A Place for Everything

Image of a candle on a countertop overlooking a room.
My beloved breakfast bar view. And a spooky candle because it’s almost Halloween and every cleaning day ends with lighting as many candles as I can find.

And everything in its mind-place. 

Ok, yeah, that’s not how the saying goes. But as I went through a must-clean-everything-day-off today, I got to thinking how organization of our physical space can be an equal organization to our mental space. And while I’ve had this thought before, and I’m pretty sure it’s been a topic of conversation with my therapist even, I’ve never put those thoughts to the proverbial pen. And since it’s already, somehow, been almost a year since I’ve written for this blog, I figured a clean mind was as good a place as any to start. 

Idle hands are the devil’s workshop

If you’re like me, your hands are never still. It doesn’t really matter what I’m doing, I have to have my hands busy. It’s why I knit or cross stitch while watching TV. It’s why video games are so engaging to me–something to watch and do with my hands? Heck yes. If I’m in a meeting, you bet I’m searching for the nearest paperclip, pen, or other random doohickey to tinker with. If I’m driving, my fingers are tapping. You get the picture.

Come to think of it, if my hands are still, I’m likely either sleeping or legitimately upset about something.

Anyway. This is something I’ve always known about myself. A lot of people get it, some find it odd. My boyfriend questions whether I’m actually taking in the TV shows we watch while I fiddle away. It’s a fair skepticism. We know multitasking isn’t an efficient practice because your attention is always split. And to be honest, yes, I most certainly do miss things. But I also suspect I understand what I do pick up on more thoroughly because for me, busy hands equal a more clear brain.

The dilemma

I am a homebody. I don’t have a big group of friends I see regularly. I don’t love going out. My default is getting comfortable at home, cuddling with my cat, and either exploring others’ thoughts through books or documentaries, or sitting with my own (while doing something with my hands, of course). Over the last two months though, I’ve been switched off my default. I’ve gone to concerts, plays, conferences, on double dates, and I’ve driven probably more than over the last year combined. And while it’s been interesting exploring something different and I’ve had great experiences, the to-dos on the calendar have finally all been crossed off, and I’ve found myself utterly exhausted. So I took a personal day today.

As I normally do with time off, I’ve been imagining the 1,000 things I could accomplish with this coveted time to myself. Bake a cake. Start writing a book. Write a blog post. Start a new video game. Do laundry. Organize that shoe closet. Start a new cross stitch project. Play with my cat. Think of all the things I want to get done at work. Sleep in. Pay bills. Respond to old emails. The list goes on. and. on. forever. 

The Deep Clean

My physical space is hugely representative of, and a contributor to, my mental comfort. This is something I’ve actually spent a lot of time thinking about, and talking through in therapy. Because it is a big deal. The size, type, surroundings of our lives can have a big impact on our thoughts and emotions, feelings of safety, ability to process life. Marie Kondo, anyone?

We all have a tendency toward chaos or tidiness. I tend to be more untidy on a daily basis, and then lavish in the “deep clean” sessions. Like today.

Sure, my apartment was untidy after being so busy lately, but not a disaster. I cleaned that sucker anyway.

I started with the kitchen. I recently moved into a new apartment that’s not at all what I pictured I’d enjoy living in, except that I immediately fell in love with the kitchen. It’s new, wide open into the living space, with a huge breakfast bar countertop. I get a ridiculous enjoyment out of keeping that countertop clean and clear. It’s like this big, clean slab I can start every day on, and I just love it. 

The living room was pretty quick, probably because it’s seriously tiny. Dust, arrange, stick things in cubbies. No problem.

Then was the bedroom. I had clothes still packed from a trip weeks ago that I just couldn’t find the strength to deal with that finally found their home. Boom. Laundry, done. Vacuuming, done. Feelin’ great.

Next was the shoe closet. Why was this nagging at me? I don’t really know. It’s literally a closet that gets opened, accepts toe-tossed shoes, and then is plunged back into darkness. But I knew it could be better. Tidier. And you know what? I was right. It’s approximately 20 percent more tidy, and that’s exactly what it needed.

Photo of a black cat lounging in a chair.
She’s so worth the mess.

Then the most challenging–the bathroom. Not because of the humans who exist in this space, but because of one five pound, old lady cat. She has water dishes at the bathroom sink and in the shower. Don’t judge; this is great. She has options, which gets her drinking more, which–especially for an old lady cat–is important. But. She just has to dig at her water dishes, spilling water everywhere and doing what’s probably some sort of water dance of her people alllll up in the spilled mess. To cat lovers out there, you’re probably thinking “omg how cute, she probably leaves tiny little adorable wet bean prints all over!” and yes, you’re right. But the other thing she regularly does immediately after dancing her heart out is visit the litter box. What happens when you mix water and litter? Yep. Little clay-encrusted  beans. So getting out of the litter box requires first shaking those beans like there’s no tomorrow, shooting litter *literally* everywhere. And then leaving little wet clay prints all over the place. Ergo…mess.

But I did it. All clean. All swept. Bean prints mopped away. And it felt SO GOOD. Insanely good. That feeling of tangible, visible accomplishment. And beautiful cleanliness. And I realized that as I was cleaning, I was thinking. Of things to write. Of memories. Of things I want to do when I get back to work. Of things that have been bothering me and how to let them go.

I was also thinking about the feeling of accomplishment. And how easy it is to feel with something like cleaning. Where your hands literally do something. Of how I know I feel most calm when my hands are doing, creating, or solving something. And that gave me another idea.

What if I try to be more intentional about this hands-on process? What could that mean for how I take in and retain information, or get things done?

Something else that’s been on my mind lately that might end up getting its own post some day is that I’m not good/experienced in identifying what I know. In particular, related to sharing with others (e.g., via blogging or teaching mediums). I just know what I know and go from there, never really stopping to think about the process.

But process is important, isn’t it? It gives us comfort and stability. And it can be dangerous to not evaluate every now and then. Because we’re always learning something new, trying something new. And often those new things can contribute to the process in positive ways, or maybe make us realize things that are actually hurting the process that we can easily change.

In a lemony fresh nutshell…

Instead of just writing today off as a great deep-clean day like I normally would (even though it 100 percent was and I will revel in how good that feels), I’m also going to use it as a learning day. I’m going to try to explore what those things I naturally do when I’m intuitively seeking comfort and organization are and how I can be more intentional about using them in other scenarios. 

What this actually looks like, I don’t know. One thought is that I spend a lot of time in my own head. I’m an extreme introvert and strategist, and I like to think around problems or situations in my own brain before I do anything with them. Which can be both a blessing and a curse because, especially when it comes to writing, can mean I “write” a ton that never makes it out of my head because it’s not perfect or well thought through enough. I wonder what would happen if I tried “writing” in a different way. What if I speak those ideas floating around in there into something (even though the thought alone fills me with anxiety) while my hands work on something else? What if I just let the ideas out instead of immediately doing an internal edit? 

I’m not sure where this will take me. But I’m going to try to trust the process.

Right after I finish this day off with a new documentary and some knitting.

2 thoughts on “A Place for Everything

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