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Sometimes Cleaning Up a Mess Means Making a Bigger One for a While

·542 words·3 mins

I’ve always been a fan of before and after photos. I was fed a steady diet of them — weight loss progress photos, sure, since those are everywhere.

But I’ve also seen them a lot in regard to home makeovers: Room renovations, redecorating attempts, organizing efforts. In this context, before and after photos are such magic. In the before, you get shown a picture of a place in utter disarray and chaos and then voila! A picture of the tidy end result. Perfection.

They’re so alluring, make it look so easy. The trouble, however, is that before and after photos eliminate the “during.”

You never get shown the truly messy parts.

The “During” Often Looks a Lot Worse Than the “Before”

No matter what the before looks like, it’s really the tip of the iceberg. It’s being positioned as the messy parts, the foil that we use to judge the after.

But the secret is that the “during” is even messier.

I’ve always found that to be true. When I go to reorganize a room, I’ll find myself emptying drawers, throwing everything out onto on the floor. Creating large piles like I’m at the dump.

The organizing process often looks hideous while it’s in progress — and if something interrupts me mid-cleaning and I have to do the project in a few stints, I’ll find myself averting my eyes every time I have to walk by the room I’m working on. Feeling my mood drop. Since that particular room looks like the stuff of nightmares.

Slowly but surely, however, all the decisions are made. Items are given their final dispositions: Sell, give-away, donate, recycle, trash, or keep. Everything designated for “keep” is given a home. Trash and recycling are hauled away to the appropriate areas. Items that are to be sold or given away are posted on social media for any takers (if they aren’t something I think someone specific I know will want; in that case, that person is contacted directly). Donations are packed and staged appropriately and delivered to the thrift store.

The mess clears. And it’s a new level of neat.

The Accordion Motion: Neat, Messy, Neat Again

When you’re working on cleaning up a mess, you often have to make it messier in the short term. It’s like an accordion motion: Neat, messy, neat again. And hopefully, if you’ve played your cards right, it’s a different kind of neat in the end. A better one.

Relationships work that way, too. Sometimes you create a bigger mess short term when you’re addressing issues that have been crammed away into drawers. Sometimes, when the project is only half finished and the room is full of tripping hazards, you begin to wonder if it was even worth it in the first place. You’re tempted to give up.

But if you stick to it, you’ll often find that you love the end result. Even if the “during” photos are agonizingly awful.

Sometimes the only way to really tidy up is to create a giant mess for a while.


My new book is out!

Dealing with Difficult Metamours, the first book devoted solely to metamour relationships, full of strategies to help you get along better with your partners’ other partner(s).


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