The Tao of Tidying Up

My husband has been in Texas for the last 9 days, on a (work related) adventure. He returns tomorrow, at 8am. My first reaction to this is, should I shave my legs in honour of this occasion? My second: should I tidy the house? I am not a naturally tidy person. Although I like the house to be clean and to smell fresh, and am prepared to don rubber gloves and wield a wet cloth to this end, tidying gives me no satisfaction. In fact, it hurts my brain.

Due to the fact that my brain hurts at the mere thought of the tidying up I am about to do, here is a post I wrote on thirtysomethingbride last year when I was trying to pack up the house ready for a move:

I have always found it difficult to put things into categories. People, things – they all have so many different characteristics; choosing just one to label them by is problematic for me. This makes tidying up impossible. For example, this green felt-tip pen – where should it go? The most obvious thing to do would be to put it with the other felt tips, but I don’t know where they are, so I have to think of another way to classify it. My brain struggles to do this. I don’t like to stereotype the felt tip. It’s good as a writing implement, but it is a lovely shade of green, too, so maybe I could put it with some other green things? In the plant pot? Or, do I arrange it by shape and put it with other long, thin things, like candles? Or celery, which is long, thin and green?

I look at the green felt tip for a while, considering where it should go. In the end, I just put it in my bag, where it magically becomes invisible and stops bothering me. Then I have to move on to the next object – an unpaired sock, which almost causes my brain to crash.

‘Don’t worry’ I told my Intended ‘I will do all the packing while you are at work.’

Packing is the torment of tidying magnified a hundred times. Every single item in the house must be categorised and put into a box. I must be decisive, impose order upon them.

After a week, I have made an impressive tower of boxes, packing the books by size as if doing a jigsaw. This was strangely satisfying. Books that have never been together on the shelf now nestle cozily together in boxes. Books are cooperative things to pack; they know that none of them will be left behind.

Up in the bedrooms, it’s another matter. Anarchy reigns. Clothes are everywhere, along with lost belts and socks, baby clothes, make-up and sparkly things stored magpie-like under the bed; teddies and games and shells collected from long-ago beaches. They defy me, these items, confusing me with their claims to usefulness. The baby clothes, for example – I’ve kept them for 10 years, and that very fact makes them impossible to throw away. They have made themselves part of the furniture of my life, even if the memories attached to them have faded. The socks – am I not supposed to make them into dishcloths or something? Am I allowed to throw them away or will they have to go into my handbag, too? The teddies stare reproachfully as I put them in a bag for the charity shop, and the belts clamor to be tried on with different items of clothing.

‘What have you been doing all day?’ asks my Intended when he gets home.

‘Oh, clearing out,’ I say ‘you wouldn’t believe how tidy the house is now.’

My phone rings from the bottom of my bag, and I throw a mountain of assorted objects onto the floor in my race to answer it.


4 thoughts on “The Tao of Tidying Up

  1. I love this glimpse into your philosophy of order. I myself have a love-hate relationship with picking up – detest tidying, but dislike clutter more. And one of the seminal moments in our marriage was when my husband rearranged all my alphabetically ordered books by size!

    • Ha, that’s brilliant! I order my books in size order and according to which ones I think go together…but once when I asked my daughter to tidy her room, she put all her books in alphabetical order while leaving her floor covered with clothes. I wonder what it says about personality?!

  2. This is funny – I love it, Rachel. How domestic, but SO funny :). The chucking everything onto the floor at the end – can so picture that!

    (how amazing to have hubby away for 9 days – & yup, I get you, should you shave…. 🙂 )

    • My attempts at domestication are always confusing for me…I have handbags all around the house full of junk! Shaving – hmmm, can’t do tidying AND grooming, ‘it’s me or the house!’ 🙂

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