I live in a town (and there are many of these) where you can go to another woman’s house and she opens the door and apologizes for the mess. The house is perfect. When I apologize for the mess it’s really messy. I’ve had many workmen and other people, as the years have passed, ask “Did you just move in?” Having parties (these have dwindled to zero for unrelated reasons) involved 80% cleaning up and 20% preparing for the party.
I think I’m an extreme case. I’ve always decorated well, which has either offset this problem or made it more tragic, depending how you look at it. That said, over the last year I finally cleaned up my house. Not completely, but mostly and it looks pretty good.
This, consistent with what everyone says, has made me feel better. Gretchen Rubin in her book “The Happiness Project” started out her year of becoming more happy by getting rid of extra stuff. She said that in New York City, a sign of luxury is having one empty closet shelf. A paradoxical abundance. A related helpful saying (not hers) is, “Perfect is the enemy of the good.” My experience has confirmed that extra belongings weigh on you outside your awareness. I may not care enough about what other people think of my house, but I do care how I feel. Having a streamlined house has helped my mood on an ongoing basis. Plus my family is happier too.
Like almost every other accomplishment I’ve realized over the past 15 years, I did this with the help of my assistants, in this case mostly Gillian. I discovered the most important aspect of keeping my home neat was getting rid of a significant proportion of my belongings. It wasn’t enough to keep them organized. I had to have less to manage. So I had to become ruthless, including getting rid of nice things I bought. If it didn’t fit where I could easily see it, it no longer had a home in my house. And getting rid of things got easier in time.
Gillian helped me go through my clothes. She told me what looked good and what didn’t, and in some cases, what looked fine but not like me. She determined what I could sell on The Real Real and sent it off. For donation, we itemized the description and price of each piece for taxes, and Gillian put everything into bags and arranged pick up (in our case by the VA).
My children wanted their rooms redecorated so they looked more grown up. Gillian ordered the furniture, got a chair and ottoman reupholstered, and coordinated delivery. She ran to a hardware store and got every gray paint chip for my older son’s room so we could pick one. She put together the impossible desk we ordered from Overstock.com. She labeled every bag we made so it went to the right place. She packed nice hand-me-downs for my nephew in Boston and mailed them. I just wrote the note.
This is just a fraction of what we did. But I know I couldn’t have done it alone. Gillian’s unfailingly cheerful attitude got me through what I would have otherwise considered an onerous series of chores. She knew when to push me (“throw it out”) and when to let me find my own way. Years ago I used a professional organizer. She whipped me into shape, but I wasn’t able to maintain the systems because they weren’t mine. Getting my house in order with my assistant felt organic and sustainable. And it still does, because we did it together.