November 14th, 2005

Brad @ Burning Man

Bad Habit: "Pardon my messy apartment."

Nine tenths of the times that somebody enters my apartment, the first words out of my mouth are some variation on, "Please don't mind the mess." Except that truthfully, by the standards of most people I know, my apartment is almost never all the way to the level of disorder that most people would call "messy." More than one meal's worth of unwashed dishes in the sink? "Pardon the mess." Stuff thrown onto the couch that I haven't put away yet? "Pardon the mess." Bag of garbage by the front door that I haven't taken out to the dumpster yet? "Pardon the mess." More than one pair of shoes on the floor of the living room, or for that matter anything but (as my parents taught me) feet and the bottoms of furniture on the floor? "Pardon the mess."

And I finally had a moment of self-revelation about a week ago, when it dawned on me that oh God, I hope people aren't thinking that I judge their homes by the standard I just set out for myself. Most of the people I know would kill to be able to get the level of clutter in their homes down to the level that I deem personally unacceptable. Nearly all of the people I know, unless they know they're having a party or some other event with lots of formal "company," have every horizontal surface of their homes, including the entire floor except for some narrow paths between the chairs and leading to the other rooms, covered with shoes, clothes, books, papers, toys, cleaning supplies, projects that are in-progress, things that are being sorted, and whatever else. That's just how they live.

I saw an AP wire story a few weeks ago, and forgot to link to it before it expired, with the headline "US Material Wealth Leads to Clutter." But I don't need anything so recent. George Carlin was already telling the joke, almost 40 years ago, that a house is a pile of stuff with a roof over it. Eventually you run out of places to put your stuff. So you say to yourself, "I need a bigger place to put my stuff!" So you go out and buy a bigger house. Then you look around at all the empty space and say, "Look at all this empty space! I need more stuff!"

I should probably stop saying, "Pardon my mess," altogether, or at least save it for genuine catastrophes. There's probably no way to get it across to everyone who walks through the door that I know that I'm being psycho when I say that, or at least weird. When kukla_tko42 was living with me, we fought over this, because she and I have exactly opposite standards for what even is a messy house. As I just hinted at, I was brought up to believe that everything has a place, and when it's not currently in use, it should be in that place. And the only things whose "place" is on the floor are the bottoms of furniture and the bottoms of feet. And even then, it grates as a reminder of personal failure when the horizontal surfaces that are allowed to have things on them, like shelves, aren't tidy and well organized. On the other hand, I can ignore an awful lot of dust, and even more dirt and dust on the carpets and floors. Kukla, bless her heart, is (or at least was) the exact opposite. To her, the floor was just another flat place on which things can be stored, a large and somewhat convenient work surface on which all of her work-in-progress can be organized. But (probably in no small part because she used the floor that way), any hint of visible dust or dirt really visibly ticked her off.

But yeah, I know that not everybody is a little nearsighted, so the dust and dirt are a lot more visible to the rest of you than they are to me. And I know that most of you can live quite well, and think perfectly clearly, in a space that seems to me to be painfully, insanely, uncomfortably cluttered and disarrayed. So if I have ever said to you, "Pardon my mess," and you went back to your own space and saw how much messier it was, please understand that I would never dream of judging your space by my standards, because I know how quirky and unusual my standards in this area are.