Boy, everyone sure has a lot of opinions about messy people, don’t they? A lot of opinions and a notable lack of empathy.
Everyone knows that Rule 1 of the Internet is to never read the comments. Well, I’m the type of person who just blatantly ignores that, no matter how many times it comes back to bite me in the ass, and whenever I see housekeeping in general, and UfYH specifically, being discussed in non-UfYH spaces (I’m mostly looking at you, Reddit and various Gawker properties), a certain type of comment always crops up. Behold, a sampling:
There wouldn’t be a need for websites like this if people just stopped being so lazy and picked up after themselves.
Why are we making excuses for people who are just dirty? Not everything has to be a “condition.”
Or you could grow the filth up and be a decent person instead of a slob.
Ugh, I’m so grossed out by this. How does anyone live in that and not realize something’s wrong?
These comments are generally made by self-professed “neat freaks.” Or people who like to say they’re “so OCD.”* And these “neat freaks” are awfully judgy about messes and the people who make them. They legitimately don’t understand why someone can’t just decide to stop being messy, and then just do it.
Here’s the thing: people are messy for a ton of different reasons. They could be in the midst of a depressive episode. They could have a chronic illness or chronic pain. They could be the child of hoarders and have an unhealthy association with cleaning. They may be overwhelmed by other things happening in their lives. They may never have learned how to clean. Being lazy is only one of many reasons that a person might be messy, so it’s kind of screwed up to assign that particular characteristic to every “slob” out there.
Why can’t people just decide to stop being messy? Well, just like there are a whole bunch of different reasons someone might be that way, there are just as many obstacles to becoming a person who cleans. As I mentioned above, there are many people out there who never learned the basics of how to clean, so they’re starting from a completely different baseline than people who grew up in households where they were taught to clean and then followed up with practical application of those lessons (chores). That might be hard for some people to comprehend, but no two families are alike, so maybe assuming your own experience is universal isn’t particularly helpful here.
There are people who face physical obstacles to cleaning. People who have a chronic illness, mental illness, injury, or chronic pain have to completely adapt the way that they approach cleaning so that their system works within whatever limitations they have. For some people, it’s simply not physically possible to clean a room from top to bottom in a single day. And yet, so many people impose that standard across the board without realizing that the person they’re judging may be doing physical harm to themselves after a certain point of physical exertion. Mental illness poses some serious obstacles as well. Lack of motivation and inattention to surroundings are really, really common symptoms of a depressive episode. Someone with ADHD may find certain routines difficult to follow and certain tasks impossible to complete. Someone who was raised in an abusive home may find that cleaning is a trigger for anxiety, panic, or even PTSD.
So before you dismiss messiness as a moral failing or personality defect, take a moment to think about if you’re imposing your own set of standards and your own background on people who may have little to nothing in common with you. Think about why you feel morally superior to messy people, as though you have no underdeveloped skill sets or limitations due to various circumstances in your life.
Cleaning can be learned. It is a skill that can be acquired, practiced, and mastered. But how that skill is learned and used is different for everyone. If you’re a “messy person,” it is not something that’s wrong with you. It’s something that you haven’t yet mastered the skills to overcome. And quite frankly, I’ll take any one of the huge number of people who are trying to learn how not to be messy over anyone who thinks themselves a better person because their house is immaculate. Everyone has to start somewhere, and so what if it’s later in life than for other people? So what if you need to learn the skills a little differently? So what if you’re not immediately good at it? It is not a moral failing. You are not a lesser person because of it. You deserve to live in a nice place that you love. You’re better than your mess; you are not defined by it.
* Please don’t get me started. OCD is something one has, not something one “is,” and most people who say, “I’m so OCD” do not have OCD and could use a thesaurus and some sensitivity training. Don’t use “OCD” as shorthand or a humorous description for personality quirks or behaviors. It’s a legitimate medical condition. Words are important, and there are better ways to get your point across without trivializing someone else’s health issue. Not to mention, OCD doesn’t always, or even often, mean that someone is clean and organized.
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