We got a new couch recently. It was quite the undertaking and required a lot of rearranging of furniture to make it fit. Yesterday, that rearranging hit me like a ton of bricks. The house was a disaster. Cushions and pillows everywhere, dishes were piling up, the kitchen and bedroom temporary havens for the displaced odds and ends created by the new living room regime. My workspace was even affected as we moved our old couch down there. I found myself feeling very anxious and overwhelmed.
Typing that feels silly, but I’ve learned a lot about myself in the last couple of years. I’ve learned that I like my life to be neat and ordered. It’s nowhere near a compulsive level (looking at you Grams), but it’s still there. When my living or workspace get out of control and messy, I start to feel tight-chested, anxious, almost claustrophobic.
I’ve found myself saying that I feel like my ‘life is out of control’ when everything is a mess. This is coming from the guy who can hear an aunt stabbed her husband and not bat an eyelash; not feel anything beyond mild amusement (he’s fine, don’t worry). I feel like my life is spiraling… because there are dishes in the sink? I hear you asking it because I hear it in my own head.
There are two primary reasons that I’ve identified that contribute to this mental strain.
I’m not a control freak. Reading back through this blog, you wouldn’t necessarily think that to be the case, but I promise I’m not! That being said, I feel the need to exert control and maintain order in my own small sphere of influence. Those that often struggle with control issues aim to exert that control externally (for a variety of reasons), while my aim is an internal control. This can be just as detrimental as it means I’m much, much less likely to ask for help.
By keeping my living and working spaces clean and orderly, I am exerting a form of control over my environment. By putting things in their proper place, or creating a proper place, I am freeing up my mind. The easiest way I can explain this point is in regards to writing. Had I made any attempt to write yesterday it would have ended in failure (and would have put me in a worse mental place). Once everything is ordered and organized, the floor is clear, the blankets are folded, the dishes are put away my mind begins to relax. Then I can write, or I can do something else that I enjoy.
It’s hard for me to do anything I ‘enjoy’ when there are tasks that need to be completed. I’m more likely to roll out of bed on my day off and clean the bathrooms, do the dishes, mow the lawn, run to the store, and vacuum the house before 10 AM than I am to head to the couch and watch a show or play a game first thing in the morning. I set those realistic goals, check those boxes, then I can relax and do the things I want to do. This even carries over into how I play video games.
Sounds healthy, right? It can be, but what happens when you take it too far? When I was in school this would lead to me knocking out three month’s worth of homework in a week because I couldn’t stand the thought of it looming undone.
Living in the Moment
A friend and I recently spent some time talking through the Enneagram and our time-orientations. I am fairly versed in the Enneagram at this point, but the concept of the time-orientation wasn’t one I’d really explored. My type (2) tends to be more present-oriented. That means exactly what you’d think it means – I’m much more likely to be thinking and living in this very moment than in the past or pondering the future.
This is shockingly apparent in my marriage. My wife is future-oriented. That means she’s thinking about what’s going to be happening in two months, two years, two decades. How do our decisions now impact our lives this time next year?
That kind of forward-thinking is important, but it’s also anathema to me. Just about the only thing, I think about with a future-oriented mindset is my yard.
As I’m here and now in my mindset, I want the here and now to be comfortable and organized, neat and orderly. I want to experience and enjoy the now. I want my chores done so I can simply be.
I find this thought process interesting because there are generally three types of people – past, present, and future-oriented. You hear people say we need to ‘stop and smell the roses,’ to ‘live in the moment’. Those people are me, the present-oriented individuals. It’s often easier to say a thing than to do a thing, especially when that’s your natural inclination. Maybe us present-oriented people need to be told to stop and plant the seeds so we can smell the roses next season, or remember what it was like when we were able to smell them in the past. A topic for another day perhaps, but I hope you see my point.
My biggest struggle in all of this, if it wasn’t apparent, is getting help. I will always try and shoulder the majority of the burden, take on more than is healthy so that others won’t have to deal with it. I feel it’s my responsibility to clean, to organize and set everything in order. It’s my mental hangup, so I should bear the burden… right? This can lead to resentment and the feeling of being used or unsupported down the road if left unchecked. That’s why I need help.
I don’t mean professional help, I mean help doing simple tasks like cleaning. I came upstairs yesterday and my wife had put the entire couch back together, put all the cushions back in their covers and set everything up in a comfortable way. I pushed past the guilt of not having been the one to do it and felt like I could breathe better. It was done, set into order and I didn’t have to be the one to do it.
I remember a year or so ago I was feeling the pressure of all the things I needed to get done in a particular day before I could relax, knowing the list was long. I got home and the lawn was already mowed. I found myself oddly emotional about it. How could something as simple as the lawn being mowed move me to near tears? Read above if the answer is apparent.
I’m thankful for my wife – who is on this journey of understanding how my mind works and helping me keep our lives orderly and neat (even when she does feel like I’m turning into my grandmother or mother). As I’ve said many, many times before – we shouldn’t do this alone.
There is a part of me that wants to be hard on myself for struggling with something so minimal and silly, but a larger part of me understands that this is just my attempt at understanding myself better. As with most things in my life – understanding leads to acceptance, and acceptance to a healthier version of who I am. I know this about myself, therefore I can better navigate it.
I like things clean. So much so that I wrote 1150+ words about it. What a time to be alive.