Still need help
June 20, 2014 1:07 PM   Subscribe

In my last question I laid out a basic primer to understanding the clusterfuck that is my life right now and you were very helpful. I took some of your advice and hired a cleaning lady to clean my kitchen. But I realize now that the kind of help I need for getting the rest of the house in order is kind of extreme and I need help thinking it through and making a plan.

Updates from my last question:
Hubby is grimly accepting that hiring helpers is a thing that I'm going to do and not something he can stop, but he's not going to help in any way except by continuing to assert that everything's going to magically get done somehow when he's feeling better after the surgery. Which is happening on July 1.

The landlord is hiring professional exterminators (thank god) and there's a lot of work that needs to be done first for them to be able to do their thing. Also on July 1.

What I need is a team of workers lead by a strategist. Their work would include dealing with the backlog of laundry and basic cleaning but also getting rid of a lot of the junk, thinking through what can stay and what should go, and the biggest challenge: figuring out what to do with all the stuff that can't go.

I'm extremely overwhelmed by all of this. I don't have any family nearby and don't really want to involve them anyway because of past stuff. The lady I hired off TaskRabbit was good, but it cost $300 for 6 hours of work in one small room. I'm a big fan of throwing money at problems but I don't have $300x 6 rooms given that each room needs the same level of work that the kitchen did. I'm very much against "buckling down" and tackling it all myself because I know from experience that this remedy is not sufficient for the scale of this problem. And it's too urgent to play ego-boosting make believe.

My question is basically, what do I do? How do I start? I spend a lot of time trying to think through this and I'm not getting anywhere. It just makes me really depressed.
posted by bleep to Home & Garden (20 answers total) 22 users marked this as a favorite
Gather up all of your laundry and take it to fluff and fold. Just cram it all into trash bags.

This will get it up and out of the way, while you tackle the rest of everything. It'll wait for you nice, folded and clean at the laundromat, while you tackle the house.

I really liked working with 800-Got Junk. They'll help you by picking up things you know you want to trash and putting them on the truck. So you don't have to lift or schlep, just point. I think we paid about $500 for a truck load when they went through the basement and attic after we bought our house.

If nothing else, that's a truck load of crap that's out of your way. Remember to tip the guys. They're worth it.

Now, you've effectively got some room to manouver.

Now, call Caring Transitions. They're set up to help decide what stays, what goes, what gets sold. And they can help you decide for how your life is now.

Once you've cleared the clutter, the trash, and you've had the exterminator in, you can get a deep clean. Maybe ServPro, or your cleaner.

I wish you luck. But you can manage this.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 1:16 PM on June 20, 2014 [21 favorites]

OK, do you have insurance? If not, get it! I recommend getting a therapist, this might really help letting go of items or "things" and letting go of things to move forward in your life. This is stressful and overwhelming and your husband is not being supportive, so look into the therapist. But you can do this! Have you done this before? I am sure you have and you can do it again!!

I also second flylady- that was posted before right? I do 5 and 5. Yep, I declutter for 5 mins, get overwhelmed, watch my favorite tv show for 5 mins, and clean for 5 more mins, than i do it for 8 and all the way up to 15 and on a great day 30 mins. It takes awhile, but once you see the progress you get excited and motivated.

The taskrabbit deal seems a bit expensive, you know what I would do? Pay college kids for $10 bucks and hour and hire three of them for 5 hours. Post with career services.
Ok, some GREAT books:

Making Peace with the Things in Your Life: Why Your Papers, Books, Clothes, and Other Possessions Keep Overwhelming... by Cindy Glovinsky
Clear Your Clutter with Feng Shui: Free Yourself from Physical, Mental, Emotional, and Spiritual Clutter Forever... by Karen
OK, that last one, you may think Feng Shui that is new agey- I'm not into that, no, you don't have to be. The book is little and easy to read, and it will blow your mind and get you really pumped up to declutter and will thank me. Now get on your cleaning shoes and crank the music- you are ready!!
posted by TRUELOTUS at 1:26 PM on June 20, 2014 [2 favorites]

Hire a cleaning service, not someone off TaskRabbit, for the cleaning part. It will cost you between $100 and $200 for about 3 astonishingly efficient man-hours of work. This will let you focus on the more difficult junk decisions.
posted by grouse at 1:40 PM on June 20, 2014 [1 favorite]

Everything Ruthless Bunny said. It'll cost money--fluff & fold usually charge by the pound--but it will get the shit done.

After that, yes, hire a professional cleaning service. They're cheaper than Taskrabbit and work harder.

After everything's all done, it's then just a matter of maintenance.

One question: have you got your husband's buy-in on getting rid of things? (I am not saying you need your husband's permission to do stuff. But when the things are his, you need his support and agreement.)
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 2:10 PM on June 20, 2014 [1 favorite]

Just one idea... you said the biggest challenge is figuring out what to do with the stuff you don't want to get rid of... maybe you could rent a small storage unit for a month or 2?

I realize that may sound like kicking the can down the road a bit, but maybe once you've removed a bunch of stuff from your house that you know you want to keep, you can more easily have the cleaning service and junk removal people come through. And then you can move your stuff back in after the surgery and exterminators.
posted by Asparagus at 2:27 PM on June 20, 2014

One question: have you got your husband's buy-in on getting rid of things?

I don't. In the past where I would put a bunch of stuff in a pile for him to approve he would consented to get rid of about half of it. It's really tough. We fight about this a lot. I'm trying to perservere and care less because it's for his own good. And yes dtmfa is off the table.

We have health insurance and renters insurance (I was kind of squeamish about hiring people too until I signed up for this.) I'm in therapy. He dismissed the therapist I found to help him deal with this and other issues.
posted by bleep at 2:32 PM on June 20, 2014

That sets off a bunch of red flags for me. DTMFA may be off the table, but if you're in therapy you are growing and changing and he isn't.

Asparagus' idea about the storage locker is a great idea. Just put ALL THE (unnecessary for daily living) THINGS there. When he's recovered from surgery, go there and tell him he can only bring back to the apartment as much stuff as will fit in the trunk of your car/borrowed car/taxi (I get the feeling that it's WAY more stuff than that), and everything else will be sold/donated/thrown away as appropriate.

Best of luck.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 2:42 PM on June 20, 2014 [3 favorites]

Seconding taking your laundry to wash and fold. It makes life so much better. In NYC, it's about $1/lb.

House cleaners should be way cheaper than $300/room, especially once you've cleared out the clutter. Maybe look into getting a construction dumpster for a few weeks to make it easy to dispose of things (though if this is an apartment, you probably need permits and stuff to have it on the street). You can probably hire a high school kid to come take out your trash every morning while you're in this purging process (i.e. "anything in black trashbags inside the foyer should be thrown out").

Regarding the "stuff that can't go" - think long and hard about this. What, specifically, cannot, under any circumstances, be replaced? Instead of approaching it as "can this be thrown away" think of it as "is this item irreplaceable." For example, photos (where no digital copy exists) and family heirlooms cannot be replaced. Any keepsakes like 5K run tshirts or old employer coffee mugs, just take a photo, toss the item and save the photo. Scissors? Replaceable. Sunglasses? Replaceable.

I would literally think of this as if your house were on fire and you had 30 minutes to grab what's important to you (assuming all humans/pets are safe already). What would you grab? Keep those items, toss all else.
posted by melissasaurus at 2:48 PM on June 20, 2014 [1 favorite]

Quite honestly, I would allow the landlord and exterminators to come into the house exactly as it is. I have a few hoarders in my extended life and that's the very last thing they want -- to let outsiders see how they live. And if the landlord sees the state of the apartment, you'll probably get an ultimatum, which you can use to force the issue.

Don't scramble over the next two weeks to clean up to an event with no ultimatum attached, because that just encourages the idea that things "aren't that bad" and that you can "get away with" keeping your life in squalor.
posted by xingcat at 3:00 PM on June 20, 2014 [6 favorites]

Beware of the storage unit. It's a trap!

Unless you have an end-game in mind AND stick to it, things that are sent to a storage unit will incur a monthly expense for as long as you remember to pay the bill, then they will be auctioned off or thrown in the dumpster.

Better to look at it this way -- imagine that you did throw away something that you later needed. What are the odds you could replace it with a brand new one for the money you would otherwise throw into storage-unit rental?
posted by Nerd of the North at 3:54 PM on June 20, 2014 [7 favorites]

Can you email your contact from TaskRabbit and ask her if she can help you do this more cost-effectively? Maybe she could hire someone (or two or three) to work under her direct supervision. You could realistically double her cost-effectiveness by hiring two $10/hr college kids to work under her. She is also aware of the extent of the situation and this familiar, which is helpful in situations like this. Just be frank: "My budget is X. I'd like your help. How can I make this happen?" She may be able to give you a volume discount (if she knew she was going to get 40hrs of work from you, she might charge you $40/hr instead of $50.)
posted by samthemander at 4:29 PM on June 20, 2014 [2 favorites]

Start with bagging up 5 bags a day and putting to curb. At a time like this there is no need to over think and no need to worry about recycling, selling, laundering, or giving to charity.

Laundry: Pick seven shirts, seven pants, 10 pairs of underwear and socks and literally throw away as much clothing as possible. Just bag it up and get rid of it.
posted by Fairchild at 4:31 PM on June 20, 2014 [1 favorite]

Aside from Flylady, there's also the much more irreverent Unfuck Your Habitat, its affiliated Tumblr and mobile apps with timers built in.

I also love the stuff by Peter Walsh, including It's All Too Much. It really is a matter of getting rid of as much as possible. I remember when I did a laundry bomb trip to the laundromat (as opposed to the usual slog in the building's basement) and got rid of something like 100 pounds of clothes. It was so liberating. And even if you can't do it for/with your husband, or if you think you've pared down as much as you can for yourself, set a goal of getting rid of one thing a day/week/whatever. It's totally related to your own self-esteem and your confidence that you can provide for yourself with what you have.

That said... I don't know what kind of operation your husband is going to have, but dollars to doughnuts I would bet he'll find another excuse after he has it -- and that's assuming that everything goes according to plan. If you asked him to sign a little thingy saying, "I'll do X when Y is better," would he agree and then try to get out of it later? Would he just dismiss it, saying that you're treating him like a child?

Please look up AskMe favorite John Gottman and his Four Horsemen: contempt, criticism, stonewalling and defensiveness. If your husband won't stop displaying these symptoms (and mannnn, it sounds like he does), things will continue to get worse and worse. I know this from personal experience. I was married to someone who refused to compromise or admit that he had problems; he blamed everything on me. He said we couldn't split because "I love you," even though his actions and words didn't reflect that.

I am not saying DTMFA. I am SO familiar with how hard you are working to keep things going, even through your own difficulties. But is he contributing to your partnership, or is he dragging it down? Is he even agreeing with you on anything?

Is he living up to his end of his marriage vows?
posted by Madamina at 4:33 PM on June 20, 2014 [19 favorites]

I have had good luck advertising on Craigslist for young people to work under my supervision on this kind of thing. Having them come to the house helps me focus and get the work done instead of putting it off again, and they can haul stuff to the curb, sort things, and so on. If there are a lot of decisions to be made, I end up working side-by-side with them, but it's still a cost-effective option.
posted by not that girl at 4:39 PM on June 20, 2014 [3 favorites]

I have not used it, but this website looks like it lists resources by state. It sounds like you need a professional organizer who specializes in hoarding situations and a crew of $10/hr labor.

Your previous questions indicate you have found a pick-up/delivery laundry service. As I first step I would bag up every piece of laundry and have it done. You can probably go through the apartment with trash bags and bag up the obvious trash and junk- don't excavate, just trash what you can reach/see.

Just going to state the obvious here- you're spending an awful lot of time, energy and money literally cleaning up someone else's mess. If you dedicated these resources to yourself, how much different or more joyful would your life be?
posted by PorcineWithMe at 5:47 PM on June 20, 2014 [7 favorites]

In the past where I would put a bunch of stuff in a pile for him to approve he would consented to get rid of about half of it

Maybe that still leaves a shitpot load, but if you can get him to get rid of half of it, even a third, that's something. If his crap fills a whole room, think how much space would be available if you had half the room to work in.

After he's done sorting, I'd say, "Honey, now we're going to make sure nothing happens to your Precioussss by packing it all into boxes. Takes up even less room that way!
And maybe you can make a few boxes disappear. Not what I'd recommend normally, as it's a kind of disrespectful thing to do, but what goes around.... He's certainly disrespecting your desire to live in a healthy comfortable environment.
posted by BlueHorse at 7:24 PM on June 20, 2014 [1 favorite]

Here's an emergency way to do this that works:

1. Empty one room, by whatever means. Then when you go through the other rooms, grab anything you personally know you NEED to keep. Do not consult your husband; he's not rational about this. Clothes you and he actually wear, stuff you actually use, CURRENT necessary paperwork, photo albums you love, etc. Put it all in the emptied room.

2. Now what is left is stuff that is unsorted, but didn't make it into the "NEED TO KEEP" category. There will be plenty of sort of sentimental stuff, plenty of "someday we might fix this" stuff, magazines, 3/4 empty bottles of lotion, clothes that don't really get worn, all the crap in the world. Alllll the stuff that's been weighing you down for so many years. So much stuff!

3. Hire someone else to indiscriminately throw that unsorted stuff into a rented dumpster. Yes, all of it. If some of it is toxic waste, put it in the trunk of your car and take it to the hazmat center that day. Otherwise, dumpster. (Don't try to do it yourself because you will be distracted every two seconds by a thing that you kind of like and are now second guessing yourself about. This method depends on choosing the things to KEEP, and defaulting to everything else getting tossed.)

4. Tell you husband it was that or a divorce.
posted by fingersandtoes at 6:47 AM on June 21, 2014 [4 favorites]

For the record, that laundry service didn't work out and I haven't been able to find another one that I'm in the delivery area of.

I really appreciate all of your advice. Because of these threads my courage and confidence has been growing and today I got him to agree to let me get rid of anything I want except clothes that fit him (fine) and 1 type of memento. We still have a long way to go but this is huge and 100% because of you guys.
posted by bleep at 3:39 PM on June 21, 2014 [11 favorites]

I'm really glad to see this update.

And, your last line - bleep, this is 100% because of you. We can offer ideas, but you are finding the strength and taking action. I'm proud of you for the big steps you are taking!
posted by samthemander at 4:41 PM on June 21, 2014 [4 favorites]

Best nugget of nitty gritty advice I found works well is to get a container, as big as possible but small enough to actually move. Then make the objective to FILL IT UP. Then get it out immediately. Don't make the issue about good/bad, useful/not, like/hate, just fill it up.
posted by sammyo at 9:14 PM on June 21, 2014 [2 favorites]

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