Moving the front door open as I arrive home at night, I often dread what I see on the other side.
Candy wrappers lay on the floor. Food crumbs sticking to the carpet, squashed by a 6-year-old boy’s feet. My 2-year-old daughter ripping baby wipes from their container, and throwing them on top of a pile of dirty laundry.
What’s worse is that my wife and I often stay up late washing baby bottles, scraping the petrified crumbs off pans and picking up the dried-up baby wipes from the crumb-laden floor — only to have the mess return the next day.
Maintaining a house can define a family’s morale, mental health professionals say. Like many others, we’ve found it impossible to keep up with the piling clutter and the shrinking storage space as our family has expanded.
And the failure to keep up can create a sense of disorder that can consume and degrade a person’s life and prevent families from having productive time with each other, mental health professionals say.
“There is a human need for having comfort and having things accessible,” said Nancy Block, a psychiatrist from New Jersey. “When it’s disrupted, almost any of us will react with distress.”
Indeed, our constant failure to stay neat and tidy often grounds our momentum to a halt — so much so that we often find ourselves lying on the couch, feeling helpless and depressed as we stare blankly at a T.V. until late at night.
If the 2-year-old has difficulty getting to sleep — especially if she’s crying hysterically — we sometimes pull her out of crib and park her in front of a T.V. until she calms down. My wife and I, meanwhile, will watch “ Wonder Pets ” with her instead of washing the dishes.
All that can change, Block says, if people can somehow establish order that fits their busy schedules. They need to have an understanding of the world around them, find storage space for their clutter and keep lists of chores that need to be done, she added.
People, however, need to be prepared for the unexpected, too. What’s predictable about life is that it can be unpredictable, Block says. People need to budget their time and plan for the “unexpected interruptions” — such as a child getting sick or glass shattering on the kitchen floor — that could throw a schedule into disarray.
“We can set up some order in our lives so we can respond to the world and make ourselves feel safe and oriented,” Block said. “These are survival mechanisms. We still have to have some way to organize ourselves or we cannot survive.”
The objective is to “keep it simple,” and various websites — such as realsimple.com — maintain that theme when they address the need for keeping a tidy house.
One such site, realsimple.com, breaks down the various tasks required, but identifies the number of minutes required to complete them. Regular daily maintenance — such as 2-minute wipe-downs in the bathroom and a 6-minute pick-up in the living room — can prevent the need for a big clean-up later.
Getting everybody involved in the clean-up is important, too. Our sons know that there’s a time to play video games, but then there’s a time to stop and pick up what’s around them.
They’re still getting used to that idea. We have hope for our 9-year-old son, however. When he throws a wrapper away, we cheer, and he smiles.
Editor's note: I decided this past week to step aside from writing the " Coping" column for The Record of Bergen County. The demands of writing the column while attending graduate school at Columbia University, covering transportation for The Record and teaching part-time at Rutgers University became too much. Instead, I will use " Coping with Life" exclusively to provide mental health coverage. I would just like to thank everyone for reading "Coping" over the past five years.
The blog post you just read was supposed to be one of my last columns, but it was never printed. Also, I will be republishing my old columns on this website every other week or so (and I will publish some unpublished columns, too). To read them, scroll down from the top of this page (on the right side) and click on " Coping column."
Today, by the way, is the fifth anniversary of my mother's death. Her battle with obsessive-compulsive disorder served as an inspiration for my column and this blog. To read more about her battle, click here.