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Home Guru: The Blessing and Curse of the Household Neatnik

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When Donna Riniti came on board as the managing broker at my Coldwell Banker office, she introduced herself to the agents as a “neatnik” and rated applause for the revelation.

Why is that I wondered? Within a short period of time I knew, as all of us were able to more easily access the information and forms we needed for our transactions.

I also took the opportunity to remind myself of my lifelong struggle to be a neatnik at home, believing that neatness translates into being organized, which in turn translates into success at better living, both at work and at home.

While psychologists might classify personality types in two basic categories, introverts and extraverts, as an observer of home life, I would distinguish the two basic personalities as neatniks and  messyniks, again with variations in the middle where I uncomfortably reside.

Are very neat people born that way or do they practice the skill of orderliness until they get it right? From my own experience with friends and exploring many homes and how they are kept by their owners, I am convinced that neatness is indeed innate in some people with the way their brains are wired, but not in others.

Never knowing it until I was on my own, I discovered that my mother was a neatnik, though at that time the term had not yet been invented. She was the product of her time and didn’t work outside the home, but devoted her high energy level to being a homemaker who raised her children, washed and ironed all the clothes, grew and canned her own tomatoes, cooked the meals and cleaned the house until the surfaces of our countertops, kitchen table oilcloth and linoleum floors wore out.

I thought everybody was well organized at home, but from the time I got my first apartment while in college, and in a couple of bachelor pads in New York, my home life became a constant struggle to get my act together enough so my place had some semblance of order.

When I learned in Psychology Today that extreme neatness is not necessarily a good thing and could cross the line into an obsessive-compulsive disorder, I thought, well, there’s no chance that could happen to me.

But luckily I fell in love with a woman before I learned that she was the personification of neat. I discovered it when we set up our first apartment, having just returned from our honeymoon. The evidence was the arrangement of the one long linear closet in our studio apartment.

We each claimed one half of the closet (I needed as much space as she because I, too, liked clothes), and with the louver doors open, it looked like the space was bipolar. Her side was organized by season and color, by dresses, jackets, tops and skirts. My side was more a shotgun approach with everything helter-skelter, interspersing suits, sports jackets, slacks and shirts. While she commented on the difference and tried to counsel me on how best to organize my side, she let me transition slowly from being a messy bachelor.

When we graduated to a larger house where we both have our own dressing rooms, she left me pretty much to my own devices in keeping things neat and organized in my closet. I do try my best, but any observer looking in our dressing rooms would think they are in different households, if not on different planets.

Today, my wife excels in keeping a five-bedroom house perfectly neat, with meritorious performance in the kitchen where every meal is prepared almost magically with never a used knife, spoon, pot or plate in sight for more than a few seconds. In the wink of an eye, everything is placed in the dishwasher and counters are always spotlessly clean. I sometimes feel guilty that I don’t do more in that vein, but I make up a feeble but true excuse that I don’t know where everything belongs.

The down side to living with a neatnik is the litany of reminders that the messynik gets to do his fair share, like hanging the towels correctly or to put the toilet seat back down, which for the past five years or so, I’ve remembered to do. I consider that a sign that I’m on the road to recovery. Give me another 50 years or so and I may get to where I need to be.

In the meantime, I take comfort in the commonly held belief that living well involves seeking progress, not perfection. And, didn’t somebody recently write a book called “A Perfectly Kept House is the Sign of a Misspent Life?”

Bill Primavera is a licensed Realtor® affiliated with Coldwell Banker and a lifestyles journalist who writes regularly as The Home Guru. Visit his website at: and, if you would like to consult with him about buying or selling a home, contact him directly at 914-522-2076.

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