Anyone who’s known me for any decent amount of time knows that my housekeeping is not, shall we say, Martha Stewart-like. It’s not on the level of someone who would qualify for Hoarders, or anything, but if I still had a mother-in-law, there would be a frenzied rush of a few hours, stressing the fuck out getting everything put away & scrubbed before she showed up, in an effort to avoid embarrassing myself & getting passive-aggressive remarks tossed in my general direction.
Generally, I ignored the clutter, did laundry when I needed to, washed dishes as we needed them, and made an effort (sometimes failing miserably) to keep wet towels off the carpet. I’d vacuum when I thought about it. Laundry would sit, clean, in baskets for a week or more. Dishes would sit, clean, in the drain, getting pulled as they needed to be used. Workbooks were strewn about, library books scattered everywhere. Nothing unsanitary, there were no mice carcasses under the dining table (though some crumbs may have been there for a while), no cat liquified under a 20-year-old stack of accumulated newspapers that had tipped over three years ago. Just the house of a busy mom with ADHD.
And then, on Friday, I came home after some time away. The boys had been with their dad for two weeks, and were scheduled to arrive back that evening. Fruit flies greeted me. Hundreds of them. Swarms. Everywhere. I’d remembered to take out the trash and recycling before I left, but had forgotten about the compost. Portland does an awesome job of collecting food waste from every household in the city, as part of the waste management program, but it’s the first place I’ve ever lived with this program. Out of sight, out of mind, my bin was under my sink and I forgot it. An honest mistake, but one that snapped something in my brain.
For the next few days, I scrubbed things. I vacuumed fruit flies a dozen times a day, sucking the fuckers up the hose and delighting in fewer & fewer of them every day. At the same time, I discovered a tumblr blog, unfuckyourhabitat.tumblr.com. Bookmark that site now. Seriously. The woman who runs it has developed an iPhone/iPad app that I’m considering buying for myself, because it’s amazing.
She has challenges, like “look around. Find 10 things that are out of place and put them away.” That’s not so hard, right? How about “collect all the dishes in the house and bring them to the sink. Bonus points if you wash them or load the dishwasher.” Simple. Clear, concise tasks, broken down into simple steps. She advocates taking a break after every cleaning session, 10 minutes after 20 of cleaning, 15 after 45. She also acknowledges that sometimes you don’t have the energy (mental or physical) to clean something for 20 minutes at a time. That’s ok. Do 15 or 10 or two. Something is better than nothing. This concept, quite frankly, was new to me.
Cleaning, when I was a kid, was always a stressful event. My mother, may she rest and her name be for a blessing, had some major OCD tendencies. I don’t mean checking light switches & whatever other idea of movie-style OCD you have in your head. The woman did not sit still if there was something that could be cleaned. Once, when she was visiting me at my house, I was drinking coffee. I set my cup down to go to the bathroom. When I came out, it was in the cupboard. She had washed, dried, and put away a cup of coffee that I wasn’t done drinking yet in the time it took me to piss. I did community theater for nearly ten years; it takes me about 12 seconds to piss, 16 if I’ve been holding it a while.
Because of my mother’s OCD, my room was a constant battle. I had a lot of stuff, a short attention span, and hated cleaning because why bother if it couldn’t all get done at once? And I would have to do it all at once in order to be able to go & play with my friends. It sucked. It would take forever, I’d be tired when I was done, it was never quite good enough, there wasn’t enough space for everything, and I grew to hate cleaning.
I carried that hatred into adulthood. If I can’t get the entire house done in one swoop, why bother? I have two kids, they make messes, why bother? Cleaning sucks, why bother?
That, my dears, is where that tumblr I mentioned comes in.
She makes the point that even two minutes of cleaning leaves the area cleaner than it was before, and that is ok. She makes the point that we need to let go of perfection. She makes the point that if we just put things where they go in the first place, cleaning won’t take so long next time.
She’s also profane and, unlike that insipid FlyLady woman, doesn’t insist that you wear lace-up shoes inside the house and thank your family for giving your life meaning because without them you wouldn’t have anything to clean and a clean house is a blessing.
You know what’s a blessing? Being able to pay someone to come to your house once or twice a week to scrub your toilet & floors & windows for you. Until the day when “housekeeper” is a line item in my budget, I’m going to keep unfucking my house, 20 minutes at a time, my own self. Because the gal at UFYH is right: 20 minutes at a time is better than nothing. I may not be OCD like my mom was, and I don’t want to be, I don’t want the low-level anxiety that comes part & parcel with my ADHD to manifest itself that way. But I want to live in a clean home. And 20 minutes at a time, throughout the day, has been enough to get us there.
My kids are old enough to help, which makes things easier. I fold their clothes, give them each a basket & use that chore as a stick, paired with the carrot of time spent watching Netflix. Those kids will get that chore done fast if the Electric Company or Batman are waiting for them on the other side. I remind them to put their workbooks away, and they do it. We have a designated spot for library stuff now. We make folding the blankets they use to make forts a race.
So, if you’re in the same boat as I was, challenge yourself. Don’t try to do it all at once. A little bit is better than nothing at all. One stitch may not be much, but repeat that stitch 25,000 times and you have a sweater. 20 minutes may not be much, but repeat it enough times and you have a clean house.