Clean Up Your Mess!

Before it gets out of control

Jeremy Zerby
6 min readMay 1, 2023
Girl wearing headphones and watching her laptop surrounded by dirty laundry.
Photo by Andrea Piacquadio.

My stepdaughter is messy. Things are rarely ever organized for her. We try. We have labeled drawers and we have given her boxes and we have even gone to the trouble of initially doing it for her only to have those efforts completely undone and wasted.

It is not entirely her fault. She has some disabilities that make it extra challenging for her to maintain organization. So we have to do a little extra to help her along the way.

That does not change how frustrating and stressful keeping things from getting out of control can be.

She has trashed her play area over the past few months. And I mean really trashed it. Piles and piles of toys and actual garbage. I asked her one day this past week to clean it up. It is not the first time I have asked her to do so, but I gave her an ultimatum this time. I told her she needed to have it cleaned up that day before I got home from work or I was going to do it and she was not going to like how I did it.

Of course, she did not even touch the mess. In fact, she somehow made it bigger. And when I saw it when I got home, I told her to just leave it alone because now I was going to do it.

Today I started. I spent two hours cleaning up down there and all I did was get two full trash bags of actual garbage taken out. At that point, I just stopped. Besides trash, I had found all kinds of items she had stolen and hidden, including a really nice sake service that was gifted to me. She had successfully lost one of the cups to that actually and I sort of snapped. I was so angry that I had to pause and take a few deep breaths and sat her down and we had a conversation about the whole thing. About how much trash I had thrown out and how much food packaging I had found. The ants and gum and the burn mark(?!?!) in the carpet. The stolen and ruined sake service.

There was obvious guilt when I brought up the stolen stuff. And I just explained that the mess being so big is what happens when the people who can fix a problem choose not to. Her mess started as a few toys left out and eventually, because she didn’t feel like picking them up, became more toys. A and then food. And then the mess spread elsewhere in the room. It spread because she would play in a space, and, when it became too messy to play there, she would just move to the next clear space and play there and just keep doing the same thing until it was completely out of control.

Man lying on a couch hiding under a blanket.
Photo by Pixabay.

In 1999, two high school kids decided to take matters into their own hands. They collected various firearms from gun shows and then showed up at their school and shot the place up, killing 13 people and also themselves. It has only been downhill from there.

Gun-related deaths have seen a rather steady increase since then. Clearly whatever we did in response to that shooting has not been enough to slow the carnage. The mess has just continued to get bigger and bigger and now it is completely out of control.

This weekend, a man walked into his neighbor’s house and attempted to kill the entire family because they asked him, at 11 pm, to stop firing his gun because their baby was trying to sleep.

The issue here is not guns. It is not gun laws. It is that we let the problem keep growing and growing until now it is entirely out of control. We are going to be hard-pressed to rein it in at this point, if we even can. We have collectively decided to hide our heads in the sand and pretend there is not actually a problem. And now we are seeing the results.

The shooting this weekend is not an issue of mental illness or even a lack of adequate gun laws, although it is hard to look at a situation like this one and say those things are not playing an active role. Rather, it is a problem of attitudes that have gone unchecked for far too long.

We Americans love our rights. And we seem to devote a lot of time and attention to defending them, especially our Second Amendment rights. We will sacrifice free speech in order to protect kids from exposure to ideas we do not approve of, but try taking the same approach to guns and watch the reaction. We cherish our gun rights. But it goes even further than that. Our attitudes have shifted since 1999. It has become an assault on our freedom if someone simply asks someone else not to shoot their gun after 11 at night. Because it is our constitutional right to not only own a gun but to do whatever we want to do with them.

But this is not about the guns, as I have said. The attitude is the problem. We have become such self-serving people. What I want comes before what anyone else wants. What I want comes first. My rights are more important than their rights. Some will take away everyone’s right to an abortion because they do not believe it is right. Some will take away everyone’s right to have access to certain books because they do not believe their kids should have access to them.

It is all about me, to hell with everyone else.

My stepdaughter’s mess was out of control. We have a finished basement that is roughly the size of the entire house. We have portioned it off for use as a bedroom, an entertainment area with a TV and couches, as well as her play area. She spread her mess out so much that there was no space for anyone else to do anything down there. Her toys and crumbs and rubbish were literally everywhere on every surface.

When we were talking about it, I framed it in that way as well. I told her that it was not fair that she got the entire downstairs plus her bedroom and a bathroom that she has completely taken over with her messes spilling out into the hallways and that the other three people who live in the house do not even have their own space because she has taken over those areas too by going into those places and stealing those things and messing with those people’s comfort. She had whatever she wanted and everyone else had nothing.

That has become our cultural attitude as well. I get my rights protected and if yours contradict mine, then mine takes precedence. This was played out in the shooting this weekend. That man had the right to shoot his gun, but that family also had the right to put their baby to bed in peace. Yet, he felt that his right to shoot his gun came first.

This attitude is not okay. It is wrong. It is our national sin. It comes straight from the devil himself. And it is going to wind up being our downfall. Either we have to clean that mess up ourselves, or someone is going to clean it up for us, and we might not like the way they do it.



Jeremy Zerby

Hermeneutics, religion, pop psychology, self-help, and culture. They are all connected, and I am here to explain how.