Rowyn (rowyn) wrote,

Tidying Up

For the last month or two, my house has been clean, by my standards.

I do not meant to brag here. It is important to note that "my standards" of cleanliness are (a) low and (b) do not include problems with my house that I lack the motivation to address. For instance, the kitchen and bathroom linoleum both need badly to be replaced. The bathroom linoleum was sliced open several years ago to install a floor under the toilet (there wasn't one), and the kitchen linoleum was ripped up in the middle by a screw sticking out from the bottom of a rolling chair and us not realizing what the problem was until WAY TOO LATE. The carpet is sixteen years old and has tons of stains due to sixteen years of life with cats. It, too, should be replaced. There's mildew in the grout of the shower that no amount of scrubbing will remove; it just needs to be dug out and replaced.

But even when you can hire people to do these things for you -- and I could -- it's a serious undertaking that cannot be done quickly and easily. I'm still trying to get myself to call contractors for the far more important maintenance to the outside of the house. (The paint is peeling and at least one shingle is missing from the siding.) The minor interior stuff doesn't rate.

But within the confines of "cleaning that does not require special skills", the interior of my house has become increasingly neat over time. It is weird and also pretty great. I've been thinking about what has made the difference, and I think it's a combination of factors.

The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up
I read one of Marie Kondo's books back in February. I never made it through KonMari'ing all of my possessions: I did clothing and jewelry while I was still reading the book, and over the next few months I culled my books and papers, and finally started with the "hobbies" category by culling my art supplies. I also cleaned out my pantry. That's as far as I got; there's large categories of stuff that I never culled. I have a huge collection of items I wear for cosplay that's untouched, for example. Same with my board games. I am not sure you could get me to part with most of my board games, but there are a few that I got for free or never liked, and would be willing to donate.

So there's still a lot of clutter in my house. The back of the front hall, where I keep the litterboxes, is pretty cluttered, mostly with junk. There's a ton of stuff in the basement that we never use, but since we also never use the basement itself, I can't bring myself to care. There's a pile of unframed artwork (none of it my own work; it's stuff Lut or I bought or had gifted to us). I actually got up and hung the framed-but-not-hung artwork, because the reason that stuff wasn't hung was "Lut is usually sleeping when I think about doing this" and this was a rare occasion where he wasn't.

But the culling I did get through freed up a substantial amount of storage space, and most of the house is no longer cluttered at all. As I write this, the only things on top of the coffee table next to me are my phone and my drink. The display area of the entertainment center only has the tchochkes that are supposed to be there. The end table holds a coffee table, a box of tissues, and two pieces of actual clutter: a computer part that Lut hasn't installed and some paperwork on living wills that we still haven't gone through. I should put that on my to-do list and see if that helps. Anyway, the point is: these surfaces aren't clean because I just cleared them off this weekend. I don't remember when I cleared them off. Months ago. I decluttered them and then they just ... stayed that way.

This, I think, is probably the biggest benefit of KonMari. Once you get rid of stuff you don't want, you lose the urge to fill that space back up with stuff you don't want. Alternatively, I may just have lost most of my interest in physical objects as a byproduct of the digital age. A lot of things that I once owned and stored in physical form -- books and music spring to mind, and art supplies to a lesser degree -- I now purchase and use in digital form. Usually from some service that stores the digital copy, for that matter. Which has disadvantages, but it does takes up a lot lessr real-world space.

The biggest factor here is Rovan, my robot vacuum. I talked about him in my August update, so I won't re-hash that here. But having a robot vacuum to keep the floors clean is great. I never realized how much a vacuumed floor does to make the whole house look cleaner. Rovan will vacuum the floors while Lut and I go out to eat, or he'll keep me company while I clean. And it's just motivational that vacuuming is no longer a thing I need to do. The time I would have spent vacuuming, I can spend on something else. Plus, Rovan does a better job of vacuuming than I did, because he can easily get under the table in the den and that area was so hard to reach with the upright.

And there are other things that help too. I got a microfiber mop several months ago and was startled by how much less annoying mopping is now. Mopping has gone from "super annoying, time-consuming, and requiring lots of prep" to "like sweeping." It's not even a fancy mopping robot or anything! It cost, I dunno, $10? It's just much better at picking up dirt without requiring all the floor-soaking and bother of a standard mop.

The To-Do List
I have a folder in EverNote labeled "Bullet Journal". Bullet journals are a combination to-do list and have-done list: most people use them to track their schedule, what they want to do, and what they did do. They are also supposed to be physical journals and a lot of people draw in decorations or use scrapbooking supplies to make them beautiful. Mine is virtual and not physical, and it is inelegant but useful.

I have used it on and off: for a week in 2016, and a couple of months in 2018, most of June this year, and every week since the start of September. I have a system I like for it now. At the top, I put my schedule: everything that needs to be done on a specific day. This is stuff like work and appointments. For a long time, I didn't put work down because I didn't need a reminder about what days I was going to work. But I do sort of need a reminder that "I worked at Day Job for 8 hours this day and that's why I didn't do a whole lot else."

The next section is one-off items: things I am only supposed to do once that week, and it's generally things I'm not going to have to do again. This is things like "schedule a doctor's appointment" or "buy tickets for Seattle trip" or "renew driver's license". It doesn't matter what particular day I do these on, as long as I'm just supposed to do them sometime that week. If I fail to get one of these done, I roll it over to the next week.

The last section is recurring items that I will do multiple times throughout the week. Next week's recurring section is:

Write 5% of something / edit Twilight Etherium
Push ups 3x
Stretching 4x
Cardio 5x
Sketching practice 2x
Log 4thewords 7x
Cleaning 2x

I put a ~ before each item for each time I do it. When I've done it [x] times that week, I cross it off. "Cleaning" is on this list, and surprisingly, "cleaning" is one of the things that gets done. If you're wondering what item is least likely to be crossed off: it's sketching. I always thought I liked sketching but whenever I think about doing it, I nope out. I don't know why. Part of it is that I started doing gesture drawings and I hate gesture drawings. But I could literally do anything for drawing practice and it would count, yet I can't get myself to do this consistently for even an hour a week. I think I should start taking out my markers to do art practice, because that is more fun.

Anyway, pretty much every week, I spend a couple of hours cleaning. A couple of hours is a lot of cleaning. I don't count loading or unloading the dishwasher as part of this task, because even though my dishwasher is sixteen years old and I have to pre-wash everything, the dishes are not much of a time sink. I usually tend to them while I'm making food and it's not a big deal. Washing clothes alone doesn't count, BUT doing the laundry AND folding and putting it away does count. Washing clothes is something I stay on top of because I'm not gonna fish dirty clothes back out of the hamper to wear them and I run out of clothing after two weeks. But it is very easy to leave a giant pile of clean clothes on the couch instead of putting them away, so I let dealing with that part count as one unit of cleaning.

All kinds of other cleaning stuff counts: decluttering, organizing, sweeping, mopping, scrubbing, etc.

And it's gotten to the point where I will look at the "cleaning" to-do and have this conversation with myself:

Me: "What do I actually need to clean? The house looks pretty clean already. I guess I could mop the linoleum? Or clean the bathroom? But I just did that last week."
Also Me: "I think normal people do those chores every week?"
Me: "Oh. Huh. Well, it's not gonna take very long when I just did it a week ago, so sure. Why not."

I am not the sort of person who mops every week. Or at least, I never used to be. Mopping was the kind of chore that I hated and did maybe once a year, if that. It used to be that decluttering was always the top priority. The first think I had to do, every time I went to clean, was find places for things and get them put away before I could do anything like dusting or wiping down surfaces. Often the amount of clutter overwhelmed me, to the point of "I don't know where to put any of this so I'm not even going to start." I never cleaned regularly before.

Now I look at the stuff I have lying around and I'm like "I like all these things and I'm happy with where they are. This is good." I don't have to pick up the floor before running Rovan. I don't have to clear the counters before I wipe them off. I can just start cleaning. I am pretty sure this is another side benefit of KonMari.

Anything Worth Doing is Worth Doing Badly
I think I've mentioned this before, too, but a big part of my cleaning philosophy is that it's better to do a lousy job now than to plan to do a good job later. This is the philosophy that says "you can vacuum just the most trafficked-areas of the house and ignore all the parts that are hard to get to. Because why not? Most of the dirt is in the places where people walk and the vacuum can reach easily anyway." It is the exact opposite of FlyLady's "just clean the sink, but clean that sink REALLY SUPER WELL" I'm more like "eh, wipe down the stove and don't worry about the stuff that's baked on and won't come off easily." It's the 80/20 rule, here seen as "80% of the dirt takes 20% of the effort to clean." So I just don't deal with the last 20%.

The bizarre part is that, having done this for a while, I am starting to deal with the last 20%. This week, I cleaned the walls of the bathroom. I don't think I've ever cleaned walls before! For the record, the walls did not appear to be dusty or have any kind of coating on them that needed to be cleared off, so I think "cleaning walls" is really only a thing you need to do to remove scuff marks and other obvious dirt. The moldings, on the other hand, had a lot of dust.

And the baked-on stuff on the stove is starting to come off when I wipe it down. I scrub at it just a little each time, and a little more of the gunk comes off.

So I feel like I am half-heartedly working my way towards full-hearted success? I'm not sure how that works.

Working Part Time
Back in January, I switched from 30 hour work-weeks to 20 hours. The extra time off is a huge help in keeping on top of everything. It reminds me of Koogrr talking about dealing with chores and creative work while he was on medical leave: "I feel as if, as long as I'm not working, I actually have time for all the other stuff in my life."

I don't have much to elaborate on this point, but I don't want to understate its importance. Not just that I have the time off, but that I am used to working much more. It's far easier to repurpose time that I am not used to thinking of as "free".


I don't know which of these points is the most important factor, and I don't know how long I will keep this up. I've only been doing the weekly cleaning for two months, and it wasn't until October that I started to feel like it was overkill -- as if my house was sufficiently tidy that I didn't need to dedicate a couple of hours every week to cleaning.

I think I might well backslide, but I have the feeling the benefits of decluttering are going to be permanent. My desire for more possessions is pretty minimal these days. If I don't have a purpose and a place in mind for something, I don't want to acquire it. This entry was originally posted at Please comment there using OpenID.
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