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May 2006

I’m coming clean

May 18, 2006   

So, my “big” do-before-turning-30 is trying to be neater, using a system I found online. All your systems are belong to online. There is a “first 31 days” guideline for what to clean and when. This is what I intend to complete before my b-day.

The first task (or “habit to install”) for me is keeping the kitchen sink sparkling clean. The focus is on small tasks, so I keep doing this for a few days until it feels a part of my natural routine, and in the meantime, I’ll also add small 2-, 5-, and 15-minute cleaning/decluttering sprints. The idea is to do whatever you can in the time limit without going over, so that it never feels like too much, so that you never stare at the mound of stuff on the desk and wonder how you can get it all organized, because you are only thinking of the next two minutes. There are also specific guidelines for certain “decluttering exercises” such as finding 27 things in a room that you want to donate. It’s these concrete little things that will help me.

Here is a little background on me & the history of cleaning: My mom was a neat freak. She kept the home pristine and sparkling and had rules for everything, and I mean everything. I love her to pieces and thank God everyday that she was my mom, but I have to admit that one of the reasons that I grew up to be a slob is that I was totally exhausted mentally by the time I hit independence. We had regimented chores we had to do on a daily basis and on a weekly basis.

On a daily basis, we had to keep the house neat in general, wash the dishes, set the table, clean up the food, sort the mail, wipe down the kitchen sink & counter & stove & fridge, wipe down the bathroom sink & counter, rinse down the shower walls, pick up after all the hair we shed, walk the dog, feed the dog, make sure all the tables were clear of random stuff, help cook dinner, etc. They are all totally normal things a kid at home is supposed to do, but it was mostly that it was so… regimented. There was only one way to set the table, there was only one way to leave the shower curtains, and there was only one way to wash the dishes. I felt like I was always suffocated by walls of chores and rules.

On a weekly basis, we vaccumed all the rooms, scrubbed the tub & toilet, took out the trash, mowed the lawn/shovelled the driveway/swept up the leaves, dusted all the shelves in all the rooms, Windexed all the windows, waxed all wooden surfaces, washed/dried/folded the laundry, mopped the kitchen. As needed, we helped my dad pack up his van in the morning and put away all the tools in the evening.

On a less frequent basis, we washed all the curtains, wiped down all the fridge shelves, washed/dried/waxed the car, and whatever other seasonal things needed doing.

All this was on top of going to school, doing all my extracurricular activities, going to church, and maintaining my part-time job. I never felt like I was doing things up to par. The chores were frustrating because there was never a real sense of reward from doing them; they just needed to get done. It was just drudgery.

My room was my personal haven of “leave stuff wherever I want them”-ness. I had stacks of books on my desks and stacks of clothes on my bed. I knew exactly where everything was, and I always moved entire stacks at once, so I could keep mental tabs on them.

When I went off to college, there was simply no time for any personal care. If I wasn’t dodging my horrible roommate, I was studying or trying to catch some sleep or grabbing a quick bite between classes. Let’s not talk about the college years.

Anyway, there were a few problems with the way I was taught to be neat when I was younger:

  • It was too regimented. Any cracks in the regiment and it was all over.
  • It was completely unrewarding in everyway. In fact, it was punishing because it took time from the other things I loved to do.
  • It was based entirely on external motivators and never crossed over into being a positive priority for me.

Now that I am older, it IS a priority. A person can’t spend all their lives blaming their actions on their past. It’s time to take action. It’s a matter of solving the problem on a practical level.

I know myself, and the “just do it” approach will not cut it. I need to start small and build slowly. The housemates and I put together a chore checklist which has been helping us to be a lot more neat on a higher level. We need lots of work on the details but it’s clear that everyone wants a cleaner home. Yay for a cleaner, neater home!

Once, a person (honestly, I don’t remember who it was) I know said to me, “I’m sorry, but your house is a dump.” I was really, genuinely pissed off (you’d think I’d remember given how pissed off I was, but I don’t). The problem isn’t that I am in denial about our house generally being messy; it was and it is, and it can definitely be better. The problem was, why did this person tell me that? Because they thought I didn’t know and I needed to be enlightened? That is disrespectful to my intelligence & my vision. Or if they thought I knew it, that I need to shame me about it? It’d be like me going up to someone and telling them, “I’m sorry, but your car is ugly.” Or, “I’m sorry, but your jaw is ginormous.” No, you are not sorry. You are just being a jerk and assuming that your judgment of the situation has a higher priority than anything else. I wanted to put my fist through this person’s face. Since I know many of you have thought it, I thank you for having the respect & tact not to say it out loud.

Anyway, I’m going off on a tangent.

The point is, this change is not a response to other people’s need for me to have a cleaner house; this change is a response to a desire in myself to enact a positive change in my life. It’s a set of life habits that I’d like to acquire so that our home is neater and happier.

I feel like I am ready for this change now. I’ve been going through small steps of self-improvement in the last few years: exercise financial responsibility, eat better, exercise, and, now, be more organized. I hope to carry that into my mental life as well, clearing up the clutter and being more focussed.