The Secret of Tidiness Revealed


I have a theory that the world can be divided into three types of people: tidy people, untidy people and hoarders. I’ll leave hoarders out of this discussion since that’s a confounding problem requiring years of psychological counseling. That leaves us with two remaining tribes: the tidy and untidy. Both view each other with great suspicion and confusion.

To the untidy person, the secrets of keeping a neat house seem as exotic a skill as singing popular hits in Esperanto. To the tidy person, untidy people possess a dim level consciousness, perhaps on the level of a mollusk–able to sense that something is wrong but lacking the limbs or neural networking necessary to pick up those piles of mail or dispose of that tangle of obsolete computer cables.

But I think I’ve discovered the secret to tidiness thanks to the loose lips of a member of the tidy tribe (thank you Caroline!). Tidy tribe members will laugh at the obviousness of this, but here it goes. The secret is a daily, perhaps twice daily, ruthless sweep of floors, counters, tables and desks. No random objects shall be allowed to be where they don’t belong.

Tidy tribesters are like ruthless cops, taking the nightstick to messes, slapping handcuffs on piles of old magazines, locking up things where they belong. No Miranda rights. Stuff’s just gotta be put away. The result? Clear surfaces and floors makes for easier cleaning. That’s it.

We’ve seen and tried a lot of housekeeping schedules and schemes. In my humble opinion they are too complicated, hard to stick to and, in the end, doomed to failure. Clearing the deck, on the other hand, is both savage and simple.

Marie Kondo, the reining prophetess of getting rid of stuff, would likely argue that de-cluttering is a necessary first step towards tidiness since it’s hard to clear the deck if there’s no place to stuff the stuff. But some future, hypothetical de-cluttering exercise might also be used as an excuse for inaction by the generally idle members of the untidy tribe. The chicken and egg timing debate between clearing the deck and de-cluttering may be the only real nuance in my tidiness theory. I’ll concede that some measure of sending stuff to the thrift store first may be necessary for the more wayward members of the untidy tribe.

What do you think? Tidy tribesters–are you laughing? Untidy tribesters–are you weeping/making excuses/confused/skeptical? And I haven’t even touched on the issue of a tidy person living with an untidy mate!

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  1. That makes sense in a horrible, horrible way. Now when I get home I’m going to look at the clutter and realize I *can* do something. (This excludes the stuff I’ve KonMaried. It stays tidy, which is amazing!)

    • I’m a very tidy person. Anally tidy.

      But since reading this :

      “If a cluttered desk is a sign of a cluttered mind, of what, then, is an empty desk a sign?”

      ― Albert Einstein

      I’ve gone out of my way to be untidy, just in case people think my mind’s empty.

  2. YES! As a tidy person living with an untidy person piles of ‘stuff’ drive me insane. Shred it, file it, put it away. It takes a few seconds whereas a pile—gets out of control and just makes it paralyzing later.

    • Yes, yes, yes!

      I have patiently explained to my live-on pack rat that it takes me longer to pick up and put away his stuff in order to vacuum than it does to actually vacuum. Ditto for dusting, cleaning up the kitchen, and so on. Every time we have this conversation he looks at me as if it’s the first time he’s heard the news. And you’re absolutely right: he hangs on to things that are rightfully junk until his collection is out of control and he is unable to deal with it, at which point I have to take over and thin the herd. He also thinks it’s quaint that I insist on having all the dishes washed and put away before I go to bed, because I like to start every day fresh.

  3. My place stays tidy because I:

    1. Organized everything until every thing has a place, getting rid of unused stuff ruthlessly.
    2. Never bring home anything until I know where it’s going to live.

    I always try to remember that you don’t just own your stuff: Your stuff also owns you. And empty space is valuable.

  4. “To the tidy person, untidy people possess a dim level consciousness, perhaps on the level of a mollusk–able to sense that something is wrong but lacking the limbs or neural networking necessary to pick up those piles of mail or dispose of that tangle of obsolete computer cables.”

    This tidy-tribe member is slightly chagrined and entirely amused at your unfortunately highly accurate description. I must say, the un-tidy seem to me like people who never quite managed to learn to adult properly. And in terms of stuff, I think Kon-Mari would agree, if it doesn’t have a home, do you really need it?

  5. …and then there is the untidy-but-aspiring-to-be-tidy person with an untidy mate and two kiddos whose horses were long ago let out of the tidyness barn who wishes they’d also hop on board the pixie dominatrix tidying train because #serenityforall 😉

  6. You do seem to be on to something. I would add, tidy people try not to touch the same thing twice. Whether it be a jacket to be hung, or paper to be put away, it goes to it’s destination. My untidy child and spouse, however, can make putting away a jacket a multi-touch process. Living room chair, hallway coat closet handle, and finally on the hooks actually inside the closet. Just put it away and be done already!
    (Do I sound a bit bitter?)

  7. The adult in me has bigger priorities and tasks than being tidy. It’s not as if I spend the day just idly coming up with messes just for the fun of it.

    I do like the idea of clearing the deck more frequently. I currently clear the deck of the entire house every two weeks for my housekeeper and that has been a huge improvement in my quality of life over the last three years. Clearing it more frequently is technically a good idea, we’ll see if it happens.

    #sorrynotsorry #busy #dontreallycare

  8. Confession: I am definitely not in the tidy camp, although, left to my own devices, I’m not terribly untidy either. But you add two children to the situation and FORGETABOUTIT. Maybe I can consider being tidy in like 15 years when they move out …

    • Word. I’d have to follow my kid around incessantly picking up after her to keep my house tidy. I just don’t have time or energy for that. I get frustrated with how much time I spend cleaning my house for it to constantly look filthy- two urban farmers who process and cook from scratch nearly all their own food, a toddler, a dog, and a steady stream of visitors makes for a whole lot of mess. I am trying to do better though- I’m trying to at least set up better systems of organization, so its easier to keep some semblance of tidiness. We’ll see.

    • Kids and cleaning is a complicated topic that I’m not qualified to comment on since we have no kids. I know it’s a source of frustration and would make a great topic for a podcast if I can find the right guest.

  9. Sylvia is on the right track. From the mailbox, head directly to the trash can. Touching things once is key. But living in 535 square feet makes tidy necessary to sanity! Love love love the brilliant description of the untidy!

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  11. I’m very close with my mum. I speak to her a few minutes every day and every day when I call I say, “what’s up, how are you?” And every day she first replies, “I’m just trying to figure out how to get rid of this clutter!” and then we carry on with our conversation.

    Personally, I tend towards meticulously clean and work to loosen up. My mum, however…..the opposite. And through my relationship with her I’ve come to believe we’re socialized to see tidy people as pure and messy folks as inept. Why does my poor mum carry this guilt around all day long? Why does our society send this message that orderly people are somehow superior? Tidiness sometimes seems like an unattainable state that everyone chases and no one achieves- like waistlines. So. Go on, Erik. Hoard away, if you ask me 😉

    • I like this idea–perhaps we untidy folks are more comfortable with ambiguity? Hope you and Heidi have a great 2017. Miss seeing you down here.

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