One of the things that surprises me most about happiness is the degree to which, for most people, outer order contributes to inner calm. More, really, than it should.
In the context of life of a happy life, something like a crowded coat closet or an overflowing in-box seems trivial-and it is trivial-and yet I find that I get a disproportionate charge of energy and good cheer from clearing clutter. An orderly environment makes me feel more in control of my life, and if this is an illusion, it's a helpful illusion.
Even people who thrive on a little chaos tend to have a limit, and enjoy orderliness to some degree.
However, there's a group of people who seem oblivious to clutter. They don't appear to see it at all.
Now, I'm not talking about people who can stand to see dirty dishes scattered around, because they know if they wait, a spouse will collect the dishes (perhaps complaining all the while; see these facts about shared work). Very often, people in a couple or in a group have different levels of tolerance for clutter, and the ones with the least tolerance end up doing the most tidying, and the ones with more tolerance end up doing less. However, in most cases, the messier ones would eventually cave and do some clutter-clearing, too. They want to be in environments that are reasonably orderly (though others might disagree by what is "reasonable").
But what about the people who don't seem to register clutter, ever? A friend told me, "My husband never notices anything. As an experiment, when we got back from a trip, I left a suitcase full of his dirty clothes right in front of the front door, so he'd have to step over it to get in the house. I wanted to see how long he'd put up with it. After a month, I called off the experiment and dealt with the suitcase myself."
If this describes you - I'm curious. Does clutter simply not register, or does it just not bug you? Do you feel there's any value in creating an orderly environment, even if disorder doesn't particularly bother you? Or is it not worth the energy and time? Do you have trouble finding things, or do you know exactly where to find your belongings? Is this a source of conflict with other people, or do they accept this aspect of your nature?
If this describes someone you know - how do you deal with this aspect of their personality? Is it possible to cajole folks like this into being more orderly, or is it impossible, because they simply don't see it? Is this a characteristic that changes as people get older, or not?
Also, I'm not talking about hoarding. Just about mess.
I'm not sure why these questions seem particularly pressing today! And yet I've been thinking about them all afternoon.
Check out Encore.org--"second acts for the greater good." If this subject intrigues you, my friend Marci Alboher wrote a great book, The Encore Career Handbook: How To Make a Living and a Difference in the Second Half of Life.
Are you (or a friend) a "newly"?--newly married, newly divorced, newly moved, newly graduated, newly retired, new parents, new empty-nesters? If so, Happier at Home might have some useful ideas. I've heard from a lot of people in transition who say that it's particularly helpful during that time.