Arathi Menon talks about how we all have our preferences when it comes to tidying up
It was a rough day at work and I walked into the house after 14 hours of doing some brain-numbing task that a corporate job sometimes throws up. When I walked into the hall, my partner grinned at me in happy expectation of a compliment. I looked around and realised he had cleaned-up. I took a look again and saw the books were piled up but not aligned in a precise angle, the laundry was spilling out messily, the plates weren’t arranged according to size - but it had been cleaned up compared to the been-through-a-storm look it had yesterday. I mustered up a beam and a hug thinking nobody will ever clean up the way I do or would like to.
I noticed that’s true of everybody. I have a maniacal cousin who likes objects around her houses placed in a certain way. When I go to her place, I change things a fraction on her table. For example, I will turn the brass alligator so that its head is pointing the other way. Every time she passes by, she will move it back and its beady head will be back to the original starting arrangement. She does this almost unconsciously and until I pointed it out, she had no idea that we played move-the-alligator seven times one evening.
Even when I go home, my mother would have arranged my room in her style and my immediate first task is to change things back to where I want them to be. I think the order we give to objects reflects a strange wiring in our brain, which is unique to every single person. Also, for some people like me, tidying-up is incredibly therapeutic. Sometimes, in the middle of a raging fight, I will start walking around the room putting things back in their place. I know if I had stood and fought, the war would have been much more bloody.
A friend of mine lost her mother unexpectedly. Talking about the incident she said the grief hit her when she boarded the plane home. She could feel the hysteria of loss mounting on her journey back. In that sad house after the cremation, she began tidying up her mother’s things. This sorting of what had to be kept and what had to be thrown spilled over to the entire house.
The next four days, she went through the home which no more housed her mother, with a maniacal energy. Even the toilet was cleaned with a toothbrush. At the end of all that obsessive activity, she says a strange peace came into her to accept the inevitable.
Perhaps that is what a methodical rearranging of things does. It gives our emotions the room to breathe, to settle, to sink into a straight line, instead of becoming the tsunami that will carry us to the point of no return.
Still Figuring It Out’ a funny, sad, questioning take on adulthood will appear every Saturday on Asianet Newsable. Arathi Menon is the author of Leaving Home With Half a Fridge, a memoir published by Pan Macmillan. She tweets at here. The views expressed here are her own.