The woman behind the curtain

I am going to tell you something now about myself. Maybe it will help one or two of you, and the rest can either read in horrified fascination or click to someplace prettier. It doesn't make me proud, and I've been hiding it for a long time, or just passing it off as laziness, but I'm beginning to realize it's more than just a casual problem. And that it hurts my life, and I want that to stop.

I'm messy. I always thought it was just laziness, or lack of knowledge of how to organize/clean, or just a symptom of my vertical filing (I put things in piles, and forget I own things if they're put away out of sight). But the older I get, the more difficult it gets, not less. And the more it hurts me, both by wasting so much time and energy looking for things or just navigating around the crap in my house or feeling bad about my apartment, or by making me feel like a failure because I can't seem to maintain a system of keeping things tidy and organized.

But I've been watching a lot of the TV show "Hoarders," and I've realized that a) people who are hoarders have an illness or brain condition, and b) I have that brain condition to a lesser degree. Yes, thankfully, it's definitely to a lesser degree: I'd never keep garbage, and I have no problems throwing things away, and things don't all hold memories for me.

But the basics--an inability to really get on top of system of organizing that works, or to maintain a system of neatness, or to keep on top of all the chores that need to be done--that's me. And it's always been me, for as long as I can remember. It's gotten worse since I had kids, just because I have more stuff to deal with, but it was like this before I had them, too.

I know for sure that it gets worse when I feel bad. The last few years of my marriage were buried under clutter so I could hide in plain sight. But even when I'm feeling good, it's very either/or. Either I can focus all my energy and attention on purging/organizing/cleaning, or I can have a "normal" life that involves works and kids and making meals and having friends, etc. but gives me a messy house.

So I had this epiphany the other day that I'm never going to be cured. There's no grand realization I'm going to have that will switch my brain around. No book I can buy that's going to put the secret inside me. No amount of shame or guilt or self-esteem or pride that will make this go away.

instead, I'm looking at it like a brain disorder, or a chronic illness that I can manage but not cure. I've decided to work on setting up systems to scaffold myself so that I can maintain the best brain health possible *for me* for housekeeping. I've decided to use Lent as the timeframe to make these changes to help scaffold myself. (Lent, for those of you who don't celebrate it, runs from Ash Wednesday--February 17 this year--through Easter, which is April 4 this year, and is a time of reflection and self-discipline in preparation to celebrate the death and resurrection of Jesus.)

These are the things I'm going to do to help myself manage this:

1. Pray about it. If you don't pray, just skip right on to #2. If you do pray, maybe you're like me and you do a good job praying for other people, but not for yourself. I'm trying to pray for myself for this issue. Not with any specific goal ("Make me less messy!"), but just that I can let this process happen, and that whatever's supposed to open up for me will open up.

2. Stop hiding it. You're only as sick as your secrets. If I admit this and can ask for people's help or understanding, I'll be able to get rid of a lot of shame. And even if I never get any better at managing this, losing the shame will make my life way better.

3. Ask for help. A friend who loves organizing asked me if I'd let her help me get my place organized. I was too embarrassed to take her up on it, but I decided to follow my step #2 and ask her to help me. She was delighted, and we're supposed to do it in a few days.

4. Give myself limits. I got brave enough to let a cleaner come and look at my place and make a plan to come clean for me every other week. The magic there isn't that she's going to make everything better. Instead, it means that I'm only going to be allowed to drift for two weeks before I have to make things presentable enough for her to come clean. In two weeks nothing is going to get so bad or so chaotic that I can't push through it. Two weeks is the limit.

5. Document my progress (or lack thereof). I'm going to track some milestones, and I might even take a few pictures.


Comments of horror or self-recognition? I'm about to hit "Save" even though it's scaring me...