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Dysfunctional Childhood, Now Grown-Adult Slob?

Adulting can be such a challenge for folks who grew up in toxic and dysfunctional families.  

My mom was a super duper clean-freak and the house always had to look like it came out of a magazine.  To the point of non-functional.  There was no comfy place in the house that felt like home, whatever that was supposed to mean.

There were rooms that were for guests only.  The living room with the fancy furniture we weren’t allowed to sit on.  Fancy towels and linens were for guests only.  There were also separate fancy cutlery and plates for guests only, placed perfectly according to British etiquette dining rules.  People would come over and see all the fanciness and fake sweetness and be impressed.  Snacks just for the guests in the cupboards we weren’t allowed to have unless guests were over.  Then they would leave and all the toxic living dysfunction war zone family life Olympics would continue, along with the raggedy linens and plates we were allowed to use in limited areas of the house.  

Add generations of a bad combo of colonization and patriarchy to the dysfunction:  

As a South Asian little girl, I was expected to learn to cook and clean to prep for marriage and breeding for whoever my mom/parents would choose.  I was also expected to stay out of the sun in order to have any chance at being considered attractive since I was already dark. 

Even though I had a brother in the house, I was instructed to make his bed AND mine.  When I asked WTF and why, the answer was always “he’s the boy so he doesn’t have to”.  I chose the ass-whoopin every time over doing any of his chores.  Not only that, I refused to learn how or do any chores that were for girls only.  I volunteered to carry heavy groceries, move furniture, carry anything heavy, mow the lawn, and wash the cars.  I did have a little interest in baking as a kid, but if I did anything wrong, I would get screamed at and had to leave the kitchen ASAP.  So for the most part, I refused to learn anything related to cooking and cleaning (my friends secretly taught me how later in university, and I told them not to tell my parents I know how to cook and sew now).  It was beyond obvious and clear that my brother was the favorite, and there would never be any sort of way I could compete or even try to.  So I met feminism YOUNG.  And with feminism, came the rebellion.

The first part of rebelling was taking the constant criticism, name-calling, and ass-whoopins that came with refusing to learn to cook and clean, but I stood my ground.  I said I would only learn to do those things if my brother was next to me learning and participating too.  If he didn’t have to learn, then I wasn’t gonna learn either.  He never had to learn, and I was told that nobody would ever want to marry me, and many other things, so I developed the toughest skin to endure that childhood.  I learned to play drums and electric bass too.  

Later on in high school and college, I was introduced to the punk rock scene, which was against everything my family wanted me to be.  Along with music scenes in general come drug abuse unfortunately.  I was a straight edge vegan (meaning substance-free, social-justice-activist type of vegan), but I saw how the other rockers lived, and it looked like freedom.  Underwear and clothes on the floor, messes, dishes in the sink, and not a care in the world.  I didn’t want to be what my mom wanted for me.  I wanted to be the opposite.  So I became quite the slob.  And it was comfortable!  I loved being able to put my feet on couches, eat in bed, throw my underwear on the floor, etc..  No more restrictions!

Now, I didn’t want to live in filth, and had quite a learning curve of figuring out how to adult ahead of me.  When I was younger, I lived in tiny little manageable places.  It wasn’t a big deal to sweep the floor and scrub a toilet, sink, tub, and small kitchen I hardly used once a week.  I didn’t have much stuff, and all my stuff was hand-me-down furniture or from thrift shops, so nothing expensive to “be careful” about.  Nothing to impress my mom’s kinda guests.

But later as I got older, got engaged (eventually decided not to marry), lived in bigger spaces, accumulated more crap, had to cohabitate with roommates and/or partners, and it became so much more challenging.  Home organization, decorating, sharing space and chores, etc…. I was torn between being reminded of my mom’s disciplining, and just having to do chores to not live like an animal.  Doing chores always reminded me of being disciplined and being put down and insulted, and I hated it.  Not only that, but I never even learned how to do this stuff.  

While this has been challenging for a person like me who's connected basic adulting life skills with being punished as a child, even people with healthier upbringings struggle with their emotions behind their stuff. According to, 11% of American households rent storage spaces just to keep crap they nearly never look at, never use, and possibly don't even remember what's there. Depending on where you live, storage units can be expensive!

When you have too much crap and can't find stuff, then you end up wasting money buying duplicates of what you already have, and then you create clutter storing the new thing with the previous thing already floating around your house. On top of spending money buying duplicates and bringing unnecessary items home, apparently people spend an average of 2 entire weeks a year looking for stuff, or according to the LA Times, 1 entire year of their lives just looking for crap.

Then there's the weird emotions and guilt that come with stuff that can paralyze us when we're trying to organize:

  • 'An ex-boyfriend got/made this for me and it makes me feel loved, even though he's long gone now and having this thing on display feels weird'.

  • 'A beloved relative who's no longer with us gave me this outift that fits weird and looks bad on me, but they gave it to me with love, so I can't be an asshole and get rid of it'.

  • "This is too expensive to get rid of, I spent a lot of money on it, even though it's in the way and I never use it".

  • "What if I need this one day? I might need it, so I need to keep it".

  • "I'm gonna fit into this again one day".

So while you're dealing with this head battle which is exhausting in itself, stressful, and leads you to just freeze, now you have present-day issues. Your friends wanna come over. You can't tackle the project in time. So, you either to let them in, tell them not to judge, and apologize for the mess... Or you redirect the hang to anywhere else but your spot. But inside either way you feel bad about yourself because you wish your place was as comfortable as their places are, but you can't pull this off because you feel like something must be wrong with you. Even worse, maybe you got the bigger spot, imagining that now you'll have more space and things will be more organized. But the reality is no matter how big or small the spaces have been over the years, it's always hectic and a struggle wherever you're at.

I fell into a pattern of my place was either decent enough looking for company, or a total mess and mountain to clean.  Sure, I’d get it decent enough for company, but I couldn’t maintain after they left.  It would always turn into a mountain to tackle for a few hours or days.  Combine that with the disappointments of life, family dysfunction, stress…. I would rather run into escape and fantasy land than face reality and clean.  Scrolling, spending time with love interests, whatever the vice, etc…. Anything but handle the mess.  Put it off until I had to.  

Can anyone else relate to any of this?  It's spring time, and I have a whole lot more about this topic coming up, and some offerings on the way for April.  


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