She is Not Living Here

Martha Stewart pimps organization porn.

My stomach flutters as I paw through the pages with sweaty fingertips. I am grasping towards something just out of reach. The world seems so serene in those pages. The people who live there have perfect lives with no emotional messiness. They sip green tea on their pristine cream-colored sofas anointed with DIY pillows they up-cycled from their Grandmother’s French linens. Those annoyingly perfect douche bags are surrounded by luscious plants that are carefully nursed in their sun-drenched rooms with nothing but easterly light. There they plan their fabulous bi-annual vacations to Bali. It all speaks of a calm sophistication I would trip old ladies for.

These images leave me with unquenched longing. I crave an organization orgasm. I want that floating feeling of weightlessness and sparkling clean surfaces. I need to feel careless and free with a repainted kitchen in bright sunshiny yellow. But I am caged, trapped by my own thoughts and muddled by how to strip off the layers of wallpaper with cats on it.

What lurks underneath? Is that meowing I hear?

Martha is the “OG” of organization. In a bare knuckles match, Martha (OG) could totally take Marie Kondo (MK). OG fights dirty. She pulls hair and bites. She learned some moves in prison. Martha’s shtick was always way more butt clenching uptight. Connecticut is the original home of lock-jawed control. MK probably smokes a hookah filled with mushrooms and unicorn dung. MK giggles her way into the streamlining of our lives. Sure, it’s a happy accident that all MK’s t-shirts are folded perfectly and arranged in ascending hues according to the color wheel.

Both OG and MK are reigning atop their empires with smug satisfaction while the rest of us sob in frustration trying to find joy in the organization of our sock drawers – or at minimum finding two matching socks on the first try.

It’s a lot of stuff in a small house. I hope you know how much work it’ll be to keep up with it.” says the evil voice which is a mash-up of Martha Stewart, my Mom’s stringent housekeeping rules and my own critical director working to make me feel bad. MK giggles in the corner of my mind. Martha and Marie are perched on a pile of my discarded clothes as they dump on me for not having perfection before I have even tried to craft my own living space. “Back off beotches! It’s all a work in progress.” I scream into the back of the closet.

I try to appreciate the inherited, hand-me-down dining room set. Big sigh. It’s dark wood. I swallow hard to fight the burning feeling in my throat. It’s a little beaten up – scraped legs, some of the arms on the chairs are a little wobbly and need to be reinforced. The leaf that makes the table bigger has a big gouge in the middle of it, perhaps from an angry wolverine who came to dinner once and someone didn’t pass the mashed potatoes quickly enough.

I like a project. I roll up my imaginary sleeves, watch a few YouTube videos and recover the seat cushions with an interesting and colorful fabric. Blue, green and yellow swirls for our bums to sit on. I buy a dark colored wood stain pen to touch up the legs. I buy a “rug system” for underneath the dining room table that I researched and found on an infomercial. The rug is thinner than a regular rug and sits atop a Velcro pad that you can reposition. The rug stays in place firmly. If the dog has diarrhea overnight, poop gets scraped off. The rug can then be washed or switched out. New rug toppers are so much less than buying a brand-new rug. You don’t have to marry the rug. We are just cajzh. It’s a rug system with benefits.

I shop for deals on FB marketplace. I negotiate prices like a pro. I set up a painting station in the driveway with a tarp and boxes. I buy golden hued spray paints and a respirator. I test colors. I am painting mirrors and pieces of scrap boards. I finally repaint an unfinished bookcase in a lovely gray color. After twenty years it has a makeover. Books sit proudly on the shelves.

I find inspiration from a crazy English lady and her husband who are rehabbing a French chateau. They just tackle things without quite knowing how it will come out. I admire their fearlessness and flair. I start wearing flowing kimonos and head scarfs. My fiancé is afraid this transformation may include more vegetables in his food or asking for his help to move furniture. In the wee hours of the morning, I comparison shop for chainsaws – not to murder fiancé. I want to take down a tree in the backyard and build a fire pit.

With or without these upgrades, our home is lively and filled with love. The house sits on a street lined with tall broad Linden trees that protect our home from the elements, as well as cushion us from city sounds. When it rains the trees carry a sea breeze through our windows from the salt-water marsh down at the end of street. It invites a lovely sense memory of a time spent at the beach swimming in the healing salt water. I can stand on the porch just before it rains and inhale the ocean smell. It tickles the back of my throat. I taste salt on my tongue and it’s cleansing my wounds.

Having never lived in a place that didn’t have a pantry I am lucky as I look at my well-stocked shelves. I feel a deep satisfaction at the array of staples I have amassed. Not in a crazy “The world is coming to an end; I must hoard food.” way. I have brown rice, black beans, tomato paste, flour, sugar, a variety of nuts, hot sauces and Kalamata olives. I pass through my pantry and constantly close cabinets and push drawers all the way in.

Then there is the forgotten child of my home: a lonely and neglected area known as the back hall. This area is heavily utilized as a dumping ground for STUFF. The Gorilla Glue, empty bottles, as well as my fears and shame about not being good enough are packed onto those shelves. There are abandoned dreams along with cleaning supplies. I keep screwdrivers, paper bags and flashlights – functional tools at my ready to repair a cabinet, glue a leg back on a chair or light my way if the darkness creeps in. Sometimes I feel like I am teetering on the brink of disaster along with the empties, ready to fall off the shelf at the slightest vibration. My rhythms strangely attuned to the state of my household.

I discussed it with my therapist and cancelled my subscription to MS Living. It was making me feel bad about myself. Even with some therapy it still takes a good deal of internal negotiation to let go of harsh expectations of how things should look. I work on making peace with the way they do look. My stuff is a little less magazine-worthy but not as bad as frat house-OMG-what is that smell-what did that damn wolverine do to the furniture now?

I am constantly re-calibrating those weirdly high standards, recognizing that the demands of work, family and health must be balanced for my own sanity. Sometimes, if the dishwasher doesn’t get unloaded in a timely fashion or the carpet isn’t vacuumed, I attempt to calmly tell myself that it isn’t the end of the world. If we (me, my fiancé, bonus teenager and nutty Velcro dog) have clear pathways to all the exits and nothing is rotting in the living room “It’s all good.”

I used to think about ways to hide the stuff on my shelves. I don’t like things exposed. I want to hide my shame of having sub-par housekeeping standards and kick to the curb that clunky juicer thing that hangs out even though I have never used it. Maybe I can choose to be exposed, even a little cluttered, while I live in this safe space. Loneliness evaporates and hiding is no longer necessary.

Taking a deep breath, I resign to be more than just a storage area. I can cultivate flexibility, access creativity, promote recycling, embrace disorganization and cherish my memories. I can fix the garbage disposal and cook the magnificent holiday turkey with my big-pawed handsome man using the tools from my shelves.

Big Yeti guy, angry hairball of emotions teenager, Velcro dog and recovering perfectionist: we make it work. My fiancé and the girl secretly admire my ability to “get out the stains” and find lost items. They are nice enough to randomly leave drawers just slightly out so that I feel useful when I push them in all the way.

I keep a fantasy scrapbook of clean and orderly spaces, magenta ottomans sans greasy smears, pillows not licked by the dog, clean and well-lit spaces. In my dream sanctuary the refrigerator door closes itself, mystery piles of possibly dirty or clean clothes magically vanish without me having to play the disgusting guessing game of “Will this smell like butts?” My bathroom never again looks like a swampy wasteland where a cluster of small pirates left wet towels and clouds of coconut beach spray. My white towels remain white

My imaginary perfect space holds all my promise, purpose, light, patience and bubble wrap. Now it’s time to ditch that stupid leaf blower my Mom gave me and make room for some art projects. Martha Stewart can kiss my messy ass. Talk to the hand Marie Kondo and giggle away. I don my face mask respirator and head out with my gold spray paint to beautify my secondhand things like a badass DIY superhero.

Felicia is driven by curiosity. She takes things apart and puts them back together: dryers, door handles and ideas. She values directness as well as kindness. In life or salsa class she will be moving in the opposite direction of the crowd (sometimes not on purpose). Her family is nice enough to leave all the drawers open for her to push in so she feels useful. She lives outside of Boston on the North Shore with a large man with a heart of gold, a tween who sings like an angel but can’t remember to wear her own coat home from school and a greyhound named Arnie who enjoys crispy bread. You can follow Felicia on her website, LinkedIn and Facebook.

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