Illustration by Jan Igoe
Before I come right out and admit that I’m messy, let’s award some points for good intentions.
Every spring, I renew my annual pledge to scrub the house, clean out all my drawers, declutter each shelf and clear off all the tables last seen before Christmas. None of this comes naturally to me. Many females are born with a neatness chromosome, but it must have been bundled with mathematical aptitude and distributed in a line I totally missed when parts were being handed out.
My neighbor Joni is my polar opposite. Her home is always spotless. The woman can detect incoming dirt a few towns away. She can smell it with one nostril tied behind her back. Joni vacuums three times a day, and her cats signed a no-shed contract. Of course, you could eat off her floor. (Actually, you could do that at my place, too. Sometimes, there’s a buffet.)
While piles of unfolded laundry tend to make extended pit stops in my living-room recliner, hers magically transport from dryer to dresser at the exact moment the dryer timer beeps. (It’s possible Joni is a witch.)
I’ve tried to master her tricks, but, despite owning every mop, steamer and germ killer on the market, some of us just aren’t wired for championship cleaning. We’re wired to collect pine cones and watch Hoarders to feel better about not having any dead cats in the kitchen. Yet.
If Joni’s OCD—Obsessive Cleaning Disorder—were contagious, I’d be sniffing her baseboards trying to catch it. Being messy isn’t voluntary. It causes me physical pain to tear up a $9 Food Lion receipt. As I ponder parting with it over the shredder, the voices in my head start to argue.
Voice 1: “Stop! You might need it for taxes.”
Voice 2: “Toss it. You’ll lose it anyway.”
Voice 3: “You simply file receipts alphabetically.”
Voice 4: “Shred the sucker. You don’t own a file cabinet.”
There’s some good news for clutter-holics, though. Researchers recently figured out that clutter can be a good thing. Studies have shown that neatness kicks creativity to the curb. It may be fine for doing your taxes, but you’re more likely to come up with brilliant, out-of-the-box solutions to the world’s problems at a desk covered with books and notes than a sterile one. Great ideas might need a little chaos to incubate.
Did you know that Albert Einstein—the father of modern physics—was messy? Steve Jobs and Mark Twain were supposedly prolific pilers, too. We can assume that the theory of relativity, the iPad and Huck Finn weren’t born on tidy desks. For natural pack rats, this is redemption.
“If a cluttered desk is a sign of a cluttered mind,” Einstein asked, “of what, then, is an empty desk a sign?”
For starters, it’s a sign you’re not married to Joni.
JAN IGOE may struggle with cleaning, but if modern physics needs a mom, she’s ready. Write Jan (neatly, please) at HumorMe@SCLiving.coop.