On Being Messy, and On Striving to Be Clean

It’s Mother’s Day, one of the nice, manufactured excuses to celebrate moms. I’m lucky to have a wonderfully close relationship with my mom, and I try to verbally acknowledge my deep appreciation and love for her always. She’s my tireless cheerleader, my confidant, my supporter, a fount of love and wisdom, and a friend who always finds a way to cheer me up and make me laugh. We will celebrate our important relationship with a visit this afternoon. Mom will impart her gardening and landscaping advice and lend her brawn to help us tackle some of our wildly overgrown brush, vines, and shrubbery.  It’s nice to have a project to collaborate on and we get to talk and enjoy one another’s company in the process. I’m right in the thick of the acute effects of the allergic contamination, so I’m not up for anything too prolonged or strenuous.

The rain fell steadily yesterday beginning around 9:30am, so we weren’t able to do much of any outdoor work. Instead, we focused on cleaning the house inside. Both Ben and I have been making a concerted effort to keep our house neater and cleaner. I’m notoriously messy, and tend to be blind toward disorganization, clutter, and dirty areas in need of a good clean. It’s not just that I don’t like to clean and my executive functioning issues seem to manifest partially in massive deficit in keeping areas tidy and organized, but I also seem to be challenged in recognizing that something is dirty or lazily cluttered. It’s not until someone explicitly points out a messy pile, improperly stowed belongings, a stack of things not put away where they “belong,” or a surface that is in need of a good mopping, vacuuming, or wiping down. It’s like the threshold for my tolerance for uncleanliness and messiness is inordinately high. Only if something is completely filthy or totally disorganized to the point that I can’t find or see anything so I become alerted to an area that needs to be cleaned or straightened. By the time this occurs, the house is a disgusting disaster, which makes it all the more difficult and time-consuming to tidy up.

Fortunately, while I’m terrible at recognizing mess and thus taking the initiative to clean, I am excellent at maintaining routines. We’ve recently identified a way to minimize the consequences of this weakness and harness the benefits of this strength: by establishing a regular cleaning routine and assigning me certain domains or responsibilities in this routine, I stay on top of the areas that get particularly grizzly or disorganized and “fix” them weekly, which is frequent enough that they never get too out-of-hand. If there’s an additional chore or area that needs to be addressed (outside of my normal scope), Ben will ask me if I’m up to tacking it onto my chore list for that weekend. He handles his own set of regions in the house and cleaning activities as well, so that our lists complement each other and hit all of the necessary areas. Because we’ve made it a point to schedule in cleaning time on both weekend days, neither day feels overwhelming burdened with chores and nothing gets too out-of-hand dirty from week to week, making it so that it’s not too daunting or repulsive to tackle any one region or all chores in aggregate. It works well for my self-esteem and self-efficacy too because I feel proud and responsible when I accomplish my designated tasks well and I avoid the humiliation and feeling of gross inadequacy when someone (namely Ben) needs to point out some embarrassingly messy or dirty area that I’ve completely been unaware of; since my uncleanliness radar is severely impaired, I feel incompetent and like I’m shirking my responsibilities as an adult (even though it’s not deliberate) by maintaining a disgusting home.

By making the cleaning regimented, I habitually remember to do it and feel more confident that the space I’m living in is clean, tidy, and reflects my pride in it. I think this recent focus on trying to work together to keep a cleaner living space has worked well in bringing us closer together, happier, and more grateful for one another. We see and appreciate the effort exerted by the other and how it benefits the common good.

Moreover, although I’m still far from possessing the usual eye for filth and disorganization, I believe I’m getting slightly more perceptive at detecting problem areas that need cleaning attention. It’s like my crazy high threshold has dropped one peg. I’m thinking this little improvement is mostly a result of simply having cleaning on my mind a lot more (since it’s now a very regular part of my routine), so I see things through the eye of someone who is becoming accustomed to cleaning. Before we committed to this recent goal of keeping the house more presentable, I cleaned so infrequently and sporadically (and honestly only when prompted by Ben after being alerted to a disastrous area) that it was never on my mind; it was not part of my daily programming, so it didn’t naturally enter my consciousness. Now that it’s scheduled into my routine, cleaning is more frequently on my mental radar. As such, I operate from a place of someone who thinks about if something looks dirty or messy; therefore, I see filth and disorganization in more places than I used to. I equate this to the phenomenon that often happens when someone learns a new word or is taught a concept previously unknown to them. After learning the new term, that person suddenly hears it frequently in conversations, media, or other situations in their daily life. It can feel like all of a sudden, everyone has started incorporating that same new word into their daily vernacular, but hearing it all around is really a product of the learner’s increased awareness of the term now that the meaning has been explicitly attained. At least having cleaning newly on my radar affords a more useful benefit than hearing a pop culture reference I’ve just learned, like the TV horse “Mister Ed”, used in conversations around me!

I hope that all of the mothers out there are recognized for not only giving life to their biological children, but making that life (and the lives of any adopted children) so wonderful. My mom is irreplaceable in my life. I can only hope I’m that way to her as well.

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