Workshops  |  Consults  |  Shop  |  Contact
Openness is our greatest human resource.

Happiness is a Messy House

March 30th, 2009

By Rebecca Walker

Growing up, my mother taught me three things about keeping house. The front door and interior entryway must always be well lighted and inviting. The bed should be made no more than thirty minutes after rising. The dishes must be washed or put in the dishwasher immediately after each meal.

By example, she also taught me that clothes and other items should never be strewn about, and one’s personal space was a reflection of one’s mind. It should be orderly, beautiful, and open to being rearranged at all times.

As a young adult, I pressed these essentials into service as a foundation for living, my own coda for domestic harmony. Nothing interfered with my rituals of moving methodically from bed to closet and from desk to sofa straightening, positioning, and stepping back to admire my work.

A few months before I gave birth to my son, now three, I had an inkling that what I considered a simple habit of fastidiousness might be something, well, more. To begin with, my baby shower yielded several items for which I could find no suitable place. I agonized for weeks about a diaper genie, for example, only to conclude with horror that the only place for it was sitting directly outside my front door.
 
A co-sleeper also presented a fundamental challenge to my inherited sensibilities. Because my bedroom was small, the bassinet had to sit flush against my bed, complicating the making of said bed enormously. I was unable to adequately smooth the duvet, essentially giving the effect of an un-made bed all day long, which made my skin crawl every time I entered the room or caught a glimpse of it from the hallway.

As my son grew older, the chaos spread. No matter how many brightly colored baskets or smart wooden block boxes I bought, there seemed no way of keeping his room, or the rest of house, tidy. In between writing articles, granting interviews, and packing to leave home to lecture, I found myself picking up his crayons, cars, and stuffed animals at the first hint he might be done playing with them.

I began to grow frustrated by the state of affairs.

I brought my concerns to a friend, who promptly told me my complaints were nothing new. “You’ve always had a bit of an OCD,” he said breezily. “Don’t you remember your apartment in college? We couldn’t get a piece of pizza without everything being in its proper place.” “It’s who you are,” he said. “As for the impact on your son, perhaps you should see a psychiatrist.”

My partner, whom I felt should be equally concerned with the increasing lack of order and my fear our child would grow up to live a messy, uncouth existence if we didn’t instill my inherited values immediately, shook his head in futility when I raised the subject.

“I have given up talking to you about space,” he said one morning, channeling his inner Freud as I begged his counsel on what I called the “Lego situation.” “Your urge to control the environments in which we live is irrational,” he said in his most professorial tone. “It is either a coping mechanism from childhood that serves you and hampers others, or it is a function of your creativity that serves you and hampers others. Either way, the outcome is the same.”

This gave me pause. Then, as if in a trance, I reordered the towels on the bathroom shelf by color, size and level of sumptuousness.

But my partner had struck a chord. My son, after all, was not a little adult. At three years old, I knew he should be capable of putting his toys away, but certainly not before he finished playing with them. My desire for order could not be good for his creativity either, as the latter depended on experimentation, openness, and, alas, some degree of mess.

When I looked at the roots of compulsion lurking beneath my mother’s directions for proper living, I had a revelation. Somewhere along the way, I had started connecting the orderliness of my home with survival. I truly believed that if my living space were not perfectly tidy, everything—not just my house, but my life—would fall apart.

At my dear Sigmund’s advice, I looked back in time and searched for clues as to why I felt this way. My mother’s family was poor. The shack my mother lived in as a child had no running water, cracks between the floorboards, and tin sheeting for a roof. My father’s family was working class with constant financial struggles.

I imagined what it was like for my grandparents to have so little control over their environments. Their worlds were unforgiving and unstable–sharecroppers like my mother’s parents could be evicted without as much as a week’s notice. They must have grasped at whatever rituals they could—planting prized hydrangeas, keeping clothes and linens sparkling clean and freshly ironed, displaying fresh fruit in simple bowls on the kitchen table--to ease a pervasive feeling of powerlessness.

As I lay on my perfectly made bed, I considered my mother’s rules for keeping house as more than a casual set of directives. They were more of a survival kit, passed from generation to generation. This is the way to stay sane in insane times, parents must have indicated to their children. Your house must be your sanctuary. It must suggest a sparkling future. Room must be made for your ship to come in.

Unlike my grandparents, I don’t have to worry about sudden eviction or the wind howling through cracks in the walls. But the world is no less troubled, and humanity no less precarious now than when my grandparents were alive. The difference, of course, is that I have a great deal more privilege than they did. I have more control over where I live and what I do, when I move, and how.

This raises important questions.

If my “irrational relationship with space” is a living survival kit, an heirloom passed from generation to generation, can I afford to let it go? If the same relationship is an outdated coping mechanism that makes everyone around me crazy, can I afford not to?

I made a commitment to put the happiness of my family first on the day my son burst into tears when I reflexively put his train set away before he finished playing with it. I sat on the floor with him as he cried, looking from his sad, red face to the box of neatly arranged train tracks and back again. I was mortified, and vowed to do better.

It has been a struggle of epic proportion, but today when the floor of my office is littered with wooden blocks, stuffed pigs, and bright yellow school buses, I make an effort to step over them rather than tossing them into a bin. I try to allow anything at all to happen in my son’s room over the course of a day, but things still must be put away at bedtime.

But I also heed the patterns of the past. Every couple of days I move through our house the way my mother did when I was a child. I straighten stacks, reposition pillows, and put fresh flowers on my desk. I bring everything that is out of place, back into alignment. My son watches closely, and I know I am passing on the family tradition.

Yesterday morning he woke up full of energy. “Mommy wake up!” he yelled. “We have to make my bed!” I laughed and pulled him over for a kiss and a tickle. I was elated. My sweet boy wanted to bring order to chaos. He wanted, instinctively, to smooth the ruffled covers before he started the day.

His great-grandparents would be proud.

 


Comments:

Comment #1 by Anonymous on December 9, 2008 - 9:15pm

love it!

Comment #2 by Kathleen Slattery-Moschkau on December 28, 2008 - 11:48pm
Hi Rebecca- I loved the article and mentioned it as part of my blog posting today. Here's the posting: http://www.thekathleenshow.com/About/Blog/tabid/85/EntryId/68/Housekeepi... I hope you are well! Kathleen Slattery-Moschkau
Comment #3 by Stephanie Klein on February 9, 2009 - 10:51pm

Great article!

It takes a lot of courage to re-envision a legacy, especially one as fundamental and experiential as how we relate to our space.

Thanks for sharing your struggles, hope and success!

Stephanie Klein
Professional Organizer & Style Consultant
http://www.sunshinceo.net

Comment #4 by ThyroidSymptoms on May 6, 2011 - 2:33pm

What a great piece of information here.

Comment #5 by NewEra on September 25, 2013 - 2:09am

Happiness is a Messy House | Rebecca Walker

Comment #6 by making love on January 20, 2014 - 1:53pm

I don't even know the way I stopped up here, however I believed this
submit was once great. I do not know who you are however
definitely you are going to a famous blogger should you aren't already.

Cheers!

Comment #7 by Michael Kors Outlet on March 23, 2014 - 6:47pm

I like what you guys are usually up too. This type of clever work and coverage!
Keep up the excellent works guys I've incorporated you guys to blogroll.

[url=http://balkeena.com/page-in-page/salattider/]Michael Kors Outlet[/url]

Comment #8 by facebook on July 9, 2014 - 11:53am

A good development team can help you to avoid typical mistakes and get the most of
[url=https://www.facebook.com/]Facebook[/url] opportunities.
To help you to cope with this situation better, there are a
few explanations why your boyfriend likes to flirt with girls on Facebook.

Yet so many people are either unaware of them or do not fully understand the
ramifications of the content they might share online.

Comment #9 by Bing.Com on October 6, 2014 - 1:35am

I have read so many posts on the topic of the blogger lovers however this article is in fact a good article, keep it up.

My blog post [url=http://bing.com]Bing.Com[/url]

Comment #10 by hurricane shutters port st lucie on October 10, 2014 - 10:53am

This web site definitely has all of the information and facts I wanted about
this subject and didn't know who to ask.

My homepage; [url=https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8r3jqSr8xs8]hurricane shutters port st lucie[/url]

Comment #11 by Emilia on October 11, 2014 - 12:39am

Thanks for sharing your thoughts about Rebecca Walker.

Regards

Comment #12 by Knowledge sharing on October 11, 2014 - 5:56am

Hmm is anyone else having problems with the images on this blog loading?
I'm trying to figure out if its a problem on my eend or if it's the blog.
Anny responses would be greatly appreciated.

My page: [url=https://www.rebelmouse.com/wackyappendix8542/what-exactly-is-company-coachi-756304383.html]Knowledge sharing[/url]

Comment #13 by presents for him on October 12, 2014 - 2:39am

Very good blog! Do you have any suggestions for aspiring writers?
I'm planning to start my own website soon but
I'm a little lost on everything. Would you suggest starting with a free platform like
Wordpress or go for a paid option? There are so many options out there that I'm totally overwhelmed ..
Any suggestions? Appreciate it!

Comment #14 by Lawanna on October 16, 2014 - 1:59pm

If some one wants expert view regarding running a blog after that i recommend
him/her to pay a visit this blog, Keep up
the fastidious work.

My web page :: brave frontier cheats - [url=http://imgur.com/EpoM0NT]Lawanna[/url] -

Comment #15 by sanziana123 on November 28, 2014 - 7:06pm

Comment Text cancan

Comment #16 by sanziana123 on November 28, 2014 - 7:06pm

Comment Text cancan

Comment #17 by online sportfogadás tippek trükkök on April 12, 2018 - 9:34pm

That is really fascinating, You're an overly professional
blogger. I have joined your feed and sit up for in search of more of your excellent post.
Additionally, I have shared your site in my social networks

Comment #18 by ミュゼ 予約 on April 14, 2018 - 11:54am

私のサイトです。きてください

Comment #19 by san antonio bed bug treatment on April 17, 2018 - 3:59pm

Thanks to my father who stated to me on the topic of this weblog,
this webpage is genuinely remarkable.

Comment #20 by joincoin on May 9, 2018 - 6:11am

Hey outstanding website! Does running a blog such as this take a massive amount work?
I have absolutely no expertise in computer programming however I was hoping
to start my own blog in the near future. Anyhow, if you have any recommendations
or techniques for new blog owners please share. I understand this is
off topic however I simply wanted to ask. Appreciate it!

Comment #21 by Aleida on May 16, 2018 - 10:01pm

This is really interesting, You're an overly professional blogger.

I have joined your feed and stay up for in the hunt for more of your excellent post.
Also, I've shared your website in my social networks

Comment #22 by webpage on May 30, 2018 - 1:57pm

Did anyone notice that an officer carried a WWII style rifle on his chest (0:39)????????

Comment #23 by good recovery application on June 2, 2018 - 9:54am

That is very interesting, You're an overly professional
blogger. I've joined your rss feed and stay up for in the hunt for extra
of your magnificent post. Also, I've shared
your site in my social networks

Comment #24 by instagram insights app on June 4, 2018 - 4:13am

Excellent post. I was checking continuously this weblog and
I am impressed! Very helpful information particularly
the remaining phase :) I maintain such information a
lot. I used to be looking for this certain info for a long time.
Thanks and best of luck.

Comment #25 by esponja konjac portugal on June 14, 2018 - 2:10pm

Hi theгe mates, nice paragraph and pleasant urging coommented here,
I am in fact enjoyng by these.

My weЬpage [url=http://www.farmacotiza.com/Inicio/esponjas-konjac-283]esponja konjɑc portuցaⅼ[/url]

Comment #26 by The Tre Ver Psf on June 26, 2018 - 9:19am

What's up, I want to subscribe for this web site to obtain hottest updates, thus where can i do it please help.

Comment #27 by http://www.waterdamagenorthmiami.info on June 29, 2018 - 4:37am

I enjoy, cause I found just what I was having a look for.
You have ended my 4 day long hunt! God Bless you man. Have a nice day.
Bye

Comment #28 by Los Angeles Data Recovery on June 29, 2018 - 9:14am

Fabulous, what a blog it is! This webpage provides useful data to us, keep it up.

Comment #29 by adultfriendfinder on June 29, 2018 - 9:33am

Have you ever thought about publishing an ebook or guest authoring on other websites?
I have a blog based upon on the same ideas you discuss and would love to have you share some stories/information. I
know my audience would appreciate your work. If you're even remotely interested, feel free
to send me an e mail.

Comment #30 by adam4adamn Dating on June 29, 2018 - 9:39am

Aw, this was a really good post. Finding the time and actual effort to produce
a good article… but what can I say… I put things off a whole lot and don't manage to get nearly
anything done.

Comment #31 by www.kuharski-recepti.si on June 29, 2018 - 1:08pm

You can certainly see your enthusiasm in the article you write.
The world hopes for even more passionate writers such as you who are
not afraid to say how they believe. Always follow your heart.

Comment #32 by What is data recovery software? on June 30, 2018 - 2:17am

Hi there, its pleasant post regarding media print, we all be aware of media is a
enormous source of facts.

Comment #33 by aultfriendfinder on June 30, 2018 - 9:27am

This is really attention-grabbing, You're an overly
professional blogger. I have joined your rss feed and look ahead
to in quest of extra of your great post. Additionally, I have shared your web site in my social networks

Comment #34 by Adultfrindfrinder on July 1, 2018 - 3:17pm

Excellent article. I will be experiencing some of these issues as well..

Comment #35 by danasnjenovice.com on July 1, 2018 - 9:54pm

For most recent news you have to pay a quick visit
world wide web and on internet I found this web site as a finest site for latest
updates.

Comment #36 by addultfriendfinder on July 3, 2018 - 3:36am

Hi there all, here every one is sharing these familiarity, thus it's pleasant to read this webpage, and I used to visit this website
everyday.

Comment #37 by adultfrienddinder on July 3, 2018 - 7:49am

I am regular visitor, how are you everybody? This article posted at this web site is actually pleasant.

Comment #38 by data recovery doha on July 3, 2018 - 11:20am

Hello Dear, are you actually visiting this site daily, if so
afterward you will absolutely take pleasant knowledge.

Comment #39 by Usb Drive Storage Capability on July 4, 2018 - 1:22am

Hello it's me, I am also visiting this web site regularly, this web page is actually good and the people
are really sharing pleasant thoughts.

Comment #40 by indoor wall wraps on July 4, 2018 - 12:06pm

An impressive share! I have just forwarded this onto a friend who had been doing a little research on this.
And he in fact bought me breakfast because I discovered it for him...
lol. So let me reword this.... Thank YOU for the meal!!

But yeah, thanx for spending time to discuss this matter here on your website.

Comment #41 by adult friend finder search on July 5, 2018 - 3:51am

Aw, this was an incredibly nice post. Taking a
few minutes and actual effort to make a great article… but what can I say… I hesitate
a whole lot and never manage to get anything done.

Comment #42 by san jose data recovery on July 5, 2018 - 4:56am

It's an awesome article for all the web viewers; they will obtain advantage from
it I am sure.

Comment #43 by aduitfriendfinder on July 5, 2018 - 5:40am

I'm impressed, I have to admit. Rarely do I encounter a blog
that's equally educative and interesting, and without a doubt, you've hit the nail on the head.
The issue is an issue that too few men and women are speaking intelligently about.
Now i'm very happy that I found this in my hunt for something
concerning this.

Comment #44 by femalix secrets on July 8, 2018 - 2:33am

It's going to be ending of mine day, but before finish I am reading
this wonderful piece of writing to improve my know-how.

Comment #45 by adultfriendrfinder on July 10, 2018 - 3:12am

Thanks for finally writing about >Happiness is a Messy House | Rebecca Walker

Comment #46 by adultfrinendfinder.com login on July 11, 2018 - 2:12pm

This article presents clear idea designed for the new people of blogging, that
really how to do running a blog.

Comment #47 by dult match maker on July 13, 2018 - 5:56pm

Wow! At last I got a web site from where I be able to in fact get valuable data concerning
my study and knowledge.

Comment #48 by adultfriendrfinder on July 15, 2018 - 2:06pm

With havin so much content and articles do you ever run into any problems of plagorism or copyright violation? My blog has a lot of unique content I've either authored myself or outsourced but it looks like a lot of it is popping it up all over the web without
my authorization. Do you know any solutions to help prevent
content from being ripped off? I'd definitely appreciate it.

Comment #49 by игровые автоматы адмирал on August 6, 2018 - 11:46pm

Ваш веб ресурс на самом деле подает
материал в очень простой и понятной форме) Раньше мне казалось, что
эта тема так и останется для меня недоступной) Мне казалось, что
она слишком сложная и непонятная!!!

Очень жду следующего вашего обзора:
)

Comment #50 by writeback extension on August 15, 2018 - 4:52pm

I was curious if you ever considered changing
the page layout of your site? Its very well written; I
love what youve got to say. But maybe you could a
little more in the way of content so people could
connect with it better. Youve got an awful lot of text for only having 1 or two pictures.
Maybe you could space it out better?

Post new comment

The content of this field is kept private and will not be shown publicly.
  • Allowed HTML tags: <em> <i> <strong> <b> <u> <del> <s> <blockquote> <ul> <ol> <li> <a>
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.

More information about formatting options