"You remember I said before that Ackley was a slob in his personal habits? Well, so was Stradlater, but in a different way. Stradlater was more of a secret slob. He always looked all right, Stradlater, but for instance, you should’ve seen the razor he shaved himself with. It was always rusty as hell and full of lather and hairs and crap. He never cleaned it or anything. He always looked good when he was finished fixing himself up, but he was a secret slob anyway, if you knew him the way I did. The reason he fixed himself up to look good was because he was madly in love with himself. He thought he was the handsomest guy in the Western Hemisphere. He was pretty handsome, too - I’ll admit it. But he was mostly the kind of a handsome guy that if your parents saw his picture in your Year Book, they’d right away say, “Who’s this boy?” I mean he was mostly a Year Book kind of handsome guy. I knew a lot of guys at Pencey I thought were a lot handsomer that Stradlater, but they wouldn’t look handsome if you their pictures in the Year Book. They’d look like they had big noses or their ears stuck out. I’ve had that experience frequently."
- J.D. Salinger, Catcher in the Rye
There are certain passages in literature that stay with a person. They hit upon a deep truth, presenting it in a way you'd never thought about before. And at the tender age of 16, I had that moment with J.D. Salinger's Catcher in the Rye. Not the whole book (though it was great too) but the specific passage above. Because when I read it, I was finally able to put words to my personal shame: I am a secret slob.
I'm not a secret slob in the "I take great yearbook photos but I'm actually average and have a dirty razor" sense: I'm rarely the most attractive girl in a room or a photo (I do live in Los Angeles, after all), and I take pretty decent care of my personal care items. I mean it in a life sense. As in, superficially, I am a shining example of success: I have a job that sounds very impressive with a good salary with room for growth, I have a great husband, I have an apartment I love in a neighborhood that should be trendier than it is (which means it's on the cusp of being discovered... and we are therefore the "cool" kids who were here first), I can handle myself in a yoga class, I love the farmer's market and homecooked meals, Jason keeps me up to speed on the cool bands and pop culture happenings, I read the NYT/Atlantic/Economist regularly, I like going to museum and art exhibits, I know where actual microbreweries exist in Los Angeles, and I can even fool people into thinking I have a sense of personal style. In other words, I seem to have some modicum of my sh*t together and I am conversant in the hip buzzwords for urban living.
But secretly, I'm falling apart. Behind the scenes, things are a mess. There's never enough time. I'm always one yoga class away from a panic attack. I'm an intellectual mess, barely finding time to write, to reply to emails, or to cross things off my to-do lists... at work or in my personal life. I barely pull myself together to even make the to-do lists and, when I do, my spur-of-the-moment thoughts are scattered on post-its all around the house, hidden under piles of unopened mail. In fact, I am a major piler: piles of mail, piles of paperwork, piles of clothes that I tried on and discarded at 7:30am and never bothered to re-hang, piles of books I've been meaning to sell... piles that attempt to contain my messy life into some semblance of precarious order. Piles that a cat can easily knock over as she runs across the table, scattering things in every direction. Piles that become heaping overwhelming mounds until I breakdown and toss half the papers. I actually manage to clean dishes regularly and clean up after the cats and their tumbleweed hairballs (because I may be messy, but I'm not dirty). But oh, the piles. Any dinner party at our apartment necessitates weeks of planning and, um, hiding piles of crap in closets.
That's right. I'm a secret slob. I live with piles and mess and survive because we have a lot of closet space to hide things when guests come over. But, since the wedding, things have become worse. We had so many piles (gifts, goodwill leftover wedding crap, new photos) that it became emotionally overwhelming to consider having a dinner party. How could we invite people over when we didn't even unpile our new photos or art pieces and get them on our walls? We couldn't. We were failures. We were never going to finish cleaning or decorating our apartment. Instead, I was going to be left with this d*mn Ikea bag full of picture frames on my floor for the rest of my life.
Personal photo, sans pretty effects. Because this bag is real and raw and ugly.
This Ikea bag became everything I hate about my secret slob self. It's full of picture frames and plans that are seemingly abandoned to piles of "someday, I'll get to this." It's bright blue, ugly, and crackles loudly when the cats leap on it. It makes my failures known. It reminds me of all the other piles that are sitting around my apartment, all the other half-done projects. And even worse, it taunts me because I've been trying to get rid of it for months.
The Ikea bag reminds me that, despite all our hard work, the pile never seems to go away. Every seeming step forward feels like zero progress, because the darn bag is still there. Despite braving Ikea in the weeks after our honeymoon (on a Saturday afternoon!!!) and buying 18 picture frames, I still feel like a failure. Despite conquering the painful negotiation of which pictures to choose for our new photo-and-art wall, I still feel like a failure. Despite printing and cutting said pictures to the appropriate size and ordering a large professional print of one, I still feel like a failure. Despite working through our photo layout disagreements and establishing a cohesive design for the wall, I still feel like a failure. Despite several evenings spent with a measuring tape, a leveling tool, hammer, and nails to painstakingly hang each picture, I still feel like a failure. Because the bag is still there. Even when I'm actively trying to eliminate piles... months later, the stupid Ikea bag is still there.
Piles upon piles
Other piles seem to find strength in the Ikea bag's audacity, hanging out with the bag in the corner, smoking a proverbial cigarette and jutting their chins out, daring us to try and organize the chaos. There are two chairs we still haven't built that hang out with the Ikea bag. There are the leftover serving bowls from the wedding that we haven't quite figured out where to store. There's a box of goodwill wedding items. There's a bike that never quite finds its way into the garage. Together, they all stick their collective mound-pile tongue out at me and laugh, knowing that my secret-slob self will continue to deal with it because I have a high tolerance for piles that pile on.
I'm convinced more people have stuffed-with-piles closets than they're letting on. Because I've been working to get rid of this d*mn Ikea bag for months now, and I can just finally see the bottom of the bag, now that most of the pictures are hung. And it's not like I've been goofing off and ignoring the bag: instead, I'm learning that careful I-love-this-room design takes time. Lots of it. And other life-piles are always lurking to claim immediate deal-with-me precedence over long-term design planning. Like buying groceries. Or doing laundry. Or sudden all-hands-on-deck work deadlines.
The truth is, my piles aren't a public broadcast of my failure. They are a public broadcast of my choices: I choose to live with some level of messiness because I have other things I want to succeed at. And I can't have it all. And I choose to live with some piles because I'd rather cook real food and spend time over dinner with my husband... in addition to everything else. I choose to forgo hiring a maid for a number of reasons but, right now, because I'd rather save money for important dreams like trips, children, and a home. And at the core of it all, I know that if I chip away at the work for long enough, I will conquer a pile or two. Or even an Ikea bag. And all the surrounding piles of crap that can no longer find refuge in our messy corner.
I am a secret slob. Despite that, I am strong and determined enough to tackle even the most cruel and persistent of piles. The Ikea bag is hording just three measly frames. Its end is near. It will be mere days before I empty it, once and for all, and reclaim a small corner of my life.
Until the next pile encroaches, of course.
Until the next pile encroaches, of course.
First framed photo success - framing images of flowers (from our wedding and personal travels) to decorate our bed headboard.
Second framed photo success - finally starting to hang photos on our living room wall.