Less than five years ago, I would have found a trip to The Container Store exhilarating. But since there wasn’t one in my neighborhood, I never got to experience the thrill when I would have appreciated it. Staples? An experience preferable to sex, especially in those days. Bed Bath & Beyond? Tantric. I would have done Sting and Trudie proud. My then-husband? Not so much.
He found me unbearable. But not as unbearable as I found him as he tossed the half-opened mail in a pile on the round table in our foyer, or left legal documents from work in haphazard piles on the desk even after they could have been thrown away. Each time he did, I felt my life spin further out of control, more so than it already was, despite thenexcessive orderliness of my house.
Not a paper graced the surface — any surface — of any piece of furniture in our house, ever. Every drawer, armoire, and closet looked like an ad for The Gap. Thanks to my brief work history in retail, coupled with the assistance of a nanny who, for years, enabled my habit because it likely fed her own, I stayed in control. Of what, if anything, I’m not entirely sure.
My nanny eventually left, but instead of me releasing the reigns, I held on even tighter, taking on many of her over-the-top, self-imposed chores, which included ironing the sheets and all of our clothing, including our underwear. Without my partner in crime to assist me, I tried even harder to keep the clutter at bay and, with it, the thoughts that cluttered my mind — thoughts of my monotonous marriage, resentment toward a workaholic husband, and an overarching sense of personal dissatisfaction.
On the morning of the day everything would change, I woke up earlier than I needed to as I usually did, readied my kids for school, and tidied my house in its entirety before leaving at 8:15 am. The granite sparkled, the stainless steel appliances shone, and the house looked like any neighborhood realtor at a moment’s notice could have showcased it.
Upon my return from the carpool line less than five minutes later, I embarked on my daily ritual, spending the day preparing for the evening, and the evening preparing for the next day, even counting my steps along the way. By way of example, though certainly not the only, I systematically raised the shades around the house each morning along a specific route to the laundry room so as not to waste any time or energy, wasting, instead, my life.
My husband left me that night, telling me over the phone from a London hotel room he was “done with our marriage.” It was a Wednesday.
On Thursday, I stopped caring. And counting. And organizing. The mail piled up. The kids’ graded schoolwork accumulated on the kitchen counter. Their toys were no longer put away each night where I had pre-ordained they belonged and were left strewn around the house. The clutter grew.
I, on the other hand, purged, vomiting uncontrollably each afternoon before dinner time the little food I had struggled to eat during the day as I dealt with my shock and, soon after, my depression. In less than three weeks, I lost 20 pounds, growing strikingly thin while the house grew fat.
During my marriage, I never felt like I had any time. During the throes of my divorce, and now without the will to constantly organize, file, and discard, suddenly I had tons. I began to travel, even if only for the day, from New Hope to New England and from Mexico to Germany, with my kids and without. I began projects — constructive ones — with a look to my future and the career I had put on the back burner while my husband built his own.
As it turns out, I like a little clutter around my house. Those piles of paper and clean laundry waiting to be put away don’t signal that my life is spinning out of control but, rather, that I have a lot of plates spinning. And so, too, do my children.
I know the trend today is to lighten up, to get rid of all the excess. I see businesses crop up each day to help accomplish this. I’ve watched reality TV shows that depict people changing their lives by becoming organized. Me? I changed my life, too — by becoming less organized.
That “clutter” on my desk and on my kitchen counter reminds me I’m living my life. Those piles of paper represent projects that I’m working on, that my kids are working on, and how we are living our lives both independently and together, as a family. And every time I see a little imperfection, I’m happily reminded that that not so perfect house of mine is home.