If you’ve been around awhile, you know how I struggled for years to learn the habit of making my bed.
Well, first I argued for years that it was a silly, stupid waste of time. Then I wrestled with my habit of griping about it and all the advice out there to try it because it truly makes a different. I gave in, tried to change my ways, and found that simply deciding to change wasn’t the end. It took years of attempting to change my habit before it stuck.
I’ve written before about what finally made the habit of making my bed stick.
But as I was attempting to build that habit of making my bed, I was also trying to improve upon that beginning by actually having a clean bedroom and keeping it tidy.
I never did clean my bedroom as a kid unless I wanted something – I knew the first question mom would ask is “Is your room clean?” A clean bedroom was uncharted territory for me.
So, I did what I usually did: went gangbusters and totally cleaned my bedroom from chaos to neat and clean in a day. “Now,” I thought, “all I have to do is tidy up 5 minutes a day, hang my clothes in the evening instead of dumping them on the floor, and it will stay clean. Simple.”
It didn’t work that way.
When I woke up Monday morning to a clean bedroom – nothing to trip over, a clear expanse of floor, clear and clean surfaces – I actually felt uncomfortable rather than pleased.
Sure, it looked way better. I admitted it was way better. But it was no longer my bedroom. I felt like an intruder in a strange place, rather than at home in my own bedroom.
A clean room made me feel awkward and discombobulated.
It didn’t take long for the room to return to its normal, “comfortable,” disheveled state.
I went through this cycle multiple times before I even recognized my inner trouble with a tidy state. When I then read Switch: How to Change When Change is Hard, I recognized my issue as an identity issue – the same one that was causing the bed-making habit not to stick.
I did not feel at home in a tidy space. That’s an identity problem. I wouldn’t call myself a person whose identity is Messie – I didn’t want to actually own that – but it was true nonetheless. All the evidence I needed was that my identity was threatened in a neat and clean bedroom.
With that recognition, I knew this would be a long-haul change. It was bigger and deeper than just a weekend cleaning spree. That was not all I needed. I needed the cleaning blitz, for sure – many times over – but that was not the only thing.
I needed time to acclimate. Gradual change is easier to grow accustomed to than complete overhaul. So, I selected small sections at a time and focused on keeping them tidy, on recovering them first when messiness overtook me again.
I needed to push back against the discomfort. That discomfort was not a signal that something was wrong, but that I was growing. They were growing pains, to be mostly ignored because the good inner work was happening underneath them.
I needed to notice and enjoy. In order to become a person who lives in and prefers order and cleanliness, I had to actually notice it. After cleaning, I would pause and survey rather than move onto the next thing or simply function on autopilot while living in my head. Every time I stopped in my room, I would notice what was neat and think affectionate thoughts about that area, and I would notice the untidy places (like my closet floor) and add it to my weekend to-do list not with guilt, but with the assumption that I would prefer my shoes in paired, straight, and visible lines.
This is still a work in progress for me. My bedroom is where clothes to sort pile up, where things to deal with accumulate, where I still set things down rather than put things away.
But I have felt the shift. I have started picking things up automatically rather than out of guilt or a feeling of obligation. I feel happy when it’s clean. I love walking through my room in the dark and knowing I won’t trip. It’s nice – when it happens.
So traction is happening, but it’s still slowly gaining, picking up speed and momentum the longer I give it scraps of my attention amidst the other details of life.
Patience, perseverance, and awareness will win the day – eventually.