I Had To Learn To Chill Out. Being A Clean Freak Was Zapping My Joy.

by Libby Vish Carl
DGLimages / iStock

Everything in its right place. The dishes in the right place. The pillows in the right place. The clothes in the right place. The toys in the right place. The toothbrushes in the right place.

I derive a sense of peace and accomplishment when everything is in its right place. I feel calm, happy, and in control.

As we kept adding children to our family, it took longer for everything to get into its right place. There were moments when I’d ask myself: Am I in the right place — worrying so much about everything being in the right place?

The time between everything getting from its wrong place to its right place was stressful for me. It made me feel like I was failing. It made me feel like I wasn’t doing a good job, like I wasn’t a good mom or a good wife.

Somewhere in the two months between my youngest son’s 2nd birthday and my oldest son’s 5th birthday (I’ll help with that math: We were in the 3-under-3 group for a few months), either from necessity or sanity I started to become okay with that time in between everything getting from its wrong place to its right place.

I started getting my underwear out of the clean but unfolded laundry basket. I started letting the toys sleep on the floor for an extra night. I started letting my husband do the dishes instead of insisting they be done immediately.

I wish I knew the formula. I wish I knew the formula because I would bottle it and sell it to other moms and myself (because I still have my moments).

The only thing I can come up with is that my survival instincts kicked in. I simply couldn’t keep getting everything into its right place immediately.

My heels rubbed holes in my sheets as I slept. I was hyperventilating while driving. My eyes leaked distressed tears during a great work review where I was told I was on track for a promotion. I deplaned an airplane after the flight attendant gave the last warning, shut the door, and my anxiety won out.

Something had to to give.

So I decided everything didn’t always have to be in its right place, and it certainly didn’t have to get their immediately.

Yes, our floors are a little dirty. There are toothpaste smears on the bathroom counters, a basket of clean but unfolded laundry is sitting next to me, and handprints cover our storm doors. But I no longer fold to their desperate sinister pleas: Clean me! I get to them when I can.

Guess what? Everything is okay. My kids are still alive and healthy. Our house isn’t infested with roaches or ants. I still show up to work in clean clothes. My husband reports our relationship is as strong as ever. And I feel better.

Don’t get me wrong. I still do these things. I still really enjoy everything in its right place.

I’m just not letting the journey to everything getting from its wrong place to its right place steal my joy anymore.

Where I use to spend any free, non-kid time getting everything into its right place, I now spend that time doing the things that do bring me joy: sipping a cup of coffee by myself in the silence of the early a.m., writing, running, reading, cooking, getting together with friends, and going to bed early.

Yes, it feels good when my stuff is in its right place, but it feels even better when I put myself in the right place first.