When you've got the best, but couldn't give two hoots about cleaning it.
May 9, 2015 11:15 AM   Subscribe

This is why we can't have nice things. How do I calibrate my brain to take better, proactive care of the select, excellent things I am lucky to own? I'm talking leather goods and well constructed clothes, chef's knives, stainless steel cookware, upholstered furniture and solid wood furniture, precious metal jewelry, glass stemware, oil paintings by local artists, houseplants, the list goes on...

As a recovering binge-spender who is also a diagnosed ADHD inattentive type, I've finally come to believe in spending one's money very selectively on only the things that are essential and/or bring lifelong joy. You know, buy one fine leather handbag that will last decades, instead of blowing through three or four cheap handbags every year.

Of course, belief and practice are two different things. I find it incredibly daunting to even begin to think about the work I need to put in - proactively, but now in some cases reactively! - to keep these lovely things in great shape.

The worst victims are things like my beloved Global G-2 chef's knife, which I'm terrible about rinsing and cleaning immediately after use. Today I noticed two light scratches near the knife's spine and just felt so disappointed in myself. (The fact that it's not in worse shape is probably because my partner makes an effort to clean the knife and, as needed, sharpen it with the whetstone - the whetstone I bought specifically for the Global G-2, yet haven't bothered to learn how to use!).

Not nearly as frustrating but nevertheless illustrative of my lazy habits: I own a less expensive, but great-for-the-value 4-knife set that are stainless steel, and after several days away I came home to realize I'd left them soaking in water (WTF?) and that one knife had suffered not only a bit of rust I was able to rub away, but also pitting. Thankfully the pitting is near the spine and not the edge/tip/heel, but that doesn't change the fact that it would have never happened if I'd stop to consider how much I care about

Other victims that quickly come to mind are my leather boots and a pair of leather oxfords, which I can't figure out how to properly clean/store but I do occasionally moisturize with mink oil, as well as the collection of cashmere sweaters I've accrued over the years. (Right now I have all of my cashmere sweaters still in the plastic bags from the drycleaners. It's May! I need to properly fold them and put them away in sweater bags, with cedar blocks! But do I need to lightly sand the cedar blocks first, so that the oils are fresh? I don't know, why don't I procrastinate some more while I keep that question in the back of my mind!)

And even when it's winter, I'm terrible about taking a cashmere sweater I've worn only once since its last cleaning and then leaving it wadded up on the floor. My thought process as this happens: Am I supposed to dryclean cashmere after every single wear, or only when it's no longer clean? My understanding is that moths are attracted not just to the natural fibers in cashmere, but also by the residual oils from skin that are left behind after wear.

I get so overwhelmed by the question of "how do I clean this and store it properly" that I often choose not to clean or store properly at all. Drycleaning is another one of those things I hate to do because of the expense and the fact that it's an "errand". I think if I believed those at-home drycleaning kits worked (do they?) and were actually an affordable alternative (are they?) I'd be more motivated to deal with these things.

Oh, and a few years ago I dropped a full glass of wine, which splattered onto the bottom corner of my favorite oil painting by a local artist. It's not really visible unless I point it out, but c'mon.

Again, although I've worked hard - using both ADHD-specialized cognitive behavioral therapy and stimulant medication - to successfully overcome many of my ADHD-related issues with procrastination and structure, I place a high value on self-improvement and want to continue to find ways that I can make my mind, my life and my immediate environment a happier and healthier place to be. Right now, my biggest issue is just learning how to lovingly clean, care for and properly store the possessions I treasure most.

My question is two parts:

1) What are proven strategies and hacks that you've used or heard about that will help me to overcome this mental block and show my beloved things the love and care they deserve so that they'll continue to bring me a lifetime of use and pleasure?

2) What books, blogs, websites, Youtube channels, Coach.me mentors, etc can I consult for information on the proper care, cleaning and storage of leather, natural fiber clothing, kitchen knives and kitchenware, precious metal jewelry, houseplants, and everything else that needs and deserves TLC? (I was a big fan of Jezebel's former "Dress Code: The Proper Care and Cleaning of Garments" series, and am also a fan of into-mind.com's sage approach to shopping and clothing care; I also just ordered a copy of Marie Kondo's book!). I would especially love anything that is oriented toward individuals with the added hurdles of ADHD.

***TL;DR: ADHD chick who has mostly decluttered her life down to the few but quality material possessions she needs and loves, is now in search of 1) strategies to overcome her mental fatigue/unwillingness to properly care/clean/store them and 2) the best, expert information on the care/cleaning/storage of quality items.
posted by nightrecordings to Grab Bag (19 answers total) 49 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: First of all, things break and get ruined. And if you don't do the damage, then hello, your partner or cat or your sister's kid or a big earthquake comes along and takes care of all that for you. We have a saying around that something isn't good until it is 'officially ruined', that is, has lost its perfect, precious untouchable quality and has had a little living and experience.

But, of course, we do own things, and it is good to treat them well, not because it will necessarily help us in the long run or is a moral virtue (though I suppose it probably is), but because it is just a sign of paying attention to our physical world and making things a little simpler. It is true, who wants to keep going out and getting new knives? I am with you on that.

As someone who in my earlier days ruined a lot of stuff due to neglect, I started changing when I realized I was putting in more effort in replacing things than in just taking care of them. So it was just a simple cause and effect of noticing what was happening, exactly what you are doing. I think that it is a sign of maturing and paying attention.

I was also really influenced by people like Thich Nhat Hanh, and just trying to slow down and pay a little more attention to basic tasks, instead of rushing through them. Here is a great quote that helped me a lot:

“If while washing dishes, we think only of the cup of tea that awaits us, thus hurrying to get the dishes out of the way as if they were a nuisance, then we are not 'washing the dishes to wash the dishes'. What's more, we are not alive during the time we are washing the dishes. In fact we are completely incapable of realizing the miracle of life while standing at the sink. If we can't wash the dishes, the chances are we won't be able to drink our tea either. While drinking the cup of tea, we will only be thinking of other things, barely aware of the cup in our hands. Thus we are sucked away into the future -and we are incapable of actually living one minute of life.”
― Thich Nhat Hanh, The Miracle of Mindfulness
posted by nanook at 11:35 AM on May 9, 2015 [26 favorites]

You are not alone! I just noticed that my favorite expensive pair of shoes is getting all scuffed because I haven't bothered to polish them.

I would cut yourself a little bit of slack in that accidents like dropping a glass of wine are just going to happen sometimes and unless you had left your painting out on a table it's not something that could be prevented. I mean, Steve Wynn put his elbow through a Picasso. It happens.

One thing that I've seen suggested is to have a designated evening once a week or so for "home maintenance" stuff like fixing hems, polishing shoes, etc. You could use an app to schedule how often something needs to be done so that it pops up as a task for that week. That might take out some of the need to keep that stuff in the back of your mind.

In terms of resources I like Home Comforts for general household maintenance and I see there is also a book on caring for clothing by the same author, called Laundry.
posted by The Elusive Architeuthis at 11:40 AM on May 9, 2015

This stands out to me:
I'm terrible about taking a cashmere sweater I've worn only once since its last cleaning and then leaving it wadded up on the floor
...as a sign that your storage is not optimized yet. If you don't make it easy for yourself to take care of what you have (either by forcing yourself to learn the habit until it is second nature, or by arranging your space/life so that the thing you should do is in fact the easiest thing to do), you will probably take the easy route, because you're human.

In my experience, people who keep their things perfectly shiny at all times don't do it because they just love the hell out of washing dishes, vacuuming, and shining shoes, they do it because it gives them the screaming nellies to see cashmere on the floor. Because you have not been gifted with that level of innate anxiety (probably thank your lucky stars here), I think the best choice is to optimize your routines and decide on an acceptable level of imperfection. Take an hour here or there and step through the process of cooking, getting dressed, etc. and think of ways to eliminate the decision points that lead to knives-in-sink, sweater-on-floor, etc. That will help you resolve Question 1.

More specifically: life happens. Get your good knives professionally sharpened every few years, contact an art restorer about the painting, and dry clean your cashmere sweaters after every 4th wear during sweater season, and once at the end of winter.
posted by katya.lysander at 12:10 PM on May 9, 2015 [6 favorites]

Best answer: I'm in a similar situation, both mentally and having chosen to invest in a few quality items that need care. What's worked for me has been a habit of ABC: always be cleaning. I'm a tidier: if a glass is empty, I take it to the kitchen on my way; if I'm getting something in the kitchen, I'll wipe the counters while waiting for the microwave.

So for items like expensive knives or cast iron skillets, the care is always part of the use right then and there. If I'm using a knife, then when I'm done, I clean it and put it away. After using a skillet, it's cleaned and oiled (my wife has to tell me to wait until after we eat to do it, otherwise I'll do it before eating while the food cools). Not doing it right away means it gets piled or left out or set aside, and the need to do the maintenance thing is lost.

Not all gets done that way, and I have regular cleaning routines as well--every morning I reset the kitchen before going to work. Between this habit and the "do it right away" habit, most of these things are taken care of without much thought or effort.

That said, there's also learning exactly what needs to be done and what can be ignored. Scratches on a knife don't matter (to me anyway) because that's cosmetic; pitting is worse. Buying a whetstone isn't caring for your knife; learning to use it, is. Once you have a clear idea of what is and isn't necessary, it's a lot easier to do it as needed and not worry about it otherwise.
posted by fatbird at 12:49 PM on May 9, 2015 [2 favorites]

Best answer: My motto is 'make life easier for future bilabial (and those around me)"

This means that the crusty egg pan/knife/worn sweater are all easier to deal with now thanks hey will be later when they are crustier/pitted/more wrinkled.

So when I'm filling a glass of water from the pitcher I don't consider that task complete until I've also added new water to the filter pitcher. Changing clothes/taking a sweater off isn't completed until the sweater is folded/hung up to air out. The meal isn't done being cooked until the cooking dishes that are cool enough to wash or rinse have been dealt with. Dinner is not done until the table is clear and the dishes washed.

I'm not done taking a shower until I've squeegeed the shower stall.

For now, practice thinking about what the next step would be. Don't beat yourself up for not knowing. But go google it. You are already making really good progress on this. Celebrate that progress.

Consider making a page to hang in your closet so you can keep track of what needs to go to the cleaners and when. Maybe just a grid that you put a check mark in after every wear. This has the benefit of showing you in a visual format that you never wore the pink sweater all winter. Pretend you wore the grey one 16 times. You miiiight want to watch for sales on grey sweaters before yours is worn threadbare. And consider donating the pink one.

If you find spreadsheets to be helpful, please feel no shame about using them for everything.

And seconding the suggestion to look at your storage station.
posted by bilabial at 1:12 PM on May 9, 2015 [10 favorites]

One of my clients swears by Unfuck Your Habitat.
posted by Major Matt Mason Dixon at 1:12 PM on May 9, 2015 [2 favorites]

I was a chef. I have a Wustoff Santaku that I have loved for over a decade. I took excellent care of it, but in one kitchen, I dropped it and broke the tip. I cried when it broke. I cried as I brought it to a knife sharpening shop (I drove my car to get there - which was something I rarely did at the time). The guys took a look at it, told me what they could try to do and they largely changed my knife, but it was still usable. I was still great fun and thanked them. I re-learned my knife using it still. Now my knife is a decade old. Part of the handle has actually chunked off, but I still sharpen the knife weekly, still home it regularly, and stil treat it with the care and love it has earned. At some point I will retire it, but for now - I just take care of it to the best of my ability and will use it until it is ready for retirement. Then I'll get another.
posted by Nanukthedog at 3:11 PM on May 9, 2015 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Storage, storage, storage. As a fellow ADHD chick who identifies super strongly with just about everything you've described, I've found that I do so much better at taking care of my things when there are literally no barriers to putting them away in the right places. If I have to step over of a pile of dirty clothes to get to the shelf where the folded sweater should go, I will likely just throw it on the top of the pile with the intention of straightening up later (which, as you probably well know, will never actually happen). Similarly with the knives - if the sink is full of dirty dishes and I'll have to shuffle them all around to actually make room to clean the knife I just used, I'll tend to just dump it on the pile and forget about it.

Organizing my space so that I can get to the shelves/areas I need easily is an enormous help. In that vein, I think the book Organizing from the Inside Out by Julie Morgenstern is fantastic for people with our specific ADHD-related disorganization and lack of care. Unlike a lot of other organization self-help resources, it's not about following a one-size-fits-all organizational scheme. Rather, she asks you to spend time and gives you exercises that help you work out how you most naturally use the space around you, and then builds organization up from that base so that the order you eventually make of your space works and is sustainable for YOU. It was honestly a revelation to read after years of trying out different organization schemes and having them last about two days before I gave up.

The other thing I do (both at home and at work) is write myself notes about everything. Post-its work, or index cards taped up are good as well. If there's a thing I need to do daily or after I use a certain item, I literally keep a note nearby to remind me to take care of it. For example, on a post-it stuck to the knife block - "WASH RIGHT AWAY AFTER USING". For daily stuff like basic kitchen maintenance, I made a little list and stuck it to the refrigerator that says "DAILY KITCHEN TASKS: Wipe stove, Wipe counters, Fill and run dishwasher", etc. It probably looks a little weird to someone coming over to my house, but having actual visual reminders makes a difference in my remembering to take care of my stuff.
posted by augustimagination at 3:15 PM on May 9, 2015 [12 favorites]

Best answer: All right I will focus just on the shoes, because I have shoe care pretty much down.



When you get in the door and take off your shoes, immediately wipe them down with a baby wipe before putting them away. Make sure you put in the shoe trees that you are going to buy in the next step.

Try not to wear the same pair of shoes two days in a row. Laying out your outfit in every detail the night before will help you with this.



The next time you are passing the shoe repair store, go in and get some shoe-trees or boot-trees or shoe-puffs for the shoes you are wearing right then. If you have a smartphone you can set it to remind you to do this when you reach the location of the shoe repair store.

Also while you are in there, get some shoe polish in the same colour as those shoes. If the shoes are in a weird colour, get neutral coloured shoe polish. You can cover up scuffs in weird-coloured shoes with oil pastels. You will also need a shoe brush specially for that colour of polish. Store them together in the plastic bag.

If the shoes are suede or fabric, get a can of spray fabric protector and apply that. Suede shoes are a bitch to keep clean, though, so I tend to avoid them. Suede comes to me to die. In case it's not obvious: don't apply shoe polish to suede or fabric shoes.



When it comes to polishing the shoes, you again wipe them down with a baby wipe. Then you take some cotton wool and dip it into the polish, and you rub the polish all over the shoe in a circular motion, paying special attention to the welts. Set the first shoe aside and let the polish set while you do the second shoe.

When both shoes have polish on, go back to the first shoe and take a clean piece of cotton wool. Buff the polish into the shoe in a circular motion. Repeat with the second shoe.

Next, take the brush and vigorously in a back-and-forth motion shine up each shoe.



Next time your heels get worn down, take them to the repair shop and ask for *metal* heels to be put on them, if possible. Also get a thin rubber sole applied.


All this will make your shoes last a very long time, and in fact make them functionally indestructible.
posted by tel3path at 3:38 PM on May 9, 2015 [9 favorites]

Best answer: Hi! I am you. Love nice things. Can't look after them to save my life.

I've come to terms with it i 2 ways.

1. Acceptance

I'm not the kind of person who looks after my stuff. REPEAT SEVERAL TIMES.
I basically never borrow nice things from friends for this very reason. Now, the next stage of acceptance is to understand that everything I buy is going to be USED. Worn. Lived in. And I had to learn to like that quality about things. That coffee stain on my gorgeous leather bag? Well, if I wasn't having that great catchup with my best friend, that wouldn't be there. That pitting on my Global knife? Well, I'm thankful I have a huge family to cook for and that happened one Christmas, what a great memory of Christmas that was.

I had to accept that looking after ones things didn't make one virtuous - on your deathbed, there's no "stuff police" that's going to come and audit your ability to keep things perfect. It doesn't make you perfect. A friend once "tsk-ed" at me for not caring for my cashmere sweater. I smilingly replied that I was too busy focussing on the important things in life - being kind, staying safe, loving my friends. Given the chance between "polishing all my shoes" and "spending some quality time with people I love", I know which one I'll choose every time.

I was once asked how I'd like to end up at the end of my life, and smilingly, I responded, "ragged from the awesomeness". I think of my stuff like that too. How sad life would be if I never used all my nice things because I was going to wreck them. These things are MADE to be used. And things are going to break, spoil, crack, wither. Let them. It's all part of the circle of life.

2. Outsourcing

Of course, I can't afford to replace everything just through sheer mis-use. So. I throw money at the problem that will save me the big money in replacements.

In summer, I take all my winter boots to a family run shoe repair place. They replace all soles, buff and polish everything, etc. Same in winter with my summer shoes.
Every couple of months, I'll do a big dry clean run for all cashmere, suiting, silk.
All knives get professionally sharpened at a store once a year.
Once a year, I may put a movie on and rub down all my leather bags.
Everytime I wear a good clothing item, I don't fret about body oils etc - I hang it and air it out for a day. Plus I always wear a good undershirt so it's not directly on my skin.
I make sure my phone/tablet/laptop have great cases on them so I can't break them.
Good jewellery is kept in tiny ziplock bags in my safe - so I can see directly what it is and they don't get tangled.

I think a lot of my method has to do with simply relaxing, and allowing myself to let go of these things. Doing this maintenance stuff will never make me happy, and I will never view it as an effective use of time. Not doing these things don't make me a BAD person. Understanding the above statements went a long way to assuaging my "nice things" guilt. Good luck!
posted by shazzam! at 8:51 PM on May 9, 2015 [4 favorites]

One quick and specific thing: don't dry clean your cashmere! Dry cleaning solvents aren't good for wools. It's better for it to wash it, in gentle soap (Woolite) in the sink or in a bucket or washbasin in the tub. Use cold or very mildly warm water, and treat it like hair (it is hair, after all). Drop a dime-sized drop of Woolite in the washbasin; run very slightly warm water on it while swooshing it with your hands to make bubbles. Drop the cashmere in and very gentle squoosh the soap through it, then let it sit in the soap for 10 minutes. Then pour out the soapy water and rinse it: fill and empty, fill and empty, until the soapy residue is gone. Never twist it or pull it (but you can squeeze as hard as you like).

When the soap is gone rinse once more for good measure, pour out the water and squeeze out as much as you can; then lay out a towel on the counter and lay the sweater on it. Roll the towel up, leaning hard as you do. This will get much of the water out. Then you can lay it out on another dry towel, shaping it so it doesn't twist, or just hang it up over the shower bar (what I do).

Cheaper, and good for the planet.
posted by jrochest at 10:59 PM on May 9, 2015 [4 favorites]

oh, and: the basic secret is habit. You only need to cultivate one habit at a time. don't expect to do it all at once.
posted by tel3path at 1:46 AM on May 10, 2015 [1 favorite]

There are also rinse free soaps for cashmere and wool, Soak and Eucalan are popular among knitters. Save a step!

Also, I have a small wardrobe because I don't like dealing with storing and maintaining more. YMMV, and you do have to stay on top of maintenance because you will quickly have nothing to wear otherwise.
posted by momus_window at 6:36 AM on May 10, 2015 [1 favorite]

Cashmere actually becomes softer when you wash it versus dry cleaning. And I believe that keeping cashmere (or any other woollen) in plastic dry cleaning bags isn't recommended. Much safer to store your cashmere in canvas zipper containers with moth repellent of choice. The canvas breathes.
posted by younggreenanne at 9:38 AM on May 10, 2015

Seconding Soak or Eucalan as well! They are both great and so easy to use.
posted by augustimagination at 12:11 PM on May 10, 2015

Response by poster: Thank you, everyone, for such eye-opening suggestions! And please feel free to keep them coming.

I'm so pleasantly surprised to learn that cashmere is better off laundered at home. I don't mind hand washing garments, and it will make me more mindful about storing them because of the effort I had to put into their cleaning. And it will save me at least $200 a year in drycleaning costs.

I marked a handful of comments as best answer because they were not only great advice, but also spoke to my weird needs as an ADHDer: i.e. tel3path's advice on shoes was not only exhaustive, but it also made me realize that I can set an alert on my smart phone that will notify me when I'm driving by a place where I need to get something done! And augustimagination's strategy using post-it notes throughout the house. I love stuff like that, because I'm quick to forget things unless I've got a reminder right. in. front. of me.
posted by nightrecordings at 1:31 PM on May 10, 2015

Best answer: I think you'd like BJ Fogg's Tiny Habits programs/tips. The focus isn't on motivation but identifying triggers that make habits mindless.
posted by Gin and Broadband at 3:13 PM on May 10, 2015

Have some hangers and a basket under it for once-worn items. Hang or throw into the small laundry basket anything that is clean enough wear again, and if you are too busy to hang, at least the basket is a better option than the floor.
posted by Elysum at 4:05 PM on May 12, 2015

One more thing!

If you are wearing something that's hand wash only, then hand wash it at night when you take it off, as part of the undressing process.

posted by tel3path at 6:57 AM on May 15, 2015

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