My recently departed grandmother has sent a message from her grave letting me know that my intelligence is, at best, mediocre.
Until I moved into my new house, I didn't really think all that much about my relationship with cleaning. When I lived in a 400 square foot apartment, cleaning was a necessity ( a few items out of place and my floor was covered), but it wasn't really a big deal. I could pick the place up and have everything tucked away in an hour or so. I could scrub and disinfect it in less than a day. An entire house is different. The bathrooms alone are an exhausting afternoon's worth of work (and they still don't look good). Vacuuming three levels of floors is best split over two days. The kitchen and dining room are a constant battle of Clorox wipes, crumbs, ants, emptying and reloading a dishwasher, sweeping, asking why there is a plastic unicorn sitting in a pile of cereal under the chair, etc. As my boyfriend and I struggle to stay on top of it all (sometimes failing: the main bathroom is in need of some bleach and the cobwebs on the stairs are atrocious), I'm realizing how important cleaning is for my mental health.
In my old apartment, it wasn't the residue of old sauces built up on the stove or my clothes forming a second carpet on the floor or a terrifying collection of hair gathering in the bathtub that told me it was time to clean; it was my anxiety. Whenever I reached a point where I was having trouble breathing and unsure if I could walk out the door to go to work, I would take a deep breath and start cleaning. Sometimes it was a quick job of clearing up clutter; sometimes it was a purge of scalding water and asphyxiating chemicals. Sometimes I was singing to music as I worked. Sometimes I was trying not to cry. Whatever the process, the results were the same: when the room was clean, my anxiety was better. Even if everything that was wrong before I started cleaning was still wrong after, having a vacuumed floor without a trace of plastic food wrappers made it all feel manageable. It's the same now. Whenever I see a cleared floor space or a scrubbed counter surface, I feel more in control of my situation. I'm better able to handle what's happening in my world. Clutter and messes trigger my anxiety. Cleaning helps me manage it.
Recently, I've been noticing a lot more memes regarding how intelligent people are statically more messy and therefore messiness is a sign of intelligence. I realize that most of the people sharing them are innocently passing this along as a joke, usually with a facebook status of "I must be a genius, lol" or something along those lines. Others, I suppose, are justifying their perfectly reasonable choice to focus on other things in their life besides cleaning. No one is purposefully sending a message that my need to keep things in order is an indication that I'm less intelligent than they are. But for me, that's the message all the same. I'm trying to set a good example for the children I'm living with, and I'm trying to keep myself mentally and physically healthy, and I see these memes and wonder how much intelligence and creativity I'm wasting when I choose to scrub a toilet rather than start a new creative project or read a book. It's something I've been struggling with a lot for the past few weeks. Am I a bad role model for coping with my anxiety by putting things away? Am I less intelligent and less creative than my friends who aren't inhibited by a mental illness-induced fear of clutter? Last night as we were saying good night to my boyfriend's oldest, I saw paperweight on her desk with the engraving, "A Cluttered Desk is a Sign of Genius." Apparently she grabbed it last weekend from a collection of items being given away from my deceased grandmother's estate. Grandma has let me know her thoughts on the matter; she thinks my decision to keep things clean is a sign that I'm an idiot.
For right now, I'm going to ignore Grandma's ghost and keep cleaning. Tonight, if I can get home quickly, and get dinner on the table in a reasonable time, I'm hoping to finally vacuum the cobwebs off the stairs. It's annoying and it's not as fun as starting a new project, but when I'm finished I'll look at those stairs and think about how I really do have a handle on my life. Maybe that feeling of empowerment and happiness isn't as good as feeling smart, but it's good enough for me.