"You're born messy and you die messy, but someplace in between you get bullied into believing that you should be neat and organized," says writer Jennifer McCartney in her hilarious new book, The Joy of Leaving Your Sh*t All Over the Place (The Countryman Press). Bravely rejecting the KonMari method and other trendy tidy-up plans, McCartney proposes a revolutionary (albeit tongue-in-cheek) system for accepting your own clutter. After reading the book, chatting with the author, and vowing to try the technique, here's what I've learned.
It's Okay to Be The Naturally Messy Person That You Are. Acceptance is the first step.
Having a Moderately Messy Home Makes You a More Interesting Person. McCartney, who keeps "knick-knacks and paddywhacks" galore on her living room shelves (evidence from her living room, above), describes the unnerving feeling of visiting a friend's sparse apartment. "It was all white, with no knick-knacks, and I wondered,'Where's the personality?'" Do you really want to be that person?
Things Are Easier To Find If You Never Put Them Away. Contrary to what the "storage system conspiracists" would have you believe, keeping stuff where you can reach it is incredibly convenient.
The Messier the Desk, the More Creative the Mind. And science supports it! A study by the University of Minnesota found that test subjects who were asked to come up with new uses for ping pong balls thought of more creative ideas when working in a messier room. Note: I'm using the term "desk" loosely here. McCartney works at home from her couch, because her desk, above, is dedicated to more important things, like collected ephemera and stacks of books.
Cleaning Isn't a Fix-All For All of Life's Problems. (No matter what the New York Times says.)
It's Okay To Keep Things That Have Sentimental Value. Like your grandmother's cross-stitch and the macaroni necklace your niece made for you.
De-Cluttering Doesn't Work (for very long). Living in a one-bedroom apartment in Brooklyn, McCartney at one point in time felt compelled to own less stuff. She jumped aboard the decluttering bandwagon, consuming all of the classic literature: "The Joy of Less," Marie Kondo's manifesto, even Good Housekeeping. And the results? "My apartment was clean for a day, but a week later, it was a mess," she says. "There is an equilibrium we have to be okay with."
We Should Be Grateful For Everything We Own. Let's all take a moment to appreciate the fact that we own so much stuff we don't know what to do with all of it.
Less Cleaning = Less Stress. "I wake up in the morning and start work, and I don't have to worry about wiping down the coffee table first," says McCartney. Relaxing your cleaning habits may help you let go of some anxiety, freeing up a bit of mental space.
Digital Clutter Is Unavoidable. You are going to get emails, and push notifications, and text messages. It can't be helped, and it can be overwhelming—but think how remarkable it is to have so much information and so many connections right at your fingertips. Besides, I never trust anyone who doesn't keep multiple browser tabs open, anyway.
Thank you, Jennifer! Check out The Joy of Leaving Your Sh*t All Over the Place: The Art of Being Messy.
Re-edited from a post originally published 6.14.16-NT