2024 is here. Toastmasters are putting the finishing touches on their New Year's resolutions. Each resolution includes a detailed project plan, meticulous milestones and that stubborn self-assurance that makes people dislike us.
Meanwhile, the rest of the world is downloading last year's list; that will do, thank you very much.
Me? I have one NYR: 'I will never have my cousin Kathy over again'. Not being petty, but she overstayed her welcome … after the first minute! She took one look at my flat and instantly began praising the merits of decluttering and housecleaning, which she claimed had helped her succeed and create the life she wanted.
I thought how boring! In my fantasy life, I want a male stripper to clean up after me. Still, I didn't interrupt her tidy enthusiasm, thinking she would leave it at that.
But no, she's American and has never encountered the words 'subtle' or 'polite'. She turns to me and says, 'Your New Year's resolution HAS to be to clean this place up! It's a dump!'
She continues, claiming a grubby home affects all aspects of your life, including finances and sex. I'm not sure how that works unless bank interest rates are linked to airing your dirty laundry? As for sex, add the word 'clean' to it, and it begins to sound like a chore.
To my utter horror, she hands me a copy of 'The Life–Changing Magic of Tidying' (Best Seller – 13 million copies sold) and says, 'This book will change your life'. Well, it definitely changed our friendship.
I felt like giving her 'The Life-Changing Magic of Minding Your Own Business' (Best Seller by Sonia Aste – Gazillion Copies Sold), but I haven't written it yet. So, instead, I just complained about her to my sister, which is a lot easier. I kept thinking, 'Two more weeks with this condescending cleaning freak?'
I'm not going to lie, there have been a couple of 'minor incidents' related to being untidy, like when a box of books fell from the top of the closet causing a slight concussion (OK, two stiches). Or the time I lost my purse and cancelled all my credit cards in a panic only to find it behind the vodka bottles.
In contrast, Kathy's house is hyper-clean and tidy. It's so clean the 'white glove' test wouldn't be allowed unless she washed it first. This is a woman who washes her Fairy Liquid bottle! In her house, even Mr. Muscle has self-doubts.
The thing is, she enjoys it. I've heard her proclaim, 'Housecleaning gives me a sense of accomplishment'. Accomplishment?! That's like people who love doing their tax returns! Surely, something went seriously wrong with their DNA sequence.
Besides, cleaning is sooo overrated! Look at rhinos mating. They don't let a little mud stop them from getting on with the job, proving Kathy's spotless suggestions just muddy the waters of pleasure.
Now, take my great aunt Carmen. Her house is not yet, 'Hoarders, Buried Alive', but it's in the mail. 'Junk' mail, that is. Nevertheless, I love visiting her because she's living proof that happiness has nothing to do with your home looking like the 'Immaculate Conception'. (I was raised a Catholic – trust me, that's clean.)
What if I have to clutter-surf to get to her toilet? There's comfort in knowing there are enough loo rolls for every backside in the world and sufficient bars of soap to clean at least one Glastonbury festivalgoer.
My great-aunt went through the Spanish Civil War, so all that 'stuff' reassures her and gives her joy. She hoards items that were scarce in those years, like coffee, olive oil, and hand grenades. A little scary, but no more terrifying than Kathy plastic coating her Chesterfield sofa 'So it doesn't get dirty'.
Maybe it's just a matter of finding a middle ground. Somewhere that's comfortable but still leaves you with joy and happiness. Something like, 'Keep my home relatively clean'. I've already started on this NYR. As a first step, I'm throwing away things I don't need. First to go "The Life–Changing Magic of Tidying' (13 million copies sold). Minus one.
Happy New Year.
Sonia Aste is a Harvard MBA, Engineer, MEng, writer, public speaker and comedian. She’s a Toastmaster at Riverside Communicators Club.