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“God Bless This Mess”

“The impact on my mood of living in a messy house with five roommates might have been barely manageable when I worked at an office, but we were all doomed once the quarantine began.”

I’ve always been organized. Even before I had kids, I had an aversion to clutter. It’s just hard for me to relax when there’s stuff everywhere.

This, of course, means I married someone who doesn’t mind clutter, doesn’t really care about clutter, and leaves clutter everywhere. Laure has always walked in the door and flung her purse on the couch, where half the contents regularly spill out, then launched one flip flop and the other in wild arcs across the room.

So when we had kids and the clutter multiplied, she typically shrugged it off. “Kids make messes,” she’d say. Meanwhile, I was struggling to adjust. If I wanted to sit on the couch, I had to move toys out of the way. If I wanted to drink my coffee in bed, I had to clear my nightstand of half-empty juice boxes and half-eaten bags of snacks. And when I got in bed at night, I had to clean up crumbies — and unhappily at that.

Now we have three teenagers and a preteen, as well as a pretty long list of neurological diagnoses. The impact on my mood of living in a messy house with five messy roommates might have been barely manageable when I worked at an office, but we were all doomed once the quarantine began.

For months, I grew more and more irritable and unpleasant. Going to the gym seemed to have no impact, nor did the antidepressant I’d been taking for years. Finally, after a couple of weeks of daily outbursts, meltdowns, and panic attacks, it occurred to me I needed help. And I boiled down my menu of options to three:

  1. See my GP about my antidepressant
  2. Go back to the office
  3. Find a therapist/counselor

[Get This Download: Your Free Guide for Controlling Clutter]

I made an appointment with my doctor, and within two days I had an appointment. I told him about my three solutions, and he agreed all were great ideas. Then he wrote a prescription to double the daily dose of my current medication, and we set a 30-day appointment to discuss the outcome.

Then I contacted my company about going back to the office. My current role as a trainer calls for several Zoom/video calls every day, so I couldn’t work in a cubicle without bothering my co-workers who were also at the office. So I took over an empty office and found a lot of joy in decorating it with lamps and record albums.

Finally, I found a counselor who accepted my insurance, and I have had two sessions now. I talk about being a husband and dad, as well as work stresses. We’re meeting weekly, which is more money than I want to spend, but I’m making progress so I’m going to keep this schedule for now.

It’s been three weeks since I put this plan into motion, and the results began almost immediately. The medication has given me a lighter mood, and stressors have less of a physiological effect on me. Being at the office all day means my mind is more focused on work — and not on whether shoes are strewn everywhere or snacks left open and unattended in every room. Plus, when I get home at the end of the day, I don’t seem to mind the house being messy. I’ve been gone all day, and I think, I don’t want to gripe at the kids as soon as I walk in the door.

[Read: Making Peace With Your Clutter]

“You’re much more pleasant to be around,” Laurie told me the other day. “We all felt like we had to walk on eggshells around you, but you’re totally different now.”

Yesterday was football Sunday, and usually we have the TV on all day even if no one is really watching. I was watching a game when I noticed that Laurie or one of the kids came in and sat on the couch next to me, which hadn’t happened in a long time. I realized then that either I had been avoiding them or they had been avoiding me for some time.

It didn’t matter that they were on their phones, nor did I get annoyed when they bombarded me with questions, told me random stories about how they fell asleep in class, or sent me a meme on Instagram. It made me feel good that they wanted to be in the same room with me. And vice versa. So I sat back in my recliner, after moving some shoes out of the way. Then I shoved some debris to one side of the coffee table to make room for my popcorn. I covered myself with one of the 10 blankets strewn all over the room. And I took a deep breath in and out, enjoying my cozy, messy house.

Messy House: Next Steps

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