Do I need a cleaner or an organizer for my disaster of an apartment?
August 30, 2012 9:30 PM   Subscribe

Do I need a housekeeper / cleaner or an organizer? I think I'm somewhere in the middle but there's no one in the middle apparently, so which way should I go? (USA, DC area)

I live in a small studio apartment and have always been a disorganized person. It's gotten way worse with injuries and new highs in the fatigue and depression departments and a busy new job. Nothing makes sense, everything is all over the place, I don't feel like I know where anything goes anymore. I've got a sink and 2 dishpans full of dishes (no dishwasher), a scary fridge, and lots of stacks of papers to file (health care reimbursement claims to make) and clean clothes all over the place. I've gained a lot of weight over 4 months due to meds, etc., so the majority of this stuff doesnt fit. Even touching or looking at this stuff makes me freak out and panic and get depressed and exhausted. For weeks upon weeks I just try to disengage by eating, or tv or internet to not deal with it. I know, I have issues. I don't know how to get out of this. (and, yes I have a therapist. no, it's not helping this situation, yet at least. seeing her ~5 months now) I dont want to ask friends to help, they've helped before when it wasn't scarygrossinsane... i dont want to lean on them too much and i dont let anyone come over now.

i think i need pro help, even though i need to be saving money. but this is really ruining me. and i dont know who to call. my place is too 'dirty' for an organizer, too disorganized for a housekeeper, and not hoardery enough for an industrial-strength level cleaning service (my personal take on it is "I'm afraid i'm auditioning for Buried Alive/Hoarders on TLC."). i also worry about my valuables, since i am not very organized with my jewelry either.

i am leaning towards a housekeeper because i have some leads from posts in our apartment building. ive made some calls and the problem however is 1) language barrier and 2) shame factor... like, what if s/he comes over and says "eww, no.", or i cant explain what to do? I cant even figure out what it would cost from the small conversations ive tried to have on the phone.

help? ideas?

i'm in the Washington DC area, right on the border of Montgomery County if you have location-specific suggestions.

thanks. sorry for the long post. very frustrated and upset. :(
posted by ArgyleMarionette to Home & Garden (14 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
This person in Victoria BC, Canada will de-clutter your life ... and your space... and provides coaching on getting organized. Perhaps she can refer to someone similar in your area??

We just hired a cleaner, and I am sorry we waited and debated so long. it is great and really helpful at just feeling more relaxed in our home. Perhaps you will need to get a grip on some of the clutter first (or at least put away any legal/personal documents), but they also can just stack it in piles as part of the job.

This person
has rates for one day mega de-clutters. If you are worried about your valuables, I think a declutter first is good, as you would be home to make the decisions with the person. Then move on to cleaning service as needed/if still needed.
posted by chapps at 9:57 PM on August 30, 2012

Hey, it's going to be okay. I know what it's like but this is a phase and it will pass. Hang in there.

Start small. Can you spend 5, 10, 30 minutes doing something? Start to work on the refrigerator or the dishes. It sometimes helps me if I think in terms of numbers, like I'm going to try to find 10 things I can put away or throw out. Wash 10 dishes, put 5 items of clothing in a bag for Goodwill. Doing something, no matter how small, is infinitely better than not doing anything and it gets easier once you start. Make it easy on yourself. Put on some comfortable clothes, listen to music or a podcast. I try to save Savage Love for when I need to clean.

I think it's the dirty (bad pun) little secret of a lot of young professionals in DC that some of us don't clean our own places. I think that's okay. The way I look at it, I could spend maybe the whole weekend cleaning my place or I can pay someone to clean it and it will take them two hours and they earn money while doing it.

If the language barrier is a problem (been there), just try a different company. Some people are really good with languages. I'm not one of them. That's okay. If you're worried about your stuff, you can stick around while the people clean. Get a magazine and hang out on the couch. They are *not* going to come over and say "eww, no." The only time anything remotely like that has happened to me was when the cleaning people just did not have the time to get to my refrigerator. They did a great job with the rest of the apartment though.

Also, having people clean my apartment makes me feel like a Disney princess. I want to twirl and sing a song. It's a great feeling and in my opinion, if I have the money, it's well worth paying for. It may really lift your spirits so I think that if you can spend the money, it's a good idea.

As for how much it costs, I have a one bedroom and pay about $120, plus I tip the people who clean. However, most places will give you a break on price if you schedule another appointment with them or are a new customer. Look on Yelp for ideas. LivingSocial and Groupon constantly have deals for cleaning people. The annoying thing is that then the cleaners will book up but you can get the coupon and plan on using it in, say, 6 months.

The maids I've been going with lately are Maids in Black. I like that I can schedule appointments with them via email. They've been super prompt and I haven't had an issue with their availability. Also, I haven't tried it but it looks like they are open to helping you organize your stuff too and that they will just run errands for you if you pay them. I have also had maids from Your Pampered Home. I stopped with them because they did something annoying.

You're going to be fine. Start by doing something. Then do something else. Then keep going! You can do it! I'll be thinking of you and mentally cheering you on :)
posted by kat518 at 10:09 PM on August 30, 2012

Why not call several different places to get a handle on what type you need? Most places are glad to tell you what they will/will not do, and they may be able to guide you to someone who can help.

A professional organizer will definitely have a list of people who will clean.
posted by annsunny at 10:29 PM on August 30, 2012

I'm sorry you're going through a rough time. Please know that you can get out from under things, both physically and psychically, and that having a clean space will make everything else that much easier.

I would never pay money for organizing or de-cluttering. Ever, but especially not if I was in a position where I needed to save money. If nothing else, the experience of having a "professional expert" there is going to make it impossible to be 100% honest and realistic about what you're capable of maintaining, and if you bite off more than you can chew in terms of a maintainable system, you'll probably have a much harder time sticking with it.

Getting into something online like Unfuck Your Habitat or FlyLady is likely to be just as good and effective, and you won't have to pay for the privilege. You need to learn the habits that make up being "an organized person" and unlearn your old habits, and it's hard to do that at your own pace in a way that will stick. All the advice, tips, and moral support you could ever need is available for free on the internet, if not the elbow grease.

However, paying money for cleaning, especially get-down-on-your-hands-and-knees, elbow grease, hard manual labor cleaning, is never not worth it, given how obscenely cheap it is in America. If you can afford it, do it, especially if you have any physical issues that real intense cleaning would exacerbate. Apart from the physical aspects, professionals often have access to more effective cleaning agents for the nastier tasks than you can get from just going to the grocery store, stuff that you won't need for day-to-day cleaning, but will make a huge difference.

About the shame: they've seen worse, this is their job, it does not make you a bad person, and getting help is the first step to getting better.

This person has rates for one day mega de-clutters.

From a quick look at their site: "with the help of some unique and affordable organizing products and solutions", "Purchase one of the Freedom Filerâ„¢ packs online and then schedule a CTC Freedom Filerâ„¢ set-up session with Jacquie", etc. I would be a bit wary, it sounds like the "service" might include a lot of pressure to buy stuff. Getting a friend to come over and ask the OP "How often have you used that in the past year? Do you think you'll ever use it? Is the replacement cost worth more than the psychic cost of having to deal with it and find a home for it?" over and over again while she fills a few trash bags seems like a much better idea.
posted by The Master and Margarita Mix at 10:36 PM on August 30, 2012 [2 favorites]

Professional organizers are awesome. They don't care about the cleanliness, really! They have a whole professional association, and you can search their online database. Some have profiles or website links, so you can get an idea of their personalities.

Once you get things organized, a maid service/cleaner can help keep up with the cleaning. My mom uses a local company where she initially spoke with with the manager/owner, and he usually drops off the employee, so even though the cleaning lady doesn't really speak English, the owner has explained everything to her.
posted by radioamy at 10:37 PM on August 30, 2012

"i am leaning towards a housekeeper because i have some leads from posts in our apartment building. ive made some calls and the problem however is 1) language barrier and 2) shame factor... like, what if s/he comes over and says "eww, no.", or i cant explain what to do? I cant even figure out what it would cost from the small conversations ive tried to have on the phone."

No matter how bad it is, the housekeeper has seen worse. And people don't think, "Man, I should hire a cleaning lady" until it gets too bad for them to keep up with it themselves and too bad for them to delude themselves that they'll ever get it done. I had the same shame factor when I finally gave in and called a cleaning lady because my house was so far ahead of me I knew I'd never catch up. It took her a long time the first time (which she'd told me it would!). But oh God it was so good when she was done.

The best way to get a cost estimate is to ask other people in your building what they pay for so-and-so to come clean. But most cleaners won't give you an estimate until they come over and take a look at your place. I know it's annoying because you want to at least be able to ballpark it and get some idea if it's in your range, but housekeepers just don't do that. You get an idea of the range from other clients, then have the housekeeper out for an estimate.

My cleaning lady has just cleaned around my piles o' junk. Now that the house is clean, and keeps getting cleaned, I can focus energy on my piles o' junk instead of scrubbing the sink, and they are starting to shrink. (But I totally think you should work with an organizer if that would help! Or maybe once the place is cleaner from a cleaning service/person, you'll feel you can work with a trusted friend on the clothes/organizing/etc.)
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 11:09 PM on August 30, 2012

I am kind of compulsive about cleaning. Husbunny is so not, and he's relaxed me a little (especially since most of our friends are hoarders/not cleaners).

I drive him nuts because I used to "clean for the cleaner". But I have a reason for this. I would much rather have someone spend their time wiping baseboards, not picking up my underwear.

If you can't deal with any of it, accept that and get an organizer first, then hire a cleaning person.

If you can rally and commit to spending 15 minute increments of time on it, here are some things you can do:

1. Pick up and remove all actual garbage.

2. Gather all of your mail/papers, into a pile.

3. Buy plastic bins to put your clothing into for storage.

4. Wash dishes, and put away. Use disposable paper and plastic until you feel up to keeping up with regular dishwashing.

This will at least start you on the path to getting it contained. You're not making any decisions, you're just doing.

Once that's done, you can take it further.

1. Sort the pile of mail into Trash, Save, Shred.

2. Go through the clothing to determine what is to be kept or tossed.

Then you can take it further than that.

1. Shred what needs to be shredded and throw out the trash mail.

2. Put the clothing to be donated into bags and call someone to pick them up.

Then you go further than that.

1. Take the remainder of the mail and if you need to retain it, create files and file it. (very little needs to be retained anymore, what with electronic copies of invoices available on line.)

2. Take what clothing you're going to keep and hang it up, or fold it and put it away.

You see? Everything is an incremental step. The first order of business is to contain it, then tackle it as your energy rises.

If one of my hoarding friends asked me for help, I wouldn't bat an eye, I'd help. I'd see it as a challenge, I think it might be fun. Reach out to your friends and say, "I'm in a really bad place, my house is a wreck and I'm so depressed and anxious about it. You can say no, but could you come and help me dig out? If nothing else can you keep me company and motivate me while I try to clean it?"

Your friends love you, and they want to help. Sure, they'll be telling stories about that pile of old newspapers from the 1st Bush administration, but they'll be saying it with affection.

If I lived in D.C. I'd come over to help.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 6:57 AM on August 31, 2012 [1 favorite]

posted by jgirl at 7:49 AM on August 31, 2012

It sounds like you have been through a lot, and I hope it gets better.

Reading your description of the situation, it sounds like you may have too many things for your small-ish space. An organizer will probably start by pointing out things you should get rid of. For me, having someone else tell me I should get rid of something starts a counter-productive anxious defense of why I can't get rid of that mug/document/pair of small pants/etc. (And to pay them to do this when you are budgeting might sting a bit). I have found that if I spend some time with myself, alone, and ask if I would be theoretically willing to move that item with me across the country, then I can keep it. Otherwise, it becomes clear that I should part with it and after a bit of worry that I will make a decision I might regret, I go ahead and let it go.

When I did actually move 1000 miles and got rid of lots of dishes (which felt wasteful at the time), I then discovered that if you have less dishes, you have to wash them to have something to eat on and the washing stays under control. Same with clothes, paper, books and all the other things that start to take over our lives.

FlyLady has good ideas, but all the purple and cheerleading makes me anxious. I just looked at Unfuck your Habitat and they say mostly the same things, but in a way that I really respond to.

Good luck, I am rooting for you.
posted by artdesk at 10:10 AM on August 31, 2012

Check your MeFi Mail for a local recommendation.
posted by trillian at 10:42 AM on August 31, 2012

I'm so sorry you are in this state. I was in a similar situation (health issues, massive weight gain, exhaustion, depression) several years ago and it is easy to feel that you can never dig your self out. You can! Keep repeating "baby steps".

There a a few things you can start with that will help the process. (Baby steps!)

1. Limit what you bring into the house to only what is absolutely necessary.

2. Create a clear spot for vitally important items: bills, meds, address book, check book extra set of keys etc. This can be a shoe box or a basket - just something which can be located quickly and not buried. As you find vitally important things add them to the box.

3. Carve out a little section of peace and tranquility. Just choose one spot which if it was cleared would give you the most sense of peace. Perhaps it is the bath tub, your nightstand, the space next to where you sit, the kitchen sink. Just choose one spot and clear it. Now everyday spend 5 - 10 minutes keeping it clear.

4. Get 3 boxes/bins/baskets. One is for things you no longer need - re-home them, donate them, sell them, just get them out of the house! The next is for trash/recycling. Clear this out daily. The third is for what you feel you absolutely need. Be ruthless - this stuff is making your life hell. Now it's your turn to be in control! Label them the boxes and position them prominently.

5. In restaurant work there is the philosophy of no empty hands. Every time you are moving you need to have something in your hands. Take the concept to heart! Every time you move gather something. Put it in the appropriate box. Baby steps!

6. Set a timer for 5 minutes and just work on one spot - sorting into your 3 boxes and your vitally important basket. Repeat as often as you are able.

7. Tape a piece of paper somewhere you will see often. This is your "atta girl/guy" list.
Write down whatever you accomplish each day. At my lowest point getting up and brushing my teeth were big successes. Nothing is too small for the list. You want to see this grow and have a visual record of how little actions can build to big progress.

8. Be kind to yourself. It took time for it to get to this point and it will take time to get out from under it. This is a great opportunity to form new habits which will improve your life.

9. The mind slips into negative ruts. Take action and substitute positive messages. Meditate, post quotes on the wall, read books that inspire, pray - whatever works best for you.

10. What you do today can improve all your tomorrows!

It will get better and you can do it - Baby steps!
posted by cat_link at 11:04 AM on August 31, 2012

Flylady. It really helped me. Now I'm a mostly neat person. It also helps to feel less out of control over your life.

Do get the professional help too. But try jumping in right away with Flylady anyway. it starts very small and manageable and is supportive and encouraging. It does help with paperwork tasks too.

Good luck!
posted by Salamandrous at 5:00 AM on September 1, 2012

I'm a chronically disorganized person who has become neater and more organized in the past few years. It has helped me to have a cleaning person - when I know someone is going to come clean it motivates me to get stuff picked up.

I also try to have in my mind that the house just has to be a little more organized each day - even if it's just a little tiny bit. If you just keep on each day trying to make it a little neater, that adds up. For me, that has been a better strategy than what I have done in the past which was spending a whole day making a room perfect, and then having it get messy again because I didn't have the habits in place to maintain it.
posted by Melsky at 4:37 AM on September 2, 2012

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