70. Neatness

Some children are just naturally neat. They don’t seem to have to put any effort into it. They’re very lucky. They end up with lots of free time while others are busy straightening up their desks, rooms, or whatever. And they get lots of appreciation; neatness is a quality that pleases adults more reliably than creativity, sensitivity, curiosity, resourcefulness, and all those other mixed blessings.
So the rest of us either find ways to become neat, learn to conceal our messes, or cope with the consequences of being conspicuously messy. I am a naturally messy person who has developed ways to stay neat most of the time. I think part of my problem, and part of my solution, is that I enjoy straightening up – making order out of chaos.
This has been true since my childhood. For me, it was always fun to start with a room that had toys, crayons, books, and clothes scattered all over, and end up, an hour or so later, with everything in its place. The problem with liking that process is that it starts with a messy room. I liked neatness, but it wasn’t enough. I needed some chaos to make order out of.
I can speak with personal authority about that type, but the others – the naturally neat ones, the secret slobs, and the overt slobs, are mysteries to me. Someone else will have to explain what makes them tick.
Adults fall into the same categories, and problems arise when adults’ and children’s styles don’t match. There aren’t too many adults who try to convert the neatniks. In my experience, usually those adults teach art, and even the most flamboyant art teacher eventually likes to have help cleaning up the mess.
More typically, children spend time with adults who want them to be neater. Adults get reputations for “training” children to be neat – keeping after the children, establishing standards, providing a good model. I believe that those adults are only creating neat situations; I don’t believe they are training children to be neat. I think when children move on to other situations – their own apartments, for example – their styles are fairly intact (unless Mom and/or Dad will be coming to visit soon).
My kitchen cabinets are labelled. A stranger coming into my kitchen could find the glasses, dishes, coffee mugs, etc. in a matter of seconds. There are some things in my living room that I’d put away if my parents or one of my daughters were coming tomorrow. And the pile of papers in the bag near my file cabinet? Well, some day maybe I’ll put them away.

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