I am a very messy person by all accounts. My handwriting is a mess, my bedroom floor is a mess, and my hair — curly and with a considerable amount of frizz to it — is a mess. There are probably reasons, and maybe a certain genetic predisposition, for why I’ve been cursed to create tangible chaos where-ever I go, but, for the moment, my only hope is to learn how to navigate around it; and to learn I have tried. Slowly but surely, I’ve mastered getting a handle on some key mess-prone areas of my life, and you can too!
Here’s a list of 7 lessons I have learned that are helping me to mitigate the mess, and stay organized:
1. Pay Attention
I promise you, I would lose my own head if it wasn’t screwed on tight enough — that’s not even hyperbole, that’s just the truth. If your particular genre of messiness is anything like mine, then it might be accompanied by clumsiness, forgetfulness, and general absentminded-ness, in addition. I once left my laptop (yes laptop !!) on the floor of a busy public library for two hours after forgetting to take it with me. I’ve locked my keys in the house, and myself out of it, more times than I care to admit publicly, and for the duration of my high-school career I made damn sure to get to school ridiculously (read: 45 mins) early JUST in case I forgot an assignment at home and had to race back to get it. Ask yourself how many assignments a person might have to forget before they chose to make this a rule… — I’ll give you a hint, it’s above average.
One of the lessons I have found most helpful in avoiding the endless frustrations of my own silly brain, is to pay. more. attention.
You see, all these flawed areas of absentminded-ness really just come down to how and on what we might be focusing our attention. Clothes end up piled sky-scraper high in the clothes chair (you know the one) because we’re acting on autopilot and for whatever reason feel the need to strip with some degree of speed. Cell-phones get lost, and wine glasses get smashed because we’re not making a little, ‘note to self’ in the form of paid attention when we go about putting these things down. In times like these the words of my hyper-organized, army-trained, father come to mind: “don’t put it down, put it away.’ Try and say it out loud to yourself when you engage in the tasks that have a habit of encouraging the messiness in your life. Hell, even scream the words, “I’m turning off the oven,” or “i’m putting my phone on the second shelf of the bookcase,” just in the chance you might have a higher likelihood of paying attention to yourself. This is about helping the future you, remember?
2. Routine is Key
I don’t eat meals at the same time everyday, I don’t go grocery shopping the same day each week — and don’t even talk to me about doing the laundry, because I’m not convinced I’m ever going to be cut out for maintaining order in that area of my life. However, I do have a routine. My routine. And whatever works for you might be totally different and that’s great!
Some things I’ve routinized in my daily habits are:
Making the bed — I hate it, but I’ll be damned if it doesn’t start the day off on the right foot, as well as stop me from climbing back into bed and giving into my own laziness too often.
Cooking a meal — meal planning and cooking provides structure and grounding. If I don’t eat at the same time everyday, or even the same number of meals then that’s okay! But carving out the time to put a 15 minute dish together is part of what keeps me organized. I can only speak for myself, but I know that when I wait too long to eat, I get unattractively hangry, and then, like a tornado of destruction, I tear through my fridge and cupboards in search of ramen. Then, realizing I already ate all the ramen, and without putting anything away, I order delivery. Then, by the time I’ve cured my appetite, my kitchen, my table, and my bank account are about twelve times messier than they were to begin with. Learn to cook, even simply.
Talking to Friends/Family — a regrettable downside to my messy disposition is that I have a tendency to get carried away with my own clutter and confusion, and I can end up neglecting other people in my life that deserve more from me. By choosing at least a single relative, or long-distance friend to have a chat with everyday, we can hold ourselves accountable for being better people.
Exercising — I don’t care whether this word means marathon training, or morning stretching for you, but by ensuring some form of exercise everyday, we give our brains and bodies the best chance for better self-regulation, and thus, organization. Exercise feels good and make us happy with all those endorphins. Another thing I’ve learned is that a sore body can’t move as fast, nor as recklessly, as an un-sore one. Save the mess, do some squats.
3. The Order of Disorder
Being messy isn’t always a bad thing. For example, I know that my friends feel more at home when they walk into my slightly disheveled state of a living-room, than they would if I were to have every cushion fluffed and every item on my coffee table perfectly placed. What’s more is that disorder can be chic, and we messy folk can use this greatly to own our advantage.
I mean, speaking of living rooms, mine is choca-block full of plants, pictures, magazines, half-read books, and weird trinkets like the golden armadillo candle I have next to my windowsill. The key here, is that your whole house doesn’t need to be spotless and empty, it just needs to be somewhat ordered. I don’t fold the blankets in my house, I elegantly (read: half-assed) throw them across one side of my sofa so that they drape slightly onto the floor, and no-body can tell me that doesn’t add a bit of pizzazz to the room. It does.
It’s also an aspect of being messy that we can all embrace.
4. Baskets, Buckets, and Bowls
When I tell you this is going to change your life, I mean that this is going to change your life. And it’s super simple! Are you always tripping over your shoes because the shoe rack is by the front door and you only enter the house through the back? Or, like me, do you somehow manage to get strawberry juice and bits of onion skin ALL over your kitchen countertops during meal prep? Then baskets and bowls are for you.
By keeping a shoe basket where you need it, a bucket for your keys and loose change, or bringing out a big empty bowl for trash when you’re busy chopping and cooking, you will circumvent the act of making so much mess. Honestly, I struggle to remember how I ever let myself get anything culinary-related done, back in the days of carrying broccoli trunks back and forth across the kitchen to the trash can...one…by…one.
5. Write Without Rules
Like many of you reading this, writing is a passion, a hobby, a tool of mental sanity for myself, and let me tell you, it is not easy to create clear, and concise content when your brain, your workspace, or your desktop is a mess. The way that I’ve best figured out how to harness my own disorder effectively, is to get rid of any rules or guidelines I might place on myself, and my writing.
Now this might sound completely counter-intuitive to many of you — how can we become more organized, by adhering to less structure? Well, I know from my own experience that I have a tendency to use obstacles that are in my way as excuses for not following through on my own actions. Once, I promised myself I would take up journaling everyday: I planned to have this exact format, and to write about these exact things everyday, and to also keep track of my short and long-term goals. The result? Two weeks had passed and I had approximately three “daily” entries. It sucked. But instead of blaming myself for being a horrible keeper of journals, I decided to do away with all the planning and programming and to just write whatever I felt like. The result this time? Fourteen well-rounded entries after two weeks, and an incredible reward in the form of self-satisfaction.
Whether this applies to keeping a daily journal, a weekly calendar, or even your full-time blog — try and harness the power of your own chaos by allowing yourself the freedom to write, and act, in a way that makes the doing-so far more conducive to a positive outcome.
6. Tidy for Less Time
Think of the phrase, “many hands make light work,” but then apply it to time instead of hands…and mess instead of work. A re-write something along the lines of, “less time more times makes less mess.” What i’m trying to get across here, is that tidying more often, but in smaller doses, is truly the key to tidying at all.
It’s un-ironically been the story of my life to wake up one morning and realize it’s been a month since I vacuumed, that I have no clean clothes (or spoons, or forks, or towels), and that my fridge has become a graveyard for the ghosts of leftovers three weeks past. Cue an exhausting and mentally defeating day spent trying to get on top of the pile of disarray that has become my current home circumstance. What I’ve learned the hard way, is that by spending a mere (and I mean mere) 5–15 minutes a couple times throughout the day, washing, wiping, cleaning, and organizing the various dis-order prone areas of my home, I avoid the headache of the “catch-up” day all together.
Now, again, I don’t have a routine for this particular act. I just try to use my spare moments — maybe while the kettle boils, or the phone is playing elevator music and I’ve been left on hold — to get a few things done. What you’ll find is that even by cleaning more often, the time you save by cleaning in small doses only will completely alter the way you view chores.
7. Embrace the Mess!
Lastly, learning to go with the flow and embrace the mess is just as crucial as learning to navigate through it. Being messy isn’t something we necessarily need to fix about ourselves. My hair — curly and with a considerable amount of frizz to it — will never not be messy, and thats okay! If the worst thing about you is that you operate in a manner not unlike a bull in a china shop, then just be grateful you were blessed with a vibrancy and joie de vivre that means you travel through life more concerned with enjoying yourself and the people around you than the dust that’s slowly but surely accumulating on the top of that TV screen.
Alexandra — July 2020