Read enough of the stuff I write, and you’ll learn that I’m a lot of different things. I’m a wife, a mom, a lover of people and a huge fan of hugging, positivity, and tiny houses. But what you might not know from all these one-dimensional facts, is that I’m also a textbook neat freak. Like bonafide.
And so, I thought it might be fun to let you into my head to help you understand what motivates a neat freak to be so freakish. You know, in case you were ever curious.
Now it’s true, I’m the girl who cleans while she cooks so the sink is empty after the chocolate chip cookies hit the oven. I’m the girl whose desk has the little wire organizers with everything neatly separated into their own special compartments, pencils always sharpened and ready to go. Paperclips arranged by color. I’m the girl who blows out the leaves in the garage at least three times a week because leaves all over the floor drive me clinically insane. I’m the girl who has never left the house without making the beds. (Didn’t even do it when my water broke with Riley. Had to toss in a load of laundry, take out the trash, and make the bed before I’d let Dave drive us to the hospital). Only maybe if the house was on fire, God forbid, would I maybe consider letting it go.
Like, I won’t sit down to start writing if the kitchen’s a mess. Just can’t do it. Won’t be able to concentrate if there’s even the tiniest amount of chaos nearby (or anywhere in the house). But once the dishwasher is loaded or the table is cleared or those leftovers are tightly wrapped in tinfoil, I’m one hundred and ten percent ready to roll. In other words, being organized just makes me more productive.
And stuff like ironing is legit one of my favorite leisure activities, no joke. Because, to me, it’s cathartic. You know, making all those wrinkly lines smooth and crisp. And you’ll almost never walk in my house and find stuff just lying on the counter unless I’m cooking or unloading groceries. Oh, and in the twenty-five years I’ve been married, I’ve never thrown a coat on the dining room table and just walked away. Ever. It’s why we have a closet. And hangers.
Take me to a Container Store and let me loose for a day and that’s my Disneyland. All those storage solutions…the label-makers… the clear see-through bins. I love all of it because it all leads to one thing: organization. And that makes me very, very happy. And extremely content.
The thing is, I’m just naturally tidy. Always have been since I can remember. And my mom is the same way. And so was hers. And quite honestly, it’s one of the things I feel blessed that I inherited. Because it’s always given me such a source of comfort to know that, at least in my little world, everything is always where I know I can find it. And everything around me is uncluttered.
I’ve got drawers full of dividers and baskets, an Armageddon’s worth of extra paper goods and toiletries, and nothing over the Use By date in my fridge. And I like it that way. No moldy cheese on my watch.
Starting with lining up all my stuffed animals by height on my bed when I was little and evolving to my now-grown-up bedroom closet being arranged by color, I just always loved the feeling of being organized. It soothed me and made me feel like I was ready for anything. Still feels that way.
Now, I’m well aware of how all this sounds. It sounds like I’m a lunatic. But I’m really not. I’m not down on all fours uncontrollably scrubbing down my bathroom floors three times a day. I’m not obsessed with germs and using up multiple bottles of Clorox spray every week. And I’m not in physical pain when one of the pictures on the wall is askew. I may prefer it straight, but I’m not physically or emotionally impaired by seeing it crooked. I just like stuff neat, that’s all. It’s really that simple.
The funny thing is, someone else’s mess doesn’t affect me. At all. (Unless it’s in my kid’s bedrooms. That’s a tough one to turn off when you’re walking by a pile of chaos seventeen times a day.) But other than that, I’m totally unphased by anyone else’s disaster. Which is weird, I know, but it’s the truth.
And even though you’d think that Dave and the girls would feel stressed or frustrated living with me and my neat ways, they don’t. It’s actually the opposite. My girls have always felt proud that their house was always neat and organized. Because they’ve both spent plenty of time in friend’s houses that weren’t, so it helped them appreciate ours more. And Dave has his office downstairs that I rarely say boo about, unless crap starts to seep out the door, which it rarely does because I’ve rubbed off on him over the years. And everyone has learned to respect the common spots in the house by keeping those places clear of all their crap.
The simple fact is that I just function better when my environment is tidy. I guess for me, the bottom line is that having everything accounted for and in its place has always given me a real sense of security and comfort.
And since I’m being totally honest here, I’ll admit that I feel a definite sense of satisfaction and comfort with an equal number of throw pillows on both sides of the couch. Or when the pictures on the walls are all level with each other. Or when the dishes are all facing the same direction in the dishwasher. It just calms me. You know, the order of it all. But at the same time, our house isn’t the least bit sterile or museum-like. Totally the opposite. Because we’ve only ever had one rule, Trash the house if you want, just put everything back in its place when you’re done. And so far it’s worked.
I mean, keys are on the key hook, coats are in the coat closet, veggies are in the veggie crisper, and everything is almost always where we need it to be when we need it. And that feels good. At least to me. Because there’s a real sense of satisfaction that comes with knowing that my environment is always in check. It lets me relax more deeply and focus more clearly.
But that’s just me. It’s who I am. It’s how I’m happiest and how I function best. So here I am celebrating my neatness. And maybe, just maybe, clarifying what a neat freak is and what we aren’t.
Now I can’t relate with being disorganized anymore than someone who’s messy can relate with me. I don’t know what the genetic code is that separates us, nor do I care. Cause it doesn’t matter. Because as long as we can co-exist without being too judgy of each other, we can live in harmony. Either just a very neat, or a very disorganized harmony. But harmony is harmony.
Lisa Sugarman lives just north of Boston, Massachusetts. Read and discuss all her columns at lisasugarman.com. Or, find them on GrownandFlown.com, Hot Moms Club, LittleThings.com, BeingAMom.life, More Content Now, Wickedlocal.com, and Care.com. She is also the author of LIFE: It Is What It Is and Untying Parent Anxiety: 18 Myths That Have You in Knots—And How to Get Free available at, Barnes & Noble, and at select bookstores everywhere.