Why Do Men Make A Mess?

Courtesy of CLEO Mag.

Deep-seated laziness or an intricate form of rebellion? Here’s how to stop the rot.

I have a male friend whose flat is a crime scene investigator’s delight. From the scattered remains of food, clothes, papers and objects defying description, you can build an accurate picture of the last three month’s activities. There’s even enough evidence to work out when and where he last made love.

And yet, not only does he have a responsible job as a systems analyst but his office is a paragon of tidiness. Every paper is filed correctly, his desk is arranged with military precision and even the contents of his wastebasket look neat. Why this contradiction? One answer is that men can be tidy only if there’s a framework within which to work – we need systems to be tidy. I have another friend who has indexed his CD collection by artist, label and theme, but can’t be bothered to tidy his flat. The result? He can find a blues song featuring a black female artist singing about the whether, but no clean underwear.

Even better than a system is a gadget. I’ll spend hours tapping addresses into a PDA because it’s “neater” than an address book, while studiously ignoring a week’s washing-up. This is because there’s an end in sight – once the information in entered I don’t have to do it again. But washing up is endless. The minute you finish, it needs doing again.

But, there may be a deeper, more sinister explanation for men’s aversion to tidiness. We tend to associate neatness with authority. The more draconian the organization, the greater the emphasis on tidiness. In short, tidiness is identified with control and untidiness with freedom. So when a man refuses to do the cleaning he’s not being lazy, but rebelling, making a statement – albeit, from an armchair and behind a newspaper.

So how do you cope with the slob in your life? The first thing to realize is that tidying up after him won’t work. This only feed his sense of being in control and places you in the role of nag. Instead, try a strict policy of throwing away anything that is out of place.

If a shirt lies on the floor for more than a few minutes, bin it. If his socks are strewn around the kitchen, stuff them down the trash. This will bring rapid result – especially if the first thing to go is his treasured Liverpool jersey. But, it can also lead to tension within a relationship. Far more effective is to become outrageous untidy yourself. For every discarded tee add two bras, for a soiled pair of boxers toss in some tights. After a while he’ll realize that he’s not rebelling but conforming, and will suddenly make tidiness his middle name. However, be warned – it can take months of mega-mess before the message gets through.

But before taking such drastic action consider this: Do you want to live with someone tidy? Isn’t there something deeply suspicious about a man who scrub the shower stall the moment he gets out? A slob may be infuriating, and even smelly, but do you really want to share your life with a man who owns a trouser press?

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