Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Cleaning or: How I Try to Keep from Becoming My Parents

I’ve talked a lot about the houses I’ve lived in; the hoarding, the piles, the filth.  The squalor I’ve always been surrounded by, always been suffocated by.  I talk a lot about it because it’s a huge part of who I am and I didn’t realize how huge until I finally started talking about it.  It was the most shameful aspect of my entire life.  I could talk about sexual, physical, and emotional abuse but had to lie about why I couldn’t let my friends inside.

As you can imagine, I was never taught to clean. Learning how to after a lifetime of not isn’t something that’s been easy for me.  I have to Google or ask friends a lot of ridiculous questions.  Questions about cooking, laundry, removing stains…  Things I should probably already know but don’t.

Part of why I’m capable of having a clean and comfortable home is because of how little I have.  That was the hugest part of this - getting rid of everything I could.  Since moving here (with only the things that fit in my car and still have a lot of space left over) I’ve acquired more stuff.  I would say clothes, mostly, so purging my closet is currently on my To Do list.  It's so much easier to have an open and clean space when it isn't filled with shit.  (Which should be obvious but I didn't really think about that while living in it.)  I know I have so little stuff simply because I had no other choice; if it didn't fit in my car, it couldn't come with me.  That's why my first suggestion is, get rid of everything you can.  Keep only the things you love, the things that make you happy.  Get rid of clothes you've never worn, the unwanted gifts you've been keeping out of guilt, the DVDs you haven't watched in years...all of it.  Go through one area at a time and pull out as much as you can and get it to the thrift store.  Then go  through it again and donate more.

I know it's hard.  I focused on the fact that a) I'd be making someone's day to find my awesome stuff at the thrift store and b) I promised myself that if, in a year, I still missed and wanted the things I donated, I was allowed to find and purchase them again.  And I haven't purchased any of the shit I used to have.  I've already forgotten, probably, 80% of what I got rid of.  I was able to let go of thousands of books because I reminded myself that I could find all of them online if I wanted them again.  That allowed me to only bring a couple of boxes of books with me.  I never would have believed it but once I started getting rid of stuff, I found it therapeutic and actually enjoyed the purging.  The more I got rid of, the easier it was to let go.

I try to tidy up every single day so nothing builds up or gets out of control.  And because it makes me happy to have a spotless bedroom.  I focus a lot on baby steps.  Wiping down my dresser or doing one load of laundry or scrubbing the toilet or washing a couple of dishes.  The majority of the time once I start, I don't want to stop.  But if I do want to stop, I will.  I don't know that I have advice to give because having a semi-empty space was the biggest thing for me.  Before the massive purge I couldn't breathe and I sure as hell couldn't clean because I had no idea where to start.  Let me be clear; sometimes it doesn't happen.  Sometimes my bedroom is a disaster and I start feeling overwhelmed and anxious.  But!  The less stuff you have, the less stuff you need to clean, put away, and deal with so, even at it's worst, I'm able to get through it fairly quickly.  After a lifetime of clutter, empty space works well for me.

Lists, I make lots of lists.  I make step by step lists of cleaning I have to do; breaking it down to as minute as possible.  Because nothing feels more awesome than crossing shit off a list.  I don't write down:

* Clean bathroom.

I write down:
* Empty off counter
* Wipe down counter
* Reorganize stuff on counter
* Clean mirror
* Scrub toilet
* Clean floor behind toilet
* Scrub tub
* Scrub shower walls
* Swat down cobwebs
* Clean floor

Have you sensed a theme!?  ("Baby step into the elevator...")

Every single  time I walk through the door and see my clean home, my body relaxes and I feel warm and happy and proud.  Proud that I’m not allowing my parent’s sicknesses to determine who I am.  Proud that I love myself enough to have a home and bedroom I’m not ashamed of.  And I’m so so so grateful for my roommates and their role in why this place feels like home and why the common areas stay clean.  This shitty, falling apart trailer owned by a slumlord makes me feel calm and safe. Weird as that may be.

Several years ago my then therapist and I were discussing the hoarding and I said I wanted a home where people could pop in.  Where I could invite friends to come inside.  And he said, “You know you deserve to have a clean home because it would make you happy, right?  Not for anyone else…for yourself.  You deserve that.”  That had never occurred to me before.

I admit that  I can be obsessive about it.  I get a bit anxious when the place isn’t clean enough.  Something I have never done to someone else.  I focus on the flaws a lot.  A pair of pants on my bed or an unvacuumed rug and I apologize for the “mess.”  Whereas if someone has clutter or a mess or even a complete disaster, it doesn't even register.  That's something I'm always able to do: judge myself harsher than I ever would someone else.  It’s the next thing I need to work on: realizing it doesn’t have to be perfect because no one actually gives a shit.

I didn't actually follow any directions about how to purge since I was in the middle of a complete mental breakdown but I've had a couple of sites highly recommended and they really will help because they both focus on small steps.  They are very low pressure and help you work within your limitations.  Both have also created apps to help you out.

Unfuck Your Habitat - I love this one.  Tons of recommendations and information.  And a lot of success stories.  I've read a lot of it and love the instructions and tips as well as the product suggestions.

Fly Lady - Another that focuses on small steps and building your cleaning repertoire over time.  I know a lot of people have been helped by her suggestions.

Stepping Out of Squalor - Thank you Tehomet!

If anyone has recommendations for websites or books that will help you declutter and clean your home, please leave a comment and I'll add it!


  1. http://takeonestepatatime.proboards.com/

  2. You are so right ~ you followed your instincts and look at you now! I loved flylady.com. I haven't used it for some time but I do think it is a great way to get into the habit of keeping things clean. I have a sister whose home is so cluttered. I know it is why she is always sick and tense and stressed. I would love nothing more than to go to her house and stay about 3 weeks to help her declutter. I know she would feel so much better. Baby steps will soon have you running for miles. congratulations.

    1. It's such a hard place to get out of. And it feels insurmountable. I hope your sister finds a way to move forward in a calm and clean home. <3