Out of the Blue

Bless My Mess

To ease my stress

By Deborah Salomon

I remember, as a child, “putting things” in a corner of my closet. They could be anything: a scratchy sweater; a comic book; last summer’s worn-out sandals. I wasn’t hiding them, exactly. I just wanted them safely out of sight. In a heap, not neatly stacked.

From time to time my mother told me to “throw that stuff out” or at least “straighten it up.” No way.

That pile initiated a long line of “junk” drawers, basement repositories, currently a spare bedroom where all the dishes, towels, lamps, magazines, boots, crutches, quilts and clothes that I couldn’t part with during the last move are stashed.

That “last move” happened 14 years and many dust bunnies ago.

This is neither hoarding nor collecting. It is, perhaps, the seminal clue that indicates failure as a crazy clean/neat freak — not that I aspire to either. Most of the genuine crazy clean/neat freaks I’ve encountered are driven . . . by a chauffeur named Freud. They rarely have pets, fonts of dirt and disorder. I feel badly for them.

This conundrum only matters when the traits travel to the workplace. The desk I occupied in a busy newsroom for 15 years, its drawers and the wall shelves above it, were obliterated by stacks of envelopes, printouts, clippings, press releases, notebooks, cookbooks, etc. — barely leaving room for the antique computer monitor, tower and keyboard. I couldn’t even claim “but I know where everything is” because I didn’t.

Every Friday afternoon I would straighten the piles, dust around them and fill a wastebasket with things I probably, hopefully, wouldn’t need.

When I retired, they brought in a dumpster.

A friend recently emailed me 50 historic photos from the past 100 years. Among the horrific war scenes and aftermaths of earthquakes was a photo of the Wright brothers’ liftoff and the first self-serve supermarket, a Piggly Wiggly in Tennessee. The photo that stopped me cold was Albert Einstein’s desk and shelves, taken on the day he died, in 1955.

They were a mess.

Please don’t think I’m correlating a messy desk with genius. I’m just saying the inability to maintain order is not fatal, cognitively or emotionally, something my mother didn’t understand. Every surface in her house was covered with stuff, neatly stacked and arranged, never messy, dusted frequently.

No wonder I, the rebellious daughter, kept a pile in a dark closet corner.

The other thing that struck me about Einstein’s desk was no electronics, not a telephone or adding machine or typewriter. Just papers, his pipe and tobacco. Numbers covered a blackboard behind the desk, which indicates most of his conclusions were reached manually.

Take a hike, Alexa! Adios, Siri! The cloud? Clear skies today.

Obviously, I’m trying to justify (excuse?) a bad habit. So, every few days I stack the notebooks neatly, dust behind my monitor. But don’t anybody touch my Word archives because every so often I really, really need a story from 2004. Besides, I’ve learned that anything resembling a purge is like feeding a stray cat that reappears same time tomorrow.

I should know, after adopting two strays who showed up at the same time 10 years ago. Wish I’d named one Albert.

Clean is glorious, necessary, fulfilling. Nothing puts joy in my step like pushing a vacuum. I’d rather sniff Mr. Clean than Chanel No. 5. But neat? A slippery slope ending, I fear, at OCD.

In the dark corner of my closet lie a few old sweaters awaiting disposal. Stray kitty found them, made this soft, quiet corner his bed. Which proves that a little mess left undisturbed goes a long way . . . in the right paws.  PS

Deborah Salomon is a writer for PineStraw and The Pilot. She may be reached at debsalomon@nc.rr.com.

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