UNITED STATES—The hell with cleaning, I say. One of the traits of genius is being oblivious to a mess. What can be really phenomenal, though, is periodically going through stuff. Going through stuff is a hedge against panic when assaulted by: where is it? The keys! The remote! The documents!
Something missing really upsets the apple cart in this Petri dish of neuroses, Los Angeles. Going through stuff and knowing where everything is: that’s where it’s at.
True, even if a genius is immune, a mess can be a counterproductive blob. For the subgenius there’s a constant drain of energy and attention, looking for stuff and not being able to find it. Frustrations tally up, nerves get frayed, and things like deadlines get short shrift. A mess out of hand can be a real Godzilla and money out of your pocket. That’s brings me back to my main point: if you know where everything is, it’s not a mess and not a problem.
This was certainly not the case during the holidays when piles of what I’ll charitably call ‘stuff’ in my ancestral home constantly upstaged the moments of togetherness. Some documents needed to keep the taxman at bay could not be found. The family visit became occasion for accounting questions and calls to banks with long wait times. The other big C—cleaning came up an awful lot.
You know the difference between childhood and middle age? Parents nag to children about cleaning, and middle-aged children nag about cleaning to their parents. And it’s worse when the elder parent is handicapped by a packrat’s sentimental inertia toward every little thing.
Look, I am no paragon of tidiness (in fact I may be a genius in that regard) but all during Christmas I had to put on hold the desire to swipe all that stuff off the table and then get a snow shovel to heave it all out. In and of itself, being clean is terribly overrated. The important thing is knowing where stuff is. That’s really it. Theoretically somebody may have the most chaotic collection of debris, a monstrous agglomeration of heaps and piles—and that’s just their work space. Yet they may know to put their fingers on everything with neurosurgical accuracy. That’s what counts for oneself in terms of peace dividends.
Nevertheless, clutter does compound the chances of drawers that smell like old wallpaper and are such a jumble that you never see the bottom and are never able to fully appraise their content. Cabinets where you reach to get a single item, and it all comes tumbling down. That is truly nerve racking.
And this is where we get into the human dimension: if it is someone else’s cabinet or drawer, there’s the hang-up about disturbing it and wanting to leave it exactly as it was—out of kindness, for there is a method in everyone’s madness and we’d like to respect that, too. (Looking on the bright side, the period of grieving for the kin of messy geniuses will be a kind of grown-up Easter egg hunt).
All said and done, I’m a stout advocate of going through stuff, mechanically, indifferently, even playfully. It is an attention to things that will be amply rewarded in thrift and peace of mind.
That’s the value of continually going through things—knowing where everything is. And a side bonus is you often discover things you didn’t know you had. When I’m cleaning, money turns up, sometimes a check and sometimes cash. And ruffling through the stuff, you might find out you don’t need another bottle of Crazy Glue because you’ve already got fourteen. Now that’s genius.
Humorist Grady Miller is on a brief vacation from his L.A. memoir. He is the author of “Lighten Up Now: The Grady Diet,” available on Amazon.