By Donella Meadows
–July 23, 1998–
Well, last Saturday I had one of my neatness explosions.
I spent the morning cleaning the kitchen with a housemate who is even farther out on the tidiness spectrum than I am. We picked up and scrubbed away monuments to unconsciousness that people had been steadfastly ignoring (and working around and tripping over) for days. We had a good time doing it, and we took great satisfaction in the beautiful kitchen that emerged from our labors. Then, when we were done, we wrote a Manifesto.
I suppose that Manifestos like it are periodically posted on refrigerators everywhere, as this one was posted on mine.
* * *
DEAR DENIZENS OF FOUNDATION FARM
It is an unfair imposition on others to leave messes around until you finally feel the moment has arrived to clean them up. We know you INTEND to clean them up, and we know you are BUSY, but EVERYONE in this household is busy. As your mess stands around and around and around:
– it occupies useful dishes or utensils or workspace,
– it looks ugly,
– it becomes an ant attractant, dog temptation or health hazard,
– your housemates, who would like to think well of you, think increasingly less well of you,
– eventually people who are also busy, but who care more about living in pleasant and neat spaces, will take their time to clean up your mess, which is an injustice.
Therefore we would like to make some simple requests that we believe are basic to the happy, healthy functioning of any household that contains more than one person.
1. Please clean up your own mess. Even one dish. Six people, each leaving one dirty dish in the sink, quickly make the sink unusable and unsightly.
2. Please do it right away. It takes the same (or less) time to do it now as it will three hours or three days from now, so get it over with.
3. Please wipe up spills and crumbs on tables and countertops.
4. If the dish rack is full, please use a dishtowel to dry dishes and put them away.
5. The sink top around the dish rack is not a place to put dishes to drain. (It is a breeding place for GERMS!)
6. The wooden shelf above the sink is not a place to put dishes to drain. (The wood will ROT!)
7. Please stack dishes in such a way that they actually have a chance of draining and drying.
8. Please wipe cutting knives and put them right away in the knife rack. If you put them in the silverware drainer, they get dull very fast.
9. Please take out the kitchen scraps when the container gets full. Please don’t cram in one more banana peel and hope someone else will take it out.
10. Please wipe the space under the kitchen scrap container, especially when you spill coffee grounds there.
11. Please put away leftover foods in storage containers, not in dishes, and with label and date.
12. Please wring out sponges or dishcloths and put them in a place where they can dry.
THANKS FOR LISTENING. We feel better already.
* * *
We tried to keep it light. We actually were in a good mood. But you may detect just the slightest undertone of hostility.
Having lived with an amusing variety of people over more than two decades, I have learned that I rank at about the 80th percentile on the personal neatness scale. Roughly two in ten of the folks I have lived with are neater than me, bless their anal compulsive hearts. About seven in ten are messier.
From decades of trying to reform messyniks, I am tempted to conclude that orderliness is genetically determined and unteachable. Furthermore, I could easily believe that messy folk are sensorily deprived, because they do not appear to see or smell messes. So most of the time I manage to be patient with them, poor handicapped things. I do my best to ignore their chaos. Or I quietly clean up, understanding that I’m doing it for myself, not for them.
But there are moments when I’m in a hurry, when someone’s clutter is in the way of something I want to do, when I just can’t stand the disorder. Sweet patience flies out the window; simmering resentment rushes in. I think of self-righteous messies who have tried to convince me that tidiness is an abnormal human characteristic, something to be ashamed of. I think of carefree messies who said, “Get over it. Life is not about picking up. Let’s have fun.” I fume that my life would be a lot of fun, too, if someone always cleaned up after me. I decide never to be suckered again. I write Manifestos and foment revolution.
Well, there it is, the dark resentment deep in the heart of the neatnik. Matched, maybe, by guilt in the heart of the messynik.
Resentment and guilt are not useful emotions. So I can see nothing to do except laugh at the human condition and love each other anyway. It would be nice, if you’re a messynik, to thank a neatnik from time to time. It would be even nicer, of course, to clean up after yourself. Maybe we could all strive for what my Buddhist neighbors call mindfulness, being wide awake to our inner feelings and outer surroundings, proceeding more deliberately, so we neither ignore messes nor get compulsive about them, but just patiently, joyously, create order and beauty in everything we do.
Copyright Sustainability Institute 1998