I have been spending hours fixing a single drawer.
It’s our Tupperware drawer, and it’s been broken for months. The drawer is composed of two components: the rectangular box that holds our Tupperware, and the drawer face, which at some point when closed too vigorously, ripped the particle board asunder, causing the damaged face of the drawer to clatter to the ground.
Some of my friends have drawers that you cannot slam. No matter how hard you push that drawer, no matter how quickly it initially begins to close, at the end, it slows down, nestling peacefully into its home.
I fantasize about those drawers all the time. Especially when my drawer breaks ... again.
You see, I have attempted to repair this broken drawer multiple times. I have attempted to fix it with different screws, then with wood glue, then with different adhesives.
Each time, when we forget to close the drawer delicately, it breaks again.
Eventually, I stopped attempting to repair it. For months, we’ve just lived with a broken Tupperware drawer.
Even discounting the drawer, our kitchen is in need of work. The table is consistently home to items carelessly dropped upon it. Clean and empty counter spaces are quickly filled with dishes and used cutting boards.
Crumbs, vegetable cuttings and coffee grinds find their way into corners. The floor becomes filthy mere minutes after it has been swept and washed.
On a bad day, everywhere I look in the kitchen, there is chaos. But other rooms tell similar stories.
- Walls needing repainting.
- Stair nosing that is splitting.
- Clutter needing organization or removal.
- Disrepair and entropy on display.
There is a short story by the author Sherman Alexie entitled The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven.
In the story, there is a romantic couple that fought regularly. Epic and brutal altercations with the sharpest of words both whispered and yelled. And lamp throwing. Regularly the protagonist would pick up a lamp in the midst of their fights and drop it, or throw it against the wall.
After each fight they would pick up a new lamp to replace it. At first from fancy boutiques, then thrift stores and garage sales.
Eventually the couple stopped replacing the lamps. Their home was dark. They lived and fought in darkness.
The story illuminates the subtle and even unintentional ways that a person gives up. Our slow, unintentional descent into entropy. When we stop replacing that which is broken. When we simply accept and live in brokenness.
Now no one in our house is throwing lamps. But is a continually broken drawer really that different? Or a table consistently covered in clutter?
Of course, all of these things are just exteriors, right? Just decoration, just esthetics.
But what if they’re not?
In Alexie’s short story, the chaotic and destructive nature of the couple’s relationship is mirrored in the broken items, the unadorned areas, the darkened, lamp-less home. Perhaps in our story, our external environments mirror our internal states as well.
What if a cluttered desk really does reflect a cluttered mind? Or an usable table?
- Of course, we’re busy.
- Of course, we are tired.
- Of course, I have fixed that drawer before.
- Of course, we have cleared that table and those counters before, only to see them fall into disarray again.
Things seem to fall into chaos so easily some days. Cleaning up after three kids and a large dog can feel like our own personal sand mandala ritual.
Sometimes, you stop pushing back against the chaos. Sometimes, you let the dishes stay on the counter. Or let the drawer stay broken. Or stop replacing the lamps.
As the owner of spaces that are frequently cluttered, dirty or needing repair, I don’t always like what my exteriors would say about my interior life.
I would like my interiors and exteriors to be completely divided things, thank you very much.
But I know they’re not.
I know the joy of an open space and unobstructed view. How a made bed can make you feel more settled. How a clean sink and countertops can fill you with a simple pride. Even for just for a little while.
Conversely, when my focus and energy levels drop off, the house reflects it. Laundry piles up just a little more. The small acts of tidying up after myself (and others) gets neglected.
The truth is, our exteriors both reflect and affect our interior life.
This is great when it works in our favour. When we enter a space that calms us, such as a walk in nature, or a favourite sun soaked chair where we like to read. But it can also utterly undo us at times.
When I feel anxious, or scattered and distracted, a table full of clutter can feel like more than just an assortment of items to be put away.
It can feel like I’m failing at the very basics of life.
Once we see our exteriors as intertwined with our interior life, we can be left with a very long and important to do list.
You might be left feeling as if you are not merely repairing a broken item, but your very brokenness. Suddenly, the worn off paint, the overflowing cutlery drawer, the messy vehicle interior begin to feel like character flaws. That there is something very wrong with you.
And if, (hypothetically speaking), you find the prospect of repairing that one accursed drawer again overwhelming, the prospect of attempting to repair and structure your interior life may just make you want to lie down in the fetal position.
That to-do list is crushing. You may not even know where to start.
So start with both acceptance and gratitude.
We all arrive at this moment through different paths. Some of our interiors and exteriors are more cluttered than others. So be it.
This is your home, your interior and exterior, and no one else’s. Accept that a home comes with it all. Warm baths and leaking pipes. Delicious food around a table, and the dishes afterward. Projects completed and many projects yet to do.
Accept that a life’s work may just take a lifetime. It might be enough (for now) to simply see this. To see ourselves soberly, but without too much judgment.
Seeing is a gift, after all. Noticing that which we were too tired or overwhelmed to see before, is progress. To buy one more lamp, when you’ve smashed so many before, is courage.
There is no easy fix for the way we are. But it is still good. We can desire change without despising who we are.
So sweep away the new mess, clear off that table and counters once again. And break out the adhesives, and screws, and clamps, and attempt to fix that which is broken once more.
Clear those exteriors, and be kind to your interior life.
This is hard, good work, making a home.
This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.