The following is a guest post by my friend Sarah Werthan Buttenwieser, author of Standing in the Shadows, a blog about parenting, politics and more. Sarah knows that I'm kinda organized. She admits she is not (yet). So we both decided to read Pretty Neat: The Buttoned-Up Way to Get Organized and Let Go of Perfection and share our thoughts. Here she shares hers. And today, over on her blog, I'm sharing mine. So when you're done reading here, hop on over to Standing in the Shadows for my post. Let us know your thoughts in the comments.
Take it away, Sarah!
You know the type (you might even be the type): harried working mama (in my case, of four, ages 15 down to three), devoted to community organizing, always willing to help a friend, tries to walk rather than drive and cook rather than rely upon takeaway (for money and environment and health) and exercise and be socially networked and kind of be married, too, beyond the obvious sharing of a bed and childcare duties. Can you guess what my house looks like?
Yeah. It’s really cluttered.
Did I mention that late at night, when I should be preparing lunches or sleeping or stretching on the floor, sometimes I find myself glued—superglue-d—to design blogs, many of them by mothers capable, it seems (really, not kidding) of churning their own butter, knitting their children’s sweaters and completely color coding their lives. Oh, and photographing all this perfection for the rest of us to drool over. Maybe I exaggerate the teeniest, tiniest bit. Maybe I do not.
I am pretty sure the design bloggers I allude to do not lose their children’s socks on a regular basis.
The writers of Pretty Neat: The Buttoned-Up Way to Get Organized and Let Go of Perfection take a more practical approach to this Superwoman conundrum, arguing that perfection is an unreasonable and even undesirable goal. Partners in a consulting company that helps people achieve this theoretically user-friendly “good enough” standard (still, astronomically higher than any level of togetherness I’d imagine successfully reaching), you could argue theirs is a feminist approach to taking charge of your personal chaos. Less a philosophical or political takedown of our cultural obsession with perfection—the blogs I drool over they have named “org porn,” for example—their book offers many strategies to pare down and streamline and features many interviews to help readers see this both isn’t rocket science and isn’t something people magically “master” by osmosis, either.
The good news, for a gal like me, who really does long for a less frenetic existence but isn’t going to make major lifestyle changes in order to have a clean house or not be the last parent to return the camp forms is that Alicia Rockmore and Sarah Welch are not suggesting I try to become someone I’m not. More importantly, they do not put this task of simplification squarely on my shoulders. Instead, they kind of draw their readers in with the bald truth: we’re living in really busy times and we are bombarded with stimulation. Rather than suggesting that unless eschew technology or kids’ afterschool activities or halt our hectic routine, we are doomed to absolute entropy, the authors—professional organizing consultants—instead prevail upon readers to think in terms of simply making small changes (at least to start).
There’s a question about whether being neat enough falls under a feminist vision for one’s life. I mean, sometimes when I’m sorting through small plastic toys—a task I’ve been particularly focused upon on and off these past six months or so, since deciding to reclaim my house as a place I can enjoy—I have wondered how I got here (here being the mom who just wants to clean up over whatever else I might like to do more or that might seem more meaningful).
Living well is the best revenge? That’s the phrase that runs through my mind. I don’t need my house fancy, tricked out or even perfectly neat. I really don’t. Nor must I emulate those design blogging mothers (I loved stumbling upon this article about another nonreligious woman’s obsession with Mormon mom blogs and learning I wasn’t in any way alone in my—seemingly-dissonant-to-the-rest-of-my-life—attraction to them). Yet, now that I am “in it” with four kids and all that entails, I actually do yearn to find stuff and to see the surfaces of counters and tables and have the clothing in the drawers fit the wearers. I want my kids—three boys, one girl, in case you wondered—to be better at taking care of their needs and their stuff than I was when I entered adulthood. A little self-sufficiency goes a long way is what I’m thinking.
As I read the many lists of ideas about how to become pretty neat, I noted—with much more attention than I’d imagined myself to pay—what I was already doing, what worked for me, what hasn’t worked for me, and I really latched onto the idea that little by little, I may just get myself somewhat organized and more or less neat enough. It’s not going to happen overnight—not even by the end of 2011. But I’m making strides.