Tuesday, July 14, 2009


As my friend Colin once said, "There are two kinds of people. Those who divide the world into two kinds of people, and those who don't." Okay, I agree it's wrong to oversimplify, but I do think most of us fall into one of two categories when it comes to our attitude to stuff: we are keepers, or we are throwers.

My parents are the ultimate throwers--they personify "A place for everything, and everything in its place." They are admirably ruthless about sorting and throwing on a regular basis, although my mom would protest that her closets run contrary to this. (Note: I've looked, and they are pretty darn impressive.)

So I am a thrower, and admire those who manage it better than I. For a decade and a half, I was married to a serious keeper. Let me correct myself: he is not just a keeper, but a gatherer. He's got plenty of interesting things, although unfortunately he is not an organizer, so my desire for order and his desire for Cool Things That Might Come in Handy just didn't jive.

Having said this, full-time work, two kids, a dog and an enjoyment of many pursuits other than cleaning mean I don't always keep up with my own aspirations. I used beat myself senseless for not having the perfectly appointed linen closet, but now I stick to maintaining certain areas. I keep my own bedroom tidy, and the tiny kitchen and well-loved living room are also places I strive to keep clutter-free for my own mental health. Ditto for my office, although I let it go more than I should.

The kids' rooms? I could continually harp at the kids for their habit of stepping over toys, dirty clothes and the occasional empty water glass, but it's easier to close the door. I ask as calmly as I can when I notice it (and they are pretty good when I do this) but they really only get cleaned well about once a month. I've come a very, very long way on this: as a stay-at-home mom about three lifetimes ago, I would stay up late picking up the toy room and scrubbing baseboards. Much of this was done in an effort to impress The Keeper. I was surprised and hurt when he didn't give me a gold star for it, but now of course I wonder what I was thinking. Never mind what it says about the relationship--the real cure, in hindsight, was a challenging job outside the home. Good thing I found one, or I would really have turned into a Mad Housewife.

There is a good blog called The Unclutterer that has tips on how to keep things organized, although it's a little preachy and I don't think it would appeal to the typical Keeper, who, in my experience, really doesn't care. But for those of us who can use a little inspiration, it can be helpful. Last Friday I spent a couple of hours cleaning my office and, when I walked in on Monday morning, I had forgotten and felt a rush of pleasure at the order I found. Then I proceeded to have a wonderfully productive day. At times like this, I remember it's worth the time it takes to create order.

If you're wondering, I did have help with the cleaning for a couple of years. But about six months ago I decided that if I and two able-bodied children couldn't keep a 1,200 square foot house tidy enough for our own purposes, we just weren't terribly organized. And it's actually better-kept now than before, because I know someone else won't take care of it. Let's just say I didn't fall into the camp of "I'd better clean up because the cleaning lady comes tomorrow." There is the other half of the population, of course. And I'm definitely on that side of it.

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