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I was lying on oldest child’s bed, contemplating cleaning her room, when I noticed how nice the dresser looked, in its new shade of deep purple.

The top of the dresser can’t be shown because it’s cluttered with stuff (such as a plant that looks like a dried sea urchin but is apparently not dead and will never die), and the righthand side can’t be shown because of the filthy guinea pig cage parked in front.  Lately I’ve been studying procrastination, so I thought about that a while as I lay back on the pile of pillows and messy quilts and shopping bags and magazine subscription cards and playbills and towels. It was such a comfortable nest that I didn’t feel like moving.

Apparently procrastination often happens with large or long-term projects, whereas taking care of small, urgent matters gives one a sense of accomplishment.  That’s why we answer emails but neglect the essay we told ourselves we would write about Updike, pornography, and Connecticut.  (Yes, I am using ‘we’ so that I don’t feel so alone in my flaws.)  Indeed I made myself get up to free poor Minnie from her matted bedding–she was the urgent, in-my-face, squeaking problem that took less than ten minutes to solve. I filled her cage with fluffy pine shavings and timothy hay.  The room as a whole would have to be considered.  I had already removed various drinking glasses.  Which category would come next?  Trash on the floor? Laundry?  Or should I attack it spatially, excavating various areas, like the chair in the corner draped with a great textural variety of wovens and plastics.

The article on procrastination suggested rewarding yourself after achieving an incremental goal in a big project. http://www.nytimes.com/2012/02/26/jobs/procrastinating-at-work-maybe-youre-overwhelmed.html Maybe I would eat one of the delicious lemon bars oldest child had made after I finished thinking about procrastination. Perfectionism causes procrastination, too–the room will never be perfect, the essay will never live up to its conception, so why not file the bills, or read some grant proposals?

Not that I mind cleaning.  Recently a colleague and I came up with a simple question to determine if you’re an extrovert or introvert: Would you rather be a housekeeper or waitress?  Housekeeper.  It was a lot easier than the 80-question personality test that informed me that I was an introvert.  Surprisingly, when I posed this question to fifteen college students, almost all of them answered ‘waitress.’  They’re studying writing, so I expected that I was dealing with a mob of people who loved sitting in quiet corners reading poems.  Suddenly I felt that I had presumed.

The room could also be cleaned from the top down, the method Barbara Ehrenreich learned when she worked for a cleaning service, as she wrote in her excellent book Nickel and Dimed. http://www.barbaraehrenreich.com/nickelanddimed.htm Cobwebs first, then the mirror.  It bears thinking about.

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