01/21/2014 12:40 pm ET Updated Mar 23, 2014


Yeah, the world is divided between the perennially married and the stubbornly uncommitted, and that's not all. Add in the retainers, those who abhor giving things away, and the disposers, who chuck one thing with the arrival of anything new.

Plus the messy and the tidy. Want to know about me? When I moved from a studio to a one-bedroom apartment, a friend said how I'd love having a room to leave messy. He, of course, was joking.

Aunt Rose gets thanks as my muse. In her kitchen you could bet on which refrigerator shelf to find the milk, on which other shelf the cheese, and where laid out to dry was every dishtowel. That neatness used to drive my mother, her sister, crazy. It seemed sensible to me.

My orderliness does have limits, imposed by living in a prewar apartment building in Manhattan. Around 1930 when this building went up, people apparently owned almost no clothes and maximum four gadgets that require electricity. The architect consented to three wall sockets and two closets. Even for those of us devoted to tidy, things accumulate, and last year a friend glanced in my hall closet, groaned and stated that it cried out for cleaning. With his offer to help, we dug in one afternoon. "Keep or throw?" he asked. If I hesitated, he said, "Throw. Got to be ruthless." We filled a dozen bags for the thrift shop, and I was so happy that I left the closet door open.

With the iron still hot, we attacked closet #2, in the bedroom. Wow, so much, well, you know... A lot more bags filled. Then came book shelves, where the friend began organizing books tall to short. I'd never thought of that.

I haven't made an accurate count of the retainers and disposers, but I bet the retainers would win. I know two.

A lady friend, an otherwise very smart person, let me say, lives like me in a one-bedroom apartment. But hers nearly bursts with around three thousand items inside. They did not arrive by chance; each one is meaningful to her. When I've stumbled over a thing or two and suggested she could be as happy with fewer, she simply frowned and said she would miss any one if it were gone. And I guess she would.

My other retaining friend, lucky to live in a larger apartment, fills one room with programs, books, and things long forgotten. I once looked over his shoulder and saw that the computer screen showed several dozen email messages from two or three years ago. Offering helpful advice, I said, "Those are slowing down your computer, you know."

"Do you really mind?" he barked back.

As one devoted to orderliness, I've sometimes been referred to as anal retentive, which I believe is not meant as a compliment. "We are the ones who get things done!" I've argued.

While here, I want to mention the thanks and nothanks. Nothanks as in the people who sell you a newspaper, anything, and do not thank you. In the south, where I come from, that person might be lynched. In the north, thanks sadly doesn't seem a requirement. As a residue of my early years, at times, after a nothanks, I glare with, "You're welcome."

Comes the question of how one's habits affect others. It's advisable for extreme holder or disposers, messy or tidy, to live alone or seek a person of like mind or the unusual species not bothered by another's tendencies. Calculating the odds of success as poor, I live with a cat who seems nonjudgmental about my habit and who by the way has her own tidy routine that surpasses even my own.

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I've written about Aunt Rose and my mother and cats too in my new book, "Life Up Close, a Memoir," due out soon from Dog Ear Publishing and available from Amazon.