“What? You don’t clean like this?” by TurboSpaz
It’s often strange where one’s best ideas come from or where one truly understands life’s important lessons. The concept of hatching your best ideas on the toilet, for instance, is seemingly oxymoronic. But, it happens universally. So, it shouldn’t be surprising that I’ve learned a lot the past several weeks while purging my house. Or maybe, on the surface it should be, but everyone can relate so, not really.
This week, I’ve really been putting my kitchen to the test dirtying it up quite reasonably, bringing things into it, etc. And, I’ve enjoyed the experience of watching it recover every single time. I have never been a neat person. My middle school math grades were deplorable more because of the condition I kept my binder in than my actual grades (my teacher was insane, but that’s another post for another day). My mother constantly lamented the condition of my room. I have always been messy. It’s the truth. I used to be a major packrat too, developing major connections to absolutely everything that came into my possession. I hated parting with things.
In the past, I’ve decided enough is enough and have gotten down and dirty and thrown some stuff away, donated some more stuff, cleaned everything up so it looked very nice… and watched it all fall back into disarray in a matter of days. This isn’t happening in the kitchen and I’m trying to understand why as I continue with this month’s de-cluttering project in the hall closet and home office.
What I’ve come up with is mostly lessons I’ve heard about a billion times but have never really experienced, grasped, or understood. We all know this experience as well—that moment when this one thing you’ve struggled to accept finally clicks for you. For me personally, when something isn’t working for me personally even though it’s generally a universally accepted truth, I sort of disregard it as not for me, imperfect, and vastly exaggerated on its merits. Oh, to be proven wrong can be so liberating!
I think the main point I’ve really come to witness and experience the past few weeks is this:
“A place for everything, and everything in its place.” –Ben Franklin
So simple, on the surface. The trick, though, is making sure everything has its place and that’s the difference between a cluttered place and the opposite. I think this is where so many of us messy people trip up and why this is probably the most important de-cluttering mantra to have. How does it go wrong? In so many ways!
Let’s start with the moment the Item enters your front door- and lands on your dining room table. You have a nicely sized dining table to accommodate for the frequent-enough family gatherings but is double the size you use on a daily basis. So, you’ve crafted this ingenious habit of saving half for dining and the other half for holding things. Here, your Item sits while you set your other things down, take off your shoes, and go about your day. Now, let’s say a few days later the holding half of the dining table has taken over too much of the dining half and you must do something about the things on the table. You go through it and pick out the easy stuff—trash, things that clearly belong in some other rooms, etc. But this Item, well it doesn’t really belong anywhere specifically. Or, more likely, it does belong somewhere specific and that somewhere is so packed already, you can’t fit your new Item there. Now, let’s say a few weeks later you’ve come up with a great place for your Item and you place it there. A couple of days later, you use your Item and get interrupted by something, let’s say Life, and you are so tired by the time you’re done, you say you’ll take care of the item tomorrow. And tomorrow, you come home with a New Item with no home. See how it goes?
In the case of my kitchen, I cleared out enough stuff so I actually had space in my kitchen—practical, functional, easy to access space. I even did one better and changed what I viewed as “easy to access” by dragging out a step-ladder from the overwhelmed hall closet and put it in a now bare corner of my kitchen. This opened up a bunch more of shelves for me to use to store things I actually use instead of things that collect dust. Yes, I’m short. I know exactly where everything in my kitchen is. Nothing gets too full to make me have to re-think where a New Item should go. And the only New Items I’m adding are replacements to depleted stock (easy to do in a kitchen, right?). And because after use, everything is returned to its place (cleaned, of course) there is never an overwhelming and smelly backlog of things needing my attention. My kitchen is my calm space because of this. I don’t walk into my kitchen and think “Shoot, I still haven’t taken care of that!” It is instantly obvious if something is out of the ordinary in my kitchen making it insanely simple to keep it clean and clutter-free. It’s a lot easier for clutter to hide when there’s other camo clutter around it.
Obviously, this takes work and because this is relatively new to me, it takes conscious work. I was exhausted last night but I forced myself to clean the slow cooker pot and make the kids’ lunches (something I too easily ditch for some ridiculous reason or another). This, of course, leads to the other de-cluttering mantra:
“Never put off till tomorrow what you can do today.” –Thomas Jefferson (these founding fathers were totally smart)
This is one of those stark realities. More often than not, tomorrow does come, and usually with its own set of craptastic dealings. Why the heck add to it? For me, this is a tough lesson learned and I have no idea why. Maybe it’s the murdering of our optimist selves thinking tomorrow will be a better day. Maybe, but most likely it’s going to be a lot like today in all of its mundaneness. Yes, there are most definitely life-changing moments (good and bad) but those are pretty rare in the 365 days of a year. Let’s say you have five major days in a year, you still have 360 mundane ones to deal with. So why make tomorrow harder on yourself than it’s most likely going to be? This is my hardest one to deal with but I know it’s true. And so I sit and argue with myself and whine to myself and eventually I just grumble another popular saying, “Just do it.” And usually, I do, but not always. It’s also not lost on me how this applies to finances and spending habits, by the way, but you all know that so let’s not go into that.
So, what my rational brain has suggested to me is the secret to having a neat house is not being anal retentive (I could’ve sworn this was the secret), it’s about not having a bunch more stuff than you’re willing to deal with. I hate picking up, cleaning, etc. It’s not something I get a lot of fulfillment from but because there’s so much stuff in my house, I have to do a lot of it. For now.
I’ve been playing with a sort of de-cluttering schedule where instead of just steamrolling through my house to burnout, I tackle one area a month. If I get done faster than a month, awesome. I cannot, however, take over a month because that’s just plain procrastinating. My house might be cluttered and messy but I’m definitely not a hoarder and am not dealing with mountains of things to go through neither do I have the emotional strings to things I once used to. Deciding to get rid of things is, for me, quite easy especially when I think of all the free time I’ll have since I won’t be picking up and putting away all this crap anymore. The only real emotional moments I get are the feelings of pure bliss when I dump something tied to Ex. The most time-consuming step is simply sitting there and actually sorting. There is no part in my house that should require more than 30 days to do. For right now, I’m focused on the Hall Closet and Home Office. Upcoming projects include:
April: Front Porch/Garden
May: Boys’ Room
June: Daughter’s Room
July: My Room
This is a tentative schedule and I’m not sure if I’ll have to add the Living Room or Dining Room because, if everything has its place, and is in its place, there should be nothing in the living or dining rooms that doesn’t belong there and these rooms have been pretty much reduced to things that belong there until Foreigners invade.
I’m curious if I’ll make it through all of these rooms. I wonder if Life will swing at me and bring a few things to derail me or if it’ll bring me a wave of support and motivation to push through faster. I wonder if these musings I have will show themselves to be true, really, or if these so-called truisms are just plain false for me after all.