Cleaning House

When I was in college the first time around, I finally managed to break my 16 year habit of biting my fingernails. I was maid of honor in a good friend’s wedding and decided that while no one was going to be focusing on my nails, we were all getting manicures so I wanted nails I could be proud of instead of hiding in my bouquet. It took probably a total of six months to kick the acute part of the habit and another two years to stop reverting when I got stressed out. I’m pleased to say that other than a couple of isolated incidents during IVF cycles, I haven’t bitten my nails since.

I also managed to kick a lifetime of being supremely un-athletic when I was 24 (other than a year in high school where I ran, which ended when I got bitten by a dog out on my daily run). People told me it would take 21 days to establish an exercise habit, to which I say “HA!” It took me probably around 6 months before I started feeling “good” after going to the gym. Then it was another two or three years before I started enjoying running while I was doing it (most of the time), not just the endorphins afterwards. I still have zero athletic talent and I’m slow, but I’m proud of the fact that I made it off 18 weeks of various forms of bed rest and still retained a strong enough habit to currently get myself out and moving 3-4x a week.

This brings me to the next challenge I’ve tried to tackle on and off for years. I like being organized. I like having a beautiful, clean home. I suck at the implementation. I aspire to be one of those people who loves organizing their cabinets, making sure everything fits just so. I would love to find cleaning stress-relieving. But I don’t. I know how to clean and organize effectively and lots of techniques for doing so, I just hate doing it.

I’m pretty sure keeping up the house would have been a chore, but do-able if we had started from a “zero point” (house mostly organized/clean, just have to maintain it) after E was born. Of course, we were not starting from a zero point, having moved while I was in the hospital. When I came home, I had a bed to sleep on, a couch I could get to with a bit of effort, a suitcase with a few clothes, and thankfully, my MIL and SILs had unpacked most of the kitchen so I could make myself a cup of tea or coffee. I was (and am) supremely grateful we had that much done with help. It was enough to get us through those first several weeks.

Bit by bit, we got items unpacked as we needed them but it was slow going. With me working weekends and Arthur working weekdays, it was difficult to find times where one of us wasn’t completely exhausted or where we could summon up enough motivation to spend the precious little time we got together to deal with extra organizing on top of everyday chores such as keeping the bathrooms cleaned, the kitchen disinfected, or the laundry folded.

A couple of months ago, Arthur asked me why I was living out of a laundry basket of clean, folded clothes, instead of, you know, putting it away. I finally had to make an embarrassing confession: “Because it doesn’t fit in the dressers or the closet.” With my body changing so much during infertility treatments and pregnancies/losses/c-section, I’d acquired clothing that fit at the time as well as pieces I liked. The combination was flowing out of every bit of space we had, much of it in piles on top of the dresser or stuffed in the closet. It wasn’t just me or my clothes, either. It was Arthur’s desk. The dining room still with boxes. The den, which had become the place we put everything that didn’t go anywhere else.

Clearly, we needed help.

My aunt, who had seen our place, offered us a unique Christmas present: a personal organizer to get the place feeling a bit more like home. I didn’t know people who did this for a living even existed, but she found us some numbers, I called, and the organizer came a couple of weeks ago.

It’s a humbling moment to show someone your mess and admit just how out of control the stuff had gotten. Of course, we had done none of the normal minimizing before we moved. We’d spent nearly ten years in our former home, and all of our furniture had been bought with that space in mind, so it didn’t quite fit in the new space.

The organizer started by having us clean up the bookshelves. Then Arthur and I got the bit between our teeth, energized by having accomplished a small task, and tackled the bedroom ourselves. I went through my clothing mercilessly, getting rid of everything that didn’t quite fit, that I liked the “idea” of but that never truly looked right on me, and anything I didn’t wear. I listed what was saleable on an auction site, threw out some things, and sent the rest to a thrift shop. Arthur did the same. Between us, we sent seven large reusable bags to the thrift shop and I’m pretty sure I wound up cleaning out about half of what I owned. We rearranged the furniture. By the end of the day, all of our clothing fitted in the allotted space, laundry actually got put away, and we had the bedroom arranged to maximize the space.

Yesterday, the organizer came and we went through part of the den, dealt with most of the living room, and started a small bit of the dining room. It was very helpful to have someone working alongside us, keeping us on task. I know I would have stalled out in the living room especially – I hate dealing with papers, and the living room had become a morass of medical paperwork over the last several months. The organizer helped us get it under control. We threw out so much stuff from old papers to ancient magazines and sent another three bags/boxes to the thrift shop.

Arthur and I now have a few more small things to work on, and then the organizer will come back to help us continue with the big projects. While I don’t know that I’m ever going to reach my goal of being constantly neat, I think a house that’s well organized with a place for everything and properly minimized will help immensely.

And hey, it took me over 2 years to enjoy running…maybe in a couple of years, this will become better as well.


14 thoughts on “Cleaning House

  1. Sounds like you’ve been very busy!!! I need an organizer to come into my home – holy cow it’s a mess! Now the problem is going to be to keep it from returning to the “norm” as you’ve had it! That would be my biggest struggle. Good luck!!!

    • Definitely busy. I think it is a real challenge to keep it from returning – that’s one of the reasons we’re minimizing and then strictly enforcing a “one in, one out” rule. I’m hoping that will mean there’s always a designated place for each item so that it’s a little easier to put things away and know where they go. Thanks!

  2. Good for you. I love it when things are neat.

    I know what I need to do, but I can’t find the time to do it. There is always something else more pressing. But I need to deal with paper. That is my biggest issue.

  3. I’m like you: hate cleaning but love the final product. It’s a very hard thing for me to initiate, but I always push through because the benefit is absolutely awesome.

    So this is going to sound terrible, but I’ve gotten into the habit of pairing a beer or glass of wine with cleaning. I can clean/organize/minimize without it, but it helps my anxiety and motivation to have this.

    The personal organizer sounds amazing. What a great gift.

  4. Love throwing things out! So cleansing! I’m not very good at organising though. Maybe I need an organiser before the twins arrive? Otherwise my life is going to be chaos…

  5. What a great gift! I have a neighbor that wants to get into personal organizing. Maybe I should see if she wants to work on our house for before/after pictures? πŸ™‚

  6. That sounds amazing! I have heard of professional organizers, but never known someone who used one. She sounds like such a boon! It must have been so overwhelming to move and have everything with the pregnancy happen at once, so to have no “zero point” as you put it would make getting things into an order that makes sense for your new space and can be maintained instead of wrangled must have been so challenging. I am so excited for you — a clean and organized space can really lift that extra level of stress. We tackle things a room at a time or an item at a time (all books, all magazines, all clothes), and it makes it so much more manageable. Paper is the worst. Paper just keeps coming in and I never know what you need and what you can throw away because I live in fear of tax audit. I think once you have your Zero Point established, this will be absolutely maintainable! I loved the comparison to exercise, too. Now there’s an area where I need to be better and adjust to my new knee reality but still do it… πŸ™‚ Enjoy the benefits of your organizing work!

    • Oh, I totally agree about the paper! And like you, live in fear of a tax audit…it’s almost painful to get rid of anything that *might* be needed, no matter how insignificant. Thanks for the comment!

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