Perpetual Clutter and the Attack of the Dust Bunnies

Today, The Daily Post asks:

Tell us about something you know you should do . . . but don’t.

I am absolutely horrible about cleaning up after myself. It’s not so much that I don’t care – I want my home to be neat and organized, really I do! It’s that … Well, I don’t know. There are several layers to it.

Part of the problem is that cleaning is a task that never ends. Sure, the bathroom might be sparkling, the dust bunnies vanquished, the laundry and dishes all clean and put away, every single item in its place NOW … but in a minute, it will be imperfect once again. Someone will use the toilet or take a shower or eat something. The clothes you’re wearing are dirty. The dust bunnies started respawning before you even finished vanquishing them. You’re going to use something, I just know it! and … now that item is out of place again. There’s the satisfaction of completing a task for about a moment, and then it is once again incomplete.

from theoppulentpoppy.blogspot.com

from theoppulentpoppy.blogspot.com

I’m just not willing to be constantly vigilant, ever doing battle with my own house. I’m a bit too preoccupied with homework and relationships and trying to be places on time to care about where I take off my slippers or the fact that there are dishes in the sink. When I see the clutter I know I should clean it, but there’s usually something else I’d rather do (such as blog about it!). Cleaning just isn’t rewarding enough for me.

from The Dapper Rat, an awesome and informative site that introduced me to the joys of having rats as pets

from The Dapper Rat, an awesome and informative site that introduced me to the joys of having rats as pets

For example, playing with my rats is infinitely more rewarding than locking the poor dears in their carrier and sticking my upper body in their stinky cage to clean it … just to find, a minute later, that they’ve pooped outside the litter box again. And in their minds, all I’ve done is take away their scent marking and filled their home with alien smells that they just have to cover up again. They’d much rather get to climb on me, groom me, explore, show off their intelligence, and eat tasty things.

I’m not sure if this is a legitimate problem or just an excuse, but I also feel like I don’t have a home for all my things. Organization relies on each object having a place where it belongs. Okay, so clothes go in the hamper or the drawer. Dishes go in the cabinet. Used tissues go in the garbage. Etc.

But what about the schoolbooks I use every day? This random thing I got in the mail that I have to do something about but don’t feel like dealing with right now? Coupons? the hard copy of the dragon I just drew? my backpack, laptop case, canvas shopping bags, etc? moisturizer … I think you get the idea. Sometimes I’m too lazy to put something back in its home after using it, but other times I don’t have a home to put things in! I need to give each item a place and return it to that place when I’m done using it.

But sometimes, my anxiety gets in the way. I want to leave this thing out so I’ll see it and know where it is. If I put something away, I might forget that it exists, or not be able to find it again, or it might be eaten by underwear gnomes. If it’s out, I know I have it; I can access it fairly easily.

Sound crazy? It’s partially based on experience: often I’ll clean up and later, when I’m trying to find something, I’ll remember where it was before I cleaned – but not where I actually put it!

from reelmomevents.com

from reelmomevents.com

And finally, it’s really hard to get rid of stuff. Papers take over the room because I don’t know if I’ll need them again for some reason. A lot of garbage just never gets thrown away. Stuffed animals are too cute to get rid of. This thing most people would recycle makes a great rat toy! My goal is to have entire walls covered in books, so clearly I must keep every book I own even if I never read it and don’t currently have the shelf space. I’ll need these boxes the next time I move. These clothes/shoes/other items are still useable, it would be a waste to just throw them away. I’ll donate them (but do I ever?) or sell them (in my dreams, perhaps, but not reality).

The worst is when something I don’t use, want, or need anymore has “sentimental value.” I might have forgotten I had it, but when I see it again it’s the most precious thing ever. I’m overcome with guilt at even thinking of getting rid of it. How could I? I might not have a place for it, looking at it might be painful, I will probably never use it again, but on some level it’s a part of me. A physical reminder of my past. Perhaps a gift from someone I care about – it would be betraying them to get rid of it!

Especially with the move back to my mom’s house, it’s so much easier to just let the clutter continue to sit there than to get rid of it. Going through things is emotionally draining for all the reasons described above: it never seems to end, I’d rather (or need to) do something else, I don’t know where to put each thing, I’m afraid I won’t be able to find it again, and I feel guilty getting rid of the things I no longer want or need (or do I? Maybe I’ll want or need it at some point in the future!). I feel so overwhelmed by all the stuff I have, sometimes I almost wish it would all just disappear.

Almost.

My Efforts to be Codependent No More – Part One: What’s Codependency and Who’s Got It? (Me!)

I look over at Fox; he is sleeping. Anger rushes through me; I feel my shoulders and jaw tense. Why does he sleep so much? Doesn’t he want to spend time with me? Maybe he doesn’t love me. Maybe he’s taking advantage of me … coming here, just to sleep in my bed! Maybe it’s my fault he sleeps so much, I should be a better partner. He shouldn’t stay up so late! Doesn’t he care about his health? About me? And if I’m up late he should ask me to come to bed! It’s not fair that I wake so early and he gets to sleep!

I just wish I could get him to sleep and be awake at the same times as me! That way I wouldn’t be sitting here, unsure what to do with myself and feeling guilty for wanting to wake him. I feel sad and alone, abandoned again …

That’s a typical experience for me, especially since I tend to wake earlier than Fox. Until recently, I was convinced his sleeping was my problem; what I needed was to get him to change.  It wasn’t until I wrote Using Words to Say What They Cannot that I first separated the effects of Fox’s behavior on my quality of life from his actual behavior and intentions. Creating that separation helped me to see how, possibly, the problem may lie in how I am perceiving and reacting to his behavior – not the behavior itself.

I’ve started reading Codependent No More: How to Stop Controlling Others and Start Caring for Yourself by Melody Beattie. The first four chapters – which make up Part One – clarify what codependency is and help the reader identify aspects of codependency in hirself. Chapters 2-4 end with written activities; I would like to share and reflect upon my responses in this post.

I Can Relate

The activity for Chapter 2 asks the reader which codependents’ stories ze identifies with and why. Without posting the stories for context (and possibly violating copyright), it seems most meaningful to share the aspects of the stories that I identify with the most. Some of them appear in more than one story.

  • losing friends, hobbies, and love for life after entering a committed relationship
  • feeling guilty
  • feeling depressed
  • feeling like I lost myself
  • feeling angry and unappreciated while trying to make others happy
  • endlessly caring for others
  • getting caught up in and trying to control others’ emotions
  • feeling lost or enmeshed in others’ emotions and concerns

These issues come up the most in my relationship with my Mom, followed closely by my relationship with Fox, and to a lesser extent (I think) with Banji – in other words, with the people I’m closest to and who are the most central to my life.

Defining Codependency

There are many different definitions of codependency, each of which explains different aspects of a complex problem. Beattie provides a brief history of codependency to put these definitions into context and convey the meaning(s) of the word more accurately. I encourage interested readers to learn this history.

At the end of Chapter 3, Beattie asks the reader to define codependency for hirself. I combined multiple definitions from throughout the chapter into one:

Codependency is a habitual system of thoughts, emotions, and behaviors directed toward myself and others that cause me pain (p. 38). It arises from allowing another person’s behavior to affect me and wanting/trying to control that person’s behavior (p. 36). It is a result of living much or most of my life with unspoken, silent, oppressive rules that limit my expression of emotion and open, direct discussion of problems (p. 32).

Codependency is why I feel like Fox is controlling me and why I want to change certain aspects of his behavior. It is why I feel so guilty and angry all much of the time. It’s why I find the time I spend with Mom so draining – even when our interactions and endeavors go well! I’m codependent.

But it’s not my fault, it’s essentially how I was raised! My parents and other family members kept secrets and avoided expressing emotion. They didn’t deal with conflict well – they either tried to avoid it, or erupted into screaming arguments that terrified me as a child. They taught me to hide my problems; they didn’t take me seriously.

My responsibility now is to do something about it – not by trying to change anyone else (including my mom, as much as I really wish I could), but by changing myself.

It is time for me to unlearn my codependency.

How Am I Codependent? Let me count the ways …

Chapter 4 is essentially a list of characteristics codependents tend to have. It’s very long, and the majority of items apply to me at least somewhat; many to a strong degree. They are organized into categories: caretaking, low self-worth, repression, obsession, controlling, denial, dependency, poor communication, weak boundaries, lack of trust, anger, sex problems, miscellaneous, and progressive.

The activity at the end of the chapter invites the reader to mark each characteristic with a 0 if it does not apply at all, a 1 if it is “occasionally a problem,” and 2 if it is “frequently a problem.” As I did the activity, there were some items for which I wished I could apply a 3!

This was not part of the activity, but I wanted an easier way to see which categories I need to focus on most to overcome my codependency, so I developed a scoring system. I added my 1’s and 2’s to determine how many “points” I “scored” for each category, then divided it by the maximum possible “points” (number of items, times 2) to learn my percentage. Some of the results surprised me:

  • I scored highest in Anger (91%), followed by Repression (83%), Lack of Trust (79%), and Controlling (75%).
  • Caretaking (68%), Low Self-Worth (67%), and Dependency (67%) did not score as high as I thought they would.
  • Somehow, I scored 66% in Denial. I don’t see how …
  • I only scored 50% in Obsession and Weak Boundaries; I only scored 47% in Poor Communication! These were categories where I would have expected to score much higher!

Preparing to Change (Myself)

I’m scared to change myself. I don’t want to let go of how I’m used to understanding myself, or my old familiar comfortable habits (even when they hurt me). I don’t want to risk people I love liking me less because of the change.

But I know I really need it and I think I can do it – if I try really hard and allow myself to make mistakes, while remaining committed.

If I begin to change I hope I’ll start to feel better and be happier, more confident, and more capable. Maybe people will like me more – or, at least, I’ll find social interactions easier.

Changing won’t be easy, especially since it’s scary and I think the people I’m closest to and need the most support from will try to keep me the same. But maybe I can tell them what I’m trying to do and ask them to be understanding / try not to take it personally if I’m more assertive, etc. I’m doing what I need to get better!

So Now What?

Part 2 of Codependent No More is comprised of 16 chapters with information and written activities intended to teach the reader how to care for hirself. If I want to do it right, it will take quite a while for me to get through the rest of the book. I’m inclined to do the chapters in order; I might blog about some, most, or possibly all of them.

What are your thoughts on codependency? Do you think you might be codependent? Do you think anyone you know is codependent? Do you have any advice?