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Born this Way

When my husband, Brett, and I first fell in love, we were really in love. You know what I mean: madly, blindly, passionately, blah, blah, blah. We were probably really annoying to outsiders, so taken with each other were we. We, like, studied each other’s faces and stuff. Remember doing that? Anyway, I lived in Greenwich Village at the time, and Brett and I would walk around the area on weekends, with no plan in mind. Perhaps we’d dip into a café and read all afternoon, or see a great indie flick at the Angelika before grabbing some Thai food and a couple of drinks.

Then we’d go back to my place.

Brett would take one look around my cluttered studio apartment and sigh, instantly sober.

I could almost feel the love being sucked out of him, tainted by 600 square feet of the real me.

Brett would try to make the best of it. He’d gamely step over the piles of my students’ notebooks by the door and try to sit on the couch, which was covered with laundry — some clean, some dirty — it was hard to tell which. Or we’d approach my small, glass-topped breakfast table and try to find room to put down the items we had picked up at the farmer’s market that day, to no avail. We’d have to just stand there and hold them. At some point, Brett would make the mistake of entering the kitchen and opening the refrigerator, which would reveal a two-month old pot of chili ripe with mold. And not much else.

I reasoned that if I never turned on the lights, I could keep our romance alive.

But here’s the funny thing about someone with a touch of the OCD going up against someone like me. Brett knew. Even with his eyes closed, he knew. And eventually, he had to confront me about it.

“I can’t stay here anymore!” He declared one Saturday. It was the start of a holiday weekend, and the thought of camping out in my pigsty for the next three days was seriously skeeving him out. He was on the verge of hightailing it back to Brooklyn.

I looked at him, and then I looked around my beloved apartment. It was cluttered, and disorganized, and slightly dusty where it wasn’t mildewy. It was how I had always lived. It was who I am.

If Brett really loved me, he’d accept me for me. I argued my point: I was born this way. Right?

Brett wasn’t buying it. He’d try to imagine a future with me, but it was hidden under piles of mail. That day, he took me by the shoulders and led me into my walk-in closet. “Look at this,” he said. “Your pants and shirts are all mixed together. Nothing is facing the same direction. Your sweaters – those that even made it in here to be folded – need to be arranged by color.”

“Isn’t that only done in boutiques?” I wondered.

Brett shook his head sadly. “I love you. But we are going to change you. We are going to make you Neat.”

And so began my conversion to the clean side.

I’m happy to say that I’ve been clean and neat now for the better part of 15 years. But occasionally, there are periods of decline. There are times when, out of habit or familiarity, or when faced with stress, I just slide back into my old ways.

When I’m writing, my desk is cluttered with multiple drafts of a project. And, for a while there, I had a nice relationship with an entire closet above the garage. I commandeered it as my own little hellhole, but Brett found out about it and now it’s immaculate again.

Last summer, the issue of Gerstenblatt Home Organization (or GHO) was taken to a new level, when I attended a charity event and won a raffle. Someone won a basket of beauty products. Not I. Someone else won a necklace from a local jeweler. Not I. Someone else won free personal training. Not I.

I won a 4-hour session with a home organizer.

Oh, yea. I tried to contain my enthusiasm.

The home organizer was delightful, and fully supportive of my issues. She came to evaluate my home’s areas of need, and we devised a plan to organize my daughter Zoe’s room, using those 4 hours. It was actually fun to work with someone else, and we chatted and listened to music, and threw out half of Zoe’s collections of beads/strings/things with one part missing.

I thought I was done.

But Brett was so happy with how the initial wave of cleaning had gone, that he signed up the home organizer for a bigger project: the kitchen. Operation GHO was officially underway.

It was quickly determined that I had several organizational obstacles to tackle in the kitchen. One, I am apparently a hoarder of little slips of paper. This was driving the home organizer crazy. “Here’s one!” she’d chirp, handing me a crumpled tiny list of grocery items. “And another!”

The organizer suggested that I use one larger spiral notebook for all my lists and keep it centrally located by the phone and small kitchen desk.

But, you see, I enjoy my little pieces of paper. Some of them are purple post-its shaped like tulips, and some are polka-dot paper from a pad, and others are the backs of envelopes. There’s always an element of surprise and whimsy to my lists! It’s fun, as long as I remember where I put them.

But, then, as a concession to the modern age, and as a way to try and re-organize, I started to make lists using an app on my iPhone. That is a pain in the neck, people. Seriously. What’s wrong with writing lists on little slips of paper? Don’t tell the home organizer this, but I am back to my scraps and I LOVE THEM.

She then recommended that I get some folders and label them with a label maker. Love the label maker. I could type and print out labels all day! But using these labels to help keep me organized? Not so much. It turns out that just because a folder is marked “To Do” doesn’t mean I Does.

At the end of the process with the GHO plan, I was exhausted from having to be so neat all the time. I began to see my husband in a new light. Maybe Brett is the one with the problem, not me, I reasoned. Maybe his need to have the couch pillows perfectly lined up like soldiers before retreating to bed is not normal and my desire to let them remain nicely indented with the shape of one’s butt is normal.

Maybe, all this time, I have been putting up with his nuttiness, and not the other way around!

But I love him – obsessive/compulsive habits and all — and indulge him in his organizational neediness, knowing he can’t help it.

He was born this way.

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