Neat Street versus Junkyard Boulevard



I’m cleaning house today because two and a half weeks have passed since the last time (I’ve been working outdoors), and I couldn’t stand it any longer. Life would be easier if I were adaptable to dirt and disorder. Before I could move my ailing father to Oregon in 1992, I had to dispose of his stuff, and this meant staying in his house, which was so cluttered with old newspapers, magazines, junk mail, things he had brought home from the dump, and, seemingly, everything he had ever purchased, that I had to sidestep through rooms. The house and everything in it smelled of mildew, and the toilet looked like it had been stolen from a rundown gas station. His cleaning efforts were limited to the dishes, and they were slippery with grease. The only good thing I can say about his housekeeping is that he didn't have any pets to add their own stench of neglect. Otherwise, I would have slept in the yard for the three weeks that it took me to dispose of his stuff at a rate of one truckload a day to the dump, one to the junkyard, and one to get rid of at an estate sale.

His level of filth peaked after my mother died, but both they and my sister always leaned in that direction, and I always leaned in the opposite. Keeping things clean and orderly doesn’t make me happy, but if I were forced to live otherwise, I would have to create my own little oasis in the midst of it, however small that oasis might be. I have done this my whole life long to some extent. In this house, my oasis is my bedroom because it is the only room over which I have complete control. My need for household simplicity is such that when Peggy went away last week, I immediately tidied up the bathroom by putting her shampoo, conditioner, and razor in a cabinet so I wouldn't have to look at more clutter than necessary.

I only know one person who is almost my equal in cleanliness and order, and it’s not Peggy, although, if she had to do her own housework, she would do better than most. Like a lot of people, Peggy likes things to look good on the surface, but takes no interest in cleaning out her drawers, file cabinets, and closets. I take this to suggest hypocrisy, although she finds that conjecture too boring to consider (Peggy has zero interest in discussing or even thinking about morality, ethics, religion, atheism, government, politics, or philosophy.)

I am unlike Peggy to the extent that there is no part of my property that escapes my scrutiny, including the attic, the crawlspace, and even Peggy’s drawers and closets once they approach the point of popping like boils and inundating the house with putrescence. I used to think that THIS time when I cleaned and organized her things, she would finally see how much better life would be if she too lived like this, but I finally realized that I would die before that day arrived. I’m no longer sure if any of us ever change in a fundamental way, but if we do, I would suspect that it’s in response to some new condition in our lives that, if removed, would eliminate the change.

16 comments:

Winifred said...

I'm not exactly fond of housework Snowbrush. Nobody on their deathbed ever said they should have done more housework.

I'm clean but untidy & I'm a hoarder. Like Peggy I don't like cleaning our cupboards & stuff but I do think about morality, ethics & politics. I rarely discuss them in case of argument though. I'm a cowardy custard!

lotta joy said...

Joe and I work well together since he's a surface cleaner and I'm an investigative cleaner. I feel so much better knowing I can reach into a drawer, or the closet, blind as a bat and still know which piece of clothing I'm grabbing.

No one will ever see the areas that I NEED to keep organized and fresh, but inside, I FEEL it.

It has something to do with our need for internal organization which didn't effect, or affect, your dad and sister.

I cannot live in chaos.

CreekHiker / HollysFolly said...

I used to be neat, save for one project "in the works" which was only picked up on completion. Then I went to college & lived with a woman who would become a lifetime friend. She grew up a diplomat's daughter, lining all over the world & having maids. Her only chore as a child was to make her bed & place her pjs under her pillow.

It was so hard keeping half a dorm room tidy! In the end, it was she who converted me. My huge 2000 sq. ft house is filled with projects "in the works" & a general embarrassment. But, my bed is made & my pjs are under my pillow!

ellen abbott said...

Sounds a little obsessive to me, your need for tidiness. And I couldn't help but notice your attempts to convert Peggy to your way of living in much the same the same way that the religious attempt to persuade others the rightness of their beliefs.

The Elephant's Child said...

I would like to live in a more organised fashion than I manage. Both the skinny portion and I are pack rats - but we collect different things. I could happily clear the house of much of his clutter - but equally he could/would clear mine. While he was in hospital I moved things so I didn't have to look at them. He is now home and they are back where he likes him.
A relationship based on compromise. As they all are I think.
PS: I am finally getting to the point here. I am not at all surprised that you are a neatnik. Your prose is polished and honed precisely and I would have expected your personal space to reflect that precision as well.

The Blog Fodder said...

In this house, my oasis is my bedroom because it is the only room over which I have complete control.

Don't I know the feeling. My office was the only room in the house over which I had any control.

My parents were hoarders, a psychological thing from the 30s on the prairies, I think. I am no minimalist but I cannot bear clutter. Except on my desk.

Lorraina said...

I'm like Peggy,add poetry to the disinterested list as well....i'm more into watching the antics of the contestants on Big Brother and keeping their names straight like it's so important so i can discuss their strategies with my hairdresser. I cleaned out my closet last week but tangles of old junque jewelry inc. one of a kind earrings remain; it was a big enuff job as it was! Even my computer has pictures in the wrong place but some are close like maybe on either side of the correct folders.Art supplies are in a mess, dimes are in the penny can but books and collections are neat and orderly and my car is spic and span. Food cupboards and the fridge are good but the bthrm cupboards have to be opened carefully lest a curling iron or suntan lotion or a hairbrush might jump out suddenly. Didn't even realize how weird i was until i read what i wrote and i'm sure there's lots more; can't think straight right now either.

Chartreuse said...

At the risk of being accused of sexism, I have to say that I believe your passion for neatness and order in your domestic environment is not what I would expect to find in most men. Among our friends I only know one such man. And though I've often told his wife how lucky she is, she doesn't seem to think so, and finds his attention to detail difficult to live with. I agree people don't really change in a fundamental way when it comes to such habits. What I'm not so sure is how important this is in a relationship. Maybe we don't think much about this when choosing a partner in the flush of youth. But the second time around I found myself attracted to a man who was himself a competent housekeeper - as well as good lover. It was subconscious, but I somehow knew I didn't want to spend any more years picking up after another adult.

PhilipH said...

Almost spooky to read your post today Snowy.

I have infrequent blasts of de-cluttering and it always feels good once it's done. But then it seems to clutter up again.

Distressing and the job has to be started again, and again, and ...

Yesterday I attacked the garage. I may be moving out and have to get shot of so much stuff in the garage. Spent three hours lugging old bookcases, shelving and other unwanted crap into a corner of the garden and burned it all. 5th of November on 13th August; Guy Fawkes would be smiling I guess.

Paid heavily for all this exertion and my heartbeat was wildly irregular and very fast. Took hours for it to calm down, after taking a Digoxin tab supplied by the cardio at the hospital after my earlier episode a couple of months back.

Must take things slower and easier but that's my own fault for going like the clappers yesterday!

Kendal said...

I'm kind of like you Snow, but there are times when I'd rather just leave my art space cluttered then put everything away and forget where it is. I like to cook, my partner doesn't, she likes to do laundry, I don'. She cleans the kitchen, I do the vacuuming and bathrooms. But she will do anything I ask without complaint if I ask or leave a note.

It's always been this way for me, I'd go on cleaning binges. thought it was OCD, but now I realize people with OCD have it 24/7. Mine is driven when I'm in a manic mode. My poor siblings, and J, drove them nuts. I'm not happy about my diagnoses, but at least it can be managed, so that those around me won't be victim to my moods.

Thankfully J and I see pretty much eye to eye on religion, politics etc. We don't agree on everything but it sure makes it easier both of us being atheists and liberal democrats. We do discuss those topics, but when you agree so much there isn't much to talk about lol.

Strayer said...

I hate clutter too. I go into houses when fixing cats that are just trails through junk and piled dirty clothes on the floor or filth. I can't believe the number of people who live like packrats. My immediate internal need is to help them get rid of all that crap, clean up. Sometimes I try but I fail because it's not a problem someone has physcially, with cleaning. It's a mental thing. They can't get rid of it and if it's taken away, all that junk, they would get more or be terribly distressed. But likewise me, to even see that kind of living. I want to throw things away by the dump truck load, organize....

Charles Gramlich said...

I have been known quite often to "declutter drawers and cabinents, although I can go quite a period of time between the need to do so.

Snowbrush said...

Oh, my gosh, so many long and thoughtful responses. I didn't see any questions, but one person did appear to see the situation as more serious as I intended to convey it, so I will address that.

"I couldn't help but notice your attempts to convert Peggy to your way of living in much the same the same way that the religious attempt to persuade others the rightness of their beliefs."

I see crucial differences. What I have with Peggy is a longterm marriage in which each of us have often been challenged to accept the other's behavior, and so have been obliged to find our way through difficult situations. This is far removed from attempts at a religious conversion in which one's primary relationship and interactions aren't usually a factor. Also, religious conversions are underlain by the assumption on the part of one person that he or she knows what God expects of us better than another person, and therefore tries to persuade (or even force) that other person to accept his or her message. People who refuse to convert are often shunned and looked down upon if not treated badly. My feelings about Peggy's stuffed closet have never had that kind of underlying heaviness. In fact, I have no memory of either of us ever saying angry words about it, and I certainly don't look down upon her because of it. I hope I'm making sense here.

All Consuming said...

I'd invite you for tea just so you could clean the place afterwards! I'm awfully messy, the whole house is like a game of Buckaroo, though hubby is much better than me I admit. I just have a big clean up every few weeks and that's just so I can walk into rooms or because we have company due to arrive.

A Plain Observer said...

I am not that organized, but I can't stand filth. I have been to houses where you pray you don't have to use the bathroom. It is disgusting.
My exhusband was neat on the outside, but a packrat on the inside. His room was always full of little bundles of God kmows what.

Snowbrush said...

"I just have a big clean up every few weeks and that's just so I can walk into rooms"

You poor child. If building up the will to clean your house somehow gives you the ability to get up off the bathroom floor and walk, then you should clean house twice a day if that's what it takes to stay on your feet. You're like a blind man I heard about who restored his vision by drawing the comic strips.

"I have been to houses where you pray you don't have to use the bathroom."

I hear that God is coming out with a book entitled "The Strangest 50 Prayer Requests That I Have Ever Received," and that you're in it! This makes you the greatest celebrity I have ever known.