Is There Such Thing as a Messy Millionaire?

My favorite lesbian: I recently purchased Suze Orman's latest book (at Costco, for $10 off of the retail price), "Women & Money". I'm not including the unnecessarily long subtitle about Owning the Power to Control Your Powerful Financial Destiny of Power or whatever, because I feel like the title "Women & Money" more or less sums it all up.

Women & Money is written expressly for women, because of the relationship that Suze feels women have with their money. Suze gives some great talking points about how women feel about money, for instance the combination of shame and delight that I feel when I deal with money. I don't know if these feelings are exclusive to women, so I would actually recommend this book to anyone who won't feel alienated when the book directly addresses women.

(One thing that's a little odd about the book is the way in which Suze seems to assume that many of the women reading it are being financially controlled by husbands or partners. I mean, that might be true, but if you are a single gal reading the book, it can make you feel a tad out of place.)

I wouldn't normally shill anything that Suze says, because she and her Oprah-originated ilk sort of rub me the wrong way. I don't know if it's the message or the delivery, but I generally avoid these talk show spin-offs like the plague.

However, I felt different about Women & Money the second I laid eyes on it. I've only perused Suze's other books, but the feeling that I got from those books convinced me that Suze had nothing to teach me. So, it's with a bit of reluctance that I admit that this book is a decent one. For one thing, Orman dispense with a lot of the "Listen to me. Look. Listen. I'm talking. You'd better be listening"-type bossiness that her other books exude.

For another, she finally explains how she, at the age of 29, went from being a waitress to working as a broker for Merril Lynch, which was a story that I never believed until reading her summary of that experience (hint: it's not nearly as glamorous a transition as she originally made it sound - for one, it took place in Oakland, CA, and for another, she admits that she was hired because the manager had a female hiring quota to fill).

Anyway, I'm not finished with the book yet, which is a great read for anyone who needs to get a grip on their finances and doesn't want to concentrate on complicated matters, such as investing and stock portfolios and mayonnaise futures. In other words, if budgeting scares you, this is a good place to start. So, I'm only a few chapters in, but one of her opening lists keeps poking me in the brain, so I thought I'd share it.

Early on, Suze lists the 8 essential qualities that she thinks every woman should have. If it seems a little presumptuous, that's because it is. Rest assured, none of those essential qualities involve large earrings, heavy eyeliner, or a maniacal smile (sorry Suze, but I really want to give you a make-under, hon). Out of these 8 essential qualities, the one that keeps bugging me is Cleanliness. Says Suze:

You might be reading this and thinking that cleanliness is nice but not essential to your financial well-being. I am here to tell you that if this quality is not up front and center, wealth will elude you and you will be left with the mess that you created. Respect the power of this quality of cleanliness. Tell the universe that you have cleared the path for wealth and abundance to enter.

OK, that last sentence borders a little bit on The Secret-ness, but what convinced me that Suze isn't just talking out of her ear is this statement:

When you don't know where your money is, when you have no filing system for your important documents, when you dive into your pocketbook to pull out crumpled bills, when your car looks like a garbage can, when your closets are filled with junk and clutter -- you cannot possibly be a wealthy woman.

Now, I'm already cultivating a reputation as a paranoid, anti-government nutcase, but did Suze spend some time observing me or something? Clutter is my middle name. My car smells good, but there's no room for passengers in it because of the boxes of old tax returns, Goodwill donations, bungee cords, and empty water bottles. And I'm a wreck financially, too. But does there have to be a correlation? I mean, I'm a brunette and I like pickles, but that doesn't mean that all dark-haired gals love a jar of kosher dills after work.

Thinking back, though, I can't say that I've ever met a wealthy slob (at least, no one who earned their own money - I've known a few heirs who couldn't operate a vacuum). All the people that I know who are financially secure are very organized, very clean. They don't bring their jumbo packs of paper towels home from Costco and deposit them in the middle of the living room, where they will continue to gather dust for the next few months.

But is it causation? Does being clean help you become wealthy, or is cleanliness a quality that people who are good with money naturally have? If I clean up my house, will that help me to clean up my finances?

Or is cleanliness not a quality so much as a side effect of another crucial quality: discipline? It takes discipline to keep your belongings in order, fighting entropy day after day. How many clean people do you know who have no willpower? Disciplined people are (naturally?) better at not blowing their paycheck on eBay shoes.

So my question is not "How do I become clean?" but rather, "Where do I find the power to discipline myself?".

My boyfriend suggested enlisting. Anyone else? Is it just a matter of baby steps towards a goal, or is a drastic discipline makeover necessary? Or are there some people who simply don't have it in them?

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Sarah Winfrey's picture

She assumes most women are financially controlled by men?  Maybe it's just hissy fit day for me, but is she serious?  Controlled?!!?!  I think I'd have put the book down right there.  Or let it join the small number of books that I've actually thrown across the room (with much satisfaction, by the way).

That's not exactly quite what my marriage looks like, anyway.

Guest's picture

Rich people aren't slobs because
1) If you're rich, you can hire someone to clean after you and
2) If you're rich, you can buy living space with extra storage. Everyone's clean if they have enough room.

Cleaniness is the wrong word. Organized? Sure. It's so much more efficient to not only know where things are but how to access them, whether we're talking about books in the library or your paycheck in your monthly expenditures. But cleaniness? Aargh.

Andrea Karim's picture

But I feel like much of the book was written for women who feel like they don't have control over their finances in the very literal sense - not just "Wow, I can't control my spending" but more "Wow, my husband only allows me $20 for fun money." The entire book isn't like that, but there are hints of it. I'm assuming that she must have had some exposure to women with that type of financial reality.

Regarding housekeepers - yeah, I'm sure that's the case for a lot of people, in their homes. But I'm talking about self-made millionaires that I know (Ionly know a few, but I do know a few) and none of them are the kind to hire help to organize their lives. They just seem to be naturally organized. Whether it takes the kind of mental effort for them that it does for me is unknown, but it appears to be more of a habit for them. That was my take on it, anyway.

Guest's picture

RE: Your "favorite" lesbian being Suze.

I thought I was your favorite lesbian!

Andrea Karim's picture

You'll always be my first favorite lesbian, Nina. It was meant... actually, I'm not even sure what category of smart-aleckiness I was employing there. :)

Guest's picture

Huh. I've been working lately on becoming more productive at work. And keeping my work space tidy has been a big component of it. It's not an obvious correlation, but starting to keep my desk clear really seemed to be part of what's made productivity habits really seem to stick this time.

 And, as part of all this, I've started to get more together at home. And then I started saving money and looking at finances (and reading finance blogs). Again, no obvious causation, but maybe some syncronicity? I used to be the most cluttered, procrastinating person ever. Clothes pile the height of the bed, strata of papers going back years... And now, finally, not so much. But it's been years of effort.

I advise baby steps. And positive thinking, envisioning goals and that sort of thing. And just keep starting and starting and starting again until you find something that works. Also, working towards *enjoying* the process. When I started thinking about developing joyful productivity was another key progress point for me. And thinking about how I could enjoy cleaning. (The book "Home Comforts" by Cheryl Mendelson is good)

Guest's picture

Interesting article. Not sure what I think of Suze Orman, but I know at least two wealthy self-made men and they are both slobs. They both have disgusting cars and disgusting bedrooms. However, they both hire help to come in clean, so for the most part, their homes are pretty tidy. Of course, they are both "thinkers" and have created businesses that earn a lot of money - different perhaps for those who earn by investing and building portfolios.

Guest's picture

Unfortunately, I left a subject off my previous comment, and though the assigned headline was hilarious, it's not what i intended!

Guest's picture

I think Suze has a point. Aside from being unable to find your papers and demonstrating a lack of discipline, physical clutter has a psychological and emotional dimension.

David whatsisface who wrote the getting things done book talks about 'open loops', all the things you feel you must do and haven't yet gotten round to yet, that take up 'psychic RAM', leaving you with this constant sense of under-the-surface guilt and maybe even a touch of self-loathing. In this state, you're not going to be particularly good at converting opportunities into successes. Here's another take:

Incidentally, the flylady website is great for anyone wanting to learn to take control of their clutter...

Guest's picture

Being organised means that you are less likely to misplace things and more likely to review your finances and enable yourself to make better decisions.

I'm not sure that being de-cluttered makes you wealthier, except that if you stop buying stuff to fill up your space that will surely help. Maybe being cluttered is a symptom of some underlying thing that is preventing you from becoming wealthy. Then again maybe thats not true for everyone.

If you are interested in decluttering and being organised, I'd recommend the message boards on