We are all self-made, but only the successful will admit it. -- Earl Nightingale
Messies have one thing in common: On a scale of 0 to 10 (0 is disaster and 10 is perfection), their housekeeping falls into the 1–3 range.
This, of course, makes them the opposites of the housekeepers we know as “Cleanies,” whose efforts are rewarded with a rating in the 7–10 range. It also sets them apart from average housekeepers—those whose homes fall into disarray on occasion, but not often and not for long, and who therefore merit a 4–6 rating.
Aside from their abysmally low housekeeping rating, Messies have little in common. They got to be where they are by different roads, and they have different styles of messiness.
Let us, therefore, take a look at different types of Messies. If you can recognize yourself in one of these word portraits, you will be well on the way to finding a solution to your problem.
The Perfectionist Messie has very high standards for individual jobs. The house may be a wreck, but she decides to begin by cleaning the oven. And it is well done, very well done.
If you say, “No one sees the inside of the oven,” she takes pride in saying, “But I know it is clean.” In the meantime, the whole picture deteriorates.
Here, indecisiveness is cloaked in the guise of perfectionism. Generally this housekeeper cannot decide which approach to putting the house in order would be best. So she decides not to decide. This is a bad decision.
This Messie has psychological hang-ups from childhood. Mom insisted on cleanliness and order, and now that she is grown, she is going to show independence by defiance.
The tragedy, of course, is to let infantile reactions ruin our own lives and those of our families now that we are adults.
I heard a middle-aged woman say she had procrastinated for years about hanging a mirror even though it was in her way on the floor. The reason she didn’t hang it was because the sight of the unhung mirror annoyed her mother, and she derived pleasure from the annoyance it caused. I guess she is showing Mom that Mom can’t make her do it. But she is paying a high price for trying to show how grown-up she is.
The Relaxed Messie rationalizes that the world outside is hostile and home is the place to relax. Why work at home, too?
So things are let go. The result is that when the rationalizer comes home from that high-pressure job, she faces a hostile house. Things assault the eye and clutter life.
How nice it would be to come home to a beautiful, inviting home that says, “Welcome,” and invites us to relax! The truth, as any Messie can tell you, is that messiness is not relaxing. It causes strain, pressure, and jangled nerves.
Every scrap brought home by Johnny is precious. Every shell picked up on a beautiful day is valuable. We must keep our memories. I think memory is the source of the problem here. Some of us Messies have poor memories, so these things are the only way we can remember. When we throw them out, our memories actually are gone. In such cases, I suggest a memory journal. Write down the day’s activities, especially the nice ones. These pages will be invaluable not only to you but to your children and grandchildren.
Token remembrances also can be kept, of course, in easy-to-store, labeled plastic shoe boxes. But remember, keep only token items—not everything!
The Sentimental Messie is also a picture-taking Messie. Pictures are another aid to a poor memory. Sometimes we don’t even have to have them developed. We just like to know they are available for some time when we might get them developed. So in virtually every drawer in the house, undeveloped film can be found. One woman said she had her film developed so late that she did not recognize the people standing with her in the picture.
Perhaps no characteristic of Messies has such a hold as this one. Sentimentality is not a bad thing if it is not overdone or misapplied. But we frequently do both. When the belongings from our past begin to pile up in an unpleasant way in our present and adversely affect our future, it’s time to jettison them. (Gasp! Is that possible?)
You will find tactics to deal with many of the sentimental items in your life in chapter 22. But the underlying way to let go of the past is to shift your gaze to your life in today’s world. Plan for a wonderful future. Don’t let anything keep you from accomplishing your best vision for your life.
The Spartan Messie has a special approach to the difficulties of housekeeping. The ancient Spartans lived with only the necessities of life. Similarly, it may occur to a Messie that if there were less to care for, or if it were somehow shut up or nailed down and not used, it would be possible to handle it.
The next step is to see what can be eliminated: “Let’s see, I could always have one-pot dinners so I would have just one pot to wash. I could have one set of sheets so I’d just have to wash them and put them back on the bed, which would eliminate folding them or having them lie around in a basket. Or better still, I could make up the bed and sleep on top of the spread. That would eliminate washing sheets and bed making. I could clean up some of the other rooms and not use them anymore, just put a velvet rope across each door.”
And so, to some degree or another, they cut out the things they have to handle. As a rule they don’t actually get rid of them, they just exclude them from their care.
As long as things are clean, Clean Messies reason, they can be left out. This is why clean clothes are left in the basket and not folded. (After all, they are clean, and that’s the main thing.) The dishes are washed and left out on the counter. But they are clean. Isn’t that what counts?
The Safe Messie leaves the bed unmade, “because it can air out better, and that kills more germs.” The floors are not waxed, “because they might be slippery and dangerous.” The dishes are not dried by hand, “because the germs from the dishcloth might get on the dishes. Air drying is more sanitary.”
And finally, “I can’t have a maid, because she might have a boyfriend who is a thief, and I’ll be robbed.” One cannot be too careful, after all.
The trouble with all these ways of thinking is that they tie us up and reduce our options for keeping the house the way we want it.
For some reason, there are people who just enjoy doing things the old-fashioned way. For them, the only good way is the old way. This is a definite matter of principle—though it is hard to know what the reason is.
This might mean our Old-Fashioned Messie will have as a principle that the only way to do the floor is on her hands and knees with a brush. Now actually, the floor never gets done that way because it is too much work. But believe me, if it ever did get done, it would be done right. Their motto is “Do it right—or not at all.” A lot of time it turns out “not at all.”
Some other ideas the Old-Fashioned Messie may have are to bake pies and cakes from scratch instead of using a mix, to wax and buff the wooden floor with a cloth instead of a buffer, to beat the rug instead of vacuuming, or use cloth instead of disposable diapers. It’s not that some of these things aren’t appropriate sometimes, but to do things the hard way just because it is an old-fashioned way is a hindrance to progress in housekeeping.
The Idealistic Messie’s head is in the clouds. Great thoughts and ideas are what interest this Messie.
But the results are disastrous to an idealist. The beauty and charm, the satisfying family life, all melt under the heat of the messy home. The idealist, attuned to greater things, seldom notices the relationship between the messy house and the fading dreams.
In short, no matter what type of Messie you are, it’s an unsatisfying life.