While scanning old photos, I came across images of the disorganized living room in our old house. I must apologize again to my son for the clutter in which he grew up because of MY shortcomings. My brain couldn’t, still can’t, deal with MY piles without great frustration. Some view me as lazy, unorganized, uncaring, sloppy. Heard them all.
However, they haven’t seen me sitting on the floor in the middle of the night … praying for clarity … sorting masses into manageable piles … finding clean tissues to wipe my tears of shame.
Have you had those moments when you base the worthiness of your entire existence on one glaring weakness? When you forget all you have accomplished … when all alone, drowning in your failure?
About 25 years ago, I wrote a lighthearted essay:
“You know you’re desperate for organization when you’re 39 and ask Mom to help clean your room. It was all my rooms, at least the ones I dared let her see. The clean gene had been hereditary, but had skipped my generation, a family secret until everything burst out of the closet. Fortunately, I was married by then, and it was too late for my husband to divorce me. I would have lost the paperwork ….”
I was still my orderly parents’ messy child. My anxiety over that shortcoming persisted.
I didn’t know until several years later of an incident involving Dad and my bonus mom who were attending a 2001 convention where I was installed as group leader. Sitting in the hotel bar between activities, my dear friend spoke to them:
“I said, ‘You must be sooooo proud of your daughter.’ He replied, with arms crossed, ‘Well, it sure doesn’t help her keep a clean, organized house, does it?’ Appalled, I wasn’t speechless. This rushed out of my mouth: ‘What does that have anything to do with this business today? Monica’s work and efforts improve the lives of so many people, her life impacts more lives than we will ever know! All over the country people love her for her loving leadership and so much more! Your attitude has not held her back!’ Your bonus mom held her face in her hands. Love that woman!”
When I learned of this, I also discovered that Mom and my aunt had witnessed and relished it. Dad eased up after that. But Mom would have her say in her final 10 months, frustrated with my disorganization when I moved in with her for much of that time. She’d walk into the spare bedroom where I lived out of boxes and occasionally ask if I could be less messy.
I sighed, explaining how I work late on my laptop and need my stuff. My mind had to remain active and engaged with the present and future … as I watched my mother slip into the past.
I didn’t say aloud how I had to move in and out every time because she didn’t want me to leave much of anything. One box of clothes hid under her desk out of sight. I had to tote my heavy special pillow from an old neck injury up and down the stairs with other stuff because I never knew if I’d stay a few days or weeks, depending on her well-being. I had to prepare for anything.
That toting led to hurting my left shoulder and needing physical therapy. She was concerned about my pain and insisted I not carry too much. I know she cared.
But I carried a ton because I had to create my cocoon four hours away from home. That was my comfort, how I fulfilled my needs … my stuff, the awkward rigid pillow that eased my neck pain … and collected the tears I wept.
I do not allow those memories to cloud the unconditional love I had and have for my parents. That was just them. I often use humor to fend off my clutter anxiety with truth: “I can organize a 200 page book in my head but can’t clear the top of my desk.”
My desk isn’t a priority. My brain is. It can come to the rescue of others without a second thought … even when you can’t save yourself.
My parents had to be stunned in heaven when I drove to California in December 2019 to care for my cousin and discover his overflowing house. I had to sort every item to bring him back to the Midwest. I prayed every day for strength, for one person to keep me going. God provided. Dear neighbors who rescued me, a kind face while shopping, a call, text or email at the right moment.
The day I handed the keys to the real estate agent, he told me I had performed a miracle after seeing before and after. I had cleared a path to face the disorganization demons … and since then have helped a number of friends deal with hoarding, clutter and simply too much stuff.
My space? My husband continues to follow me with a broom, garbage can, empty boxes to fill for donations … and the most effective tool of all: love.
Hey, drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org or leave a comment below. I’d love to speak to your group, organization or company about working our way through the pain and challenges of everyday life. You want straight talk? You got me!