Pig-pen_peanutsI think neatness may skip a generation.  I’m the product of a very clean mother, yet I am the kind of gal who, in my early twenties, “forgot” to clean the litter box.  The cat was so disgusted, she started pooping in the potted plants.  I didn’t notice the droppings until my fiancé (now husband) pointed them out, and yeah, he married me anyway.  He knew what he was getting, and it was not my mother.

My homemaking skills have improved a bit since those days.  I hate to brag, but I am sort of a laundry genius (can you fold a fitted sheet into a tight square?) yet I would still not be described as organized or neat. My cosmetics are scattered around the bathroom, I leave piles of papers around the house, and when am done with the afghan, I generally jettison it on a pile on the floor as I retire for the evening.

My husband is the kind of guy who lined our garage floor with interlocking plastic tiles, and proudly wears a T-shirt that says “I love my garage,” because really, our garage floor is a work of art. The books on the coffee table are put at right angles before he can rest, and if you are looking for the outfit our eldest child wore when she was 8, simply go to the box in the attic marked “Annie, Age 8.”  Get the picture?

I am Oscar to Mike’s Felix, and it works for us. He picks up (or at least points out) my sweatshirts and jackets draped on the kitchen chairs, the garbage that I left in the disposal, the piles that I simply don’t know what to do with.   Mike does all of the organizing and tidying, and I make him laugh and the sex is good.  A fair trade, I think.

But I always wondered how he did it.  So I asked him, is it possible for a person like me — to become more of a person like him?  Not for me, of course (I have him), but for all of you who who live with a loveable Oscar that you would like to change.  Here is what he suggests:

  1. You’ve got to NOTICE the mess. If you don’t see it, you won’t do anything about it.  Commit to looking for things that are out of place.  “Before you leave a room–turn around, and look,” Mike advises.  “Is that the way you want to come back to the room?  Take a minute to fix it. And then shut off the lights as you leave the room.” He can’t help himself.
  2. Multi-task.  When you are on a boring phone conversation at work or watching TV at night, do not pick the polish off your toenails (that is from me, not Mike–he never picks the polish off his toenails.)  Every once in a while, give an “Uh huh” or “I agree” while you are talking, and clean your desk and organize your drawers.  (This explains why Mike does not hear or do anything that I tell him on the phone.)
  3. Know what it means to organize.  You can’t work within your mess.  You’ve got to start from scratch. Dump the drawer.  Empty the shelves. Have the garbage can nearby.  Throw away just about everything.
  4. Have the right tools for organizing.  Rubber bands, Velcro straps, plastic containers of all shapes and sizes.  For those cables, hoses, cords, or just about anything loose, you’ll need lots of plastic zip ties (Mike even has a zip tie for keeping the zip ties neat.)
  5. Invest in a good label maker.  Mike has a Brother, battery operated label maker. You type in what you want, and a label pops out.  Very cool.  Label the drawer with the zip ties, so you know where they are. He actually does this.
  6. When you are finished with something, put it back.   Sounds basic, right?  If you see something out of place, just don’t walk by it (I know, you have to conquer the seeing part first).
  7. Donate or throw stuff out on a regular basis. It’s all about courage.  You won’t miss it once it’s gone.  Attack a closet at a time, save only things that were uber-expensive. Only the Brio and American Girl dolls survived the cleaning out of the toy closet.
  8. Don’t buy expensive storage solutions.  Home Depot has everything from plastic bins to Mike’s beloved zip ties.
  9. Car advice:  always have a towel near your feet in the car, for when people (he means me) spill.  Shake out your car mats once a week.  Observe that there is crap all over the mats and seats, and that there are empty coffee mugs and gum wrappers (with discarded gum) and stale french fries that need to be thrown out.
  10. Clean the litter box.  Daily.

Mike really believes that when things are organized and neat, the world seems calmer.  It’s a zen thing.  He doesn’t get that for messy people, the world is calm within our mess.  What we don’t see doesn’t bother us.

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