I am the absolute definition of a neat freak. Color coding, alphabetizing, highlighting or any other method of having things organized is the ticket to my happiness.
Ever since I can remember, I've always adopted the "tidy space, tidy mind" attitude. I've found that any other way of living makes me feel anxious.
Well, at least, this was the case until I uprooted myself from my childhood bedroom, and instead moved into a cold little university bedroom. This dorm was completely void of any sort of "stuff."
I still remember the first day I walked in. I was instantly struck with a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach. How could those bright, white four walls ever feel like home?
But after a three-hour journey and a pair of very frustrated parents — yes, I really did need two cars' worth of stuff — it was too late to back out. This empty little space was now mine to call "home." So, I took to splashing bits of my old room all over the place, in a feeble attempt to make this bland room feel even slightly as though it was my own.
All my stuff got put into place. All the contents of my home were there. But this room still didn't feel like a place to escape from the rest of the world, in the way a bedroom should. Instead, it felt like nothing more than a roof over my head.
But when I was offered a brand new space and a chance to completely start fresh, I naturally desired a non-cluttered, clean interior. We are prone to thinking clutter is negative. We are constantly told by experts — like professional organizer Lynne Gilberg — that "clutter is bad for your physical and mental health."
Socially, the idea of being de-cluttered is a desirable goal. Any form of mess is seen as negative. It's seen to be a representation of the weak hold you have on your life. At least, this is what we're led to believe.
But in reality, our stuff is what makes us who we are. When it's absent, it comes as no surprise that we're left feeling lost.
Throughout my first month of college, I began to gather little keepsakes, such as tickets from events I had attended and wristbands.
The first time I went home, I pulled out my "memory" box and brought a collection of concert tickets, Polaroid photographs and odd little bits and bobs that all had some sort of sentimental value back to college. With plenty of clutter gathered around me, I spent an afternoon pinning it to my notice board in a jumbled mishmash.
This process would have had the old me pulling her hair out because of how stressed it made her feel. But, in fact, what happened was the complete opposite.
I finally felt like the room was mine. The cold space felt warm, like a little piece of home.
Sure, it looked messy. But with my life feeling messy too, it was the perfect expression to relieve me of how I felt inside.
It sounds kind of silly. I mean, it's just stuff. But it turns out there's actually a scientific reason that finds sense in it all.
According to a study by the Journal of Consumer Psychology, we have difficulty parting with the stuff we've tied to our own self-worth. Instead of just viewing objects as "mine," you may think of them as "me." This explains why, during a time in my life where I had left behind all that was familiar, I craved stuff around me that reminded me of the person I was.
Pinterest and Instagram are always creating the aspiration of having an interior that's spacious, minimalistic and chic. We are programmed to believe tidy means put-together.
It's a lovely idea. But in reality, I found comfort in having little bits of me on those cold walls. Without them, the room was nothing more than a reminder of all that I had left behind.
If you feel messy inside, you might just find that the mess around you is actually rather comforting. Your stuff is a part of you, and there's absolutely nothing wrong with expressing yourself with it.
As Albert Einstein once said, “If a cluttered desk is a sign of a cluttered mind, of what, then, is an empty desk a sign?”