It only took me 30 years to finish cleaning my room

I was a clutterbug kid. Just ask my neatnik sister, with whom I shared a room for a decade plus. But as I grew up, I metamorphosed - into a clutterbug adult.

Then about 20 years ago, with a move from my home state to the other side of the country, I had a brainstorm: Perhaps I was overdoing my "rebellious" phase. After spending most of my life leaving trails of clutter behind me, I began to realize that as a creative person (so people told me) and contrary to popular opinion, I was not required to live in the equivalent of an archaeological dig.

Not only that, "organized" didn't have to mean "artistically stifled." Organization can express linear beauty, simplicity - a creative minimalism, if you like. Being a clutterbug is not a fixed fact of anyone's character, creative or not.

With these ideas in mind, I decided I could insist on an expression of creativity balanced with an active appreciation of organization - even though at the time I thought I was probably kidding myself.

To start, I cleaned up and organized a pile here, a pile there, at home and at work. I stayed on the lookout for ideas about organizing small spaces and discarding a disorganized life. I tried to emulate the neat freaks I respected at work and elsewhere, some of whom endured good-natured kidding from others for their tidiness. I tried to follow the maxim "handle each piece of paper once" and cleared my desk of unnecessary documents, even if it meant simply putting disorganized piles in a drawer to start. I took one small step at a time. Then the piles began to disappear, my desk looked neat, and I started to feel I was an organized person (or at least on the way to becoming one).

People at work started to notice my newfound ability to organize. Soon I was organizing filing cabinets, procedures - you name it. I got better and better at it. After a while, if something needed to be organized, I usually got the job.

I told some of the folks who had lived with me during my serious clutter years about this new phenomenon, and they laughed. They didn't believe me. I almost didn't believe me! But I had the paychecks and the job assignments to prove it.

Home was still a problem, though.

I was still in the process of cleaning my room, puzzled that I was getting paid to organize others but couldn't do it whole hog (an apt description), for myself. I continued to toss clothes and other items on the floor, and chalked it up to limited storage space and a bedroom closet the size of a Kleenex box.

The common areas were getting better, though, thanks in part to the example of my tremendously tidy and patient roommate, who also told me I was helping her not to be so overly neat. I did my best to ignore that statement and continued undaunted in my organizing expedition.

Finally, this year, the decisive moment arrived. The final frontier needed to be conquered once and for all. I installed nifty closet organizers for my clothes and shoes, and acquired under-the-bed storage units for other items. I also came up with some creative ways to organize, some of which involved many trips to Chinatown to find less expensive equivalents. Organizing became an extreme sport for me.

Finally I reached the point where, in good conscience, I had to toss out the fridge magnet my roommate had given me me that said, "Creative minds are seldom tidy." That sentiment had become amusingly obsolete.

I have gradually trained myself not to toss anything on the floor in my bedroom, unless there is a short-term, mitigating circumstance. And finally, the other day, the items I've worked on for two years to file for retrieval were where they needed to be for relatively easy access. This, in my vocabulary, is success!

It only took me 30-plus years to finish cleaning my room. So, concerned clutterbugs out there, take heart: If I can do it, so can you.

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