And so this week’s moment of happiness despite the news.
I’m one of those people who likes things organized. If I wasn’t a hyper-organized person, I doubt that I could do all the things I do. Everything, from my daily schedule to how my clothes are hung in the closet to how I keep my computer files, is neat and tidy.
It used to be that my house was neat and tidy too. Eons ago, before I owned a business and before I even started teaching, I cleaned my house according to the day of the week. I lived in a one-story ranch house then, with a mostly completed basement. On Mondays, I dusted and vacuumed the living room and all of the bedrooms. Tuesday, I cleaned the bathroom. Wednesday, I dusted and washed the floor in the basement and cleaned the kinda/sorta bathroom down there. Thursday, I cleaned the kitchen. And Friday, I dusted and vacuumed the bedrooms and living room again.
My house was spotless. My neat freakiness extended to my kids. Their toys in their bedrooms were neatly kept on shelves, where they could reach them easily – which also meant they could put them away easily. The rule was that when you were finished with a toy, you put it back, and then selected another.
My cleaning schedule was combined with going to the gym, which I’ve talked about before, and my writing, which, when the kids were little, was done late at night. They went to bed at eight o’clock. I was in my office immediately and working til midnight.
Being neat and orderly makes me feel neat and orderly.
So as the additions to life came in, turning my neat and orderly to chaos, I was hard-pressed to roll with it. There was a divorce. Then a remarriage. I began to teach. There was a baby, 13 years after the prior baby, so I suddenly had a 16-year old, 14-year old, 13-year old and a newborn. I went to grad school, so I could expand my teaching from community and continuing education classes to credited college classes, but then I eschewed that and went into business for myself. I’ve had to let some of my rules and routines go and learn to embrace surprises and accept that not everything can be controlled by a schedule and routine.
For the most part, I’ve thrived. But my house, and my feelings about my house, have suffered.
When we first moved into our live-where-you-work condo 17 years ago, I hired a housecleaner. For several years, I maintained this, and it was wonderful – my house was clean, and I didn’t have to worry about finding the time. But over the years, things changed. My original cleaners, who I loved, went in different directions. One had a military husband, and she moved with him when he was transferred. Another decided to go into being a tattoo artist and body piercer (she pierced my left ear with the permanent cartilage earing). And one developed cancer and had to leave to deal with her health. The other cleaners I found were pricier, and they didn’t do nearly as thorough a job as my originals did. So I fired them.
Every now and then, I began to declare a weekend as a cleaning weekend. Michael, Olivia and I would scrub the house top to bottom. But the weekends began getting further and further apart and my “help” grew grumpier and grumpier.
As this happened, I found myself liking my house less and less and less. This made me really sad. We built this place and the developer kept all of the interiors of the individual condos blank so we could all develop our own style. Everything here has my touch on it, except the tile in the en suite bedroom. Michael chose that while I was out of town. He was terrified.
But I no longer felt comfortable in my home. In fact, it was making me miserable.
I kept reading articles about how you should just clean one room a day. While this seemed doable, I really wasn’t impressed. It would mean that, every day, I’d be getting out the duster, the vacuum cleaner, the broom, the mop, and cleaning supplies, and then putting them back. We have concrete floors, and we have area rugs, so it’s necessary in each room to both vacuum and mop. This didn’t feel very time-constructive to me.
So I stewed.
Last weekend, when I looked up from reading a manuscript to see a ball of cat hair as big as my cat blowing across my floor when the furnace turned on, I had it. I had to find a way.
The one-room a day was a good idea, but I modified it. I decided to do one cleaning activity per floor level a day. On Sunday, I put my plan into motion. I dusted the third floor, which is my office and bedroom. On Monday, I vacuumed and mopped the third floor. Tuesday, I cleaned the bathroom. My plan was on Wednesday to start the second floor, dusting on Wednesday, vacuuming and mopping on Thursday, cleaning the kitchen on Friday, and cleaning the bathroom on Saturday. But Michael, who was home for a snow day on Tuesday, got into the spirit, and in a burst of energy, he cleaned the second floor.
So by Wednesday, I had a clean house. And each day, as I sat down to write or to read manuscripts or to meet with clients or teach a class, I breathed deeper. I wasn’t surrounded by a mess. So I wasn’t a mess myself.
I know there’s all the placards and signs and cross stitch art out there, proclaiming things like, “A cluttered house is a cluttered mind,” and “Dust is a protective coating for fine furniture,” and “Both of us can’t look good at the same time, it’s me or the house,” and “A bright person can always think of something better to do than housework. ” The argument of to clean or not to clean has always been a big source of anger and frustration in the world.
But I realized this week that my environment was making me very unhappy. And this was something I could actually do something about. And so I did. Believe it or not, there is empowerment in cleaning your house and making it look the way you planned it to look.
And yes, that helps. Despite. Anyway.
For those who are interested, this is a feature article that was done on my home several years ago. Some of the rooms have been changed since (in particular Olivia’s room, Michael’s offce which no longer exists, and the deck), but you can get a general idea of what my house is like: