Although I did enjoy the coziness of staying indoors on Saturday as snow buried the city in its temporary beauty, I’m otherwise cranky about this past weekend’s storm. Trying to get a three-year-old over the barely passable piles of soot-and-trash-encrusted snow that accumulate at the corners of every block exhaust me, and I’m enraged at the filth. “We are garbage people living on a garbage island,” I mutter to myself, which (briefly) comforts me by turning my sense of responsibility into a joke.
And I do feel responsible. Indeed, there seems to be no limit to my sense of responsibility. Even as a little girl, I had a dream of cleaning up the world. I wanted to sweep up all the cigarette butts and straighten out all the cracks in the sidewalks. And my grownup self often has a hard time accepting that I will never be able to collect all of the plastic bags blowing around New York City. The best I can do is take care of my own little cluttered corner of the world.
Even here, though, in our not-terribly-large apartment, my sense of responsibility just might be outsized. In a recent interview with Dr. Levitin, author of The Organized Mind, Note to Self host Manoush Zomorodi mentioned a study (cited in Levitin’s book) that found that clutter triggers the production of cortisol—particularly in women. This finding is unsurprising. Whether or not we consciously take responsibility for the messes in our homes, our culture is certainly glad to give the responsibility to women. Just look at the language that is so often used to talk about the division of labor in the home: housekeeping and childcare are typically said to be things that mothers “do” and fathers “help with.”
One enlightening moment occurred when I saw what was happening with notices from the public school. The notices come home in a folder along with L’s homework. On nights when I supervise homework, I pull the notices out of the folder, sort through them, drop most into the recycling bin, sign the ones that need to be signed and sent back, take note of upcoming events, and so on. Whereas in the past, on nights when Brian supervised homework, the notices would get sent right back to school, still in the folder, unread. Until I made a fuss, I don’t think he even noticed what he was doing. To his mind, they were only just so much noise—nothing that required his attention. Mostly they didn’t, it’s true; but why should I have to be the one to sort through and decide that they all just belong in the recycling bin?
My insight from this isn’t that I am virtuous and Brian is not, nor that I am too fussy. It’s just to see how differently he operates — and that part of me is jealous. I have never wanted to be an art monster (though I am beginning now to see the appeal), but I would like to be a little less responsible.