“Life is a long lesson in humility.”
— James Barrie
It’s a cliché that having a child changes your life forever, but things become clichés because they’re true, and one of the biggest adjustments is just how much stuff children come with and how difficult it is to keep it all organized.
It starts immediately. Just by their very nature, babies come with a lot of shit. There are play mats and swings, changing tables and height chairs. They need pacifiers and bottles and bibs, diapers and wipes and ointment.
That’s before you even walk out the door. If you’re going somewhere, it’s like helping a friend move. A baby needs a carrier, a car seat, a diaper bag full of everything that you keep close to the changing table, and, if you’re going somewhere for more than a few minutes, backup bottles and extra clothes.
Babies, at least the first world American kind like mine, are maximalists.
I have two daughters, a six year old and a six month old. As a result, my house is in a constant state of upheaval and disarray. Half-empty bottles, random pacifiers, used bibs, piles of laundry, Barbies, LOL doll accessories, teething toys, play dress-up clothes, pretend food, discarded blankets, play mats, Magic Clip princesses, and many more items fill up my living room on a daily basis. Even when the area is clean, it doesn’t stay that way for long. It could be spotless at lunch but back to an amateur version of Hoarders long before dinner.
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This is not rare. In fact, it’s expected…for most people
For me, however, it causes a bit of anxiety because I have OCD. Actually, I have OCPD.
Rather than an obsession with washing hands or checking locks or counting that many people associate with OCD, OCPD (Obsessive Compulsive Personality Disorder) is defined as a “personality disorder involving an overwhelming need for organization, order, and perfection…When someone has OCPD, little things take on too much importance. Items such as books on a bookshelf and other personal belongings must be arranged in a particular order that satisfies the sensibilities of the person with OCPD.”
This manifests itself in many ways, but the gist is that I prefer everything being put in its proper place. I put all my emails — both work and personal — into specially categorized folders in Outlook and GMail. I love organizing and reorganizing my books, probably one reason why I don’t totally dig the cloud.
This becomes particularly evident when I’m feeling stressed or at a loss of control — if everything else is falling apart, at least I can have a perfectly organized home.
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I love smooth surfaces, right angles, empty space. My wife often comments that a table can have an inch of dust on it, but if there is nothing else on it, then I consider it clean. I abhor knick-knacks and tchotchkes. I’d prefer a house that appears to be empty than one that appears to be “lived in.” I’m a person that fantasizes about living in a place where everything is put away in its place, every flat surface is bare, and it is so sparse that it looks as if it is being shown to perspective buyers.
Most children — and certainly my children — don’t share this feeling. Cleaning up or putting stuff away is time spent away from putting on a show or making a beautiful poster or just creating a disaster for the sheer hell of it.
Babies don’t know or care. They don’t know that it took a half-hour to fold that laundry, they just know that it’s more fun to to create a mess out of those fresh-smelling clothes. Picking up the toys my kid just threw off the tray of her height chair is a Sisyphean task of the highest order and yet she often treats it like a game of fetch.
For her part, my older daughter doesn’t understand why she should put something away if she might play with it in an hour. That makes sense until you realize that she might play with almost all of her toys in the next hour. Her playtime is not scripted; rather, it’s like a freewheeling form of improv in which no rules are followed. I once attended a wedding between Barbie and Julius Erving. It was a lovely ceremony!
You’d think this would push me further over the edge, that I would spend my time at home constantly fighting the waves of everyday life, trying in vain to keep it pristine. In fact, I used to be that way — much to my wife’s chagrin — but for all of the changes that having children has brought to me, the biggest is that it forces me to be with living in a home that isn’t magazine ready, that it’s not a failure or an eyesore to have an exersaucer in the living room or a full children’s kitchen in the corner of our kitchen, and that keeping a burp cloth on the coffee table isn’t pretty, but it is convenient.
Forcing a child to grow up in a museum-like atmosphere can turn them into Cameron Frye and life is meant to be lived, not to be organized. Mess is a sign of life and the time spent obsessing over the mail or a rogue pair of Rapunzel high heels will take away from the real, fleeting moments that help to constitute a full life.
Besides, if I wanted a perfect home, I shouldn’t have had children.