Resources for getting enthused about a period of home-making?
September 26, 2017 5:11 AM   Subscribe

It's been a very stressful time recently, with spouse in hospital for months with life-threatening health problems, followed by major life-saving surgery and subsequent recovery; I had to deal with that plus raising pre-schooler largely on my own during this time, plus work. I'm now planning to spend a couple of weeks sorting out our house. Sounds minor, but I'm having trouble framing this as a positive thing.

Spouse works full-time, I work school hours as a freelancer, sometimes more hours if necessary. Spouse has been back at work after surgery for a few months now, that's all going fine, and now he has more energy, the immense pressure I've been under is starting to lift.

I'm coming to the end of a large work project, and this seems like a good time to pause for a while and do all the house stuff that has piled up over the past year; huge amounts of paperwork to sort and throw out, unwanted stuff to get rid of in various ways, the usual decluttering.

What I'm looking for is ways (things to read, or just things to think about, preferably with a feminist and non-religious slant) to frame this as a positive step forward, as a way of providing for Future Us by creating a pleasant environment to live in. Also possibly some practical hints about accomplishing a decluttering project like this! I'm not a natural housewife, and my paid work is important to me, but I still feel I need to take this time. We can easily afford for me not to work for a few weeks. My husband was sceptical about this plan, but I think he realises that getting rid of some crap and sorting the house out will benefit all of us in the long run, and because he's employed full-time and I'm self-employed, it makes sense for me to do it.

(In future questions I may ask about how to process a traumatic time that I've attempted to compartmentalise out of existence, but I'm not ready for that yet...)
posted by altolinguistic to Home & Garden (17 answers total) 18 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Sounds like you need The Life-changing Magic of Tidying Up! It covers both the why and the how. I talked about my experiences with it here.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 5:20 AM on September 26, 2017 [13 favorites]

Best answer: Don't just make it about the clutter. Hang pictures as well. Figure out how to deal with the charging cords that are always on the table (so it will never bug you again).
posted by Rat Spatula at 5:20 AM on September 26, 2017 [6 favorites]

Best answer: The best reason to do this is that you have recognized you have a need to. Anyone who'd been through all that really would need a pause button, and also, a way to reorganize and signal to yourself and the home's daily occupants that you're in a different place now, and that place is calm and sorted.

I've been going through this online program A Year to Clear. It's not religious, though in spots it is a little "woo" (there's some talk about 'stuck energy' and the like), but in general I like that it speaks to the notion that organizing and decluttering has emotional and interpersonal aspects and isn't just a chore. It's set up as a full year of tiny, short daily messages, some with an aspect of journaling or a short experiment or meditative practice. You could absolutely just read through the whole year and see what you like. I offer it in the spirit of "take what you need, leave the rest." I paid $10 for it - it's been worth it IMO.

In general I would advocate for some sort of ritual even if non-religious. It sounds like you're wanting to close up and put away this section of life and move forward with a cleaner mind and home. Some kind of meditation or ritual, even with no metaphysical significance, would give you the moment to recognize that everyday non-emergency life is beginning again.

Also, when I do this thing, music is a big part of my plan. Make some great playlists to accompany you. Podcasts work for me too as I'm learning and being entertained while doing boring chores.

Good luck! I'm very sure you'll feel better for taking this time. Good decision.
posted by Miko at 5:23 AM on September 26, 2017 [10 favorites]

Best answer: Use music and sound to help you stay in the groove. Find playlists on your streaming service for workout music, or listen to classical music without vocals, concentration frequencies under music like tracks with binaural beats (headphones) or isochronic tones (speakers.) The latter are all easy to find if you search "playlists for studying."

I like this track for when I feel panicky, so it might help with overwhelm as you get a pad and paper and map out a plan and timeline for this project.
posted by jbenben at 5:35 AM on September 26, 2017 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Unfuck your Habitat.
posted by wwax at 6:31 AM on September 26, 2017 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Apartment Therapy has a free "January Cure" program:

You can access the steps at your own pace.

I am a big fan of cleaning and reorganizing as a way to process emotions and re-jig my psyche, so I think this is a good idea for multiple reasons and hope it's cathartic for you.
posted by lafemma at 6:31 AM on September 26, 2017 [1 favorite]

Best answer: When I recovered from a severe illness, I ended up getting a deep clean service from a cleaning company. I worked with them for a few hours, but once they were done the house was calmer, and I felt ready to begin the organizing.

I'd say consider hiring someone to get you started, or start with a thorough clean. It's nicer to sort clothes in a room with no dust bunnies!
posted by Valancy Rachel at 6:37 AM on September 26, 2017 [9 favorites]

Best answer: I'm someone who gets uber-cranky about cleaning because of the gendered expectations around it. It's helped now that I live alone, though I went through a long period of living in chaos because I was enjoying not feeling responsible for keeping things neat for anyone. Lately I've been working on cultivating an attitude that I deserve to live in a nice space, that housecleaning is self-care, and that (like going to the gym sometimes) it may be unpleasant to think about or to start but I'm usually pretty happy (or at least thankful) once I've completed it.

So, for me, I'd frame this project not so much as for "Future Us" but as for me. Me me me. "I'm going to make the house how I want it, because I deserve to live in a place that's nice and how I want." Cleaning for other people has never made me feel anything other than resentful.
posted by lazuli at 7:01 AM on September 26, 2017 [9 favorites]

Best answer: To echo lazuili, it helps me to think of cleaning, reorganizing, tidying, decluttering as taking care of my life and the things around me in my life (both possessions and people). The stuff is there around me and it affects my mood. If I take care of it and do it with a caring intention, my mood improves and I'm freed up to take care of the things I really want to be doing.
posted by kokaku at 7:14 AM on September 26, 2017 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Nthing what Eyebrows said! I also recommend the second book, Spark Joy, as it elaborates on things.

If you do the method correctly it is indeed life changing.
posted by jgirl at 7:34 AM on September 26, 2017

Best answer: I'm a feminist housewife (heh) and the way I frame my thinking around this is to acknowledge that domestic life is important. Having a good home - a safe, comfortable, clean living environment - is something I place a high value on. I want to live in a space where my needs are met, and I want that for my child and for my family. I'm not taking it to extremes and chasing specks of dust or waiting on my kid hand and foot, but I guess the best way to say it is that I take the work of the house seriously. I don't consider it demeaning drudge-work any more than I would consider it demeaning to work for a paycheck.

If I were you I would think of this project as something akin to a personal or spiritual goal - I don't mean to say that decluttering is a spiritual practice (although I'm sure it is for some!) but imagine if you said "I have a few weeks off so I'm planning to attend a meditation retreat" or, train for a marathon or, learn a new hobby or, finally read War and Peace. Those sentences all make sense, right? Getting the house sorted is a really valid way to spend that time.

In practical terms I agree that the Marie Kondo books would be great for you, particularly as you have some time to devote to the project.
posted by cpatterson at 7:42 AM on September 26, 2017 [6 favorites]

Best answer: I used to read Jolie Kerr's Ask A Clean Person (on The Hairpin [link is to archives]; she's continued through many sites and iterations, such as Esquire, Jezebel, and lately as a podcast on Deadspin) and she did a series on long-term cleanups that you might find useful. Here's one, where she talks someone through a major room cleanup that will take several days. Her level of clean is probably more, um, intense than I go for, but it makes for good reading and a sense of how far you might take any one project. As far as feminist and non-religious, she never rubbed me the wrong way with assumptions about who might be cleaning, nor does she imply in any way that keeping a home is a godly task that women do for the sake of their marriages, or anything.
posted by Lawn Beaver at 7:53 AM on September 26, 2017

Response by poster: (These are great, thank you and keep them coming! You have all understood completely the kind of headspace I am in at the moment, especially Miko.)
posted by altolinguistic at 9:24 AM on September 26, 2017 [1 favorite]

Best answer: If you can afford not to work, it's reasonable to think that you can afford to get in a cleaning service to help. I so strongly recommend this. That way you can focus on "setting up your life going forward," rather than on getting the grime out from behind the stove or whatever.

I would try to pick a few house-related goals that, even if they're not technically part of a deep clean, would make you feel like you've made your house more comfortable or appealing. E.g., if you've always meant to put up those prints but didn't want to spend money on framing and hanging, now's the time to do it. Need new throw pillows for the couch? Get some. That sort of thing. That way it's not just drudgery.
posted by praemunire at 9:41 AM on September 26, 2017 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: PS I should have mentioned that we already have people in to clean once a week (I'd have lost my mind long ago without them) - my focus is on the organising side of things, which will in turn help the cleaners as they will be able to get into the corners of our rooms.
posted by altolinguistic at 11:01 AM on September 26, 2017

Best answer: Blog: Simplify Days
also follow her Instagram
posted by cda at 11:13 AM on September 26, 2017 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I am helping a friend shop for houses, and I keep repeating "will this house make your life easier?" So, I'm suggesting that be your mantra also. "I am making our lives easier." I would also start out with a good room-by-room plan, give some thought and spend some time beforehand really thinking about what you need to do AND what the final product would actually look like, or how the areas would function in a perfect world. A great tool for this is the large stick-up notepapers used for meetings. Peel a sheet off and put one in every room. As you live your daily life, add notes to it. It's a great way to collect all the information you need before you get started. When you do start, assemble a basic kit. Cardboard boxes, bankers boxes for the paperwork, trash bags, markers, post it pads, scissors, tape, cleaning supplies. And oh my god, good music to listen to. A new release from a favorite band ALWAYS makes them work easier for me. Brace yourself for the fact that it always looks worse when you start, and it may be several days before a room actually looks better, most of the big projects can't be done in a couple of hours and you usually have to leave a big pile of something laying around for a while. Clean as you go. Do one wall or area at a time. Hang pictures, rearrange furniture, buy new rugs. Take a load to the donation center every day or every other day, don't wait until the end to do it. Good luck!
posted by raisingsand at 1:57 PM on September 26, 2017

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