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Living With Mess

By Shanivi Srikonda
Shanivi Srikonda ’24, a Crimson Editorial editor, lives in Matthews Hall.

It starts with something small: a pen haphazardly thrown on a desk, some paper strewn on a chair, maybe some sticky notes hastily stuck to a wall. Then it graduates to something slightly larger: mismatched pairs of socks that you swear you’ll get around to correcting one day, a laptop with too many tabs open, too many random files on your desktop. To be human is to live with mess, to live with uneven edges, uncertainty, and coexist amongst existential and personal chaos.

In addition to physical mess, we are also predisposed to the mess of emotions that informs the human condition. Learning to live alongside mess rather than in competition with it may allow us to understand ourselves better. After all, in terms of our position in the grand cosmos, what is our insignificant mess when compared to a universe already in such disorder?

Living with — embracing — mess may enable us to feel more comfortable amongst the universe’s inherent disorder. Though seeking to control mess is instinctive to us, learning to let even some of it go and create meaning within disorganization is also valuable.

Soon after I moved back to campus and unpacked my room, I began to look through the things I brought with me, both items that are college dorm room staples, as well as mementos from a home 2,000 miles away. As I organized, I began to wonder what exactly constitutes “mess” — if the things I hold onto for sentimental reasons were considered messy.

It’s hard to part with some items, especially if they have been touched by even an ounce of sentimental value, reminding you of a different time spent with different people when things were less complicated. These physical items are the echo of an adolescence past-lived, but these echoes can at times add clutter to our surroundings.

I’m someone who’s fascinated by organizational methods that allow people to de-densify mess with precision — techniques like KonMari. These methods seem admirable, yet also somewhat out of reach. As Harvard students, we often feel the need to have total control over the mess in the different aspects of life, however, learning to live with mess is also a vital skill to have. Ultimately, mess is intrinsic to life, so we might as well become more comfortable with it.

Our ability to create mess in personal spaces is a manifestation of personality, giving spaces character, making them uniquely us, uniquely human. Each of our dorm rooms is a unique representation of who we are, the decor and ambiance an extension of ourselves. Perhaps this is also why there’s such fascination with the insides of homes owned by public figures and celebrities — we want to feel reassured on a larger scale that our tendency to create mess is valid, that even those who have the means to remove mess altogether keep some of it on purpose.

We are also endlessly intrigued by the spaces of those who came before us. We explore the buried homes in Pompeii because seeing domestic mess that spans across the millennia humanizes those long departed in such a personal way. After all, what difference is there between disorganized stacks of paper and papyrus scrolls hastily put together?

In a world full of chaos and uncertainty, at the whim of societal and historical forces greater than ourselves, perhaps mess is a form of us regaining control, maintaining autonomy over our own spaces. A form of small protest communicating that, even though we cannot control the situations around us by and large, we can indeed control the mess within our own spaces.

As the season of spring cleaning soon approaches, and we’re left to grapple with the resulting objects, items, and mess from a year so defined by uncertainty, perhaps allowing ourselves a reprieve from the constant need to organize and compartmentalize every single aspect of our lives is actually a necessary form of self-care. May we embrace the mess intrinsic to living that we all experience as a side-effect of being human, and find the freedom to unpack a year of chaos on our own terms, at our own pace.

To create mess — to feel mess — is to be human. Hopefully, through embracing this mess, we can find better footing amongst a universe of disorder.

Shanivi Srikonda ’24, a Crimson Editorial editor, lives in Matthews Hall.

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