It’s a Bug’s Life

I have a confession to make. I can hide it no longer. I am a Clutter-Bug.

What the hell is a Clutter-Bug, you ask? Well, what does it sound like? My life and my mind are filled with clutter. Mountains of it.

Don’t mistake me for a hoarder, although material possessions are a little bit of the problem. Physically I do have a lot of hoarder-type clutter around my house. I have an entire shelf on my bookcase that is nothing but blank notebooks I’ve never used, and there’s a whole stack of drawers in the dining room that are filled with good old fashioned junk, like rubber-band balls and dead pens. I have a bit of a hard time throwing stuff away, even when I know there’s no point in keeping them.

But the type of clutter that I’m talking about is the kind that distracts, the kind that disguises itself as disorganization and generally messiness. There are almost always clothes on my bedroom floor, for instance, even though we have a hamper in there. I leave my phone, my tablet, and my Playstation Vita wherever I happen to be when I’m finished using them. There are books on top of my headboard that I haven’t touched in weeks. There are boxes of baby clothes sitting in my hall that I simply haven’t bothered to put away, even though it would take five minutes to cart them down into the basement.

I seem to have a mental block that consistently keeps me from ever putting anything away, thus cluttering up my house. It’s an illness. A terrible, debilitating illness.

But it goes further than that, because clutter can be mental as well.

For instance, in my closet there is a huge stack of jeans taking up a good three square feet of space. None of them fit. They vary between being a size or two off to being so tiny that I would have to get liposuction and a stomach staple to ever have a chance of fitting in them again. And not only are these jeans clutter in the literal sense of taking up space and never being used, they’re clutter in the mental sense because I have to think of them every time I look at them. Every time I open my closet I see this stack of jeans and they make me miserable just for the sheer fact that I know I can’t fit into them. I know I could fit into them if I worked really hard and restricted my calories and stuck to a daily exercise regimen and completely stopped drinking anything other than water and so on and so on and so on…you see? Mental clutter.

Most people do this kind of thing to themselves to some extent, but I, my friends, am an expert. I am the Queen Clutter-Bug. May all lesser Clutter-Bugs bow before me.

Original pic via photoalbum.davison.ca
Original pic via photoalbum.davison.ca

For another example, I have this habit I call “self-fulfilling failure to fulfill”. Basically, I have a mental list in my head of all the things I want to do, or need to do, and no matter how many things I am able to cross off the list I manage to add twice as many more. In this way my list is never complete, and my internal list-maker starts twitching like a drugged-up jackrabbit. It doesn’t matter if I’m working my ass off or sitting back and trying to relax, I have this never-ceasing mental clutter of half-finished to-do lists gumming up my brain.

It’s a horrifying condition for a writer because while I should be writing and working on my platform, I’m instead obsessing about a million other things. I can’t get any writing done around my husband or daughter because I’m so easily distracted by everything they say or do. I can’t get any writing done in my own bedroom because I can’t stop thinking about that basket of clothes on the floor or those damn jeans in my closet. When I do get around to writing I’m plagued by a thousand non-work-in-progress-related thoughts like whether I should be planning some blog posts in advance to give myself more time, or whether I should scrap this fan fiction stuff and just concentrate on my original work, or should I log onto Twitter and see what the other writers are doing? It’s a constant barrage of voices in my head yelling at me about everything except what I’m supposed to be writing about.

“Why aren’t you more active on Twitter? How do you expect to gain followers when you never say anything interesting?”

“Why are you focusing so much on this stupid supernatural romance stuff…it will probably just ruin your image for when the zombie horror novel is done.”

“Oh crap, did I write a blog post for tomorrow? Crap, I didn’t… Crap crap crap!”

It spirals on and on, until I have so many thoughts in my head that I can’t pick out any one particular one. And then I get very, very tired. Queen Clutter-Bug begins to slow down. She crawls into a dark spot and the other Clutter-Bugs swarm around and begin to eat her.

Image via science.kqed.org
Original image via science.kqed.org

But there is hope! Or so I’m told. There are cures for rampant Clutter-Bug-ism, such as meditation, relaxation techniques, and – if you’re a particular kind of person – alcohol. Scour the internet and you will find a million different suggestions for calming the shouting voices in your brain, the ones that keep you from ever being calm or satisfied. There are methods, if only one chooses to seek them out.

Or if you’re like me you can find your own release; little joys that keep you from going utterly insane. How do I dispel Queen Clutter-Bug? I do things that are completely against her nature. I purposely pick something that I know is material clutter and I toss it in the trash, sighing pleasurably all the while. I snuggle up with my daughter and watch cartoons – great brain-blanking animations that somehow keep your mind from thinking about anything else. I watch B-movies with my husband – films so absurdly terrible that you can’t help but just sit and laugh the world away.

My methods may not be ideal, nor might they work at all for someone else with similar Clutter-Buginess issues. But we all must deal with our issues in our own way, and for me these things are Clutter-Bug Raid.

Which reminds me, my mile-long mental list includes spraying some Clutter-Bug Raid. Excuse me, I really must get to that ASAP.

Your Children Know What You Did Last Summer

Children are remarkably perceptive little creatures, and they are ever watching, ever listening, ever learning. Did you know that it is believed that children learn 90% of all the words they’re ever going to learn between the ages of 6 months and 18 months old? The theory is that they spend these months observing, often watching the mouths of others while they speak rather than focusing on their eyes. They learn the sound of the words, along with the motion the mouth makes while saying them, and gather up all this information for later. Only after gathering enough information about the way speech works do they actually attempt it themselves.

Many parents will tell you that you have to start watching what you say when you have kids, and this is definitely true. How often to you catch small children swearing, after all, because they recognize words that their parents say often? I don’t want to speak specifically about speech, however, because most people already realize that kids hear everything. What I want to point out is that kids see and feel everything as well.

I’ll give you an example. My daughter loves to do puzzles, which is awesome because it’s great for her brain, but she always wants myself or my husband to sit with her while she does her puzzles. She doesn’t necessarily want us to join in or anything, she just wants us to be there. So okay, that’s fine; I’ll usually sit with her and have my iPhone or my laptop with me and I’ll pluck away at something while she’s doing her puzzle. I’ll smile and nod and praise her at the appropriate intervals, while also multitasking on something else I have (or want) to do. This is what we were doing a few weeks ago, up in her bedroom. She was plucking away at her Tinkerbell puzzle, and I was praising her while browsing Twitter on my iPhone. What I failed to realize as this was occurring, was that I wasn’t really so much paying attention to her as I was smiling and nodding while focused intently on my phone’s screen. I didn’t notice what I was doing…but she sure did. Even though I was doing basically the same thing that I would have been doing had I not had the phone with me (smile, nod, say “Good job!”), she was fully aware that I wasn’t paying attention, and she didn’t like it. Before I knew what was happening, she stood up, took the phone right out of my hand, placed it on her bookshelf, and said, “There, that’s better!” before returning to her puzzle. I was shocked for a moment, but it didn’t take me long to burst into laughter. She really told me! She knew that I was only paying her lip service while I was glued to the Twittersphere, so she resolved the issue herself.

Kids notice these things. They are a lot more in tune to what is going on around them than adults give them credit for. They know when you’re patronizing them, they can tell when you’re flat-out lying to them, they notice when you’re genuinely upset, they see things that you don’t even realize you’re doing. Think of all the times a child has spouted off a surprising phrase that you didn’t notice you said all the time, or the times a child has followed you around, copying mannerisms you never noticed you even had. If you don’t have kids of your own, think back to when you were a kid. Couldn’t you tell if your mother was sad about something, or your dad had suffered a bad day at work? Didn’t you try to copy the way your mother applied lipstick, or the way your father shaved? And don’t even try to tell me that you can’t think of at least one instance of a parent or a loved one bursting into laughter or getting embarrassed because of something you said, and you didn’t understand what the big deal was because you were just repeating something they had said.

"Don't worry, ma, I've been paying attention and I've totally got this."
“Don’t worry, ma, I’ve been paying attention and I’ve totally got this.”

It’s an important thing to remember when dealing with children, although we tend to forget it more often than not. Remember that this little creature is watching you, seeing everything you do, hearing everything you say, picking up on your emotions and moods, and learning. Most of all, learning. Everything you do or say, everything you present to them in everyday life, is a lesson. What are you going to teach your children today?