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The Impossibility of Cleanliness

The Impossibility of Cleanliness

Erik Deckers
Laughing Stalk syndicate
Copyright 2010

Erik is out of the office this week, so we fired up the Wayback Machine, and are reprinting this column from 1997, with a few changes that 13 years of experience will reveal.

As I get older, I'm more concerned with cleanliness and neatness. (Not the rest of the house, mind you. That's still a free-for-all.)

No, I don't mean personal hygiene. My personal hygiene habits are beyond reproach, no matter what you may have heard about me or my feet. I mean, I'm more concerned with how neat and tidy my office is.

I'll admit this isn't major news, but if you saw my room when I was a boy, you'd realize what an earth-shattering change this is. You'd also know most guys feel silly saying the word "tidy," so you'll realize the sacrifice I'm making.

When I was a kid, I was a major, Class-A Number One slob. I thought neatness was for prudes with nothing better to do. (I have rethought this, and now think slobs lack motivation and self-respect.) My philosophy was "why put things away? I'm just going to need them again."

This is the same logic that many of us (me included) still use when it comes to making the bed each morning. "What's the point?" we ask. "We're just going to sleep in it again 16 hours from now."

It was great, because I could stand in the middle of my room and reach everything I owned. That, and I saved some valuable television time each week because I didn't have to vacuum the carpet.

Best of all, it guaranteed my privacy. I realized it after my mother said "I refuse to set foot in your bedroom as long as it looks like this." I had achieved every teenager's dream: a bedroom all to myself with no fear of anyone barging in uninvited.

But now that I've developed a "fixation," as some people call it, I find that I can't stand even the slightest mess in my office. I have to stop whatever I'm doing, straighten up the thing that's bothering me, and continue with what whatever I'm working on.

Some people, like my wife, in-laws, parents, and complete strangers, laugh at my little eccentricity and call me anal-retentive. I prefer the term "tidy," "extremely neat," or even "slightly compulsive," — OH GOD, THERE'S DUST ON THE COMPUTER! SOMEONE GET THE VACUUM! — but I'm not neurotic about it or anything.

That's not to say that my wife is a slob. Far from it. In fact, she was the one who made me this way, although she denies any responsibility for any of my neuroses, as do my parents (although my therapist said to expect that).

When we first met at college (my wife, not my parents), I was a typical Guy. I never put anything away, and I had two piles of laundry: Not Too Dirty, and Oh $^&*!, Don't Wear That Without Washing It! I never made the bed, never put anything away, and only washed the dishes I was going to use for that particular meal.

However, through a lot of love, support, and threatening to throw away my dirty dishes, she finally helped me to grow into the neat and tidy person I am today.

However, keeping things organized is pretty difficult when you have a two year old running rampant through things. Since we bring our daughter to work, she plays in either my wife's or my office. She has a stash of toys in both places, and will play with them while she is with us.

I am currently trying to teach her to pick up after herself, and we usually play a few rounds of "Hurry And Put The Toys Away Or Daddy Will Go Crazy-Ape Bonkers" before she goes down for her nap, and again before bed time. But most times, she usually runs off, or my wife lectures me about letting her be a kid, and it can slow a 2-year-olds development if you make them keep their rooms spotless, blah blah blah.

My wife says she has gotten used to the mess, and accuses me of being overly compulsive. I happen to know this isn't true, as I found her one time, curled up in her chair, rocking back and forth, mumbling "cleanliness is next to Godliness, cleanliness is next to Godliness" over and over.


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