17 May 2012

I'm a perfect mess

Many women continually find fault with their bodies (my butt is too big/flat, I’m too tall/too short, my hair is too straight/too curly).  Nobody’s gonna mistake me for Scarlett Johannson, Halle Berry, Sofia Vergara, or Gwyneth Paltrow, but I don’t have a “body image problem.”

Instead, I have a “home image problem.”  There’s some crumbs, dust, maybe a little grime, but mostly clutter I’m constantly keeping at bay which sometimes provokes “CHAOS” (Can’t Have Anyone Over Syndrome – thank you, Flylady!).  Friends and family tell me that our home is cute and cozy.  Objectively I know that is true. My husband and I have put quite a lot of effort into updating and beautifying our 60-yr-old house (on a thrifty budget, naturally ;-).  Even so, mostly I see the flaws.  My perennials are coming up vigorously, but I see the scruffy lawn.  We’ve recently done a lot of work updating our kitchen, but I still I can’t stop moping over the sad vinyl flooring that we haven’t addressed yet.  We’ve updated our heating system, roof, electrical, windows, doors, and insulation, but every evening I frown at our shabby “tv couch” – the one that takes a daily beating from kid, pet, spills, and just plain hard wear.  Paperwork needs to be filed, laundry in all states of processing, and especially the artifacts of three people who enjoy skiing/boarding, camping, gardening, fishing, and friends, three people who are artists, musicians, readers, writers, couponers, crafters, movie buffs, and science junkies.  We would rather enjoy the truly enjoyable things about life than vacuum every single day. Being excited about these things makes life, well, messy.

the ultimate “take heart, it’s not so bad”
message for people like me.
Enter A Perfect Mess.  Not all mess is bad mess.  Some mess is extremely productive.  There are different kinds of messes, and different kinds of mess-makers.  Some potentially helpful, some downright pathological.  A college professor’s stacks of books and papers may be helpful to her in developing a new concept, but take it several steps forward and compulsive hoarders can literally become trapped and killed by the mountains of stuff they’ve frighteningly packed into their living space.  The most nimble businesses are the ones that can tolerate some operational “mess.” It’s more effective to try new ideas that don’t work out than to not try anything new; throw enough spaghetti on the wall and some of it will stick. It’s been said that creativity is most often the result of combining existing elements in a new way.  Geometric shapes, the human form, and oil-on-canvas are very old, but Cubism is relatively new.  Telephones, cameras, a pocket calendar, and devices that play recorded music are 19th century technology; iPhones are 21st.

“Orderliness” is a matter of personal taste.  My supervisor uses Post-its very effectively for personal visual cueing – reminders of projects pending, etc.  Conversely, I once knew an executive whose desk was always completely vacant, even when he was genuinely hard at work.  To me, I couldn’t figure how on earth he could find anything if everything was always put away (I need a goodly amount of visual cueing myself).  But it worked for him. 

A relative has asked me a couple of times, “You’re such a reader; wouldn’t you rather have a Nook?” (Note: I know this person reads quite a lot, but I’ve never seen an actual book in the public spaces of his/her house.)  NO!  I like books.  I like the bindings, the paper, and yes, they do take up a lot of space, but having no physical books in my home would feel as lonely as if I had no friends.  There’s emotional warmth to books that a Nook can never have.  I can write a loving message to a friend and give a book as a gift.  I can donate it, or I can keep it forever.  I can pass it down to my child.  When my son was in pre-school, he gave me a bookmark for Mother’s Day.  I use it often.  There are no laminated, crayon-colored bookmarks for Nooks.

I’m cutting myself some slack about my mess.  I wouldn’t be me without these things.  Or not the right style of me.  A happy side effect of not needing to be uber-orderly is that I’m also quite spontaneous (or as much as I can be with a school-age son).  A dear old friend calls to go out for a drink on a Tuesday night?  Can do!  A little ordered disorder in life is a good thing.

But I can’t decide: now that I’ve finished reading A Perfect Mess, do I keep it or give it away?

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