To Declutter or Not to Declutter

To Declutter or Not to Declutter

Birthmoms may relate to the notion of taking a certain pride in knowing our children take after us in particular ways. I previously mentioned playing board games with Eric and his girlfriend over Christmas, and the odd sense of pride I felt in noting that he and I often came up with the same answers during one particular game. It’s never been terribly surprising that he’s a smart kid, given what I know about my own intellect and the near-genius intelligence of his birthfather.

But there’s another way he seems to have taken after me that has left me wishing he might be more like my sister – that’s the arena of orderliness. I know that many kids keep their rooms a mess – but I’ve seen Eric’s, and heard his mom comment on the tornado it was for most of his childhood. Until I was about 12 and we finally got our own rooms, Corina and I shared a bedroom. You could have drawn a line down the center of it where my side ended and hers began, because mine was a constant jumble of books, clothes, papers, and toys, while hers was always oh, so tidy.

The older I get, the more appealing I find the idea of orderliness, even though it is anything but native to me. I’ve been trying to tell myself that the reason I’ve never been neat was that I never had enough space. When you think about it for even a moment, though, you discover the folly of that thought – because less space is all the more reason to be orderly, isn’t it? One thing that has been true is that my last two moves were rather hurried, and unpacking never quite occurred in the most robust sense. Some of those mostly unpacked boxes still sit in our new garage – but the inside of our house is so tidy that you wouldn’t know the same people live here as lived in our prior home.

John asked me, as my friend Barbara and I were busy unpacking box after box, “We’re not going to become those ‘a place for everything and everything in its place’ people, are we?” As if that would be a terrible thing.

“If at all possible, yes, we are going to become those people,” I quipped in response. And I have to say, he seems to be pretty pleased every time he asks me where something is and I know exactly where to find it: box cutter, plastic gloves, Phillips screwdriver, beach towels, ice pick, step ladder, and power strips are among the items he’s asked about so far.

So imagine my surprise when, while putting away laundry earlier tonight, I found myself thinking, I could see this putting everything away all the time getting kind of boring after a while. Translation: “At least part of me misses the chaos.”

In looking for an image to illustrate the famous quote, “A clean desk is the sign of a sick Perfect Mess bookmind,” I came across a book, titled A Perfect Mess: The Hidden Benefits of Disorder. The tagline is: “How crammed closets, cluttered offices, and off-the-cuff planning make the world a better place.” Of course I immediately ordered a copy. Book after book and expert upon expert tell us that our external world reflects our internal world – and if we want to become more diligent, efficient, and bountiful in our results, it behooves us to embrace order, as opposed to living in chaos.

It seems, however, that a part of me feels more comfortable in chaos. It is very nice, I will admit, not to have to waste minutes (which become hours and days and months, in the aggregate) looking for things. But too much order somehow feels stifling and artificial to me. Perhaps that’s why those clothes waited almost a week between coming out of the dryer and making their way into my closet and dresser drawers.

I suppose the best thing is for me to aim for a middle ground between the disaster in this before image and the squeaky clean after picture.

messy desk before and after

As for the kid? There’s still lots of time for him to grow into his own sense of orderliness. Or not.

Laura Orsini is an author, speaker, and consultant who coaches other authors to make and market exceptional books that change the world for the better. She is birthmother to Eric, who is finishing college in Boston this summer. Their adoption has been open for the better part of Eric’s life. She continues to toy with the idea that these posts will one day become a book. In the meantime, you can learn about her novel in progress, Stan Finds Himself on the Other Side of the World.

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