Creatives Are a Little Messy In Our Living Spaces

Aimée Gramblin

We want to live in our imaginations where dishes and laundry don’t exist, but we still need to get stuff done…

At least I know I do. I want to live in my imagination — LALA land. It’s so much more fun than in the real world most of the time. I don’t want the drudgery of peeling the kiwi or cooking dinner or scrubbing the toilet or folding the laundry. I definitely don’t want to make decisions about what to keep, what to trash, and what to pass on. Although I’ve used Marie Kondo’s spark joy method, it doesn’t work for my day-to-day living.

As a Myers-Briggs type INFP (Introverted, Intuitive, Feeling, Perceiving), I want open-ended, endless opportunities.

I’m an imaginative introvert.

Cleaning and organization counter that.

I’d go so far as to say they feel like an assault on me — my personality.

Yet, I don’t enjoy living in a filthy environment.

I’d rather have a delicious home-cooked meal than a frozen dinner. But, I don’t want to leave my imagination and creativity to come to earth to do these mundane chores. It finally occurred to me that this is an issue of temperament.

The adults in my life have mainly been J’s (Judging) on the MBTI, particularly my mom who mainly raised me. I’ve been married almost 20 years to a Judging type.

Messy Creatives Are Not a Lost Cause

I hated myself for not living up to the standards of the Js, the organized people in my life, for not thinking like them, for not naturally knowing how to organize my environment and make it comfortable for myself and others. Cleaning and organization meant energetic zaps, boredom, and a job poorly done. I’d get distracted. I’d give up. As I yelled, “You despise me!” at David after a simple home improvement discussion had turned into a heated standoff about the state of the innards of the house, I realized in my heart I was really yelling, “I despise me” at myself because I can’t figure this cleaning/organization thing out and no one — no one — is going to help me. I feel like a lost cause. Do you also feel this way? It’s like you do if you are also an Imaginative Introvert.

We Need To Discover What Works For Our Temperament

I later apologized to David for my outburst. After he called me a “back street brawler” with my dirty fight tactics and I agreed and we laughed, we talked about my overwhelm. The truth is I hate living in a dirty cluttered space. My brain doesn’t like it at all. Yes, I want endless possibilities and the space to be messy and creative, but I also want to feel safe in my space. And, it’s a feeling I rarely achieve.

Cleaning and organizing bore me. I’d rather be in LALA land daydreaming about house fairies doing all the cleaning for me…

David kindly told me he can’t help me with this. And, I knew he was right. Our styles are so different. And, that was the big aha! moment that I’ve been grasping at for almost 20 years. Quit looking to people I admire for help and look to people like me who have figured out how to make it work.

Imaginative Introverts Feel Like Daily Tasks Are Mundane and Even Aggressive to Our Preferred Lifestyle

It wasn’t surprising when I performed a web search for INFPs and cleaning and returned many, many hits on how we struggle with cleaning and organization overwhelm. I found a source that has suggestions for how every MBTI type cleans in a healthy way. It suggested INFPs find cleaning challenges and communities and try out different ones until we find one that fits — to know we can change it up when we get bored.

What works for one person won’t work at all for another and that’s okay. When we try to figure out how to make our lives run more smoothly, it can be very helpful to refer to our personality types. While I am an open-ended thinker who likes projects to remain perpetually open-ended, the people who have J (Judging) in the MBTI tend to feel better when things are neatly ordered. So, I’m guessing it’s mostly Js writing tutorials on cleaning and organization.

The blogger Bo Miller of Introvert, Dear asserts this tendency to live in imagination and big-picture thinking is a trait of Introverts:

“Ideas, theories, patterns, connections, and possibilities excite you. That’s why you’re an innovative, cutting-edge, passionate learner — not a routine, practical, detail-oriented practitioner.
Sadly, although you’d rather be thinking about the big picture and the future, life requires you to shop, cook, clean, and do the laundry.”

Most tips on cleaning don’t work for me. They’re geared towards people who have a hold on daily/weekly/monthly cleaning rituals and routines and are intuitively tempered for understanding and executing these challenges.

When I searched INFP and cleaning, I found we are the dirtiest of all. Go figure.

I wasn’t surprised by this. It actually made me feel slightly better. At least I’m not alone in my eternal struggle with cleaning and organization.

New Cleaning Strategies For Introverts, Rebels, and Creatives

When I searched the internet for ideas geared to Introverts and INFPs, I found several useful ideas, which I’ve listed below. I also came up with some of these of my own accord.

  • UFYH (UnF*** Your Habitat): The UFYH website and app have been on my radar for a long time. Using the app requires little brainpower. I choose a room and a time limit and swipe through challenges until I find one I want to do. I set the timer, do the challenge, and voila, all clean! Or, I think about doing the challenge and go back to LALA land. Yes, that does happen, too.
“A 20/10 is 20 minutes of unf*cking (cleaning, studying, what have you) followed by a 10-minute break. 45/15s are the same, only, you know, 45 and 15. The UfYH system is based on 20/10s because breaks are important. We’re looking to avoid marathons here.”
  • Promising myself a reward: I looked at the time while writing this and saw I had about 20 minutes until time to host my writing Zoom meeting. I glanced at the piles of dishes in the kitchen and thought about my ISTJ husband who feels much better when everything is tidy. I decided I’d run a load of dishes before the meeting. That’s doable. It feels like it takes forever to do the dishes with my dishwasher — unloading and loading it. But, it took me from 9:39–9:45 to get the dishwasher unloaded and running. Wait, 6 minutes?! Yes, I can take a break from my imagination for 6 minutes.
  • Listen to music and dance while cleaning or listen to podcasts and let your brain run free: We creatives need input to go with our creative output, and sometimes we forget how important this is. Conversely, Introvert, Dear recommends letting our minds wander while we clean in the quiet — this is an important time to let our ideas simmer.
“ Dreaming, inventing, and creating are what intuitive introverts are born to do. Fortunately, chores offer you plenty of uninterrupted time to think and innovate.”
  • Clean with a friend: My mom, who is an introvert and good at cleaning and organizing, but doesn’t love it either, says she much prefers cleaning with friends or family. When she works doing dishes or finishing other projects with friends or family it becomes more fun and less like a chore. Yes, mom, you have a point.
  • Find a cleaning challenge: According to Simply Convivial there is a cleaning plan for every MBTI type and the INFP plan sounds right to me, but where do I find these online cleaning challenges?! Help, please! To see your type, take the MBTI test and then visit the Simply Convivial blog here.
“INFP — tuned-in connector
An INFP mom is perceptive, understanding, and sensitive. A checklist list will not come naturally to her, but with practice, she can derive great benefit and direction from it. An INFP will avoid decision-making, being easily overwhelmed, so she will do best with an online community resource that makes the decisions for her and keeps the ideas behind the plan front-and-center, helping her stay on track and inspired.”

Rebel With a Cause

While going down the cleaning rabbit hole, I found Gretchen Rubin’s Four Tendencies Quiz and discovered I’m a Rebel…Well, I’ve been calling myself a “Brat” and a “Primadonna” lately, so I guess I’m getting better at seeing this trait in myself. I even have trouble doing my 6 minutes of physical therapy every day…

“For the most part, they don’t respond well to supervision, advice, directions, reminders, nagging, or routines, or doing repetitive tasks. They prefer spontaneity to scheduling. They may act as though the rules don’t apply to them.”

I’m really glad I stumbled on The Four Tendencies. I’ll be checking out Gretchen’s resources and seeing if I can apply them to my cleaning and organization. Reading my quiz results and seeing that I’m a Rebel, which means David is likely an Obliger was another big AHA moment. No wonder I exhaust him — and myself. The Other two types are The Upholder and The Questioner. I think we may have one of each type in our four-person family!

Okay, so I’m going forth, looking for challenges, communities, and new ways of thinking about cleaning and organization, that play well with imagination and resistance. Any tips? Please share in the comments below.

Originally published in MindCafe on May 22, 2021.

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