A common argument between two cohabitants, often leading to nagging, quarrelling, frustration, resentment and all too often, an ending to the otherwise harmonious relationship.
Firstly, let me focus this post carefully and deliberately avoid the gender specific argument here of man being more comfortable in mess and woman more comfortable within cleanliness. Such gender stereotypes are depicted within the movie “Break Up”, which shows Gary and Brooke’s sudden relationship deterioration following an argument on doing the dishes.
What is more interesting to focus on from this movie is that its success lies in the audience divided as to who they feel more sided with amongst the couple, whether it be the devaluation of Gary to an “inconsiderate prick” or that of Brooke to a “nag”.
I do not believe that this division is based on an alliance of genders- that men will simply take Gary’s side whilst women take Brooke’s side.
Instead, I believe the division in opinion to be based on the consideration of what is considered more acceptable, or less taboo, between having one’s home to be too “messy,” or instead one’s home to be too “clean.”
The focus of this post, therefore, shall be on understanding this difference in opinion.
For what is worse, living in a house that is too messy, or too clean?
The immediately obvious, more acceptable answer is that of a house that is too messy, but we have yet to make one further very important distinction, which is that of the definition of “messy” and “clean”.
Being messy or clean are not definitions necessarily mutually exclusive, nor on the same spectrum: a house can be messy, yet clean, whilst another house can be clean yet at the same time messy. There needs to be a distinction between “cleanliness”, which is that of hygiene, where “cleanliness is next to godliness”, of which lack of results in infestation of maggots, mould and so on, in contrast to “mess“, which can be more accurately described as “disorder“, rather than organisation and “order“.
I doubt that Brooke or Gary would argue of the importance of “cleanliness”- clearly, their home had no infestation of maggots and as the film progressed it showed Gary to create “mess” i.e disorder with various furniture and items out of its original position or “order”, but not that of creating a lack of “cleanliness”.
I claim that the arguments for most relationships lies within the spectrum of “mess” , the spectrum of which lies between the extremes of “order” and the extremes of “disorder” rather than that of cleanliness.
This therefore leaves us with our final question, as to whether Brooke’s preferred position of “order” is considered more acceptable than Gary’s preferred position of “disorder”, depicted within the film as Gary and Brooke began to divide the house into different territorial sections, demonstrating their differing preferred positions within the “spectrum of mess.”
The answer is that neither is more acceptable, for unlike cleanliness, both extremes co-exist more easily as a negative. An overly ordered house, with objects lined in perfection, with no allowance for change or persons who may inadvertently modify the order, provides no room for breathing or life. Rather than being a positive, the extremely ordered is a disorder of an anal obsessive nature, of a subject who can not bear the slightest of chaos or uncertainty, within an uncertain and chaotic world.
The other extreme is that is of the overly disordered house that leads to chaos, confusion, a structureless sea with no anchor, the disorder of a chaotic mind or a constipated hoarder, unable to let go and face the world, instead preferring to remain within the solace of his own mess.
Yet, opposites attract, and hence we often find ourselves fighting over where we should leave the oven mitts, or for that matter, who is to define what is the correct “order” for the oven mitts…hanging next to the oven, or on the cupboard railing?
Where both extremes provide the propensity for arguments amongst the couple, the solution of course is tolerance, but this requires an understanding of the nature of the “spectrum of mess,” which lacks a correct position amongst the spectrum. Ability to function well in society does not correlate with level of order- one man’s order is another man’s chaos…and so on. Many successful people prefer to come home to the excitement of chaos, whilst others prefer the calmness of order. Tolerance is therefore needed on both sides, where the ordered subject truly accepts disorder as equal and the disordered subject accepts order as equal, and neither labels the other as more weaker. Until this can happen, both subjects will exert their spectrum onto the other, until one dominates or the other leaves.