Left to Right


This is the chaos that is our living room Christmas morning. It is also a pretty fair approximation of the chaos that is my life on many more days than I care to admit. My aim is to be Archie, still and happy in the midst of all the chaos. My aim is also to have a chair to actually sit on so I can finish Claire Tomalin’s wonderful Jane Austen: A Life. And if there is a table where I can put a cup of tea without everything else on the table crashing to the floor, life is complete.

Only this morning, my husband was making enthusiastic noises about how aggressively he is going to attack his resolutions, possibly aided by the intervention of six cups of strong Sumatra. Me? I asked him to aggressively make me a cup of tea so I could lie in bed and read.

Which is where I still am, this beautiful New Year’s morning in northern California, where the light is so clean and the day is a little chilly, but not forbiddingly so. He got me the tea and then launched into a little speech in which he catalogued my fine qualities, which is a little unusual, so I think that must be the coffee at work. Anyway, among the fine qualities I was lauded for possessing, besides my ability to actually not move for hours in the morning even when he has had six cups of coffee and is trying to rouse me to clean up the living room, is that I taught him to clean the kitchen from left to right. Okay, so it is not exactly the same as, say, teaching someone the principles of physics or how to speak Italian, but it still counts.

Basically, this important cleaning principle involves beginning your task at a fixed point, (I choose left because I am, after all, socially and politically liberal, but this works equally well if you begin on the right — something that is not true in any other part of life), and not moving on to any other chaotic place until you have put that area to rights. Oh, and it is also important to wipe the crumbs off that section of the kitchen before you move on.

I have a few other tips for how to go about cleaning up the living room and the kitchen, and I give them to you, completely free of charge, but only if you promise to spend at least part of your day today doing the equivalent of lying around in the midst of the chaos on your little dog bed thing, only in your case it should be the sofa or an armchair. A hot beverage is recommended. Here they are:

–play your favorite rowdy music — loud is good. It gets you going, makes you feel less guilty when you consider how wrapping paper is an environmental shame and you really need to think of an alternative, and also gets children involved in rushing around the house, putting their new books on shelves and even maybe walking that sleepy dog.
–never leave the room without something in your hands, and always put that thing as close as possible to the place it goes — you don’t have to get it exactly where it goes, but if it is closer to its destination that is a good thing
–caffeine is good, but six cups of coffee is pushing it
–line up a little reward at the end — Lying around reading the Life of Jane Austen is currently recommended because it is incredibly interesting. My favorite thing so far was Tomalin’s observation that Austen’s father was wonderfully encouraging, that he let her read widely in his library and he did not censor her writing, even when, as an adolescent, the plays she wrote involved the exploits of women of doubtful character, who seemed not to be punished for running around wildly, but to enjoy themselves immensely. Given that he was a minister, this liberality is all the more remarkable.

Before you know it, the living room will look ready for lounding around in.

Here’s to a liberal, open-handed, tolerant, slightly less chaotic, and wildly fun 2008.