Monday, May 10, 2010

Perfectly Messy

Last week I read a book entitled A Perfect Mess, on the underappreciated virtues of disorder.

My siblings questioned whether I needed to read such a book. Probably not. Still, it is fun to find sympathy for one's philosophy.

There are, of course, dysfunctional levels of disorder--if you die under cascades of old magazines, for instance.

But there are also dysfunctional levels of order, and the mental image of the magazine-perfect house as something we all ought to attain, or at least aspire to, is probably doing us more harm than good. As anyone who has sold a house can tell you, maintaining a house in that kind of condition is highly dysfunctional for family life or, indeed, doing anything with one's life except cleaning house.

Similarly, too much long-range planning and rigid adherence to schedules and efficiency can leave us without time or resilience for the unexpected, or for examining what the use is of all those things we are doing so efficiently. DOB and I have realized, looking back, that most of the decisions we made that turned out badly were ones we made while trying to look long-term. Not being psychic, our long-term predictions usually turned out wrong, and in the meantime we had made a decision that was not so helpful for the present, either.

Some people just naturally are neater and more organized, and this is fine. However, some of us are naturally a bit more scattered, and have found ways to make it work very well for us. My laundry system when the twins were babies, for instance, consisted of splitting the family up into pairs, having a hamper for each, running each hamper through the laundry and then into its own basket, and thus never having to sort, fold, or put away laundry, while still not wasting much time hunting for lost socks.

Now that the twins are toddlers, it is more efficient to spend ten minutes every few days folding and putting away laundry than it would be to hunt down missing socks from under all the furniture and persuade D3 to take people's underwear off her head. Instead, I give a lot less attention to stuff left on the floor.

Toddlers are expert randomizers, and although I like to clean up every now and again, I've discovered it usually means we spend MORE time hunting for lost items, because instead of everything lying out in plain view, during the pickup session someone helpfully "put away" their shoes in a toy bin or their water bottle in the closet.

When I do decide it's time to clean up, we get out a couple of laundry baskets (laundry baskets are a great semi-messy organizing device), toss everything on the floor into the baskets, sweep and vacuum. I put the baskets up high where I can sort through them at leisure. Then we can play "Ring Around the Rosie" on the newly-clean floor and then relax as the living room gradually becomes converted back into a store/castle/library/campground.

It's helpful to remember that we owe penicillin to Alexander Fleming's messy laboratory, and (this one wasn't mentioned in the book) Horton Hatches an Egg to Dr. Seuss's messy desk. Mess is a great place for discovery. As long as nobody dies.


Anonymous said...

Hmm, sounds like an interesting book. Would you consider it worthwhile to spend $ to read this book? I ask because I'm intrigued as a child of two perfectionist parents who subscribes to similar methods of your own but have always done so with guilt. But one of the consequences of my disorder is that I know it much better to pay for the book on my e-reader and retain the rights to read it again than 'donate' a similar amount to my local library and only have the rights to read it once.

Queen of Carrots said...

Well, I think of it as a one-time read, so I got it from the library. (Of course, as a total cheapskate, I figure I can always get it from the library again.)

If one was dealing with a painful disconnect between methods and ideals, though, it might be worth having about to reread and get reinspired with the value of messiness. Especially since it's probably cheaper on e-reader.

the Joneses said...

There should be more books for "messy people who want to stay messy." Just like there should be more books for "people who, instead of being told not to overdo their schedules, should be told that they probably could branch out a little more and not compromise their health and happiness." But we're not the ones writing the books, are we?

Yay for messiness! I've gotten much better at housekeeping, but it's by no means *neat* most of the time. Nice to be told that maybe it doesn't have to be.

-- SJ

Anonymous said...

"As long as nobody dies."

Sounds a lot like "Put down the dustpan and nobody gets hurt!"


Anonymous said...