Q: Why is it always easier to clean up someone else’s mess, rather than your own?
A: You noticed that, huh?
One really fascinating thing about human nature is that people have a really hard time dealing with their own shit. But weirdly, many people can deal with other people’s problems, whether it’s a messy house or a personal emergency, with an efficiency and focus that they could never turn toward their own issues. And why is that? Well, couple of reasons, really.
First, we’re not emotionally invested in other people’s messes. With our own, we look at it and see things that have history, that may have a useful purpose in the future. We might have a hard time getting rid of things because they hold some sort of sentimental value, even if that value is inflated within our own minds. When we look at someone else’s mess, we only see a collection of things, with no value attached to them, so it’s much easier for us to process and sort those things. Without that emotional attachment, deciding if something should stay or go is a fairly methodical process. When it’s our own mess, those same items are all wrapped up in memories and perceived usefulness, and it’s much harder to decide.
There’s also the fact that looking at someone else’s mess allows you to see things that you often miss in your own. This is why I’m a big fan of taking “before” pictures, or having a (helpful, non-judgmental) friend look at your spaces. When something is part of your landscape day in and day out, your mind stops registering it as its own thing, and instead, it’s incorporated into the environment as a whole. Where you might not notice that cardboard box full of odds and ends that’s been in the corner of the room for six months anymore, someone walking into the room for the first time will notice that it’s out of place.
Finally, there’s a whole different set of feelings involved with cleaning up someone else’s mess, as opposed to cleaning up our own. When it’s your own, you often feel overwhelmed and helpless and disappointed in yourself. You have all of these judgments that you put on yourself because you have this mess, and on some level, you may even feel that you deserve it. When it’s someone else’s mess, you feel helpful and accomplished and like you’re bringing something positive to that person. And there’s something very satisfying in being able to look around and see that you made a visible difference. And while you may be invested, because the person is a friend or relative, you’re not invested in the same way they are, because you didn’t create the mess and you haven’t been living in it, and you aren’t the one who’s going to be living in it after the clean-up. Honestly, most of us are far more judgmental about our own homes than we are about other people’s. Maybe the solution is a buddy system matching people of equal-level messiness to help each other dig out and find their way back to clean.
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