Domestic Diversity


I am a messy house expatriate.

My mother, who loves burgeoning stuff, feeds a heightening bedside nest of fliers, letters, and newspapers.  In the garage, boxes dating to the early 1970s crowd to the ceiling. Time travel through receipts, magazines, and greeting cards would be a breeze.

Mom had only one household rule regarding clutter: keep a clear path to your door in case of fire. That was it. I could keep my room in a book-ridden, toy-stacked, plate-layered maelstrom of disarray as long as a firefighter could drag me out through my bedroom door. More than one third grade boy marveled at the delightful chaos of my room.

Surprisingly, I evolved into a neatnik of unbelievable proportions.  I overhauled and organized the house so every pen, pencil, and paperclip had an assigned and official place. Other kids might have thrown parties when their parents went out of town.  I re-painted the bathroom and chipped up the kitchen tiles. Once, I even tore out the faded paneling in our kitchen to replace it with textured drywall. I still remember my parents muted “that’s nice” response, as if they feared praise might encourage me to re-carpet the house while they slept.

Mom bore my frenzies with patience and good cheer. She knew order and uniformity soothed me; perhaps in the same way collecting and stacking soothed her.


Some take the condition of your home to be a metaphor for your inner life. An unruly home symbolizes tangled thinking, or laziness bordering on neglect. The spare and overly organized dwelling suggests a tenant so tightly puckered that they might squeeze the breath out of you if you sat next to them.

These notions emphasize differences between people and do not reflect the important matter. The important matter is not how you keep your house but how you keep your family.  My own messy mother accepted me each time she put the scissors in their special bin.  She encouraged independence through home improvement projects and gave me my own kingdom to alphabetize and straighten.

I, worshiper of straight clean lines and neat labeled boxes, luckily have a similar son. If one day he should metamorphosize into a keeper of things, I hope to teach him to manage his collections with curious bins and spruce labels. Fill life with acceptance and support regardless of where your loved one falls on the spectrum of glorious messes and immaculate houses.


Dear Friends,

Due to serious illness in our family, my ability to respond to comments is diminished. Thank you for reading.