It Took Selling My Home In Order to Clean it Up

I’ll be the first to admit that I’m a recovering messy-holic.

Most of my friends know that I’ve always struggled to clean up and my family does too.  Even some of the clients whom I have counselled over the years found out; I’ve always been open about my humanity!

As the title suggests, I was recently in a position where I needed to get my home sold and in order to make this happen; frankly, I needed to clear the clutter.  This major event in my life caused me to pose a few general questions to myself about clutter, housework, motivation and personality.

A Series of Questions

Is Messiness a Problem?

This is an interesting question.  Over the years my response has ranged from strong self-judgement to a form of pride around being able to let go of perfection when it comes to my home.  I’ve read books about the value of de-cluttering and organization and others shunning and questioning this practice, and now, industry.  I’ve had moments of joy, putting other priorities in front of housework and moments of frustration when I’m running out the door and can’t find a critical thing.

Is Messiness a Personality Characteristic?

We certainly act like it in our society.  We’ve all probably used expressions like “she’s a messy person” ,”I’m neat”, “He’s a tidy person.”  It would also seem that people can habitually stick to a certain “style” over the years although there are also a number of people who are “in between,” with “lived in” homes where things are generally in their place.

Does Messiness Compromise Mental Health?

There’s been a little more buzz around this lately as psychology has embraced principles from Eastern religions and meditation in general.  It’s not uncommon for people to say, “that’s very zen,” when describing a space for that matter.  But it goes deeper than this: does our environment play a role in our general level of peacefulness?  Do our surroundings affect our general level of wellbeing?  There has also been growing attention to the phenomenon of hoarding, or extreme clutter, and its mental health effects, not to mention practical concerns that hoarding can produce, such as increasing the risk around house fires.

Is Messiness Circumstantial?

Can we be flexible in our tidiness, selectively choosing to do housework sometimes and not others?  Do certain situations lend themselves better to tidiness?  Most of us have heard the phrase, “I only clean up when I’m having people over.”

Does Messiness Have Roots in Childhood?

Does upbringing play a role in our approach to domestic chores?  Do the messages we received as children influence what we do as adults?

Is Messiness Changeable?

Is a messy person doomed to a life of messiness?  This is similar to the question about personality and whether or not this is a stable characteristic.

Is Tidiness Realistic?

It’s common to hear clutter organization books and experts extoll the ease which orderliness can be adopted and integrated easily in one’s life while others have written that to keep up with a home, not to mention the time investment of setting up the infrastructure to support it, takes so much time that other priorities (relaxation, childcare etc.) would be ignored. An analogy might be to compare housework to dieting: can housework be maintained on a long-term basis?

Some Thoughts…


My opinions here will not be shared by all, and reflect my experience.  My overarching feeling about my recent clean-up initiative is that motivation has everything to do with effort.  Historically, I have always prided myself on keeping a neat and tidy counselling space.  Why in this context?  Because my clients’ comfort and experience of security are both so important to me.  My vision for my office is an oasis of sorts, a port in the storm where people can come and speak about whatever needs to be spoken and physical environments can play a big part in facilitating this (or not).


With a home, there’s not quite so much pressure, although the benefits, as I’ve learned can be just as powerful.  When I was purely cleaning up to receive company, this was a temporary situation.  Once the company left, where was the motivation?  Selling my home really lit a fire under me: the house had to be ready for a certain time period.

It would be a realistic question to ask “and then once the home is sold? Then what?”  For me, one of the interesting things about selling is the necessity of getting rid of belongings.  The feeling of emancipation that comes with saying good-bye to a quarter to one third of one’s household items is incredible (and highly recommended!).  With less things, it is easier to clean up and the spacious feeling of my environment was the seed of my newfound motivation.


What I also gleaned from this experience is that labels (“clean” “tidy”), personality, history, only limit us if we let them.  One of the most joyful things that I find about counselling, is seeing others’ ability to change.  I see this over and over again.  And…if I were to choose not to see this potential and ability in myself, how then would I ever recognize it in others?  Bravo to change, letting go and new beginnings!