Do messes bother you? Some people are very easygoing and not bothered by disorder, while others are troubled by any little thing that is out of place. Typically, the most orderly person in the house suffers the most by the presence of household chaos and clutter. Piles of clothing left around by children, stacks of paper piled on the kitchen counter by spouses, paintings that have been knocked askew by passersby, dirty dishes left in the sink by roommates… all of these and more can drive us crazy.
Whether we are the “neat one” or the “messy one,” whenever we expect a space to look a certain way, and then walk in to find that it doesn’t look “right,” tempers can flare. We may feel resentful, frustrated, or discouraged that previous efforts have failed to bring about positive change. Or, we may be weary of having someone else constantly “on our back” about the way things are.
While there are many situations that can become the subject of repeated arguments, there is one mess that tends not to bother us. Do you have a guess what it might be?
As it turns out, the mess we mind the least is… our own!
While belongings that have been dropped, draped, dumped, and stashed by others can be tremendously irritating, the items that we have similarly left lying around remain inoffensive. I’m sure there is some psychological explanation for this, but I don’t know what it is. I suspect we are less troubled by our own “stuff” because:
- We empathize with ourselves.
“I am just exhausted and don’t have the energy to take this upstairs and put it away right now.”
- We have a clear explanation for why an object is being put down in a particular space.
“I am putting this down here because I need to dash down the hall and answer the phone.”
- We are aware of a future plan we have in mind.
“I will put my tie away when I go upstairs later tonight.”
- We are accustomed to our own disorder.
“I’ve just always done it this way and it doesn’t bother me.”
There are probably other reasons as well.
The question then remains, what are the implications of this human predilection? I believe there are at least two lessons worth considering.
FIRST… it helps to be aware of this reality.
It is easy to become frustrated when our space doesn’t look the way we want. Since we are probably overlooking our own contribution to the mess, we have a tendency to come down hard on others. Someone else’s failure to put things away is simply going to bother us more than our own shortfall in this area.
By acknowledging this innate tendency, we increase our ability to exercise compassion instead of judgment about how we keep things. Admittedly, many individuals share space with those individuals who, shall we say, “take a more relaxed view of their environment.” If this is your situation, there will probably always be some tension about how physical belongings are being managed in your space. You may always desire, and hence invest more energy in maintaining, an ordered living and/or working space. Nonetheless, recognizing our own flaws provides a healthy dose of humility, which typically makes any efforts at negotiation and compromise more successful.
SECOND… focus inward.
Few people respond well to criticism and nagging. We can set rules, have family meetings, agree on boundaries, establish routines, and take other efforts to get everyone in the household on the same page when it comes to when and how possessions will be treated. These are all positive and productive measures, especially for children, who need to be taught what to do and experience consequences when rules are broken.
However, the best and quickest way to impact the world around us is to deal with our own items. There are a couple of reasons for this. First, we have the responsibility for these things. It is our job to put our own things away and to keep our own things organized. Second, since people detect other peoples’ messes more quickly than their own, any action we take in establishing and maintaining order will be noticed by those around us. For example, the family might realize that “Mom’s desk is always clear now,” or “Katie’s room is the most fun to play in because there is always plenty of clear space.” When we practice what we preach, we demonstrate a commitment to treating possessions with respect. We become the person that others might seek out for help with organizing. Rather than being perceived as a nag to avoid, we become the expert to consult.
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Getting and staying organized is a lifestyle that requires both skill and discipline. The rewards are significant, allowing us to find, access, and enjoy the spaces and belongings in which we have invested.
Do you agree that you are least likely to see your own “mess?”