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How to Manage Your Home without Losing Your Mind
Dealing with Your House's Dirty Little Secrets
By Dana K. White
Thomas NelsonCopyright © 2016 Dana K. White
All rights reserved.
My First Step: Giving Up on the Fantasy
Fantasy: I struggle to keep my home under control. I'm chronically disorganized or organizationally challenged.
Reality: I'm a slob.
In almost every fairy tale, someone cleans. Most of the princesses do housework during the story, but that's before they are (or know they are) princesses. They make cleaning look fun. They sing and dance, and the dust never sends them into sneezing fits or makes their eyes swell shut. But once the prince arrives, cleaning's over. Life is all about fancy dinners and sitting on thrones and smiling at peasants out of carriage windows and such.
Basically, they clean before they arrive at their destinies. Once they're there, cleaning is irrelevant. Nobody talks about cleaning or worries about cleaning or even notices cleaning is happening. But everything stays clean.
Even though I would have told you I knew life wasn't a fairy tale, when it came to cleaning, I embraced this delusion. I was confident that one day cleaning would be easy. My house would stay clean without me even realizing I was cleaning it.
So what awakened me from this delusionary dream?
My messy house.
My grown-up, married-woman, I'm-the-mama house.
I'd been messy since birth. I had a messy room as a child, a messy desk in elementary school, a messy locker in high school, and a messy dorm room in college.
I had apartments with roommates and by myself. All of them were messy.
In case you aren't convinced, I'm talking about more than folded laundry not being put away in a timely manner. Let me paint the (messy) picture.
My living spaces were shockingly messy. People who assured me they wouldn't be shocked were so shocked they couldn't hide it. And all my college friends were actors.
I'm talking about the kind of messy where you forget the color of the carpet. The kind of messy where you finally give up and eat off paper plates and drink from disposable cups.
And still the sink is full of dirty dishes 99.9 percent of the time.
This kind of messy makes you pretend you enjoy talking outside in freezing weather when someone stops by unexpectedly.
This kind of messy lets "I tripped over a pile" be an acceptable explanation for a broken toe.
But as I waded through the mess, I felt confident the day would come when I would no longer be messy. I didn't worry that that day hadn't yet arrived. It would happen when it mattered. Once I achieved my life goal of being a stay-at-home mom, everything would be easy. My house would be clean.
Reality hit once I was at that point, living in my grown-up house with nothing to do but be a wife and a mom, and my house wasn't clean.
I was baffled.
I tried. I cleaned like a madwoman until I dropped in exhaustion, but as soon as I congratulated myself on my permanently changed ways, I looked up to see the mess was back.
I could get my home under control for a week, sometimes two, occasionally three weeks at a time. Life would happen, and the house went back to being a disaster.
I created the blog A Slob Comes Clean eight years after I arrived at the place in life where cleaning was supposed to be easy. I started on what I now call my deslobification journey in that moment of desperation in 2009. I did not want to use the s-word. I'd often told myself and others that no matter how bad it was, I was not a slob.
But that was the word that came to me. The word that worked.
A Slob Comes Clean is a catchy title and rather self-explanatory. I was ready to be honest with myself, and I was ready to get my house under control.
Still, it's an insult. The dictionary definition is clear. You don't call someone a slob if you want to be her friend.
And that's why it worked. Once I called myself a slob, I couldn't sugarcoat my "issues" anymore. I stopped making excuses.
There's another reason I'm glad I used that awful word. It helped me find my people. As women started reading my blog, they weren't horrified. Instead, they thanked me. These women were relieved to find someone who thought and struggled the way they did, and they were glad to know they weren't alone.
As I learned more about these women who shared my struggles, I saw they were amazing, creative, intelligent people. They were artists and poets and teachers and musicians.
I liked them.
Over time, by connecting with women who told me the thoughts I expressed were their thoughts, too, I identified a relationship between the slob part of my brain (the part I despised) and the creative part of my brain (the part I loved). Knowing the direct relationship between these two sides helped me accept that being a slob is part of who I am. It's how my brain works. This realization did not mean I should give up, but it did give me permission to stop feeling like a failure when traditional organizing advice (written by people whose brains are very different from mine) didn't work for me. I just needed to find ways that worked for me, with my unique brain and in my unique home.CHAPTER 2
The Worst Thing About the Best Way
Fantasy: If something is worth doing, it's worth doing right.
Reality: While I'm busy searching for the best way to do something, I'm not getting anything done. Meanwhile, the problem gets worse and is much harder to solve when I finally get around to solving it.
Not all idealists are slobs, but most slobs are idealists.
I'm one. An idealist. (And, of course, a slob.)
I love a good idea. Give me a problem to solve, and I'll start brainstorming solutions. Efficiency and practicality and all that? They speak to the depths of my soul.
Before I actually had a home of my own, I couldn't imagine a reason to not do things (all things, every last little thing) the very best way.
When I was sixteen, I worked at a summer camp. This camp was my favorite place on earth. I loved it so much I even smiled as I cleaned toilets.
I knew how to clean those bathrooms thoroughly, and I cleaned them every single day of the weeks I was assigned bathroom duty. I followed step-by-step lists that told me exactly what to do. I also had lists for every other job I was assigned. Mopping the kitchen? Dusting the chapel? No swish or scrape was left off these lists.
My idealist self was happy. I was learning the very best way to clean, and I was going to rock being a homemaker one day. I would do everything right. All the time! I mean, I was cleaning those showers perfectly at the camp in the two hours each day when I had nothing else to do but clean bathrooms, so of course I'd do it all perfectly when I had one little ol' bathroom of my own (maybe two) to clean.
At the same camp, I worked in the kitchen, washing dishes and serving food. We learned in one of our health trainings that it's actually more hygienic to let dishes air-dry than to dry them with a dish towel. At least that's the part I remember.
I'm pretty sure the point was to be vigilant about using superclean, totally dry cloths to dry dishes. Y'know, since it would be impractical to let everything air-dry.
I didn't pay attention to the part about it being impractical. Impracticality? That's for wimps! Wusses! Why would I ever do anything other than what was best?
Years later, now that I'm living smack-dab in the middle of reality, I've realized my desire for the very best way contributes to my slob problem.
Huh? Well, this:
What's that? Oh, just a bunch of baking sheets, slow-cooker parts, soup pots, movie theater refillable cups (and more) ... air-drying.
Air-drying for days weeks months at a time.
Here's what happens: I let them air-dry because air-drying is the very best way. I learned that from the professionals.
Plus, air-drying means I don't have to find a dish towel, I don't have to dry each one individually, and I don't have to put them away right now.
I can't put them away right now. They're air-drying. Duh.
The very best way is also the easiest way? What could possibly be better than that?
Except that if air-drying is going to be the very best way, it has to include putting the dishes away. But air-drying takes time. It doesn't happen immediately. And no one (especially no one who considers herself superefficient) can be expected to watch dishes dry.
But by the time the dishes are dry, they've blended into the landscape of my kitchen counters. They've been there long enough they don't register to my brain as being out of place.
The next time I need a baking sheet, I grab it. I use it, wash it, and put it back in the pile to air-dry, because air-drying is the very best way.
It seems normal and not at all lazy until one day I feel inexplicable despair. I stand in my kitchen, wondering why I feel so bad, and suddenly realize I'm irritated by its overall messy appearance.
I shake my head to clear my Slob Vision and realize there's a huge pile of stuff behind my sink.
An eyesore I didn't see with my eyes but felt with my heart.
Sometimes, Worrying About the Very Best Way Keeps Me from Doing Anything
I stress and fret over the very best way to clean my toilet, worrying I'll ruin my health or the environment or my children's lives. While I'm worrying, the toilet gets ickier. And harder to clean. So, eventually, when I have to clean that toilet because it's just so gross (and Grandma's on her way over),
I have no choice but to use scarier stuff than the cleaning products I was scared to use in the first place.
It's a cycle. A bad one.
While I tell myself I'm going to look up the best way to recycle in my area, my recycling container overflows and turns into a recycling "area." The plastic bottles and newspapers eventually mix with other junk that's not recyclable.
Now it's a project. A frustrating, overwhelming project I put off even longer, so it grows.
And becomes more overwhelming.
Things should be done a certain way. Why do something at all if there's a better way it could be done? But even if I knew a better way, would I have the supplies or the time to do it that way?
Three words in that last paragraph are ones I now recognize as signal words: would, could, and should. Signals that it's never going to happen. When those words are in my inner monologue, I have to ask myself, "But what will I do?"
All the wouldas, couldas, and shouldas in the world don't get my bathroom clean. Know what gets it clean? Cleaning it. (Seriously, the profundity in this book is amazing.) When I called myself a slob, I had no choice but to face reality. My ensuing passion for reality has been a big factor in my own deslobification process. I accepted that whatever I had been doing in my home wasn't working. Ideas weren't making a difference. The only thing that made a difference was actually doing something. Cleaning with whatever I had on hand, whether it was the perfect thing or not.
Over time, and with much angst, I can now more easily differentiate Really Great Ideas from Things That Might Actually Happen in My House. With success and progress, I'm willing to act on realistic ideas and not bother with the ones that will never happen.
Need an Example of Things That Will Never Happen?
I saw a fascinating tip from my friend Lauren, who writes about living frugally at iamthatlady.com. She shared that people sell empty toilet paper rolls on eBay.
I'm not kidding. I checked, and it's for real. The auctions I found finished with a buyer paying between five and fifteen dollars for fifty to one hundred empty, "clean" toilet paper rolls.
For someone who uses toilet paper, like, every single day of her life (and hopes everyone else does too), that would be free money! I could save those things, box 'em up, and ship 'em off to the highest bidder! Yee-haw — I should totally do this!
(Signal words alert: would, could, and should — all in the same paragraph.)
In the interest of putting energy and time into only Things That Will Actually Happen, let's play this one out in my slob reality:
I place a handy-dandy box in the bathroom cabinet. "I'll put this in here. That way, whenever we finish a roll of toilet paper, we can drop it in this box!"
I smile to myself, thinking of all the money some sucker's going to pay for my trash.
Three weeks later, I open the cabinet for a completely-unrelated-to-selling-used-toilet-paper-rolls reason.
I think to myself (in a strident tone), Who put that box in here? I reach to remove the box and then remember my plan for ultimate high-profit recycling. Oh, yeah. I forgot.
I call the rest of the family into the bathroom. "Okay, everyone, every time you finish a roll of toilet paper, put the empty roll in this box. We are going to sell them!"
Hubby, wide-eyed, backs me up, "You heard Mom. Don't throw empty toilet paper rolls away." Once the kids are gone, he asks for an explanation. I give one, and he leaves the bathroom, shaking his head.
A month later, I find the box with two empty rolls in it, and I give up. While there are a ba-jillion good habits we can't seem to create, we're amazing at putting empty toilet paper rolls straight into the trash can without ever thinking about Mom's great idea.
Or maybe it plays out like this:
We get excited about paying for next summer's vacation with money earned from selling used toilet paper rolls to strangers on the Internet. The whole family gets in on the action, and we fill up those boxes until they overflow.
And tumble out of the cabinet when someone opens the door.
We collect more. And more. And even more. The time has finally arrived to sell them.
But I need a camera and a box that will fit all of them without smushing them (since we've overfilled the original box).
And I can't remember my eBay password.
I can solve all those problems, but I'll have to wait until a better time. A time when I have the mental energy to deal with all of that. A time when I simply ... have more time.
Meanwhile, we gather more and more empty rolls, and I get more overwhelmed, and it becomes less realistic that I'll ever get around to actually doing this.
And we can't use that cabinet because it's overflowing with empty toilet paper rolls.
These scenarios may seem extreme, but they're exactly how it could go down in my house. I know.
Because I know, I choose reality.
Reality is accepting that while some people do things like this and earn decent chump change, selling my trash would be more trouble than it's worth to me. And it would make my house even harder to maintain.
I can't, as a slob, do anything that will make my home harder to maintain.
Instead, I'll view the information like this: "Wow, that is so cool! People really sell used toilet paper rolls on eBay? Next time the school/church asks for them, I'll buy some! Yay for having no reason to keep boxes full of used toilet paper rolls. Ever!"
Failing at the Very Best Way Makes Me Lose Faith in My Ability to Do It at All
While selling used toilet paper rolls and air-drying dishes for months at a time are obviously unrealistic ideas, I've had to change my idealistic mindset in more subtle, yet significant, ways.
The biggest housekeeping dream I've had to give up was my unwavering belief that I just needed to find the right method for cleaning my house.
Oh, the elusive method. The answer to all my problems. If I could find the perfect method, my house would be clean all the time.
I have some bad news.
You can read this entire book five times in a row and your house won't be any cleaner than it was before you opened it.
Methods don't clean your house. You have to clean your house.
While I'm reading about systems for doing laundry or researching the best way to keep my kitchen under control or asking my neighbor how often she mops her floors, my house is getting messier.
And more overwhelming.
Excerpted from How to Manage Your Home without Losing Your Mind by Dana K. White. Copyright © 2016 Dana K. White. Excerpted by permission of Thomas Nelson.
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