Growing older does not always mean mellowing down.
A certain…easening does take place—but it has much less to do with the loosening of attachments than it has to do with the infirmities of age.
This observation arrived after four weeks of perpetually putting my house in order.* Despite all my cherished illusions about having learned to relax, I discovered that when it comes to controlling my universe, I remain as obsessed as ever.
Few things have remained as consistent about me as my fanaticism for organization. As a child, I would prowl the house at night while my family was asleep and silently put things in order. In the dark, I would straighten couches, tables, pillows and frames and put away shoes, magazines, newspapers and books. Then I would go through the house one more time and survey each tidied-up room with a sharp and vivid sense of childish satisfaction. Only with that sense of accomplishment in place was I ever able to sleep soundly at night.
I carried that compulsion as a dormer in college and quickly gained a reputation for being freakishly neat. My books were lined up by genre and name, my clothes were hung by color and style—people even asked if I ironed my sheets (I never did, and, the secret lies in how you tuck in the edges).
I’d always dismissed all of it as a harmless eccentricity—until my house’s recent renovations forced a close encounter with rampant chaos. It was only then that I discovered that I simply cannot function in the presence of disorder—that the stability of my internal state depends inordinately on my ability to harmonize my external environment. Hence, the more anxious, frenetic and unsettled I feel, the more my need to order the world intensifies. My idea of winding down after a long and frantic today is to turn on my laptop, straighten out the icons, reorganize my files and empty the temporary folders. And that’s only if I don’t have the energy left to straighten out the cupboards, tidy up the sink or throw away the garbage.
All of which makes me wonder how much of my life’s energy has been expended in this constant battle against disorder.
The depressing part, of course, is that in this particular area, at least, the universe is clearly on the side of chaos.
* The reason for this is provided in three essays below On the Suspension of Order.