One of my Secrets of Adulthood is: Outer order contributes to inner calm. For many people (including me), in fact, this seems disproportionately true. It's not such a big deal to have a messy coat closet or a crowded desk -- yet I get a surprising rush of happiness and relief when I clear clutter.
I've realized, too, that it's useful not only to get rid of clutter, but also to worry about appearances: to straighten stacks, to turn things right-side up, to make piles look more pleasing. I want to increase orderliness, and also make areas simply look more orderly.
For instance, I sized up my messy piles of t-shirts; I've never had the knack for folding items properly. (I've also never learned to tie my shoes the right way but still use the babyish "bunny ears" method, to my mother's chagrin and my daughters' glee.) Another Secret of Adulthood is It's okay to ask for help, and I knew just whom to ask for a folding tutorial. A friend had worked in children's clothing store during high school, and I'd heard her boast about what a good folder she was.
"Hey," I told her the next time we met, "I need a lesson in folding." I pulled out the white t-shirt I'd brought with me.
"Why?" she laughed. "You actually brought a t-shirt?" She held it up and eyed it critically. "Hmm, this one isn't good for folding, the fabric is too thin. It's not going to hold its shape nicely."
"Well, just show me what to do. I'm no good at it."
She gave me a demonstration. She held up the t-shirt, with the front facing her, then flipped the width of the left sleeve toward the center, then the right sleeve. Next, holding both sides flipped in, she lay the t-shirt down and folded it in half. She was fast.
"Ah," I said, studying these movements with great intensity. "I've been doing it wrong. I fold shirts in half longways, then half again."
"Folding that way, the shirts get a crease down the middle, and don't lay as flat. Practice a bunch of times. It'll get easy."
I practiced, I folded all my t-shirts, and I got a real charge from seeing the tidy, flat piles. There's a surgeon's pleasure that comes from maintaining sheer order, from putting an object back neatly in its precise place.
For the same reason, in the kitchen, instead of keeping measuring cups and spoons loose among the coffee cups, I gathered them in a plastic basket. It's really no easier to find them, and yet the appearance of greater orderliness is satisfying.
How about you? Do you feel calmer when you're in an orderly environment? Or even one that just looks more orderly? What strategies work for you, to keep things looking uncluttered?
I'm working on my Happiness Project, and you could have one, too! Everyone's project will look different, but it's the rare person who can't benefit. Join in -- no need to catch up, just jump in right now.
* I just spent the last while re-reading (fifth time? sixth time?) Flannery O'Connor's essay, Some Aspects of the Grotesque in Southern Fiction. I love O'Connor's work so much I almost can't stand it. My question: why wasn't Flannery O'Connor obsessed with my spiritual master, St. Therese of Lisieux? These are the questions that preoccupy me.