A question was raised recently about whether or not I was organized as a child. I was a bit stumped. It got me to thinking about the whole topic, and how my concept of it might have changed over the years.
In our house, when I was growing up, my mother had clear zones. The living room was always what some in the South might call "preacher perfect." In other words, theoretically, the only time it was used was when the pastor would come to call. So nothing was out of place, everything always dusted, no dents in the couch cushions. When you opened the front door, whoever was standing on the porch would have a limited view of what appeared to be a well-kept, organized home.
But if you walked through our 70s-era swinging door into the den, complete with paneling and wall-to-wall carpet, you'd have a somewhat different picture. Mom had a chair where she crocheted, read books, made notes about recipes or landscaping ideas, and dog-eared her catalogs (planning for Christmas, naturally), and all of these things would be strewn and mixed about. The family cat had her own pillow, covered in fur. If you went even further into the utility/laundry area, you'd see my mother's latest oil painting project, a sewing machine table stacked high with fabric, and a pile of ironing. There might be a jewelry project in a tray on the kitchen counter, and dishes drying, and a collection of leftover canning lids.
In the garage, my dad and my older brother generally had all sorts of mysterious woodworking and car repair tools spread across a workbench. Because they were using them, of course. At any given time there might be an entire car engine taken apart on the floor, or pieces of wood and sawdust all around the circular saw.
I never stopped to consider whether our house was organized or not - I guess because I could usually find what I needed, and I was comfortable. I took a lot for granted. And although Mom was big on decorating and redecorating, I think she looked at the arrangement of things in the house in a practical way. If things didn't fit in the pantry, it was time to clean it out. If I wasn't playing with my Barbies anymore, they needed to be stored or given away. Dad had his tools out when he was using them, put them in the toolbox or cabinet when he wasn't (and not in a hyper-ordered fashion). I don't think either of them worried about someone seeing their "stuff" out, because why wouldn't they have stuff out? The spotless living room was enough to prove they knew how to welcome someone. They didn't overthink it.
The phrase "we live in our house" jumps into my mind. Having a perfect house at that time was actually an uncomfortable state of being, at least in the circles we ran in. In a perfectly neat home, where do you sit without worrying about messing something up? What if you want to spread out a craft project? A puzzle? What if you want to bake up a batch of something to put in the freezer? How do you wash your hands without messing up a guest towel? I remember dating someone in college and going to visit his parents' home for the first time. Not a thing was out of place, anywhere. The kitchen had absolutely nothing on the countertops - not even a cookie jar or a toaster. We came upon his mother in the guest bathroom, scrubbing an already-spotless sink with a toothbrush. We hadn't told her we were coming over, so apparently, this atmosphere was normal. Perhaps it was comfortable for their family, but I was instantly, distinctly, ill at ease. Why was that? Would I be uncomfortable now, or would I admire it?
Sometimes I wonder about weird things like whether or not hoarding existed in the Middle Ages, or if decision-making was ever an issue for the Vikings. There's a whole study of material culture that someday, in all my spare time, I want to dig into. For now I wonder, looking through today's lens of what "organized" is, how would I assess my childhood home? If my mother were alive to hire me to work with her, what would I do?
Has my perception of organization changed over time, maybe because of social media, or books or TV shows? I know I often point out to clients that there is a clear difference between neatness, aesthetics, and organization. They can work together, but I don't believe they are all the same thing. You can have a spectacular, Instagram-worthy pantry, but that doesn't mean it's functional. Looking back, yes, I think I had organizing tendencies as a child. But I was also fortunate to grow up in an atmosphere falling in the "Goldilocks Zone" of organization - not too much, not too little. Maybe I stumbled a bit on the original question because I judged my childhood self with 2019 organizing standards*.
What was the organization like when you were young? Is your definition of it any different now than it was 5, 10, or more years ago?
*Many thanks to Janet Barclay for asking the question!
Sara Skillen - Certified Professional Organizer®, Certified Organizer Coach®, wife, mom, dog-lover, author. Learning to trust my intuition more every day. Shall we work together?