Sometimes I look around my house and despair. I seem to have so much stuff. My desk is a great example. Along with the piles of notebooks, index cards, and scraps of paper, I have a stack of reference books, a bunch of journals, and a herd of critters — ceramic, knit, and fabric — who all keep me company as I write.

My desk at its cleanest would make some people weep.
My desk at its cleanest is still pretty crowded.
But this is how it usually looks when I'm working.
This is how it usually looks when I’m working. Or worse.

I have a friend whose house is spotless, and it’s not an illusion. Not only does she have a minimum of knickknacks, but even her closets are neat, organized, and only half-full. Open the cabinets in her guest bathroom and every shelf is bare. Every single one. The last time my cabinets looked like that, we’d just bought our house and hadn’t moved in yet. They won’t look like that again until we pack up and leave.

I used to get upset about this. I wondered what was wrong with me. I admire minimalist living, and it coincides with my beliefs about avoiding unnecessary waste and simplifying to save both time and money. Whenever I visit my friend, I look around her house and think about how easy it is to breathe there, how calming the environment is, how soothing those huge expanses of white are.

But after a few days, I start to get edgy. What seemed soothing becomes cold, what was calming feels dead. My discomfort grows until I am desperate for the color and patterns of the beloved objects that surround me at home. I miss the comfort of my mess.

I didn’t understand what was going on until I read about the different modes of learning and how they affect the way we interact with the world. In an article about decorating a writer’s office, Jeanne Adams explains that our decorating style is directly linked to how we learn. Each person leans towards at least one of three learning modalities — visual, auditory, and kinesthetic. Those same learning preferences affect what makes an office space appealing and easy to work in.

I’m a combination of a visual and kinesthetic learner, and my environment shows it. I need color and texture (visual) but I also place a lot of emphasis on being comfortable physically (kinesthetic). My kinesthetic tendencies apparently override my visual ones, since I put up with a lot more chaos in my environment than a pure visual learner would. I realized that my friend is a musician and an auditory learner. She thrives in a minimalist environment because of who she is.

That realization has saved me. I no longer have to think I am a bad person for surrounding myself with an abundance of things or that my friend is better than me because she lives in such a stream-lined home. We are both doing what we need to do to function well in the world. Accepting that we are different people with different needs has enabled me to be compassionate and understanding towards us both. Our ways of living each have their pros and cons. One is not better than another, however one is better for her, the other, better for me.

I’m constantly working on being more accepting of myself and others. Most of the struggles in my own life come from me fighting against what is true instead of accepting the facts and working with them. This insight about learning modalities and living spaces was a lesson in acceptance for me, and I’m grateful for it.

Today, members of 1000 Voices of Compassion are blogging about acceptance. To see a list of other posts on acceptance and compassion, click here.

3 thoughts on “Accepting Differences: One Woman’s Mess Is Another’s Desk”

  1. Good for you! I was chatting with my husband yesterday about the current abundance of books about “accepting & understanding the introverts” in your life and how I was a bit confused by that, until I realized the majority of the people in my life were introverts and I could use a manual on extroverts. As a SAHM, former career woman, I’ve struggled with accepting that I am happy. And wtf, really?!Why should i struggle with being happy? Articles like yours on self acceptance are nice to read and good reminders.

    1. I need to work on understanding extroverts, too. As a serious introvert, I completely do not get people who are desperate to hang out with others, love going to parties, etc., etc. But their way of living is totally valid, and I need to allow for that. At the same time, I need to allow for the fact that I do not necessarily enjoy everything that other people enjoy, and things that make other people happy may not make me happy. Like you, I get caught up in the messages society sends me and can be told I’m not happy because of the choices I’ve made, when in fact I am.

      One of my favorite books is Harriet the Spy in which a character says something like: there are as many ways to live in the world as there are people in it. I try hard to remember that.

      Thanks for taking the time to comment!

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