading Dr. Gabor Mate's Scattered Minds: The Origins and Healing of Attention Deficit Disorder. I picked it up because I enjoy his books and his take on the world, not with anyone in mind. But I quickly found that his descriptions of adults with ADD sound alarmingly familiar. Of course, he also notes that all the characteristics of ADD also appear in average people, although with differing intensities. He sees ADD as primarily an impairment, and whatever characteristics I share with people with ADD, they haven't impaired my life overly much.  

His description of a typical person with ADD attempting to tidy a messy room resonated so strongly. (It was along the lines of picking up a book to put it on the shelf, noticing that two related books are far apart from one another, in moving one, you become engrossed in a detail that causes you to seek a reference book, the dryer alarm goes off so you go to change the laundry, notice something along the way that takes you away from the laundry before you get there, remember to take the ground beef out of the freezer to thaw, find the cup of tea you poured half an hour ago on the way to the freezer… something like that.) 

He goes on to explain: 
"Completely lacking in the ADD mind is a template for order, a mental model of how order comes about. You may be able to visualize what a tidy and organized room would look like, but the mind-set to do the job is missing. To begin with, there is a profound reluctance to discard anything -- who knows when you might need that copy of The New Yorker that has gathered dust for three years without ever being looked at? There is little space for anything. You never feel you can master the confused mess of books, papers, magazines, pieces of clothing, compact disks, letters to be answered and sundry other objects -- you only shift portions of the chaos from one place to another. Should you nevertheless succeed now and then, you know full well that the order is temporary."
Maybe that's the gap I've been struggling to identify: a mental model of how order comes about. Immediately I think about how people with Asperger's or high-functioning autism can consciously learn the unspoken expectations of them in social situations and they can consciously learn to meet them to some extent, assuming they're interested in doing that. But of course, the challenge is finding a mentor who can uncover the stuff that most people take for granted.

I've developed a bit of an obsession with SouleMama's archives, and although I know she averts her camera from the messy bits of her house, I'm pretty sure her space is relatively tidy and at least comfortable and relaxing. This afternoon, I had a sudden epiphany about another thing that SouleMama has that I don't: a basement.

So help me out: How have you developed the systems in your house for managing stuff? (And I don't mean regular cycles of purging… I want to keep most of my stuff, I just want it organized and accessible.) Did any books help you? Other resources?

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