the magical power of not tidying up

At the end of one particularly tearful therapy session, I was scrabbling through my backpack for the check I’d purposely pre-written to pay my therapist. Dammit, it’s in here, I had it all done, where is it, so stupid. My sweet therapist, seeing my out-of-scale irritation, said, Marty, breathe, it’s OK. And when I found it, You know, you’re just not the kind of woman who has everything perfectly arranged in her purse. And it doesn’t diminish your greatness.

I think about that a lot, when I’m using these arbitrary markers to hold myself accountable to some invisible, unwritten set of rules. Would my life be easier and marginally better if my out-in-the-world belongings weren’t spread across two backpacks and a purse? Sure. Does that lady in the tidying up book have a magnificent existence primarily because every day when she arrives home, she removes her immaculately arranged purse items from the purse that brings her great joy, thanks it for its service (I am not making this up, it’s in the book,) and places it on its specified hook in her extraordinarily organized closet? No.

This isn’t a treatise in defense of messiness. The rituals of order in our minds and our homes and our workplaces (if/when those are different) matter. The trouble comes when what we think defines us gets in the way of what really matters, what truly affects our quality of life, and aligns with our core values.

If the throw blankets are unfolded and last night’s tea mugs and wine glasses are sitting out on the coffee table, if the rug is a few days overdue for vacuuming and my wallet is in one of four bags or maybe the tote I used at the grocery store, it’s OK.

What I do need is for my bookshelves to be in order so I can find what I’m looking for. The keys go in the key box, every time. At least one clean towel in case of unexpected guests, food in the fridge, extra toilet paper because nothing, nothing makes me feel more wretchedly adolescent than running out of toilet paper.

These matter. And I will fold the throw blankets, I will find my wallet, I will vacuum and do laundry but I won’t shame yesterday Marty for not having done it. I won’t rant to myself about turning 44 without a 401K or a mortgage or flat abs. I’ll sit at my messy desk and notice how the wood of the windows in this gorgeous old apartment I do not own is different from the wood on the trees leaning into and away from the wind down the boulevard, how a live thing becomes a set thing, a newly purposed thing, and the grace in that.

And for a minute, I will feel the measuring tape drop from my hand -- the one not marked with inches but with money, tidiness, treadmill time, publication credits, job title, progeny. I will inhale this one and only minute in my one and only life and not diminish it. I will not diminish my greatness by surrendering to the trivial.

Let’s go be great. And maybe, a little messy.