Stop me if this sounds familiar. You have just made a creative breakthrough! You are holed up in a corner or in your room or at a desk scribbling away. You feel like the only thing that could stop your pen or pencil is the ceasing of your heart. And then comes the fateful knock, scream, or grumble. This is followed by your roommate, partner, or parent saying, “Hey! You need to clean or organize (this thing) right now!" Of course, you cite the fact that you’re busy. Also of course, it doesn’t matter. More often than not you’ve been putting off the aforementioned task for some period of time and you have run out of extensions.
Your options at this point: begrudgingly take care of the problem or avoid it longer. The second option will most likely lead to a confrontation. I don’t know about all of you, but this has happened to me more times than I can count. My best piece of advice?
Until you can afford to have someone clean up after you, you must do the things that a normal person does, no matter how smart and talented you (think you) are.
Sometimes as gifted creative people, we tend to get a little bit of a superiority complex. We may believe that our powerful abilities give us excuses to neglect dishes, sweeping, laundry, and certain aspects of personal hygiene (ew, gross :)). Getting organized and keeping clean do not always survive the transition out of college or out of our parents’ homes. Often, many tasks were done for us. Then we get jobs and apartments and friends and much to their dismay we don’t know the first thing about keeping up appearances.
When I moved in with my girlfriend, it felt like an episode straight out of “The Odd Couple." It didn’t take long for her to voice her frustration at my disorganization and apparent laziness. At first I thought, “she should understand, I’m a writer, we’re like this," but that mindset is not the kind of thing to keep any roommate happy. We created some chore schedules, but they often didn’t last long. When we made them, it felt like I was signing a forced confession. A few tidy weeks often gave way to a weekend explosion of bags, clothes, and overflowing trash. Chores just plan frustrated me! I (pompously) knew that I was meant for more than manual labor and I disdained the work. A few days of avoidance and we’d be right back to square one.
If our living arrangement was going to work out, I needed to change my mindset about these tasks. Otherwise, my creative butt would be out on the streets.
But why was I having such trouble maintaining a livable space?
Keeping organized and tidy has never been easy for me. I was brought up in a house of piles. There were at least thirty to forty piles of papers, clothing, or junk at any point during my adolescence. Most of the time, they were isolated to the attic, the garage, and my parents’ bedroom. The piles slowly but surely took over the kitchen, my room, and my brother’s room. The funny thing is I never really noticed the state of my house. To me this was the way people were supposed to live. I brought the mess with me to college and in retrospect, I still feel quite sorry for my first two roommates. It was kind of ridiculous.
If you relate at all to my upbringing perhaps you can now identify where some of your bad habits began. After a few months with my tidier roommate, I realized how many of my poor practices had been learned. I asked a few friends from middle and high school if they recalled the typical condition of my house. The general consensus: It perpetually looked like a bomb had gone off.
If you have a bad habit burrowed so deep within your brain, there is pretty much only one thing you can do. Make changing it your top priority in the world until it gets better or you can reverse it.
You may be thinking to yourself, “but it’s not my top priority, in fact, it’s not important to me at all." Trust me that when it comes to being cleaner and getting organized, it is worth focusing on for some amount of time. You will increase your efficiency. You will have the newfound ability to entertain guests (or future business prospects). Lastly, and most importantly to me, you will make your loved ones happier.
If you insert “Keeping the house/apartment/room clean and getting organized" at the top of your daily to-do list every day, a few things will begin to happen. You’ll start seeing the little piles or objects that you tend to leave around. They used to just blend in to the rest of the room. Now it’s like the fog has been lifted. You’ll find yourself saving time by coming up with new and more efficient ways to get the job done. Shortly after shifting my priorities, Amy and I employed a weekly system that keeps the place ten times as clean as before.
Most importantly, you feel better about being in your living space. The overwhelmed feeling you get when trying to find an item or a place to sit vanishes. I’m not saying you’ll immediately sit down and write the great American short story at your now spotless desk, but you will certainly be more inclined to do so :).
If you are able to move cleanliness and getting organized up in your priority list, it may temporarily give you less time for writing. This is especially frustrating if you’ve been hard pressed to find writing time in the first place. In the long run, however, this priority shift will take away multiple distractions and over time you will have a much clearer head than you did before. Take the hit for a month and it may save you months of productivity later on down the road.
So, put your creative breakthrough on hold. Move organization to the top of your list for thirty days. Reap the benefits of a cleaner apartment or house: a happier roommate, more space to move around in, and perhaps an unencumbered mind ready to tackle that next project full force! As long as it cleans up after itself :).