Freshman year, my room was a dorm-wide attraction. Other Twain residents would poke their heads in and gasp in disbelief. Visitors from outside the dorm would stop short as they walked past my room, eyes wide. I terrified strangers. I dumbfounded my RAs. I confused my friends. Why on earth was my room so terribly, thoroughly messy?
When I moved to Stanford and began my first nervous, naïve days of NSO, I wanted to make the most of every moment. I knew that freshman year was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity: every “how to succeed in college” article I had read mentioned how vital freshman year was to making strong friendships and finding community. So, when I first set down my bags and boxes, I didn’t want to waste time unpacking. I was off: running around campus, meeting people, temporarily joining the Band (and fake-playing the trumpet for a few weeks), taking incredible classes, developing misguided crushes, joining an a cappella group, going to my first frat parties, exploring Palo Alto’s spectacular array of coffee shops, and on, and on and on.
Unfortunately, I never quite found time to unpack. My friends joked that I was still “living out of my suitcase,” and honestly, I kind of was. I’d pick clean clothes out of one of my boxes in the morning, and drop them somewhere on the floor at night. Since I never really unpacked in the first place, the mess grew… and grew… and grew. At some point, it became insurmountable. There was no point in trying to clean it up.
People in my dorm started to notice: they’d come by and stare, mouths agape, at my cluttered reality. In some ways, it was a good icebreaker. Making fun of my messiness was an easy common denominator, and many friendships grew from there. (One girl even tried to plan a “Clean Tara’s Room” party.) I really didn’t mind all the teasing. In some ways, I kind of loved how it gave me an identity in my dorm: everybody knew me, the terrifyingly messy girl.
Throughout the year, I occasionally found moments of inspiration, and I’d spend a couple of hours cleaning up my entire room. People were always very impressed when they could see my floor. But on the whole, I simply didn’t care to clean my room. It wasn’t in my set of priorities: I wanted to drink up every moment of freshman year, not spend time vacuuming. I’m sure a lot of people (read: most people) would disagree with this way of living, but I loved it. I was in an over-excited freshman year frenzy, having a million new experiences and making so many deep friendships. If I had to come back to sleep in a slightly horrifying space, that was a tradeoff I was willing to make.
For everyone else, it seemed crazy. But for me, my messy room was a sign of all the fun I was having. My freshman superlative was “Most Likely to Hide Narnia in Her Room.” And in our dorm-wide game of Family Feud, the most popular answer for “Best place in Twain to hide a dead body” was, unsurprisingly, “Tara’s room.” Though it was slightly embarrassing, I loved the teasing, too. It made me feel at home in Twain.
But freshman year is over, and my priorities this year are different.
My room is pristine.
It’s surprised every one of my friends from freshman year: I don’t think they quite believe it’s real. I have a color scheme, a tapestry and everything! My floor isn’t covered by a perennial pile of clothes! This year, my freshman frenzy has cooled. As a sophomore, I want to figure my life out a little bit: I want to reflect on my goals, my relationships, my major, et cetera. And for that, I do need a clean space. I now take pleasure in putting away my laundry and tidying up my books. I keep my room clean now because I care about it. But I don’t regret the endless mess that was my freshman year: I loved it. It was perfectly disorganized, perfectly chaotic, perfectly unsophisticated. Perfectly freshman year.
Contact Tara at tarapar ‘at’ stanford.edu.