The following piece ran on Patch a few weeks ago, in my regular Monday column profiling kids. This kid is my son's friend and it's one of my favorite profiles. It was the Saturday of Memorial Day weekend and Ben, the teenager and I were sitting in the kitchen. I'd just had two people cancel interviews and I had a kid column due on Sunday night. I didn't know where to find another kid -- everyone was out of town. Then, like a gift from G-d, a profile emerged.
My conversation with Ben started out casually. He was in my kitchen with my son and I asked him to describe his process of getting rid of clothes or shoes that he no longer wears. “I put them in the box in my room,” he said.
You keep a box in your room for outgoing garments? Like a hamper? “No, it’s a trunk that sits under my mirror. Whenever I have a shirt or something that doesn’t fit me anymore, I put it in the trunk and every once in a while my mom and I go through it and decide what to throw out and what to give away. My hampers are in my closet.”
Hampers? How many hampers? “I have one for clothes that definitely need to be washed and another one for things that I’ve worn once but that I might be too lazy to wash. So I can fish that stuff out and wear it again.” He clarified further that he put the box there for the unwanted clothes and he created his own hamper system.
Wait, you’re a 16-year-old with no dirty clothes on your bedroom floor? “My room is perfectly organized. I hate clothes on the floor,” he said.
Ben described his laundry routine, his kitchen routine, his house tidying routine. He has a reputation among his friends for keeping things neat and organized and sometimes being stife with snacks (a word I learned means “stingy”) because he doesn’t like messes of crumbs.
“If I come into a room and it’s really neat and organized, I just feel a great sense of relief,” he said. I kept glancing at my son during the conversation, as if to say, “See, I told you there were people like this in the world,” but my son wouldn’t meet my eye.
“I don’t like stuff sitting in a dish drainer,” he said. “What if it needs to dry?” I asked him looking over my shoulder at my dish drainer piled high with drippy plastic ware. “Take a towel and wipe it off,” he said. “The drainer is just like a waiting room. There’s no reason for that stuff to stay there.”
This is the child I’ve always said I wanted, although I feel the uncomfortable need to clean off my countertops while he talks. “My mom thinks she’s really tidy, but when I do a clean sweep of the house, it’s always her stuff that’s lying around,” he said.
I began to quietly empty the dish drainer.
Many people are hard-wired to be tidy, and Ben seems to be that, but also there may be bit of a reaction to the Oscar/Felix dynamic that exists between him and his older brother. “You can’t believe what his room looks like. You can’t go in there,” said Ben, adding, “That’s where I got my second hamper. He would never use it.”
Ben believes that cleaning helps clear your mind. That even though things are going to get dirty again, it’s worth doing just to see them clean for a little while. And getting into good organizing habits leads to other useful things, like learning general life skills and how to keep things in working order around the house.
Ben’s Tips to Keeping Things Clean and Organized
1. No procrastination.
2. Don’t put stuff away just to get it out of the way. (If you stuff everything into a closet, you’re just going to have a messy closet.)
3. Use it, clean it, then put it away.
4. Don’t rush. Take your time and do a good job.
5. Leave things better than you found them.
6. Don’t let things get to the point where someone has to ask you to clean things up.
Do these rules of Ben’s inform his life overall? “No, not all,” he said, all smiles. “This is just strictly about my own house.”