It’s not just me that’s bipolar in my life. My house is, too. When I’m up, the house looks pretty good. The furniture is still cat-scratched (the living room) and dog destroyed (the family room) but every thing has a home and everything is in its home. Not only do I get the ordinary stuff done, but am brave enough to enter the EPA Superfund Site my daughter’s bedroom and spend an hour putting away clothes and stacking Pillow Pets in the closet.
But when I’m down, the place is trashed. You can’t sit in the cat-scratched arm-chair in the living room because its arms are laden with things that need to be taken somewhere else. You can’t eat on the kitchen table because it’s covered with homework papers, half-drunk cans of soda, empty potato chip bags, dog collars, magazines, and bills.
I know lots of other people live in similar disarray and I should just chill about it. But I can’t. I get more and more anxious the messier the house is. It gets to where the one place that should feel safe gives makes me want to run to somewhere safe.
When I lived alone, my apartments were clean and uncluttered. But now there are three other people and their stuff is everywhere. I tried keeping up with the clutter but all it got me was resentment. In frustration, I would explode and everyone towed the “put your things away” line—for a little while.
“Why,” I asked my husband, “does the putting away only happen when I get fed up?” His reply sounds lame, but it’s true. My standards are too high. I really do have a “Do it my way or die” attitude toward home maintenance. This is, as he pointed out, a disincentive to pitch in. Why bother when Mom isn’t going to be happy no matter what we do?
So, as in all things, I searched the Internet for an answer to my housekeeping quandary.
I found FlyLady, a woman who suffered a debilitating depression (I could relate to that!), got better (more sisterhood) and realized her house was a disaster that was feeding her sense of worthlessness. CHAOS, she called it: Can’t Have Anyone Over Syndrome. She did two things: she got over needing perfection and developed routines to keep the CHAOS under control. Oh, and she self-published a book about it. Yes, I realize that’s three.
Fly Lady’s rules are simple: get dressed to shoes every morning, keep your kitchen sink clean, and develop routines. I signed on to be a “Fly Baby” and get regular encouragement in the form of emails. Soon, I learned Fly Lady’s idea of regular is every five minutes. My inbox was inundated with messages to clear off a hot spot (place where piles of paper accumulate) or run to another room and find 29 things to throw away. Though my home was getting cleaner as I established routines, my anxiety was going through the roof trying to get through the emails and do all the missions.
So, I flew away from Fly Lady and soon discovered Clean My Space, which purports to be the Cleanest Place On The Internet. If someone could clean up the Internet, I reasoned, they could certainly help me clean up.
The Cleanest Place on the Internet is owned by Melissa Maker, a young (childless) woman who is constantly put together. At my desk, in my slippers and threadbare jeans (I ditched the shoes when I ditched Fly Lady), I hated Melissa immediately. But she had some good ideas and she’s way laid back about motivation.
Unfortunately, since most of Clean My Space is in the form of video, I spent so much time learning how to clean my space that I ran out of time to clean my space. But I found the rah-rah-you-can-do-this motivation calming when my house had me doing deep breathing exercises every time I ventured from my bed.
Then, I watched a video about cleaning floors, having recently installed wood floors that I had no idea how to maintain. I was intrigued until Melissa said these words about cleaning up stubborn spots, “Don’t obsess about this!” Oh, Melissa, you silly woman, obsessing is the thing I do best!
The Holidays are a having people over extravaganza for us from Thanksgiving to Hanukkah to Christmas, and my inner Mr. Carson demands the house be spotless. This year, I’m thankful that I’ve found some strategies that keep me pretty sane while keeping the CHAOS at a minimum.
- I have a how-to-do-the-holidays binder. I have seen people look askance at it, but I don’t care. In it is everything I need to get me through December, from the recipe for turkey brine through receipts for every present I buy.
- I have routines and, I’m somewhat embarrassed to admit, I have apps on my iPad that keep me following them. When I complete a task, I touch it and get rewarded with a gold star. On good days, I try to see how many gold stars I can get before 9 a.m. Down days? The list pulls me up long enough that I don’t feel completely useless.
- I learned to selectively lower my standards. I have places I can go to get a peek at how organization my way looks. Seeing the sheets and pillow cases stacked neatly in the linen closet is as calming as meditation. Seriously.
- My husband clears his clutter when company’s coming. Otherwise, I live with his insistence that the dining room table be his home office.
- I don’t bother with the upstairs. No one’s going up there and if they do, I’ll withhold their slice of my pecan pie.
Short of celebrating at someone else’s house, how do you handle the pre-holiday clean up? What are your best tips on clearing the chaos without getting crazier crazy? Share in the comments!