So... this dire preface sounds like the world ending, but I am actually talking about cleaning. And for those of you who feel like the two might just be the same thing... I am right THERE most of the time. Cleaning is about on level with getting a rusty nail to the eye, or a visit to the dentist for me. It isn't just something I don't like.... I loath it. But as the stay-at-home-home-maker in this house, most of the cleaning tasks fall to me... because... lets' face it... the cats don't help at all.
So for the last couple years, I have made my new-years resolution to... you guessed it... do a tiny bit more than drink coffee every day.
The trouble is that when cleaning, I evidently have an unhealthy amount of attention deficit... I would start by wanting to clean up one small area of a room... totally do-able and not at all over-whelming, right? However, in the process I would need to take one thing to another room. But when I got there, this and that needed cleaning just to put item #1 away, so I would start cleaning there until something else took me to another room... until the entire house was torn to heck and I was left feeling so overwhelmed that I would give up half-way through and everything was worse than when I started. Or if I managed to keep at it, everything would be a complete disaster for days and sometimes weeks of cleaning and then finally... poof! The whole house was clean. And stayed that way for a whole five minutes.
The whole process meant that I got everything clean, but the very thought of cleaning one area was so daunting that I would start to hyperventilate at the mere thought of what it would snow-ball into. And the distress of knowing that it would again be a complete mess after all that epic work would make my stomach more than a little queasy. Ridiculous, I know, but there it is. Maybe the first case ever documented of house-cleaning-phobia.
Finally, my first cleaning epiphany came when my bad hip gave out on me after the twentieth time I stepped over a pile of stuff in the hall and had to careen into a pile of laundry to break my fall. Laying there gasping like a fish out of water, I realized that I spent more time traveling from room to room than cleaning. No wonder cleaning one little area ended up being so exhausting!
This was a hard habit to break, but I started by just dumping everything that didn't belong out the door to the room I was cleaning in, and then when I was done with the room, taking all the stuff and putting it away with the rule that I didn't linger as I did it. And an improvement over that would be to put it all into a box or basket so that it could be carried away easier in the end. Something so simple, yet such a dramatic change in the process. It turned cleaning an area into cleaning that area instead of the entire house.
The second thing I realized was that cleaning an area to perfection was another huge reason I ended up so over-whelmed that I didn't even want to start. Giving up on the idea that I was going to "clean the house", or even "clean a room", released a lot of the pressure constricting my chest. Instead, I had to accept that more often than not, the best I was going to do was "make some progress". So I changed my approach and started with the idea in my head that all I had to do was spend 5 to 10 minutes to make a little progress on an area. Then stop.
The surprising thing was how much improvement that concentrated little bit of time would make on an area as long as I didn't spend most of it traveling to put away other things and getting distracted by other messes. Of course, without direction, I found that I often cleaned up one or two areas and the rest of the house continued to become more and more of a mess.
So my new-years resolution for the last two years has been simply to succeed in check-marking this list on my refrigerator every day (or more accurately... filling in the little bubbles like a test sheet... because that is much more uniformly neat and organized... Wow! I am really sounding more OCD than normal today).
I have the house separated by days... and grouped by the type of cleaning or cleaning equipment it needs to get done.
Monday is bathrooms and watering plants / fish tanks.
Tuesday is the office and spare bedroom.
Wednesday is the hallway, utility room, and cat litter box.
Thursday is the living-room, loft, and master bedroom.
Friday is the kitchen and dining-room.
Saturday is outdoor or car projects and home improvement.
Sunday is home improvement projects and cat litter box.
The X means exercise. I added that this year. 5 minutes or more of exercise... easy to say, but often not easy to make myself do.
- The main rule is that I make a little progress on the specified area on the list each day... it doesn't have to be much, but at least something.
- Do not leave the area to put things away until I am done... then put them all away at once. ( I am still regularly struggling with this one. )
- Weekends don't always have to have every item checked (except the cat litter which must be done to go out with the trash on Monday morning).
- While once in a while, catching up on something the next day is okay, I should try to always take care of the items on the day they are listed.
I don't always succeed, and I admit that it makes me feel completely ridiculous that I have not been able to make myself do the exercise portion on four days of the last week. However, even though it makes me feel like a kid with a list of chores to do, it also makes me feel good when I see that list fill up with check-marks (little neat bubbles) week after week. And the house is looking better and cleaner than ever before... Not perfect mind-you, but better.
The hardest part is still doing a little work on the list item if I have been working my butt off all day on another project. But something I have discovered... like any good habit, it is much harder to keep up if I skip even a couple days.
So there it is. My shame, my struggle, and my wavering little light in the tunnel... and as usual, writing it down has made me a little more inspired to get-with-it, and that X for Exercise is going to get a little filled-in bubble from my sharpie today.