My house is tidy. Pretty much always, generally tidy.
(I am having to claw my fingers in order to stop writing ‘I’m sorry’)
Obviously there are pockets of chaos when the kids have just emptied the toys everywhere, or the husband has been at the kitchen, but generally, my house is fairly neat.
Through instagram, I’ve discovered that there’s a mixed attitude towards tidiness. Some believe that I have hours to sort and tidy (not true), other’s think that I tidy purely for Instagram photos (not true). Some think I’m just presenting the tidy corners in order to communicate the best sides of my life and home (not true). I honestly don’t care about you seeing my mess, it’s just that most of mine is in my head!
If I’m utterly honest, I’ve felt shame about my tidy home. I make myself vulnerable daily in order to present the real and rougher edges of myself in the hopes I can challenge comparison and assumptions and empower people to do the same. However, a tidy house seems to call this to question. Is she really authentic and accessible if her house is neat? That’s not real life.
Isn’t it? But, what if I am being ‘real’ in my tidiness? What if you can have a tidy house and that’s just your ‘real’? What does that say about those who fight to keep on top of the mess that kids bring? Am I saying that they are failing? What about those who are content in the chaos of a family home that looks a little less like a show home and a lot more lived in? Does that say that they are wrong for not being compelled to chase around their offspring, whizzing toys back into their places and scrabbling under the sofa for the missing shape sorter cube. I’m not setting a standard here, I’m sharing life.
I want to tell you about the other side of tidiness.
So here’s the other side of my tidy..
I moved to Loughborough University from my little family home. There had been five of us living in that beautiful three bed cottage, and then four after Emily died. Space was sparce and my room was a cosy box room with a window the entire length of my bed overlooking a green valley. There was no space for a chest of drawers but I didn’t care. My clothes were in my sibling’s room. I loved my little nook.
Anyway, I was dropped off at University with my bags and a case of cheap french sparkling wine (friendship bait). Everything was unknown. I laid out my new room with the bedding chosen during an exciting traipse around Dunelm. It was far more spacious than my childhood bedroom with much more storage in which to tuck things away. I stood back and felt a huge sense of calm at this new level of order.
Tidiness quickly became yet another outward expression of my perfectionism. It was a soothing way of controlling my environment amidst the chaos of getting to know life as a student, out in the big world. We went out, partied, studied (sometimes). Life was a chaotic haze, but my room was a sanctuary of order. I’d find myself a little edgy on the evenings my room filled with friends as they innocently (although sometimes teasingly) disturbed things from their places. I’d tell myself that once they’d gone, I could restore order and all would be well.
Neatness can be a soother to many people as it is to me. A way of soothing anxiety, stress and other uncomfortable feelings. It’s an assertion of control when control is somehow lacking in other areas of life (isn’t it always lacking somewhere?).
We moved home last year, so on one level my tidiness is due to the fact that I can just enjoy my home and relax a little more when everything is put away in it’s place. However, it’s not just about that. There’s a deeper need for order that I can identify. This Christmas we hosted 9 people in our home for three days. It was fun, but I found the chaos tough. This is such a difficult and sad tension for me, as hosting people in our home is one of those things that we just get so much joy from. But at the same time, there’s a part of me that finds the physical chaos and disruption unsettling. I tidied around people, I tidied gifts away mere moments after they’d been opened. I didn’t sit down a huge amount. I was like a buzzing bee sweeping away Christmas as it happened. I was bloody annoying.
However, there is a level of emotional chaos that often comes with lots of family in one place. My way of coping with this emotional chaos was to seek order in my physical environment. But keeping a tidy home around 9 people who are just enjoying the festive fun, was like throwing water out of a sinking boat with a thimble. I told myself that I could keep the kitchen as my ‘domain’ of tidy, and let myself tidy as freely as I wanted whilst trying hard to relax about the remainder of the house!
Tidiness is a relentless, perfectionist pursuit in a house where people, ya know… live. I cannot flop into bed after a dinner party until it looks like it never happened at all. It’s second nature, I barely even realise I’m doing it. Perfectionism can be seen as a blessing but really, it’s mostly a curse. It’s a driver and a motivator for excellence, but the goal of perfect will simply never be met and to continue working to meet such standard is utterly exhausting, like chasing a mirage of water in a hot desert. It doesn’t exist and it never satisfies. No matter how tidy my home is, it will never bring total order to the chaos of my mind.
So, yes, I’m tidy. Maybe you are too. Maybe you aren’t. Maybe you’re somewhere in between. Maybe you skid up and down the tidy spectrum dependent on energy and time and how much you actually care on any one day! That’s fine with me.
We can so quickly demonise or idealise qualities about each other that make us question our own lives or ways of being. Weight is another one I see often that gets both idealised and demonised in the same sentence. It can be as if someone who is slim and fit is quietly deemed self-obsessed or actually not that accepting of their own physical body, thus striving to change it. They can’t be ‘real’ because they are inhabiting someone else’s ideal and perhaps unintentionally body shaming others as a result. But if I feel those things about a beautiful girl in a bikini on my feed, that’s my response, my projection, my thinking, my insecurity, not her intention. It says more about me and where I’m at, than it does about her life choices and inner world.
Because when we single out and idealise a single quality in another person, we miss the whole of who they are. We miss the stories, the neuroses, the pasts, the reasons, the personality type, the dreams and drives. Those are what make the bigger picture. And in light of the bigger picture, that desirable quality becomes real and less idealised, and it keeps people accessible.
Maybe we should challenge ourselves to accept that other people’s seemingly desirable qualities may be because their priorities are in different places to ours, or because their genetic makeup and personality are different. Maybe they have more time or energy, or it’s just the way they are wired. Maybe it’s the flipside of a character trait, or a symptom of a struggle for them, maybe it’s a coping mechanism.
Whatever we see of people in Insta squares or in black and white on blogs, when we idealise certain qualities, we just turn them into a ruler to measure ourselves up against to tell us what we’re worth, or how we’re doing at being us. We’re all more beautifully complex than that which can be measured against someone else’s singled-out qualities. And the full stories, which we may never have the honour of hearing, would explain it all.
Neatness can extend into compulsive disorders, and OCD. If you are finding your need to be neat comes with an urgency in order to abate fear, then it’s definitely worth talking to someone further about this.