Spring cleaning for a secret slob

Organized personal space saves you time and reduces mental strife.

by Jenna H. Beyer

Ah, spring. Flowers bloom while we take midterms, mourn the passing of spring break and strip down to our T-shirts. As the weather improves, the calendar is suddenly full of events and life is busy again. To make the most of our time, the clutter that accumulated in our personal spaces all winter long begs for a cleaning. As a student, âÄúpersonal spaceâÄù is an almost taboo concept. Space is always scarce and rarely personal. But whether itâÄôs half a desk in a shared bedroom or an entire room we call our own, we depend on this space to be clear and ready when itâÄôs time to get down to business. As we all know, these spaces are easily cluttered. A due date or project deadline approaches and, if youâÄôre anything like me, proper precautions âÄî and papers âÄî are thrown to the wind in pursuit of the weekâÄôs prevailing priority. Everything else is tossed onto a back burner âÄî or onto an adjoining table or record player or the floor âÄî until itâÄôs done. Before we know it, thereâÄôs a new mess of drafts, syllabi and homework to sift through to find necessary documents. Again, if youâÄôre like me, by the time midterms are over, the location of any piece of information is anybodyâÄôs guess. To be humbly honest, most people I observe on campus seem to have little difficulty keeping pieces of paper related to a subject uncrumpled and organized in a folder, and I imagine their bedrooms are similarly tidy âÄî books neatly in a row, surfaces clear, clothes hung and folded in a closet. This is the part where I confess that IâÄôm a slob. I value the simple things in life, which is what makes being a slob hard to admit. But there is a pile of laundry on my floor that has persisted, with occasional interruption, through scores of living situations. Tidiness habits disappear when I get busy, but busyness is the exception, not the rule. I always tell myself IâÄôll get to it when I have the time, but it seems I never do. IâÄôve gotten so used to being disorganized (and not having a dresser) that, horrifyingly, itâÄôs become my way. IâÄôve gotten used to using a headlamp to dig through my dimly lit pile before going out (and so has my best friend Glenn, who finds something useful to do as soon as she sees the headlamp come out). Like a spelunker looking for gold or coal, IâÄôm on a mission for the loot: an outfit. Strangely, I enjoy a good clean and the calm satisfaction that follows; the soft smell of Pine-Sol, glistening floors and debris-free, open surfaces pay off visually. There is a place to sit, enjoy a meal cooked in a well-organized kitchen and have people over at the drop of a hat without offering disclaimers: âÄúDonâÄôt mind the mess. You know, midterms.âÄù But âÄúYou know, summertimeâÄù just doesnâÄôt have the same ring. A few weeks ago, the last frontier of tidiness in my life, also known as my linguistics folder, was finally colonized by disarray. My professor posts handouts regularly that are to be printed out and brought to class, and I take pride in my own ability to keep these handouts neat, tidy and not spilled upon (like a normal human). When I got to class last week, I discovered that they had gotten stuck together by a mysterious substance. I ripped the handouts apart as quietly as possible, trying to hide their hideous new hue from the eyes of my tidy colleagues. It was then I knew it was time to cut the crap. Since my laundry pile was the linchpin of my disarray, I thrifted a dresser. In the wee hours of a recent morning, I dragged the thing, heavy and freshly painted, up the stairs by myself. I tucked little piles of neatly folded clothes into its drawers and stepped back. The feeling was uncanny, a combination of an organizing job well done accompanied by the exorcism of a disheveled demon and a charming lack of embarrassment about my personal space. The truth is that it isnâÄôt worth it to be messy; messiness complicates life. Time wasted hunting for wayward class handouts or scrambling for lost information is better spent elsewhere and is reduced tenfold by the sliver of time it takes to put things where they belong in the moment. And tidiness pays off mentally, too. Organized people and slobs can agree that itâÄôs easier to focus in a space free of clutter and extraneous stimuli. Even more than time, the anxiety associated with disarray wastes energy and brain power. Three hours of study becomes substantially less productive when I have to compile the scattered scraps IâÄôve taken notes on and search old e-mails before being able to actually do anything academic. The undercurrent of anxiety in knowing this tightens the knot in my stomach every time I open my planner and see a new deadline, and it makes me wonder about my post-graduation lifestyle. I donâÄôt want to spelunk for clothes before delivering coffee-stained résumés to prospective employers. Of course, the dresser is done, but my work is not. There are piles of papers to shred, boxes of clothes to sell or donate and flat surfaces to regularly keep clear of debris. Like an addict in rehab, I have to replace my old, harmful habits with new ones: bring the water glass into the kitchen when itâÄôs empty, fold the laundry immediately after washing and put the syllabus back in the folder. I must avoid relapse. So far, my progress in maintaining a regimen of tidiness has been mixed. Little messes threaten to spring up everywhere. But now I have my dresser, a symbol to remind me that I do have the ability to be a clean person. Getting dressed is now an opportunity to act on this truth. My advice to fellow slobs: Spend a couple hours this week tackling that one problem area youâÄôve been avoiding. Your productivity and perspective will thank you. Jenna Beyer welcomes comments at [email protected]