Lately, I realized that I’ve gotten stuck in a loop of going on great dates and then not inviting people back to my place because I’m nervous about them seeing my room. Most of the time, my room has a tendency to look like the tornado from The Wizard of Oz has torn through my closet, bookcase, makeup collection, and bed. I am not entirely sure if dates care about seeing your messy room, but since it was a source of stress for me so often, I wondered if anyone else found this to be a roadblock in their dating life. It turns out, according to both a therapist and a professional organizer, that this is not only a common insecurity but also a solvable one.
I realized my problem was two-fold: I didn’t want my dates knowing that my level of messiness has the strength of a tornado that can deliver Dorothy and her house to another universe and I also wanted desperately to be neater. According to Lata K. McGinn, Ph.D., and co-founder of Cognitive Behavioral Consultants and professor at Yeshiva University, the issue was not as much about my dates as it was about me. She explains that regardless of what a date might think, if something is a source of stress for you, it might be worth taking a closer look at the causes of the concern and potential solutions.
"Being worried about showing someone your messy room could just mean that you are worried about making a bad first impression and nervous that your crush will negatively evaluate you for having a messy room," says McGinn. The key to this situation is understanding that if you feel stressed and self-conscious about showing someone your messy room, you may have negative feelings about the messiness and may want to learn better ways of maintaining your organization. The good news is that this is definitely possible with a little bit of strategy, time, and care for your space.
"Many of my young adult clients struggle with organization and messiness because they have a small space where they keep almost everything they own," says Jessica Decker professional personal, founder and CEO of Become Organized. Decker and McGinn’s insight helped me understand that there are a lot of culprits behind messiness and that the solutions aren’t as complicated as I originally expected.
The 15-minute pickup is your friend.
Say you’ve brought a date home and want to invite them into your room, but you know that the floor is barely visible. Ask them to wait in your living room or kitchen for a second. To distract them, you can offer them a drink, ask them to find something to watch on TV, or give them a book or photo album to flip through. It’s also OK to be honest about why you need a second to be in your room alone, and explain that you just didn’t have a chance to pick up earlier in the day. Now take some deep breaths and assess your room — you’d be amazed at what you can accomplish in 10 to 15 minutes.
Decker recommends that you use a short amount of time to take care of the very basics of cleaning: clear the trash, clear the clothes, and store as much clutter as possible. You don’t have to aim for perfection, but getting potential dishes, trash, and laundry out of the way will likely make you feel way less self-conscious. Even if it means shoving things under your bed or in your closet temporarily, feel free to do what you need to make your space feel more comfortably presentable.
A messy room can be discouraging because it feels like a huge task that you needle to tackle all at once. Decker recommends setting a small amount of time to tidy your space at a similar time everyday. She recommends before bed because that’s when you’re likely not rushed and heading out the door. If you regularly take time to clear out anything like plates or trash, you will instantly feel better about your space, and it will appear less messy.
McGinn also adds that you try not to beat yourself up and take things slowly. If you have the time, but not the energy, consider trying one task like organizing one drawer really well. That way you can feel accomplished at doing the thing you set out to do, and not defeated that you didn’t do everything you anticipated. Slow and steady wins the race for cleaning, too.
Take notes on your current habits.
Decker also recommends that you pay attention to when you create the most mess in your room, and when you have time to fix it. This could help you gain insight into the patterns that contribute to messiness and the ways you can combat it with as little stress as possible.
When McGinn works with clients that are struggling to achieve a certain goal like being cleaner, she encourages them to take notes on their behavior surrounding the problem. For instance, she recommends that you take notes on your progress including the times that you clean and how it makes you feel as well as the times that your room is messy but you opt not to take the time to clean. McGinn says this can help you understand when you’re likely to feel less motivated, and also help you understand what you feel when you do take the time to clean.
Designate spaces for your things.
When you have more time than a slim 15 minutes, Decker recommends that take a moment to designate homes for your things. She explains that shoe racks, bins, boxes, and shelving all work hand and hand to help you sort your things better. Another primary culprit behind messiness, Decker explains, is not designating a home for your items and not using proper containers. For example, if you have a bunch of notebooks or purses but haven’t established a place for them to live in your room, they can usually contribute to a room looking cluttered.
According to Decker, containers are great because they can create a neater appearance for whatever you put in them. For example, if you have a lot of makeup, consider dedicating a container for only makeup, or certain types of makeup, like eye shadow or lipstick. Then designate a place for that container to live in your room. That way if you have a stray piece of makeup out, you’ll know exactly where to put it when you’re cleaning.
Reward yourself instead of berating yourself
Try not to be hard on yourself about a messy room, McGinn recommends. Then, you’re fighting the task of cleaning and the task of being upset about something you’ve done "wrong." Repeat to yourself that it’s OK to have a mess because you can fix it when you have the time and energy.
"Pair doing something pleasant while you clean your room. Listen to music or listen to a podcast or have a cup of tea while you do it. Not only will it give you pleasure while you are doing it, but it will also increase your motivation for cleaning your room the next time as your brain will associate cleaning your room with something pleasant," says McGinn. She also adds that you should reward yourself after cleaning so that you come to associate tidying with positive activities like having a dessert or reading a good book.
"Getting a gym membership is only one aspect of fitness," says Decker. "It’s the habit of going to work out regularly that keeps you in shape. Organizing and cleanliness is the same way in the sense that one huge cleaning day isn’t the end all be all of being neat. The habit of tidying is what makes the difference when you’re trying to be more organized."
In short, being messy isn’t about your date, bae, or S.O. but more about how you feel about it. If there’s a deep insecurity about letting someone see that you’re messy, it likely reveals internal conflict you have about organizing. The main thing to keep in mind is that there’s no need to beat yourself up about this because so many people struggle with neatness. It just takes a little bit of changes along the way, and before you know it, you might be giving your date tips on tidying up, too.
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