Angel, our maid, enters my room. It is dusting day and she is armed with a bag of brushes and absorbent cloths. She does the windows and cupboards before zoning in on her least favourite area – my dressing table. I watch her assess it like a bomb site, wondering where to pick shrapnel from the assortment of books, nearly empty lotion bottles, a pen stand, photo frames, medicine bottles, scattered junk jewellery. She sorts the books into a pile, arranges the rest of the clutter into little squares and sweeps a cloth across the vacant spaces. A blot of dried coconut oil piques her interest and she picks another damp cloth and wipes it vigorously. I wonder, guiltily, when she will give up on this futile process.
I have always been a messy person. I can curl myself without a worry beside a pile of unfolded laundry on the bed with my laptop , collect enough plastic wrappers and receipts to turn my handbag into a recycling bin, destroy my mother’s neatly organized kitchen counter in a matter of minutes to make an omelette. My idea of cleaning is putting things away so they cannot be seen till eventually a cupboard explodes and crushes me with a landslide of crap.
As if being a sloth wasn’t bad enough, I’m also mentally disorganized. I build little messes all about – inside and outside my head. Attempts to turn a new leaf by carrying about a daily planner or using phone calendars have been in vain. I begin with bursts of enthusiasm, using lists and deadlines to create structure, feeling proud of my full potential when I’m not forgetting things or surrounded by empty teacups and tangled wires. But somewhere between a week and a fortnight, my resolve crumbles and I’m back to square one – the pathetic, lonely square where I can never seem to find anything I need in time.
My mother reminds me that I don’t have ‘poruppu’, which loosely translated from Tamil means ‘sense of responsibility’. It is a blanket term for those who are not adult enough and thus cannot be trusted with important tasks. She is sorely disappointed by this, more so because I have inherited the gene from my father – this scatter-brained-ness, crazed tendency to begin too many things at once and finish little, playing hide and seek everyday with keys, mobile phone and wallet. Once after he nearly burnt the house down because he forgot to turn off the gas, he bought a whiteboard and made a checklist to review before anyone of us left home. The whiteboard now sits abandoned in a storage room.
We are both the same – adventurous folk who draw beautiful maps only to lose them.
Several self-declared self-help experts insist on a correlation between success and tidiness. I hate them with the passion of a thousand suns because they are both right and wrong. I resent the notion that my life might be better if I converted the massive human-shaped lump of clothes in my wardrobe into neat stacks of t-shirts, trousers, and kurtas. But I also know that I am reaching a point in my life where this mess is giving me anxiety. It is no more about dust or efficiency; it is a question of sanity. I have lost an inexcusable amount of time, money, and my mind thanks to this debilitating trait. Now, at this juncture in my mid 30s where I’m hopped up on black coffee and creative chaos, where do I begin untangling myself? How do I re-wire so I can find a pen when I need it, open a drawer to discover a miraculous pair of matching socks, and drive a car devoid of biscuit crumbs?
How do I, dare I say it, change?
Most of the resources on de-cluttering, like spotless and ridiculous colour-coded housekeeping Pinterest pages, end up inducing more shame instead of motivating. My problem is a mishmash of laziness, forgetfulness, and hoarding. I know it all – put things away, take small steps, use lists, be focused. I know that cleanliness is next to godliness but continue to joyfully strut the gates of hell.
The real question is, can I change? Can someone, who has been a certain way for thirty-something years, transform? Is it too late for me to make my mother happy and grow so called ‘poruppu’?
Whether I can or not, I think I’ve reached a stage where I need to try. I can’t continue to be a hypocrite who tells her kid to put away stuff so she won’t turn out like her mother. I don’t want to run around looking for tape for a school project on a Sunday night. I am exhausted by the number of half-filled notebooks scribbled with ideas that started out like brilliant shooting stars but remain unfinished.
In the words of Rachel Hoffman, I must unfuck my habitat and bring some calmness to my mind.
Observing my mess-making process helps me conclude that my problem isn’t really the cleaning itself, but maintenance. I love the thrill of seeing a spotless room( I even have a playlist for tidying up btw) but then as the days go by, the surfaces start crowding again; a book, skin toner, little toys and then I think – Ah it’s alright, I’ll sort it out tomorrow. And all the ‘it’ and the ‘tomorrows’ start adding up like a slow avalanche.
I also have a problem with differentiating between stuff and belongings. What does one do with all those cute, quirky, useless items you know you will never use but hope to someday? The broken flycatcher, coloured pebbles, scented candles, tiny bejewelled clutches that can’t even hold a mobile phone? If I had to apply Marie Kondo’s ‘keep only what sparks joy’ philosophy, my home would turn into a flea market. You see, I’m not a thrower. Much like my memories and regrets, I hold onto things, even if I suck at taking care of them.
I wish there were more resources for messy people BY messy people. A democracy of sorts where we don’t have to hear immaculate, judgmental people tell us that our clutter is a reflection of our character or how to use boxes and shrink wrap bags to bring about order. Pfft!
Maybe I will start one and chart my bumbling journey. First, the clearing of the dressing table (should easily cover at least 4 episodes), then move on to the wardrobe(let’s give that a whole season), bathroom shelves (how did I land up with so many hotel toiletries?), the fridge (Ooohh… need to find out if there’s a world record for most moldy bottle of mayonnaise). But I’ll be cool too – show people that some messes can be maddening and inspiring, how it’s okay to disappoint others with a lack of ‘poruppu’, and that eventually, everyone winds up getting sorted. Literally.
And for the grand finale, I shall do the ultimate and climb the Everest of my cluttered existence.
I will clean my handbag.