(Almost) Clean Sweep

My husband left the country for a few weeks and I forgot about all the other times he’s gone when I lock down in survival mode and do the bare minimum, so I made big, ambitious plans to organize my whole house in one week. Not only did I think I could pull it off, I was so confident that I made the project this week’s blog challenge. I had a plan! I had motivation! I had a deadline! This was going to happen!

When we moved in eight years ago, I put everything in the wrong place and I have been stuck working around those choices ever since. I waste a lot of time reaching or searching for stuff that’s stored in the least accessible place possible so my plan was to put everything where it should have gone in the first place, to empty every cupboard and closet and have a re-do. It would be like my very own episode of Clean Sweep without all the professional organizers, the big budget, a carpenter on demand, or a crew to do all the grunt work. Then when my husband returns, we can have our own Big Reveal (I hope he’s not reading this on the other side of the world.)

I feel like so much of my life is spent trying to create the illusion that I have my act together and I don’t know why I even try. Anyone who knows me knows better than to be fooled by my efforts, but still I keep trying. I’m not going to post any Before or After pictures because there’s no way I’m showing anyone what it looked like before and there’s a chance my After pictures would look like someone else’s Befores. Some of the pictures I found online looked like a Spot the Difference puzzle – if they’ve got the time to make such minute changes, they should spend it helping me instead.

For the  first few days, I was all in: cleaning out the medicine cabinet (how many neti pots do we need, really?), my jewelry box (finally throwing out rusty 25-year-old earrings), the front closet (I suspect my husband buys 2 new shopping bags every time he shops at Trader Joe’s), and almost every kitchen cabinet (goodbye broken appliances waiting years for repair). I moved the stuff we use more often to cupboards that are easier to reach (revolutionary, I know), I replaced all our mismatched and warped food storage containers so they could all stack together (my husband will think it’s Christmas), and I found a place to keep all the canning stuff I only use once a year (or less often, depending on how motivated I’m feeling).

I was on a roll until I got to the spice cupboard. I needed to move al the spices to a new cupboard but I couldn’t decide how to order them. By frequency of use? Alphabetically? Alphabetically in sections divided by frequency of use? It made my brain swirl. It would have to be right so I wouldn’t have to do this all over again. It would have to be intuitive enough for me to maintain on a long-term basis. In the end, it was too much pressure for my disorganized mind so I just gave up.

I took Sunday off and planned to get back to work Monday but I just couldn’t. It was mentally taxing to make such “permanent ” decisions. It was emotionally taxing to decide which parts of my past could go in the trash and to see how much I’ve let things get out of control. And it was physically taxing because my body is used to being sedentary most of the time.

Then on Tuesday, I spent my cleaning time doing the productive work of feeling guilty for being a slacker, reminding myself of all my past failures, and ignoring the progress I had made in favor of listing all the things I didn’t get done yet – all my favorite pastimes.

If it weren’t for my self-imposed Wednesday night deadline, I would have given up completely, but then what would I write about? So I put on some headphones with a few episodes of This American Life playing to keep me focused, chose small, easy to finish projects and tackled them one by one. I lowered the bar and did the bare minimum in the short amount of time that I had. And I was satisfied with what I accomplished! How’s that for trying something new?

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2 thoughts on “(Almost) Clean Sweep

  1. Your posts are a highlight of the week for me 😉 I did this exact same thing a few months ago. The good news is I’m slowly slowly knocking off the rest of the list as I regain a touch of stamina each week. Someday my house will be organized and clean, like the day when I have no children at home and throw away virtually everything I own.

  2. That’s the other thing – I’m in the middle of the huge project and my kids have the audacity to want clean clothes and meals? What’s their deal?

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