Outer clutter, inner calm

As anyone who knows me, I’m not a big believer in neatness. This whole Marie Kondo fad of only keeping stuff that you’re in love with? I read the book, but couldn’t fathom why anyone would want to undertake that huge of a task when a little bit of mess just makes life more comfortable, in my humble opinion.

I have no idea how I turned out this way; I come from a family of neatniks. My sister used to yell at me because I’d leave water spots on the bathroom faucet — “It takes TWO SECONDS to wipe it off! Why can’t you just do that ?!?” — and my Mom spent a lot of time disappointedly shaking her head at me as I left a trail of stuff in my wake. I’d like to say I had more important things on my mind, but I think I was (am) just lazy. It’s easier to leave stuff out — I might need it again soon! — than put it away.

These days I’ve been spending a lot of time getting my desk and writing area put together exactly the way I want it. I wanted a space that was welcoming and inspiring and efficient and productive, all in one. I bought a few monitors, wrangled all the different cables, got everything set up. The last piece of the puzzle was a desk lamp — and finally found the perfect light. The space is complete. Serene and peaceful, I sit down and almost audibly sigh with contentment.

img_20160924_091034If you zoom in on the picture, everything’s in its place. It’s not sterile, but it’s not really messy.

Then you zoom out and look at the space surrounding the desk and it looks like a bomb went off. Empty boxes, cables everywhere, papers and extra equipment scattered with no thought.


And you know what? That works for me. It’s like I don’t even see it (which confounds the rest of my family). “img_20160924_113722How can you sit at the desk and not notice the rest of the mess?” Frankly, I’m not sure. Perhaps it’s my superpower? Maybe there’s some sort of force field that’s coming into play? I know that when I walk up the stairs and the room comes into view, I have a passing thought about needing to clean everything up, but it’s like I don’t even mean it. Like, my brain is paying lip service to a voice in my head that I know I’m not really listening to.

In all this, I realized that even though most people would consider me messy, I do spend time and energy nurturing and organizing the spaces where I truly live: my desk space, my computers (mostly making sure my data is organized and backed up), even my workout room. I work daily on keeping my headspace nurtured and organized, funny as that sounds. And the rest? Details that barely make it into my consciousness.

The take away from all this? Understand where you sacred spaces are located. Maybe, like me, your desk is the most important place. Perhaps it’s your entire house. Whatever your sacred space is, keep it warm, inviting and absolutely peaceful. And then let go of the guilt of trying to make the rest fit to what you think social norms require. A little mess isn’t going to hurt anyone.


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  1. I agree! There are certain areas in my house I am happy to let slide, and some that just have to be neat and tidy, though even then, not all the time. Too much mess gets me down, and I am having a gradual but I hope reasonably thorough declutter at the moment, but honestly, if I tried to keep every area of my house clean, tidy and neat all the time, I’d have a nervous collapse. X

  2. Oh my, I can so relate. Most of my home looks pretty “zen” (Maria Kondo would approve.) until you get to my study. The desk, like yours, looks pretty organized (except for my SoulCollage® pile) but if you look at the floor there is a pile for every area of my multi-faceted life: finance, food, SoulCollage®, travel, medical, TBD (or filed). It’s crazy AND it’s my little sanctuary. Thanks for sharing yours.
    P.S. Tell me about the multiple monitors!

  3. YES YES YES! The title pulled me right in. I am a reformed neatnik and I have read Marie Kondo’s book and even practiced some of her stuff. But in a limited way. I agree with you – if you get caught up in trying to manage EVERYTHING well, you don’t get to the “good stuff”, the meaningful stuff, the stuff that makes your heart sing…which is action (writing, moving, singing, or whatever) not maintenance (tidying up). And, in spite of your self-acclaimed resistance to neatness, I think you hit upon Kondo’s underlying theme, which is to really love the stuff you love: “I do spend time and energy nurturing and organizing the spaces where I truly live”. Now, back to my slightly messy, but oh-so-nuturing desk where the magic happens 🙂

  4. “As anyone who knows me, I’m not a big believer in neatness” I love the juxtaposition you set up in this piece with yourself and your family. And yet…you tend what matters to you, “I do spend time and energy nurturing and organizing the spaces where I truly live.” You even mention that you don’t even see the other stuff. Maybe that IS a superpower!

    Love the ability to let go of the guilt. I like my life well tended, but I am easily distracted, so mess follows me. 🙂 I let myself enjoy distraction until I cannot bear the mess…then I tidy up. You are offering me another vote for myself: keep the spaces I love MOST tended. Yes.

  5. Oh, Laura, I think you and I would make a good Felix and Oscar couple. My best friend is like you, and when I lived with her for a while after college, I swear I followed her around with a sponge. I swallowed Mari Kondo WHOLE and still live minimally, whereas my best friend was happy to do as you do and take some of it in, but leave the rest. Here’s the surprise: I am envious of your and her ability to tend the sanctuary corners and tune out the rest, because the rest — the mess — is where creativity happens! I confess I’m a little afraid of mess, and it is a fear that holds me back as a writer. Thanks for sharing!

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