Most of my life I have been teased by my family about the way I clean and organize. Until last week all I could do is shrug. I know it’s weird and counterproductive in some ways but I couldn’t explain it.
My dad always laughed because I would get sent to my room to clean and I would dump everything out and start from there. If I had books to put away, I’d remove all the other books from the shelves before putting them away. If I had toys, I’d dump out the toybox. I had no explanation – I was a kid.
It wasn’t until last week that I understood why I cleaned that way. It may shock you to realize that it took until I was nearly 40 but as I get older I start to understand myself more. Maybe it’s because I have my son, maybe because I am wiser. Maybe because for the first time in my life, I am listening.
I was looking for something in my art basket. It’s a basket of supplies I keep by my desk for those moments when I am inspired at work. Before you get emotional in any way – my job is to answer phones in a “cave”. My supervisor doesn’t really care what I do so long as I break no laws and answer the phone. Small crafts, reading are often encouraged because it keeps us from going nuts. We even play computer games.
Anyway, I’m getting away from my original story. I was looking for something in my art box. The box had gotten messy. It’s not easy to keep organized unless I make absolute sure that everything is put away “properly”. It’s an art box and sometimes new bits come in and I don’t take the time to find them a home in the box. I don’t mind a little mess.
However, I was having no luck. The more I tried to control that mess, the more frustrated I became. Soon the box was empty and my desk was piled high with art supplies. I took time to collect all the beads at the bottom and then give the whole basket a good wiping out. Looking at this clean basket, I could control the mess. Each piece easily slipped into its place.
Then the “ahh-ha” moment came. There was no way I could deal with the mess in the basket. I couldn’t clean that messy place. I had to start with a clean place so everything had to be removed. I started thinking back and I would guarantee that would be the case for every similar incident. It’s hard for me to organize a messy space but give me a clean space and the task is not only easy but enjoyable.
Speaking of enjoyable, I remember spending time at home alone cleaning was a fun way to spend my time. I still enjoy it. There’s nothing like quiet in the house and scrubbing the bathroom floor (sometimes with a tooth brush). I enjoy housecleaning but I love it best when I am alone in the house. I like listening to music while cleaning.
I will admit I’m a bit of a clutterer. I allow clutter to accumulate but it’s more due to the fact that my stuff doesn’t fit in my space. I think back to times when I allowed there to be an excessive amount of clutter and realize it was a symptom of not having a very good life. I would often be ill or just not want to be in the space. I couldn’t cope with the clutter so instead of cleaning, I avoided.
I don’t let that happen anymore. I try hard not to allow the clutter to grow, unseen because when I have the space – I let it grow in rooms I can close the door and ignore. I allow it to grow in places throughout the house that I just choose to pretend don’t exist – like the dining room table. I can’t control it so I ignore it.
I don’t let it get dirty. Dirt is far worse than clutter. I can’t even look at my carpet right now. I hate carpet to start with but the dining room and living room both have light grey carpet. We’ve lived there for years with the promise of a professional cleaning. I hold out hope that it will happen because I’d really go nuts. I dream of hardwood floors that never trap stains and God knows what. I can’t express to you how much I hate carpet. It’s never clean enough and all those toxins.
I want you to understand that I don’t expect sterile. I enjoy messes. I enjoy making messes but I’d rather start with a very clean space that I can return to that cleanliness. I love making art. I love messy cooking. But I clean as I go if I start with a clean space. If I start with a messy space I just walk away. My poor husband has to clean the kitchen after me because I can’t even go in there after it gets too much. I tell him if it’s clean when I start then it will be clean when I finish because I can clean as I go. He’s coming around to my way of thinking.
Yes, I’m one of those that cleans things that no one thinks of. I remember a couple of friends laughing after overhearing someone in a public space talking about washing their sewing maching. I didn’t know what was funny because I had done that same thing that morning. I didn’t give the washing machine a bath but I had taken several minutes to give it a good wipe down with some lysol-type wipes (I buy whatever brand is on sale – it’s my one non-organic/non-reuseable product that I can’t give up).
I wash our scrub brushes and cleaning buckets before they are put away. I believe that doing the dishes involves cleaning the dish drainer first and wiping down every surface around the sink (including the wall). I can’t understand why my husband won’t think of that. I have real issues with my husband being the housewife because he just does not have the same level of clean as I do. I feel bad for him because I know he tries hard but I can’t get passed that one spot he missed.
My spring cleaning must include the tracks for the windows or the house is just not clean. Living in dust country with wet winters equals a lot of mud accumulating in those tracks and it takes me hours to get every molecule of grim out from them. Hours that I don’t mind wasting because I know it will feel better when they are clean. Ironically I don’t often wash the windows – they don’t really get dirty on the inside (outside is three floors up so it’s not all that washable and I don’t do heights).
This post is getting lengthy so I’ll stop there. It’s tough to realize that you are different but learning why you are different is actually more fun. I know that my life has been filled with people not understanding. Maybe these posts will help. I don’t know if I can turn them into a book but maybe someone out there will connect with my story and let it change their life (whether or not they are neuro-typical).