Were you to divide the world’s population into two categories, messy people and clean people, I probably wouldn’t qualify as anyone’s definition of “neat.” Not that I don’t value cleanliness and order, and not that I leave mountains of filth or mayhem in my wake, either; but I don’t enjoy or feel compelled to always have things “just so” (like some people do; you know the types). And I certainly feel no burning desire to be the one making things that way. It’s just not how I am wired.
Not that I don’t have my limits, either. One particular incident comes to mind from my college days. At the time, I was living with five roommates that, if only by stark contrast, made me look like a Type-A neat freak of the first order. Coming home one evening (the third such consecutive evening, as it happens) to find every single dish and utensil in the entire apartment (still) sullied and festering in (and around) the sink, I decided that enough was enough. I gathered each and every item into a big black trash bag, went out on our second-story balcony, and hurled the whole noxious and breakable mass of it, not gently, onto the frozen front lawn below.
“Not one of those dishes is coming back in here until it’s clean,” I proclaimed. “If anyone’s got a problem with that, I would be more than happy to discuss it outside.”
From that point on, the dishes situation improved. Somewhat.
My wife, I contend not coincidentally (more below), wouldn’t fall on the uber-clean side of the divide referenced above either. She is, arguably (probably) cleaner than I am, as those things go. But then, that’s really not saying much.
The other night she said to me: “You know, you are supposed to be the ‘clean’ one.”
“How’s that?” I asked.
“Well, I’m not the clean one. So you should be.”
“Who says there has to be a ‘clean one’?”
“Well, you can’t both be the ‘messy one.'”
“If there’s no clean one, then everything is always a mess.”
“Well, everything is always a mess. Still, you don’t really want me to be the clean one. Not any more than I want you to be.”
“What do you mean?”
“The compulsion to be clean is not like some passive, volitional trait. It is fundamental. It’s not like I could be exactly me, only also possessing an intense desire to follow around behind every member of our family with a dust-buster and a bottle of Windex. If I was driven to clean, I would be a completely, totally, fundamentally different person.”
It was a humorous exchange, but it made me think. Basically she was saying, in at least semi-seriousness, that she wishes I was exactly as I am, only more clean. Not like personally clean, mind you. My personal cleanliness is impeccable, and like I said above, it’s not like I go around creating disasters. But if I see some clothes on the floor or a book out of place, I certainly don’t break into a cold sweat until everything is just right. I think that’s just who I am. I don’t think I could change it, even if I wanted to. And I don’t think I could be exactly me, with the only difference being I had a burning desire for order and cleanliness in my surroundings.
You know how in movies, with compulsively neat people, you move a vase a couple of inches or wrinkle a bedspread and they proceed to lose their minds until you return it to its proper state. Are there really people like that? I don’t get it. For me, you could throw the vase in the trash, crumple the bedspread in the bathtub. The most likely result is that I wouldn’t even notice anything was different. Ever. Are there other people like me?
Would I prefer to live in perfect cleanliness? Do I enjoy a mess? Here’s the crux of it: if it’s a choice between tidying up for 30 precious free minutes in an otherwise busy and exhausting evening or doing something else, like reading or exercising or…okay, I guess just about anything else, the cleaning up is just not going to happen. Life is too short, and the mess will still be there in the morning. And if not that mess, than another identically daunting one will have taken its place. Trying to keep a house ever tidy with young kids at home is like trying to remove all the sand from the coast of California with a spork: i.e. frustrating and pointless.
Do I (yes, even I) prefer clean? Yes, I think I do, if I’m honest. But at what cost?
What do you think? Is there always a “clean one”? Can a relationship work when one person is really clean and the other is really messy? Is it fundamental, or could I stay essentially myself, only driven to clean? Can a messy one and a clean one live in harmony, or is it better to stay like-minded in this particular area?