The War on Clutter

A week or so ago I wrote about invisible work, particularly about valuing the people who do it. Sometimes that person is me.

Clutter happens. In our domestic environs we call it “Caitlin creep.” I let my things start to take over all sorts of flat surfaces, like a kudzu of crapola. But, de-cluttering is a hard task for me to motivate myself to do. Why do if I’m just going to need to do it again later? Like making the bed… why make the bed if I’m just going to end up sleeping in it? I’ll be making it again in twenty-four hours.

Then I realized that having the bed made has a positive effect on my psyche. When I come home after work to a bedroom with an unmade bed, it feels like AAUAUAUAUUUAAUUUAAGH. But when I come home after work to a bedroom with a made bed, it feels like *satisfied sigh*. The bed is the centerpiece of the room where I sleep and also keep my clothing, so when the bed is made, the room feels more put together, even if I’m rocking a floordrobe in front of the closet. When the inner sanctuary of my home feels more put together, it helps my brain feel more put together, even if I’ve still got a to-do list a mile long.

The surfaces in other parts of the apartment feel similarly. The bathroom feels more clean when the counter is clear of hair products. The kitchen feels more clean when the counter is clear of utensils and food containers. And we do generally keep those surfaces pretty clear, because we primp and cook almost every day; we keep them clear so they’re ready to use.

The less frequently used surfaces, however, tend to be clutter magnets. And I really wanted to get surfaces done because we need space for gift-wrapping, plus we have someone coming in tomorrow to look at a malfunctioning appliance.

So, I decided to use two strategies:

  1. Before and after photos. Taking pictures before cleaning and after cleaning help you see the progress you have made, so that even if you don’t get a surface entirely clear, you still feel like you’ve accomplished something. Also, blogging bonus: taking photos and posting them online force me to look at my living space more objectively. For example, looking at the photos, the same book appeared in two different before photos. So I did the thing where I tried to reduce mess in one area, by increasing mess in another. (Don’t worry, it made it home to the bookshelf.) Also, I really need to empty the bottles recycling bin.
  2. Timer. Giving myself a definite start time and a definite end time for a task forces me to do that task in the time allotted. Otherwise, I could tell myself to do something, you know, when I get to it… as long as it gets done… like, by the end of the day maybe? No, that doesn’t work. I am too good at procrastinating. So I took my before photos, turned on an episode of Doctor Who, and then took my after photos during the doo doo doo as the credits rolled.

Did I make every surface one hundred percent clear? No, but I definitely made progress, even with the table in the bottom photos. And now, looking at that photos, I am seeing things that are there temporarily (gift receipts on the arm of the loveseat will be packaged with presents soon) and things that need new permanent homes (what am I going to do with those Halloween cups the week before Christmas?). So while I know I’m not done, I know the steps I am going to take next.

The basic way I worked was a lite version of UfYH, which is a link you should only click if you are okay with obscenity. There’s an app version you can get for iOS called Unfilth Your Habitat, but the Google Play/Android version has the real, mature-rated name. (“Unfilth” is a euphemism for the app title only; the app itself contains 100% of the profanity). If you don’t mind the vocabulary, though, it’s got loads of great advice about housekeeping for people with less-than-positive attitudes towards housekeeping, for whatever reason. I find I also apply a lot of the fundamentals in my classroom, or with school-related work. And when my classroom is mostly organized, I feel more in control of it, and more self-possessed.

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