Some unorganized thoughts on finishing the book, gender norms, and food storage containers.
I'm fascinated by this post and had an immediate response to it which is: in this house, organizing/sorting/cleaning/etc is a DIRECT response to anxiety.
It's intense in my husband, who I can tell is in an anxiety spiral when he starts coming up behind me when I'm cooking and lining up the edge of my cutting board parallel to the kitchen counter. When he starts suddenly noticing all the things that have been sitting around for 4 months and insisting we deal with them right away, I know it's going to be a Clean the House With Stressed-Out Dude Day.
For my youngest, she cleans her room when she's feeling overwhelmed with anything, but it feels less manic than when my husband does it.
For me, I find myself spurred to deep clean/organize only when I'm actually inconvenienced by the mess. For example, my desk right now has a pile of mail on it, but it's not so tall that I can't set a plate of breakfast on top of the pile, so we're still good.
My older daughter falls on the opposite end from my husband, wherein her mess and clutter and chaos actually REFLECTS her anxiety, and the worse she feels, the more chaotic her environment gets.
So fascinating - why do we need order, who needs order and who doesn't, why do we find these things satisfying...if you ever feel like you've plumbed the depths of diet culture, Virginia, maybe Tidy Culture is next?
TW - medical restriction.
Five minutes before I sat down to read this, I spent a solid 45 minutes unloading my groceries into the acrylic containers I bought for this purpose into the fridge. This is something my husband never does.
I have to get my blood pressure down before a surgery in a month and am trying everything possible to do it. I am NOT attempting to lose weight, but I'm trying to reduce sodium, caffeine, etc. For a month. So my surgery is successful. And for that reason only. I am not happy about it.
My thinking was "oh, I'll see all this produce and maybe it'll look more appetizing and not go bad. Maybe I'll remember to eat the asparagus before it spoils, and I can eat that instead of something salty."
But like... once it looked all pretty and decanted into clear plastic bins, I DID start to take a picture of it and send it to a group chat. I realized what I was doing and caught myself. I guess this is a prompt that I may need a coach or therapist to help me restrict certain ingredients for a short period of time without spiraling back down into diet culture. I am so much happier now and don't want to slide back into destructive habits.
(As an aside - my husband is going to do this boring blood pressure diet with me in a show of solidarity, so we can cook together and such. He has not kicked his internalized fatphobia yet and made a comment about "portion control" before I told him to keep that shit to himself if he insists on doing it at all. This might be tough.)
This might be my favorite thing that you have written. When I had a room to myself from ages 10-17, it was pristine. My office at work (which I rarely go to now) is the same way. But I live with 3 other people who do not care about organization at all. My partner cares about cleanliness thank goodness so it's not a matter of doing dishes, sweeping floors, cleaning bathrooms but there is stuff everywhere. Everywhere. I field at least 4-5 inquiries a day about where to find something and it rarely if ever belongs to me or was used by me. It is has been a long road for me of choosing not to make organizing their chaos into my hobby.
I was literally talking to my therapist today about how, when I was dying of anxiety around my lit review last year, I spent more time organizing what I had to do (around writing, around schoolwork) than actually doing it. The organizing feels good. The organizing can be helpful. But it gets to a point where the organizing does not get the task done - I was, figuratively, putting the markers in rainbow order. And when I still couldn't write, I re-organized shit, as if putting the markers in a *different* order would somehow magically make the conditions correct for me to put pen to paper/fingers to keyboard. It did not.
Year 2 of my program just started and I'm staring down the barrel of 7 classes and getting ready to do data collection and then writing, again, and getting myself organized so I can keep on top of deadlines and tasks is super important. But I also spent hours making a spreadsheet to keep track of my readings the other night, instead of doing the actual readings, soooooooooooooo
There's a reason for the "I have edits due, so obviously my whole house is clean" meme among writers, right?
I come from a household that was kept like a museum (my dad still follows us around–including my 4yo and 6mo niblings–with a dust buster and paper towels) so it feels slightly rebellious to be messy and disorganized (both of my siblings are also messy). I consider myself somewhat organized, but I hate cleaning so much. So much.
I love this! As someone who tidies when stressed and who enjoys a good pantry organizing picture, I love the idea of framing it as my hobby. I don’t want to make my work invisible, or make someone else feel bad! I have a low clutter threshold and I live in a townhouse, so it’s easy to feel cluttered. I’ve allocated most of my clutter tolerance level (if that makes sense) to my kid, because I want him to have a house where he can make elaborate lego cities and do art and create obstacle courses for the cat. So everything else has to be pretty tidied.
lol lol lol "As I was putting my children’s markers in rainbow order (I know, I know, THAT WAS THE LINE)"
Ugh-- this is somewhere between looking into a mirror and a kick in the stomach. I too am a writer, and feel the "running up against the brick wall of my talent." I too organize to self-soothe. Recently I had a rough visit with my 81 year old mother who is preparing to move, and when I came home I deep cleaned my refrigerator. Like removing the shelves deep-cleaning. And I definitely see the links to productivity culture. Lots to think about...
I'm an organizer. Urban "small space living" took this to a new level. When we lived in Hong Kong, our 3 BR/2BA flat was about 900 sq ft. We had to clear the dining table to eat meals because there are was no counter as a backup. Ha! Everything had a place and I used shelving/containers to keep everything where it belonged. Even though our place in CA is bigger, that's a hard switch for me to turn off. (And that was 8 years ago.)
And, like others have mentioned, I too start to feel anxious when the clutter gets above a certain threshold. My husband and daughter can both tolerate a lot more clutter than me. lol
I used to pride myself on being organized, but recently (shh, don’t tell my resume) I have struggled with it. My house is by no means in disarray, but it’s not as ship-shape as I want it to be. I’m trying to sit in the discomfort of that and figure out why it’s driving me bonkers! Meanwhile, I’m also wondering if I would be more productive in my work, if I spent a couple of days doing the organizing. Such a great topic, thanks for taking the time to write about it after your revisions!
two different (or are they the same?) reactions to this post:
1. yes. wow. I knew that I was the "anxiety makes me suddenly need to deal with the stuff that's been sitting around for months bc it is an emergency now" person that someone else described below, but I hadn't really thought about how that and the way I lean into organizing is a reaction to my childhood. but it really is. this will require more thought on my part
2. I really want to ask you about one of the containers I see in the pictures bc I thought about buying it the last time I was at a target (we don't have one in my town, which was another whole interesting life transition). I talked myself out of it and also spent ages looking at all of the containers and wondering why I can't seem to get on board with food prep and if something is wrong with me but also knowing that I don't want a salad for lunch and wondering if these containers would work for something with "wet" ingredients. lolsob
since I can't resist the ask--it is about the cylinder containers with the silicone webs outside. are they old enough that you've used them? does sauce/soup leak out? I know this isn't the point but here I am asking anyway. you don't have to answer :)
This speaks to me! Thank you so much for this, in particular: "...I already know our clutter does not spark joy and I have no problem tossing it whenever my kids aren’t looking."
I feel so seen. I'm about to take a big bunch of art (how does a 4 year old produce so much PAPER waste?!) out of the art holding area, which is a high, hidden closet spot where I cram art for a couple of weeks to ensure it isn't precious before tossing it.
Thank you so much for the link to Kate Mangino! I felt that it my bones and ordered her book. ❤️
I really enjoyed reading this article. Thank you for writing it! :)
You post resonated with me greatly! I am also the eldest daughter (and you know a bit about my traumatic childhood), and my one and only daughter splits her time (amicably now thank goodness) between my house and her father's. Both of us relieve our anxiety and feelings of having life be hard and out of our control by cleaning, throwing things away, and organizing. I recently rented us a dumpster, and I'm already looking forward to having the time and money to get another.
In college I took a seminar on Perfectionism, and most of the time it arises as a coping mechanism for feelings of being out of control. No surprise there.
I would love to have a wider variety of sources to get plus side girls clothing for my daughter. I've had some luck with Target, Lands End, and Zulily.
It is definitely a challenge when it comes to others in my daughter's life and their choices of what to feed her. For the most part this has been my ex husband's parents. They chose to give her McDonalds when she was 3, and that was not a choice I would have made (though that's not to say I wouldn't have given her McDonalds at some point, just not so young). They're the epitome of spoiling grandparents. I have so many other things on my plate and to worry about, though, and it would only cause unnecessary strife and conflict to even bring it up. The bottom line is she's eating, and at the end of the day, that's what I most care about.
I’ve been thinking about this for weeks, and I’ve come back to comment because for me it can definitely be about anxiety and control.
I do love the results and the look and the general calm feeling it gives me afterwards. Life is busy and if there’s a place for everything then we can more easily get everyone and their stuff to where they need to be on time!
But then I visited my aging parents enormous house, which is slowly filling up with clutter and dust and insect shit and mould and broken things, and they’re not really doing anything about it, and I can see my future visits descending into frantic maintenance cleaning (which at least let’s me avoid the other looming problems that their ill health and toxic relationship dynamics are compounding). Neither I nor my sisters can really do anything about the big things except wait for the health crisis that will hopefully germinate a step change.
And as soon as I got home I spent a week cleaning out and organizing both kids rooms; the linen cupboard and my desk. Self soothing but also productive in that our spaces are much more functional now.