Marilyn Paul, PhD

Doing the Dishes, Finding the Self



This morning, before I sat down to work, I did the dishes, wiped down the counters, and put loose items away.  Slowly my kitchen quieted down.  The space looked open, clean and cleared off.

Kitchens that look like this used to puzzle me.  I would go into someone’s home and notice that clean and clear space and wonder how she (or he) did it.  I would have negative feelings about that person.  “She’s too shallow to have a messy kitchen….”(Really?)

My kitchen was a whirling chaotic mess.  I hated doing dishes so I let them pile up.  Newspapers, books, opened and unopened mail, and random announcements gathered as if for a social event on my counters.  Where did it all come from?  Why was it there if it was so unwanted?

Over the years I discovered that my chronic mess was there for a reason.  It reminded me of the home I grew up in, it made me feel bad – a familiar feeling.  I would lose things in the mess, and so I would enter a familiar frenzy of panic or pain – particularly if I lost a set of credit card statements or my mortgage payment pack.

It took me a long time to accept that my incredibly frustrating habits were there for a good but paradoxical reason.  My psyche was comfortable with pain.  In fact, I sought it out.  Being disorganized was one sure way to keep pain in my life.

When I did accept that, I could slowly dismantle my disorderly habits.  I eased my addiction to panic.  I found better ways to remind myself of my family of origin.  I accepted that part of me needed to feel bad to feel “like myself” and then I found other ways to “feel like me” when I wanted to locate myself.

So, this morning, my kitchen is clean and clear.  I sat down to write right away, and here I am.

This reminds me of an old Hasidic story.  There was a man who was so confused that he couldn’t even get dressed in the morning.  One night he decided to make a note of where all his pieces of clothing were and the order to put them on.  He wrote down Pants, Socks, Shirt and Hat and in the morning, he put his clothes on in the right order.  But then he said, “I’m fully dressed, but where am I?”


And that is the question that each of us can address as we add more order and calm to our lives.

2 Responses to "Doing the Dishes, Finding the Self"
  1. Marilyn,
    Thanks for your breath of fresh air and timely blog posting. Starting one step at a time is the way to go. I have begun the clean up journey, although it is much slower pace than I would like. Slowing down may be part of the answer for me, at least.
    Hope your Jerusalem sabbatical has been terrific. We look forward to seeing you back in Boston in just a few months.

  2. So glad I ran into your blog and page today! I can definitely relate to what you are talking about and reading about the needing to feel bad to feel like you, even though I haven’t had time to process it yet feels like a revelation to be applied in many areas of my life! So, thank you, and have a great week!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *