Live Well

Quieting Mess

May 11, 2020

My brother-in-law teases me for being a minimalist. He sees the irony in how I’m constantly working at something that’s meant to simplify my life. 

His teasing is fair. I’ve had to wonder myself, why am I constantly simplifying?

The reason surprised me. It probably didn’t surprise my mom. 

I am one messy girl. 

I have two gears:  completely organized or a complete mess. My C and I on the DiSC test are almost equal. And the fun and the discipline have always warred within me. Except when I was a kid. I was full messy fun back then. 

Every few months my mom would march up to my room and make me sit on the bed while she cleaned up room. She’d pull things from piles everywhere. “How did it get this messy, you need to put things away when you take them out, why are MY scissors in here?” I sat on the bed feeling not 1% guilty. I think she was trying to teach me something, but I was delighted as she uncovered toys I’d been missing. I was a messy kid. 

I’m a messy grownup. I don’t mind mess honestly. But I mind being irresponsible. That’s why I’m able to effectively ignore messes in busy seasons. It’s messy because I’m being responsible with other things. But when those other things go away, the mess slaps me in the face and I feel overwhelmed by needing to get everything tidy. Now.

I’ve been trying not to live a yo-yo life though. Bouncing between busy and rest. I’m tired of that rhythm and it’s never quite worked for me. I’m trying to find a way to hold on to the things that matter even when life is going fast. 

The more time I spend at home, the more mess bothers me. It feels so irresponsible. The best way I can describe it is like having a soundtrack on in the background, constantly bidding for my attention. “You need to do this. You need to do that. This is getting out of hand.”

I’ve tried to get away from that soundtrack, but it keeps finding me. Rather than running, I’ve decided to turn down the volume.  

Minimalism for me is about turning down the volume of clutter and mess so that I can tune in to the better soundtrack. My husband’s voice, my daughter’s games. A podcast that teaches me something. Or a conversation with God just to check in.

Now, this is a journey. Because sometimes the quest to minimize actually pulls my attention from these things. In fact, I’m pretty sure Cheyne would laugh at the idea that Kon Mari’ing our house helps me to pay more attention to him. But that’s only because he doesn’t see my inward battle to focus on what he’s saying instead of the dirty dishes. He just sees when I win or lose that battle.

Last year, I read a book on minimalism and had a light bulb moment. I can only have as much mess as stuff I own.

Currently, I have shoes all over my house. I can only have ten pairs of shoes scattered throughout my home because I have ten pairs. If I only had two pairs, it’s automatically less mess. It doesn’t matter if I’m the slobbiest of slobs. I can never have more mess than stuff I own. You clean people, you think to yourself…stop writing a blog post. Just put your shoes in your closet when you take them off. Ah. Something a clean person would say. You see, that type of behavior doesn’t occur to me. When I take my shoes off, I’m focused on something else—and I’m a 1 on the Enneagram, so you know that what I’m focused on matters. Definitely more that putting my shoes away. So what’s a messy girl, up to important things gonna do?

Well, the easiest way to solve this problem is to just own less shoes. I can only have as much mess as stuff I own. That got me thinking. Maybe these minimalism people aren’t crazy. I scoffed at the idea of owning eight forks. But then I realized. I hate doing dishes. Would I hate doing dishes if I at most only had a dishwasher full of them?

I went for it. I packed up all but 8 forks, knives, spoons. 8 plates, 8 cups. I put the rest in my  entertaining cabinet and didn’t mention its existence to Cheyne (the last time I redid our kitchen it semi-traumatized Cheyne so I wasn’t expecting him to be a fan). My minimalism of the kitchen is another story, but I carried that minimalism to my closet, Rylee’s toys, and eventually our whole house. To my surprise—Cheyne didn’t hate it and I’ve ended up loving it. Here’s a few reasons why:

Minimalism makes it convenient to do the right thing and inconvenient to do the wrong thing. 

When you have twenty forks, it’s convenient to grab another one and inconvenient to wash the one you used for breakfast. When you have 8 forks, it’s more convenient to wash it now and inconvenient to have to wash it later. There’s nothing convenient about washing twenty forks at once. Especially when they probably have food crusted on them. It’s fairly convenient to rinse a fork and put it in the dishwasher. Takes about twenty seconds. Plus you get the added bonus that you don’t have to look at dirty forks cluttering your kitchen. 

The jury is still out for me on whether it’s more efficient to wash twenty forks at once or twenty forks one by one throughout a few days. Surely the act of washing is more efficient when you do it twenty at a time vs. one at a time. But there’s something to be said about achieving a state of flow in the kitchen—a state where everything is in its place and your mind is free to focus on the task at hand. That’s it own brand of efficiency. 

Minimalism frees my mental space. 

This is my favorite benefit of minimalism. It’s no secret that multitasking is a myth. Supposedly women are supposed to be better at switching focus between different tasks. But I’m truly terrible at it. I have a superhuman ability to focus but the cost is my inability to switch focus easily. So that makes cooking a meal while hanging with a little girl a challenge. Add to that trying to pay attention to my husband telling me about his day and the realization that no forks are clean tips me over the edge. No one gets my best in that moment. But I certainly get my worst. I’m full of self-recriminations on how I should have kept my toys, I mean my kitchen, clean.

My favorite moment is this minimalism journey was the week after I minimized my kitchen. Cheyne said he appreciated the printer and mail being out of there. He said it made it more enjoyable to sit and and enjoy that space. I created a little drawer for Rylee’s toys. But the best moment of all was when my counters were clear, so I sat Rylee on top of them and allowed her to pick the spices for the tacos and help me cook. She sorted peppers and shook the spices and we spent twenty minutes together while I cooked.

Minimalism allows me to give my attention to what matters most. 

Minimalism interrupts my unhealthy rhythms.

We used to let a week go by before we would deep clean the kitchen. Now we can barely let the dishes stack up longer than a day. That’s frustrating at times. Sometimes I wish, I wish, that I had a ninth fork. But every time I’m without a fork, it’s a little alarm bell that makes me ask the question, what is off about your life right now that’s making it hard to take twenty seconds to wash a fork? I don’t need more forks. So many times, that used to be my solution—buy something to solve something. When really what I needed was to redistribute my time. There was nothing wrong with what I had, or didn’t have. There was something off about how I was spending my time. And you know what, I had twenty seconds to process all of that while I washed my fork.

These are some of my favorite benefits of minimalism. I’m currently loving living a life where mess, though present, is quieter.

Photo by Dane Deaner on Unsplash

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