Sunday, November 30, 2008

Losing "Friend Points" for myself

I just came back from the Midwest (barely ahead of the snow, which slowed me down a tad in Indy). Visited my two good friends who always make me feel welcome. It had been two years and I missed them.

These are such cool folks, really unique, self-determining, independent, colorful, and genuine. I met the wife through some online writing groups and have probably been to visit them about a half-dozen times since. They are very busy, even with the husband being retired -- they have a farm and the wife works full-time. Visiting them always gives me a lift, because their home is such a reflection of their personalities. First of all, there are books EVERYWHERE. Plenty of knick-knacks and art on the walls. Always something to look at, think about, talk about.

Being married to Carl for nearly 12 years has turned me into more of a neat/clean freak than I ever imagined possible. I take sparkling toilets, empty kitchen sinks, sorted laundry and invisible dust for granted. I've also become fairly intolerant of clutter, letting it build to a point and then clearing it all out. I sometimes look at my house, especially after I return from a visit with them, and decide that we're really boring people. Our house just doesn't scream out much about our personalities or lifestyle. It's just a house. It doesn't reflect our combined 102 years of life on the planet. You can probably discern something or other if you look long and hard enough, but I'm sure there's nothing memorable about it.

My visits with my friends have brought out these rather conflicting sides of me. I love all their "stuff," but have a problem with the sheer volume of it and the underlying environmental conditions. The place truly is not clean. He smokes inside, which Carl does not, regardless of the weather (bless him!!). Ashtrays are in every room of the house, filled to overflowing. The outside gets tracked in all day long, and there's an unemptied litter box in the bathroom.

Worst of all, things just get piled everywhere. My friend is something of a "mother hen" to some of her other friends, who have fluctuating financial situations. Some of them end up staying over there long-term. Consequently, their belongings stay there, too. My friend complained this weekend that her house has become a dumping ground for things that people bring over and leave -- her way of dealing with it is making it freely available for any other visitor to use (things like Judy's special green tea or Joyce's handmade pillows, etc.).

I really sympathize, except that I am convinced that the "orphan belongings" represent merely a fraction of all the other things that belong to them and never get thrown out, filed or sorted.

I've visited there every year since they moved in. First time, they were in a double-wide while the house was being built, so this is a brand-new house. In the course of five years, the mountains of stuff have just gotten bigger. I'm convinced that if you did an archeological dig on their kitchen table, you'd find old magazines from 2003, and maybe before. The place was "pleasantly eclectic" the first couple of years. Now it's depressingly chaotic.

There are no uncluttered spaces, no unobstructed lines, in the entire house. Nothing gets thrown out, just moved to the side to make room for something new. It's getting so I can't deal with it, even sojourning for 2 or 3 nights.

Someone reading this might think "Well, if it bothers you so much, why don't you offer to help them clean it?"

I have.

On my second visit after they moved into the house, my friend was under the weather, fretting about the new carpet being dirty, etc. I was more than happy to get out the vacuum and go over every inch of carpet they had. I also dusted, dumped the litter box and cleaned the toilet. There wasn't much clutter, so I stacked things a bit more neatly, folded some laundry and swept. I felt good about it and my friend was appreciative. I did the same, to a lesser extent, on the next couple of visits.

But this time? No. I see no point. I worry that my friends are turning into Mr. & Mrs. Collier, and that one day, the mountain of stuff is just going to cave in. The cat climbs up on the kitchen table and lies on top of it all until they yell at him to get down. One day the cat will take a false step...

I feel guilty writing this because a large part of me firmly believes that your behavior towards others is way more important than how nice you keep your house. But it just seems a damn shame on so many other levels -- mental health, physical health, even fiscal health. But these aren't the clueless, incompetent losers you often see on "cure the clutter" shows like Clean Sweep -- which used to inspire me on my previous visits. They are genuinely busy, simply not able to keep up. But I sense an air of resignation now, like "This is how we are, and everyone else will have to accept it."

I know I'll be invited back and am beginning to wonder whether or not to accept...

1 comment:

Kay Dennison said...

I go in spurts depending on what fresh hell has invaded my life and my physical well-being. However, if company is coming, I go into "white tornado" mode. No one should see how I live sometimes.