Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Neatness as the Toughest Habit

I've never been neat. At all. All the way back to 3rd and 4th grade, I can remember that I almost always did every assignment twice because I'd do it once, lose it, and then have to pick it up from scratch before it was due.

Nothing ever really changed. Going away to college didn't fix me, boot camp didn't fix me, moving into my apartment didn't fix me, and (so far) moving into my own home hasn't fixed me.

I'd like to think this is why I've never been a neat freak: some other alternative always seems more interesting than cleaning. I'll pick up the phone to talk to a friend, write e-mails, read news on the Internet, read books, work out, or do just about anything first. It's not that I'm opposed to cleanliness in theory, it's just that it loses out in practice.

It wouldn't really all matter except for two reasons:

(1) It's embarrassing. I was more or less on my own for the past few years thanks to the training and deployment cycle. Now that things have changed (see any and all entries on 'community building') I'm finding it far more likely that there's actually another human being in either my car or home. It'd be nice to not have to do a five-minute spiel everytime this happens about how I keep meaning to get rid of those eight Dunkin Donuts cups on the floorboard but haven't done it yet. Personally, I don't care -- at all -- whether someone else has eight Dunkin Donuts cups in the footwell, or a box of Cup of Noodles that's been there for five months, but the reverse Golden Rule doesn't really work here -- other people do.

(2) And far more practically speaking, it leads to stuff getting lost. Any fan of George Carlin knows how important 'stuff' is in our lives. When you can't find your stuff, you can usually just go out and get more stuff. But that option becomes a lot less palatable when you're on a tight budget. And sometimes the 'stuff' you lose isn't readily replaceable. If it's a work-related item, it can be mighty hard to explain to someone that you just 'lost' it, whereas a lost sock can easily be replaced without anyone else being any the wiser.

Bottom line: Hearkening back to my entry about not making excuses about how things will magically fix themselves sometime in the future, I need to start with neatness.

It's going to be hard to break the old habit but the solution will come from: (1) being a lot more conscientious about where 'stuff' ought to go when it gets put down, and (2) reprioritizing cleaning vis-a-vis other potential ways to spend time.

Besides the better appearance/impression that ought to result, I'm hoping to gain back some of the time I spend cleaning when I suddenly don't have to stop in my tracks and upend everything in sight because I can't find my 'stuff.'


Shannon said...

Hi Greg!
Lol, Its good to know I'm not the only one. I found that doing a few simple chores at the end of each day saves me from having to dedicate a whole day of doing nothing but house cleaning at the end of the week. Otherwise It feels like I have to ground myself and I hate that.
I really only have 3 things that I try to stick to every day.

1. Doing the dishes from that day.
2. Throwing away garbage.
3. And I try really hard to do all three components of laundry like wash, dry, and put away instead of wash, dry, and throw on the sofa.

Easier said than done on most days but its a goal.


Matt said...

Shannon, that is great advice.

I've struggled with the same problem. And I haven't always one, but here's the most important thing:


That seems so simple, but it actually takes a ton of awareness. What I mean is this: messes happen because you are pre-occupied with another thought and aren't really paying attention to where you're putting the stuff that is in your hand/on your desk/on your plate. Maybe it's because you're in a rush, or you have to answer the phone, or whatever, but before I put an object somewhere I try and think to myself: where does this thing actually belong?

Here's an example: after I shower, I almost always leave my towels draped over a chair, draped over my drawers, or on the floor. This creates a mess, and isn't exactly conducive to towel-drying. There was a reason for this: once I'm dry, and dressed, and thinking of the million of other things I need to do when I walk out the door, I FORGET ABOUT THE TOWEL. I only notice it six hours later, when I'm back home and my bedroom is a mess.

So now, I just try and become AWARE of every object in my hand (I actually learned this from Yoga). So now, when it is time to put the towel somewhere, I think about where the towel must go. And then I take the extra two seconds and hang it in the bathroom.

I don't always do this -- awareness of irrelevant things is a struggle -- but I will say that it noticeably improves my mood to come home every day to a clean bedroom.

Awareness, people.

The New Englander said...

Shannon and Matt,

Great posts, and great tips. I am going to try to incorporate elements of each in the quest to be neater. No matter what, there are some things that are going to require dedicated time (i.e. car, bathroom, kitchen) but in general things will generally stay presentable as long as a steady effort is made to keep them that way.

What I liked a lot about both your posts is that they both involved ingrained habits (the consciousness thing or the Shannon Trifecta).

Just like waking up early every day can become an ingrained habit that raises general productivity and helps cure insomnia, I think (well, at least I hope) the habit of neatness can eventually become as ingrained and second-nature as the habit of sloppiness once was.

-the new englander