Housekeeping for the easily distracted and often overwhelmed
Do you sometimes think hiring a professional is the only solution that will get you through the clutter that’s been building up, or do you at times secretly consider putting a skip on the driveway and filling it Mari Kondo style? Of course you’re not a hoarder, you’re just trying to juggle a full-time job, two kids, three hobbies and a busy social life.
Especially on busier mornings (as if there are any less busy ones) the trail of clutter you’re leaving behind seems to grow at an even faster rate. You’re frantically running around the house, trying to find some decent clothes after realising the trousers you intended to put on are still in the laundry and of course that blouse doesn’t match the pair you now have to wear, more often than not heading back upstairs once more for the bobby pins you forgot. Upstairs you notice the undone laundry pile and later at work when you proudly contemplate the fact that you finally managed to get those clothes washed, your anarchist hairdo is just a minor detail.
In my case, my tour de la maison doesn’t go by unnoticed. First of all, when my lovely husband has to get up and most of all wake up at the same time as I do, the eternal laps I run through the house drive him crazy. But he’s not the only victim: the dog never knows when he will finally go on that releasing walk with me. The poor animal wags his tail in anticipation or, even worse, walks towards the door when I try to hurry by, stretching and yawning there to make sure I notice how full his bladder is. Secondly, and that’s what this is all about, I never clear up the mess I’ve created dashing from the first task to the next because otherwise I’ll be late for work. Non-matching clothes in living room and bathroom or an upturned backpack which I thought held my bike lights, breadcrumbs on the countertops, my daily muesli bowl getting comfortable next to the computer…
When you get home again, you’re so demoralised by the amount of clearing up you have to do that you just add some more work. There’s no need to start on it when it’s got this far, is there? You sling you bag to the side and begin you evening of creating little (in your mind anyway) piles of unfinished business everywhere you start on something. If you’re lucky you won’t make much of a mess because you’re too tired to do anything but cook that lovely family meal, counting on your significant other to clear up after dinner.
When you feel you’re about to drown in stuff lying about cluttering tables, chairs, pathways, corners… here are some ideas I tested and found successful, or not. Understanding the problem is a starter. What keeps you from just getting stuck in may be the fact or idea that the enormity of the task is overwhelming. Also, when your brain realises something might be very boring it may be difficult to even imagine doing it (or you can imagine so, but the chore ahead looks like some horrible endless nightmare). Just thinking of tidying the whole house or even one room keeps you comfortably seated, whereas starting on new shelving systems, painting a room, redecorating in general gets you up in no time! Chances are you’re a perfectionist as well, which makes any task you intend to take up (look) even bigger. You realise that starting on the mess in the storage room implies you will have to tackle three more things like the dents in the room’s ceiling and the tool wall in the basement. Another thing that might overwhelm you is the feeling that the task is impossible: “There’s just not enough room in the closet for all these nicely washed clothes so I’ll just leave them in the living room until we wear them again.” Having to make a decision can also put you off: “Will I ever wear these clothes again or will I finally throw them away? Will I ever again read these interesting papers and history book excerpts I worked with at university or will I have them recycled into kitchen roll?” In that case I decide (it’s actually a non-decision) I’ll just leave them in that bag in the hallway “for now”, which usually means for about one year. After that year, I finally manage to declutter the entryway, which means the bag from then on is stored in some other room.
So, what’s useful? Of course, the 18 minute philosophy is very handy, but when you can’t even get started there’s no way you’ll efficiently use the time you’ve put aside for for instance “comfy home improvement”. In my case it’ll just be some “fluffing up the cushions on the lounge chairs” if they’re not buried underneath a mound of backpacks, mail and clothes of course. Defeated by the amount of work staring me in the face, I’ll retreat to my bedroom (one of the radically clutter-free spaces in the house) to read interior design magazines and dream about my ideal home.
Setting up a daily routine seemed like an interesting option, as some examples I found online included decluttering one room a day. It sort of worked for about four days. Of course then I got overwhelmed again. The plan you see is in Dutch but you get the idea. The task that gets a star is the biggest one and also the one that changes daily. The advantage of this system is that it’s quite good when you don’t know where to begin (my problem exactly). It got me started and the bathroom looks a whole lot better now. The plants are watered weekly and the sink has been spotless ever since. The kitchen got decluttered to such an extent that one side offers almost twice the counter space it used to. It’s made cooking somewhat easier.
For some time already, I’ve been trying to divide tasks into tiny chores that only take up a few minutes, but that seems to work for cooking only. On a bad day, when I’m really feeling tired or not up to the extremely boring task of preparing dinner, I promise myself I can sit down after I’ve put all the vegetables and kitchen utensils on the counter. That usually works, it’s really not that much work, is it? (Haha, this is exactly the sort of thing I hate people saying to me: “Dusting your cabinets once a week is not that much work, is it?”) When everything’s there and I still don’t want to sit down, I promise myself peeling the potatoes is the only thing I really have to do before I can take a break and wait for my helpful other half to come home. That gets me going and of course I always end up preparing the whole meal.
Something that doesn’t work for me is to pick up something everytime you leave a room. Imagine concentrating on that all the time? I’d have to go back to the three or even five rooms I last visited all day long, running around with a heap of clothes on my shoulder or a backpack on my back, my camera somewhere, a computer on one arm, mail clenched between my teeth. I’d wonder whether I’d have to take something from the room where I’m storing my stuff as well? Along with the objects I just mentioned there’d be things like sponges, screwdrivers, clothes I want to chuck, an electricity plan, a belt, a can of paint… And the dog would get even more upset: going for a walk would definitely be ruled out.
Then I read about ten minute chores: set your timer to ten minutes in which you can or have to clear up some of the mess you’ve made. This really works! I get extremely motivated to do as much as I can in ten minutes only, it’s very challenging and not boring at all. I find myself racing around with boxes full of paper, finally throwing those smelly candles in the container, thinking up new systems to store garbage or purses, bolting up stairs as if my life depended on it and when time’s up I have to force myself not to continue. You may wonder why I would I stop when I’m on a roll? It sounds ridiculous! I could have done so much more… I quit while I’m ahead because otherwise the trick would stop working. If I exceed the time limit once I will raise the bar for all the ten minutes to come. I’ll be expecting myself to work at least as long as the previous time, whereas the whole idea is to split up chores to make them seem less overwhelming.
Moving things out of sight so that I can let go of them turned out to be an excellent solution as well. I recently sold over thirty banana boxes of stuff and there’s a whole van waiting for the next flea market. Before I put them aside I was still in doubt whether to keep them or not, but storing them in the garage has made the decision extremely easy. Even when someone asks me whether I don’t want to keep these things myself (you should see me praise them, it’s like I still love everything I’m trying to get rid off), even then I’m not tempted to take things back into our home. No, not even that cute soapstone rhino.
It’s left me with an enormous feeling of lightness, but I also enjoy the prospect of one day investing the profit in a new bathroom -I’ve earned as much as the faucet I’ve set my mind on and about half a shower system. Also, I’ve been getting rid of more clothes, books and movies since I started selling things. Hurray for purging!
Of course, one cannot underestimate the importance of having a fixed place for everything, including waste. When you like the storage box you’ve chosen or the room you’ve created it’ll be even more motivating to put things away. You won’t have to or even want to spread the mail throughout the house, leave your bag on the floor, store used jars and bottles in some corner of the kitchen or ignore those empty planters in the hallway.
The motto: either create a space for it, or chuck it. Of course this will be quite a huge task so let’s just not tackle that one yet, shall we?