There is a piece of time in the morning, after The Rocket Scientist has gone to work, and Galileo has played with another dog at the park across the street, so he is momentarily napping, and I haven’t started Doing Things, when my house is suddenly a museum.
I am a messy person. I have always been. It’s not something I like about myself, and recently I have launched a campaign to fix it, which is yielding minimally successful results. But for now, there is mess, and reading the mess as if it belongs to someone else is what I do in the morning in-between.
The mess is mostly comprised of Projects In Process or Abandoned. Currently, on the coffee table, there is a dead orchid, a metal t-square, a cup of colored pencils, a 1970′s issue of Playboy, a turquoise plastic bag of cut glass candle holders, an unopened package of drawing charcoal, a bike light, a vintage liquor decanter, a small painting of two giraffes, two raw-edge gemstones, a cedar planter box, a leather coaster, a large drill bit, a bag of dried herbs, a shoelace, a jar of scented wax with no wick, a u-lock, three shells, two wrenches, a spiral notebook, a fab.com catalogue, a Chanel lipgloss, a sharpie, and an iron-on decal with text that reads: “Want a tall girl with good reputation who can cook frog legs who can .stand a little fu-tu e fun at parties and froli-cki ig without getting sick.”
It’s not a very big coffee table. Underneath it, there are various wires for charging devices, and they swoop and swirl around like the line work on a Mucha poster.
I keep a side-eye on the mess in the same way people who like to drink watch themselves for signs of addiction. (The difference being that I don’t think the mess is fun. I actually kind of hate it.) Lately, people with hoarding issues have become the butt of a cultural joke, (Thanks, TLC, for all your good work!) but the reason mental illness is a monster is because it is sneaky. You don’t think you have a problem until the problem is so big, you can’t ignore it anymore. With hoarders, they seem to have one of two narratives going: One, they see their identities in the mess surrounding them, and to throw things out is to throw out themselves, or two, (and this one is worse, because Cah-ray-zay) the part of their brain that loves people or pets also loves objects, so if they throw out the moldy bagel, they think they are performing an act of violence.
Other than entertaining the idea that the things in my house are a metaphorical picture of my personality, I don’t have either of those issues. (The key being that I do not believe that the mess is me, the mess is a story about me.) My problem is that the second I put an object down, I forget about it. I lose things that are right in front of me. It takes an enormous amount of mental energy for me to complete tasks, because I can’t keep track of the tools unless they are in my hands. So then I end up carrying objects around the house, afraid to put them down, because if I do, they disappear from my consciousness. Ultimately, though, I have to put the thing down, because I need my hands for, you know, functioning. Which leads to a random array of objects on one surface, like the coffee table. Everything on the coffee table, with the exception of the coaster, landed on the coffee table while it was en route to somewhere else. The coffee table is an airport terminal of doom.
The weird part is, I’m not a dirty person. I used to be, but now I dust and sweep and scrub and wash. I taught myself to do it by giving myself cleaning lessons, where I spent 20 minute intervals, five days a week, learning how to not be gross. I highly recommend this method if you’re trying to do something new. The objects get lifted and moved during this process, re-orienting the mess in a different way. You’d think that if I have trained myself to sweep a floor, I could train myself to keep objects in semi-permanent homes. It’s just another small, physical action that takes practice. And that is exactly why I have hope for myself. Step one is to get rid of a bunch of crap, step two is to see what’s left over and then arrange storage for the surviving objects. You can’t put something back in its home if it doesn’t have one.
The Plan to Not Have a Lot of Stuff in the First Place and Subsequently Organize the Stuff We Do Have (working title) is this long, emotionally draining process, but I’m focusing on the clean light at the end. But, if I’m being honest, not having the evolving story of things, this physical representation of everything that’s happening, project-wise, really, really freaks me out. I don’t know who Tidy Kara Fern is. But she’s probably a lot more productive than this messy person who lives here now.