Hello, my name is Lanee and I’m a mess-aholic. There. I said it. My messy confession is out. I have a problem with clutter and overall chaos in my life. And I’ve struggled with it my whole life. When it comes to my public appearance, from my clothes to my car, I’m pretty neat. It’s my private world that’s a wreck.
My motto for the piles of clothes on the floor or stacks of bills/business cards/receipts on my desk or a Hurricane Sandy-looking closet has been: Boring Women Have Clean Houses.
In my mind, cleaning obsessively or organizing continuously was absolutely the most boring, non-essential thing to do in the world. I always had more interesting or important things to do than arrange my sock drawer or vacuum dust bunnies or wipe up the morning’s coffee stains off the counter.
And when I did muster the gumption to clean, I hated every minute of it. I’d grumble about how the vacuum was such a hassle to use with all its different parts. Anger would boil up as I mopped the black tiled bathroom floor, knowing it would be spotty and streaked again after I washed my face or took a shower.
Picking up and putting away the piles of clothes thrown over my laundry basket was so difficult to complete, I’d have to trick myself into doing it by giving myself incentives. Every act of organization or cleanliness I attempted was like pulling teeth, with no anesthetic. Absolutely, positively HATED it.
Don’t get me wrong, I like living in a clean environment and gained satisfaction with the results of cleaning. But, deep down, I knew it was futile. By the end of the day, there’d be another pile of stuff that screamed, “What’s the point? I’m baaccccck! You suck.”
Ugh. The endless cycle of trying and failing to maintain cleanliness exhausted me… and depressed me, so I would avoid it all together. It even extended to my travel. Suitcase explosions all over the room. I always tip housekeeping a little extra because I leave the hotel room a mess and come back to a much tidier, nicer space!
Was I inflicted with a messy gene? How did other women do it? What tricks did they employ that I simply was too dim to figure out? Where did this addiction to chaos stem?
Some could argue bad parenting. But, I didn’t even have that excuse. My mom kept an impeccable house and assigned my siblings and me weekly chores. And then there were the groundings for the messy room. I asked my mom if she could write down a sentence a two about her experience during that time, here’s what she wrote:
“My beautiful daughter excelled in many areas as a teenager, keeping her bedroom neat and tidy wasn’t one of them. Since groundings and repeated warnings didn’t seem to make a difference in her messiness, I decided to quit making it an issue and a source of contention. It was easier to make one simple rule: the mess can not cross the threshold of her bedroom door. If she kept her door closed, I didn’t have to see it and she could live in her messy world without mom on her back all the time.”
Was I acting out in defiance by keeping my room in a way that horrified my mom? Probably. Or was it something else?
Here, she describes a scene from my room when I was teenager:
“Some days, I felt like I should bite the bullet and go in Lanee’s room just to retrieve missing dishes. When coffee cups and cereal bowls seemed sparse in the kitchen, I had a good idea of where I might find them: under her unmade bed or under the piles of clothes and shoes on the floor. I could always count on finding moldy milk or a green slime in these lost dishes. Gross? Yes. Thankful I didn’t step on a fork? For sure!”
Okay, I’ve have slightly improved since then.
You won’t find any furry green mold monsters growing in a month-old cup of coffee. However, you will find brown fingerprints (from make-up on my hands) on the light switch, a splash of wine on the floor, black smudges on the wall in front of my desk from my shoes and drawers so jammed, they won’t open without force. After coming home from a trip, especially, there are monster piles of clothes, bags, notes, business cards, and souvenirs, like sand, which obviously doesn’t belong in my apartment.
And what’s weird, I don’t notice spills or smudges as they happen and I don’t notice it later. I have tunnel vision. Perhaps it’s a survival mechanism? If I don’t see it, I don’t have to clean it (and it can’t remind me what a failure I am in the cleaning department).
Could it be because some part, deep down, actually feels comfortable in chaos and that’s why I create it? Or, do I create chaos because that’s all I felt I deserved, advertising to the universe that I wasn’t worth nice things or a lovely home or a pleasing work environment. As one person told me, “People do things only because it pleases them – be it bad or good. You obviously like living in clutter or you wouldn’t allow it.”
Finally, I had enough of psychoanalyzing it. Enough of making excuses. Enough of feeling ashamed. Enough with living in a visually and functionally disruptive environment (Do you know how long it would take me to find the other mate of my shoe in my cluttered closet??? So annoying!).
I wanted to see if I could really change. I wanted to see if there was a shred of my persona that craved cleanliness. I wanted to discover if could flip the drudgery I felt towards cleaning into a desire to create the most beautiful life ever.
As one of my New Year’s resolutions I shared on the 5 Goals for 2015 post, I vowed to ‘attack the pile monsters’.
After researching a few blog posts for support, like Refinery 29’s “How to Make Your Apartment Clean in 5 Minutes” or The Muse’s “Messy Person’s Guide to Staying Organized” or Better Homes & Garden’s “13 Tips to Speed Clean”, I began my cleanse.
Inspired by the Chinese New Year practice of spring cleaning, I furiously organized and cleaned every drawer (okay, I might have a few left to do), cabinet and closet cranny. I even mopped the bathroom WALLS?! It felt good. Although I stopped going out socially for awhile, I didn’t mind. I was on a mission to find my highest self, the self that did want (and was able to easily maintain) a peaceful, harmonious existence.
In fact, it became fun. I made it in to a game: how pristine could I make the window, counter, room, etc look? Did it feel unnatural and awkward? Hell, yes. Did I have moments that I resented every second of it, wishing I had some magical fairy to do all this shit for me? Oh yeah. Did I have to remind myself to pick up the dress I just tossed on the floor or wipe up the slosh of coffee off the counter audibly, even addressing myself by my first name (similar to how you would talk to toddler if you were trying to get them to pick up toys)? Um, embarrassingly, yes. But becoming a bit nutty is all part of kicking a habit, right?
Two months in, here are four things I’ve implemented in maintaining a clean house (the one thing I never thought I could do):
1. Fifteen minutes, not necessarily all in one stretch, of cleaning or picking up per day. I call them my Stewart Spurts, after my domestic hero Martha Stewart. (Major discovery, if I clean a little bit on a consistent basis, it never gets to that overwhelming, it’s-gonna-take-a-whole-day stage.)
2. I bought a second laundry hamper to defeat the pile monsters (I know, it’s cheating). One is for really dirty clothes, gym stuff, etc. The other is for clothes that I wore once, but didn’t feel like folding or hanging up at the moment.
3. Wipes can save the world. Mine, anyhow. I put them everywhere to encourage my Stewart Spurts. Disinfectant wipes and Windex wipes for the bathroom and kitchen; dust wipes for my desk. Now, no futzing for cleaning supplies and no dealing with a soggy rag or a disgusting, old kitchen sponge. Easy peazy.
4. Whatever room is the last room I’m in before leaving the house, I spin around, assess it quickly and straighten a few things. It literally takes 10 seconds time and makes a huge difference in maintenance.
And the evolution continues.
Stay tuned. In two weeks, I’ll tell you how a Galapagos tour guide and a plane ride amp-ed up my game in the life makeover challenge.
Do you have any tips on staying organized or cleaning your house in a jiffy? I’d love to hear them in the comments below: