Mess is Morally Neutral
Musings on releasing clutter shame as an act of radical self acceptance
I first encountered this phrase from KC Davis, LPC who is the brilliantly relatable human behind Struggle Care and @DomesticBlisters on TikTok.
It is a phrase that I sit with and work to accept as true, and especially, true for me.
I grew up in the impeccably neat and organized homes of my parents and grandmother. It was a part of my upbringing to do chores, from as early as I can remember. As a young child I embraced the “out of sight out of mind” philosophy of cleaning and shoved everything under my bed or in the back of my closet when it came time for room inspections. Every time I was found out and then had to began the task of actually putting things away—folded, neat, orderly.
When I was a kid there was a great deal of cultural attitude around cleanliness…it is next to Godliness after all! Cleanliness and mess were absolutely made out to be moral reflections of a person’s character and I, as an ambassador of the family had a responsibility to uphold certain standards of presenting myself and my spaces.
I got it, to a degree. There are definitely perks of having a tidy space that is ready to work or create in whenever you like without having to first clean it up. I enjoyed that feature.
Later in life during a transitional period when I first moved to Texas, I worked as a professional organizer going into people’s homes and guiding them through organizing pantries and closets and personal business documents. I loved it! It absolutely sated my enjoyment of creating order and putting my Autistic organizer brain to use. And it was other people’s stuff so I enjoyed no attachments or history with those things.
This was also during a season before a major loss in my life occurred and I was lost in the pit of cPTSD, depression, and grief.
My home space began to disintegrate as I got deeper into grief and processing trauma with my therapist.
I was suddenly acutely aware of my bandwidth and how I rarely had any surplus after a day of therapy and work, to then come home and make a meal or wash a dish or sweep the floor. I didn’t understand how I was loosing so much functioning when earlier in life I knew how to keep a home space clean and tidy and guest-ready.
Then I began to learn about the links between clutter, mess, and trauma. I began the work of deconstructing the nasty, mean, and shaming mentality I had toward myself. Healing doesn’t happen all at once, especially in this area.
I have a lot of conversations with clients about some of the heartache of healing is also being left with things we have to fix from when we were not capable of dealing with them in a grief or depression or cPTSD place.
I wish there was some “get out of mess free” card that people got after healing through their trauma that magically cleaned and organized spaces for them….but alas, none exist.
Instead, I am grateful for resources like what KC Davis creates. On her website are a slew of helpful downloadables including things like: Closing Duties Checklist, How to Build a Cleaning Kit, Neurodivergence To-Do list, Cleaning Your Depression House, and more! Additionally, she has a 6-month online course to provide support, motivation, and boosters for folks wanting to tackle their doom piles…all for $15! I love that her work is financially accessible, is inclusive of neurodivergent brains, and is broken into tiny, manageable sound-bites.
KC also just released a book, How to Keep House while Drowning, which I totally just got on Audible (it’s read by KC herself! I love books read by their own authors)! It’s a quick 3 hour read or listen and as I was reading reviews, I saw that many folks played the audio book while they organized a space and found it deeply motivating and affirming. So, I will be trying that out this weekend!
For a number of reasons, mess is so often shrouded in shame that we don’t talk about it and the not talking about it grows until it feels like this “big dirty secret” that we are hiding from the world. I’m right there with you!
Today, I am embracing the idea that “mess is morally neutral” and I am going to see what changes when I treat myself with kindness and compassion around my messes, and what happens when I can celebrate and feel good about small wins.
What’s your relationship with mess?
What if you could see a pile of dishes, or stack of unfolded laundry and *not* experience shame and judgment of yourself?
What if you were able to connect with the motivation to tidy driven by a belief that you are worthy of a tidy space, rather than driven by harsh criticism and blame?
What if you could find value and gratification in the small victories?