In a Pandemic, There is Much Time to Be Neat at Home

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By Bill Primavera

When that new manager of my real estate office came on board, 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 all of our transactions.

I also took the opportunity to remind myself of my lifelong struggle to be a neatnik at home, believing that being neat translates into being organized, and that 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 “messy-niks,” 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 in my dealings in real estate, 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 word had not yet been invented. She was the product of her time. She didn’t work outside the home, devoting 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, our 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 was a constant struggle to get my place to have 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 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 a bipolar person lived there. 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; wherever the hanger happened to fall, 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 had 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 her dressing room and in mine 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 messy-nik gets to do his fair share, like hanging the towels the right way after a shower and to put the toilet seat down, which for the past five years or so, I’ve remembered to do. I consider that a real 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 in a healthy mental state involves seeking progress, not perfection.

Bill Primavera is a writer and public relations practitioner (www.PrimaveraPR.com) who also is a realtor associated with William Raveis Real Estate (www.raveis.com). To engage the marketing and real estate services of The Home Guru to market your home for sale, call 914-522-2076.

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