Wednesday, October 7, 2020

My Cleaning Method

Since this is Blogtober, I decided to blog more often, though not every day. I am taking the lazy way out and using a post I had in my drafts. I wasn't sure you would be interested in my cleaning strategy, but I like talking about it, so I am giving it to you. It sounds like an infomercial at first, but I am not selling anything, though I have provided affiliate links to the two books I am referencing.

 I've read books about cleaning all my life, probably because I would prefer reading about it to actually doing it.  Most of the books provided motivation, even though they mostly said what I already knew, but after I had cleaned up, I fell back into old habits, and had to find another book for the next big clean.  None of them really stuck. 

There are two books that have helped me a lot. Even though they, too, pretty much say what the others said, they said it in just the right way that made the ideas click in my mind.

The first book that really helped me was Mari Kondo's Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up. (affiliate link).  What stuck with me about this book is that you choose everything you want to keep in your house / life. Sure, other books had talked about getting rid of clutter, but Kondo's process is about what to keep, not what to discard.

Her main suggestion, to touch all of your belongings, seemed far fetched to me at first.  She sounds like a young girl who just has a bedroom that she keeps clean anyway.  But since I've lived in this house for decades without moving, and have a lot of things I have outgrown taking up valuable shelf space, space I would rather give to things that are valuable to me now, I decided it was worth doing. I could, in effect, move out, and move back in. Even though it sounds overwhelming, I figured I could work on one category or room at a time and any progress would be better than no progress. 

 I think that the reason why this book struck a chord is that it came at just the right time, when I couldn't find space for my work-in progress projects when I was cleaning for a party.  Their home was in my living room where I work on them, but they need another place in the sewing room for the party. How can I put things where they belong when they don't have a home?

Kondo made the decision making process very easy.  Does it spark joy?  That's it, one question. My one question, instead of "does it spark joy?" is "will this serve me in my current life?" It's probably the same question, just worded differently, but it is easier for me to answer. Another way I word the question is, "if this was in the store / free table, would I bring it home?"

Having only one question has helped me tremendously because it removed all of the clutter in the mind. The thoughts about whether it might be useful someday after I fixed it and thoughts about the memory of the person who gave it to me, etc. faded away.  For example, a recent set of things I gave away are our college textbooks. They were handy reference material about topics that still interest me.  It might be worth giving them another read, but I hadn't looked at the books in more than a decade.  They were tucked away neatly on a bookshelf. They was nothing wrong with them, weren't in my way, and they looked fine where they were. If I had been looking for things to discard, I wouldn't have thought to discard them.  But since I was touching everything and looking for things to keep, I decided not to keep them, because I didn't feel the need to stop what I was doing to read them or to schedule a time to read them, and they were taking up space that could be better served for other things.

I started the process with my family room and after I was finished with that room, it felt really good to walk in there and know that every single thing in that room was things that brought me joy.  The room felt lighter and I got that feeling I had when I had just moved to the house and had gotten the room arranged the way I wanted.



The other book that really helped me is Dana K. White's Decluttering at the Speed of Life. (affiliate link). First, it got rid of my attitude. Kondo seems like someone who naturally keeps things clean. While it is good to learn from her, there is a part of me that says, "but I can find everything" and "there are advantages to not spending your whole day cleaning."  White calls herself a Slob, and I can relate. By combining both those methods, I can find a balance that works best for me.

 It fixed what I saw as a big drawback to Kondo's process.  Asking me to make a big pile of stuff sounded dangerous to me.  Going through overwhelming piles of stuff is overwhelming to me, and more likely to cause even more chaos. Just putting all my books in one pile would tire me out since there are bookshelves throughout the house.

White's process is to take each item, one at a time, make a decision about it, and take it where it belongs right away.  She asks too many questions, which is why I need to combine it with Kondo's process. You can stop anytime, because each task is short and complete. You just repeat it many times to really clean the space. It may not be as efficient as Kondo's method, but it doesn't cause that "temporary" mess that often happens when you are cleaning. It keeps the work in manageable chunks - one shelf, one drawer, one room at a time.

She also recommends doing the easy things first - throw away the obvious trash, put away the things that obviously belong in another room. I like this book because it justifies what I have already figured out works best for me.

The other recommendation White has is to start with the public areas and work your way to the back, and to start with the already-decluttered public area every time.  The de-cluttered public areas will be faster to clean, and you keep working your way to the out of the way spots. I didn't think that this would  work, because it would take too long to get to the out of the way spots, and those spots need to be cleared to make room to put away the stuff in the public area. I've decided to give this a try anyway, although I am cheating by trying to do both the public and the out of the way spaces at the same time.

2020 Update 

I noticed that I  reviewed White's book in 2018. In that post, I started with the sewing room, which wasn't a good idea.  Since then, I abandoned the idea of cleaning the sewing room first. Even though progress in that room would really help me with my quilting, I decided to do the easy things first.  I finished the entire first floor - family room, kitchen, dining room, and living room. I missed a couple of spaces - my filing cabinet and the storage in the coffee table. I did declutter them but I did not do a thorough job.

Then I moved to the upstairs and have my bedroom, bathroom, and guest room finished. This leaves the room where I store my fabric, and my daughter's room.

To follow the strategy of doing the easy things first, I am now going through the basement. I have found that it is taking me approximately one year per floor.  This may sound like extremely slow progress, especially since Kondo said to do it fast, but making decisions takes a lot of energy. I basically just fill up the container for the next service that is coming - trash, recycling, or charity. When the container is full, I have done enough.

I am glad that I took on this project.  Even though it takes a lot of time and energy, it is a joy to see space clearing up. The key is to keep everything you want, but nothing you don't want. There is no regret about giving up something because you get to keep everything you want. You can keep everything you want, but each item needs your permission to share your home.



Quiltdivajulie said...

I found Kondo's book a bit heavy handed and almost "holier than thou" but I do get where she was coming from. The "spark joy" thing never worked for me - I like your one question better. I've read the other book as well. Congrats on the progress you've made and continue to make.

Wendy Caton Reed said...

I wish I could say your have inspired me. I truly want to declutter, but every time I try I end up moving everything in the "to go" pile back into the "keep" pile. Apparently everything in my house sparks joy. I'm going to keep trying! Thanks for the inspiration.

Quilting Babcia said...

Getting rid of the clutter is a noble idea, but the fact remains if you live with a pack rat who won't throw away a piece of paper, it just isn't going to happen. There's a lot to be said for peace in the house. Bless This Mess!

Exuberantcolor/Wanda S Hanson said...

This post is very interesting. I know a little about Kondo's method and spark joy doesn't cut it for me. I just have to come about it in a different way. The only book I ever had on the subject was "Clutter's Last Stand" and the best thing I got out of it was "If you own it you have to take care of it" so my question always is "do I want to take care of this?".

tierneycreates said...

I love Kondo's book and did most activities except the folding. I just could not being myself to fold my clothes that way. yes definitely do not start with your crafting area - I did easier areas first. Congratulations on clearing your life of things that are not bringing you joy :-)

Robin said...

This is a timely post for me. I was in my sewing room today and in one corner is a frame of old photographs that belonged to my mother. I haven't known what to do with it. My mother has been gone for 21 years. It's time to make a decision, which will probably be to give it away.

Kyle said...

Enjoyed reading about your process and success. I've gotten better over the years, but it's never an easy task.

Frog Quilter said...

I recently went through most of my fabric, remolded and decided what did not work for me anymore. It really trimmed down the amount. I still have a few containers to sort through but the the major part is done. I have a problem doing this with my clothes....

Kate said...

Decluttering seems to be never ending. We usually do some deep decluttering after Christmas. It's interesting to hear other strategies. Good luck with your plans for the second floor.

Tanya said...

Years ago (when my kids were in kindergarten)I set up a card system with the Side Tracked Home Executives book. The authors later promoted the FlyLady system and I did that (with all her emails) for a number of years. Now I've still got my rooms down by zones and I still label my chores as FlyLady though I don't get to her website anymore nor receive emails. With only two of us in our house and my husband a stickler for keeping things clean, it is rather easy too put my version of the FlyLady system in action.

Rose said...

This has really been an interesting read for me. You would not believe how much stuff I have gotten rid of in the past few years and you cannot tell anything is gone. I have gotten rid of all the books I can part with. I really don't have a super lot left.

I have gotten rid of clothes...I have gotten rid of toys of my granddaughter. One thing that really defeats me is paperwork...statements from medicare, dr's bills (I always write on them the date they are paid. etc)