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Climbing Out of the Mess – Day 1

by Laurel Plum

Climbing Out of the Mess I mentioned the other day that after several weeks of being depressed, I have totally let my house go and would share what I am doing to get it back together.  So this is what I am doing today. I am going to stop and write as I go.

Daily Tasks

There are four simple daily tasks that I normally do every day. I wrote about them before in My Ordinary Cleaning Routine. Last month I let them slip. A lot. When they are done daily, it only takes a few minutes to take care of them each day. How long it takes to do them today will depend on how long they have been neglected.  If you are in the same spot, just know that each day it will get better until it gets to the point that it will only take those few minutes. Hang in there and it will come together before you know it.

  • Dishes – Load the dishwasher then hand wash any leftovers.
  • Laundry – One load start to finish. I do not start another until the next day.
  • Pick-up (I call it resetting the house) – A simple room by room with a laundry basket.  I put things in the room away then toss any thing that needs to go elsewhere in the basket to be dropped off where ever it belongs (usually in little man’s room).
  • Dinner

Dinner. First to decide what we are having for dinner.  Now that I am working from the house, it is easy to get overly comfortable in my four walls and start avoiding going out when I am feeling blue. Not good for my spirit or for business. So I force myself out of the house by selecting something I do not have all of the ingredients to make.  I make a quick grocery list for the missing fixings and check the tp, milk, bread, and cheese (Little Man is in a grilled cheese phase).  I will go to the store later this morning and I will only pick up the few items above.   I will play this little trick on myself every day until I no longer find myself procrastinating the actual leaving of the house. (If you have been there, you know exactly what I am talking about.) When I get past it, I will start making weekly menus with grocery lists to match to save time, energy, and trouble. For now the important thing is to break out of my four walls as much as possible. At least daily. Especially on the days that I do not have to.

Happy CD. I keep several CDs that are very peppy and seem to help me to stay active.  I call them Happy CDs. Having the music playing makes the chores easier and are an additional boost to my mood. It is also a timer of sorts because the time it takes for the CD to play is about the max amount of time I can stand to spend on general household chores without starting to get burnt out and avoid them again. I pop a CD into the player located purposely in the center of the house.

Then I run a pot of water through the coffee maker.  I am a hot chocolate and coffee girl, but there is something healing about changing it up for a mug of hot tea.

Doing these two things gets me started and sets me up for a reward break from the beginning. I think we all need that moment to look forward to especially if it is a moment when we can pat ourselves on the back for the things we have  so far accomplished. And there is something about swapping the coffee for tea that reinforces the idea of making changes in a positive way. Just a little extra nudge out of the rut.

Laundry. I grab a laundry basket and run through the entire house picking up any article that needs to be put in the wash that somehow did not make it to the hamper.  I should only need to do one trip, but if the basket were to fill up, I would empty it in the laundry room and keep making trips until I did get everything.

I have a tiny laundry room, but just outside the door there is an area where I can set out several laundry baskets and sort out all of the laundry.  I’ll sort every article then start one load of laundry.

Dishes. There are dishes in my dishwasher, so the first thing I need to do is unload it.  Then I load it back up and start it again. Dishes are a bear. A definite clutter monster. If you skip one load, it seems the sink is always full of dirty dishes. I empty out the sink and sort out any remaining dishes.  I clean out my sink and fill it a little over half way with soapy water.

While the sink is filling, I pick up any trash laying on the kitchen surfaces and toss it. I move anything that is not a dirty dish or suppose to be there from the counter top to the table for now.  If the table was also covered, I would take the minute to put everything into an empty laundry basket or bag if it took more than a moment to put away.

Now I wipe down all of the cleared counters and lay out some towels to use as a draining board for the dishes.  I will wash as many dishes as I can until the towels have filled up, the dishes are done, or my fingers start getting all wrinkly.

Wiping the Slate Clean

Literally.  I pull my huge dry erase calendar off the wall and wipe it clean.  I fill it back in so that the first week is this week.  If you read about my cleaning routine, you will know that I use little notes that I wrote in with permanent marker to make sure the whole house is covered when it comes to cleaning.  When I am redoing my calendar, it is a way for me to mentally remind myself that by working a little each day, I will get it all done. Eventually. Sooner or later is better than never.

There is something about physically setting up a calendar that is also uplifting. It gets you to looking ahead and toward possibilities for the future.

I will enjoy a mug of tea as I do this and make it my break.

I made up a sheet for the Fresh Start series I had intended to do for January.  It was meant for use to figure out annual tasks for those of you making planners.  I will get back to that article another day. The sheet has a blank calendar with an example of my monthly cleaning schedule matrix added to it and the list of my daily tasks.  Feel free to download the Monthly Planner Calendar from My Ordinary Cleaning Routine Page if you think it might help you tackle your cleaning chores.  It is a pdf file, so you may need to download the Adobe Reader if it is not already installed on your computer.

For now just use the sheet as a simple checklist for your daily chores.  Each day you get your daily tasks done put a check in the box.  Put a second check in the box if you also get the add on task from the weekly chore (ceilings, walls, etc.) and another check if you do an extra task for the assigned room of the week. If you need an extra motivator set an additional reward (besides a clean home) for yourself for 25, 50 and the possible 75 check marks.

I have the basics listed, but you may need to add rooms or change up the chore list. There is absolutely no reason you have to follow my cleaning plan exactly or at all.  If it doesn’t work for you, use the sheet to change it around so that you have a plan that does work for you.

Second Run

After my break, I take the clothes from the wash and put them into the dryer.  If the weather was nicer, I would use the clothes line just to give myself some extra time out of the house and in the sun. The sun is great for boosting energy and helping to drive away depression. So is the exercise of hauling the laundry out.  (Did you know that clothes lines have become fashionable? With everyone trying to live green and frugally old fashioned clothes lines have become a sign of smart living! So if you do not have one, consider it.  If you do not see any in your neighborhood, you could be the trendsetter!)

I do not start another load in the washer, but I do load it again so it is ready to go.  It is a quirk with a purpose that I only have one load going at a time. But I will save that story for another day.

If the dishwasher is finished, I unload the dishes and put them away. If I had extra dishes, I would load it again, but I will not start it yet because I need to take a shower so that I can go to the grocery store for the items on my list.

Daily Pick Up

After I get back from the store and have put the groceries away, I grab an empty laundry basket, a small garbage bag and start another CD. It is time to reset the house.  Normally each night I spend about five minutes picking up anything out of place and putting it where it belongs.  It will take longer than five minutes to do today. How much longer depends on how long it has been let go.If I wait until bed time as usual, I know I will not feel up to doing it, so I am going to just do it now.

If you are in the same spot, you may not be able to get things actually put away.  Do the best you can.  I will break it into stages for you. Do one stage at a time through the whole house until you feel you can not do any more. When you get to the point that you can do it in five minutes, you will not work the stages one at a time, but all at once as you are in each room. And if you can get into the habit of leaving a room better than you found it, you will do a little here and there as you are walking around your home normally so it will be even easier. But for now, even a little bit will start to make a big difference.  One stage done in one room is still an improvement.

  • Pick up any trash that has been left out and throw it away.
  • Pick up everything that belongs in another room and get it to the room where it should be.
  • Now, taking one room at a time, if there is a lot out of place, get everything out of place in the room into the laundry basket until the basket is full or everything is in the basket.
  • Put everything in the laundry basket where it belongs. If you can not put it where it belongs, get it as close as possible to where it should be.

Done for the Day

After picking up, I hang and fold the laundry and put it away.

The only other thing I have to do is dinner.

Getting into a routine is important.  I might start another load of laundry or dishes as I need to to catch up, but I may not. I may also make myself spend the five minutes to do the quick nightly pickup again before bed time just to set that time back into the routine. Today should be the day I swipe down cobwebs in the house and check light fixtures. I may do it later tonight since it takes so little time, but I will not kick myself if I do not get to it. I am also not going to stress about that extra room task today. For now the important thing is to get back into my routine.  A friend and I call this “Faking it unil we make it”. I am sure you have heard that line before.

I am most focused on getting my habits back on track starting with the clutter monsters. There are a lot of other things that could and should be done, but unless the four daily chores are kept up, the house will always be a mess. I will repeat these things everyday until I can get them back to taking very little time each day.

Out of the daily tasks, if I were so depressed that I only could manage doing one, it would be the dishes.  That is why I chose to do that little bit of extra with them today.  As far as spaces go, the kitchen is the heart of our home.  When it is straightened up it makes the biggest difference to how our house feels.  And as I wrote yesterday, the way the house feels affects the way we feel.

I am already feeling a lot better and the difference to the house is already very noticable. It has been a good start.

I Am Blissfully Domestic

{ 15 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Catherine at February 3, 2009 at 7:47 am

Thanks for sharing your routines — it’s so valuable for people to know that even the experts fall into a rut and need to drag themselves back out! Dishes and laundry are the big two for me as well — as long as we’re on top of those two things (and getting the garbage picked up and out of the house) I know everything is going to be fine.

Catherine at NurturingHope.coms last blog post..Monday Link Roundup

2 My First Kitchen February 3, 2009 at 8:38 am

It’s funny how routine can help us out of ruts, and I’m glad you have one that you seem to buy into. Random kitchen thing, but if I cook something at all, I run a sink of sudsy water. That way I can quickly wash a dish or a pan when it’s dirty so things don’t get stacked up.

My First Kitchens last blog post..The Easiest Roast Chicken

3 Laurel Plum February 3, 2009 at 10:22 am

@Catherine at Others may be more disciplined or have it come naturally, but life does catch up with me from time to time. When we work on it daily we can keep it in check, but when we don’t apparently my whole family can be messier than most as I discovered this month. I am far from perfect. In fact knowing our faults and quirks have been a big help in finding solutions and shortcuts that work for us. I guess I could have been more professional and picked up where I left off pretending to have it all together while I get it back together, but I do not do that well. Besides, the whole point of this site is to be of help to anyone who has a house out of control and holding them back. If sharing can help any single person I think it is worth it to be honest even if it is professionally embarrassing.

@My First Kitchen: Kendra, I really believe washing as I go is the best, easiest way and usually that is what I do too. The catch is the sink has to be clear before you can do that. Since I let my sink get a little over full, I have some catching up to do first. Others may be different, but when I get truly depressed I also seem to be self sabotaging. I know the way to do things to make my life easier, but not only do I not feel like it when I am depressed, I seem to go completely in the opposite direction. For example, I do not just fall behind on normal dishes, but I start baking a lot and cooking simply to fill my freezer. I am continuously adding tons of extra mess to the mess that is already there. In the moment, I feel like I am doing something to brighten my day and make things better. In reality I am just setting myself up for more work and keeping myself that much further behind. Yeah, self sabotaging is a good way to put it.

4 Emily February 4, 2009 at 10:51 am

Wow, we are living parallel lives. I sat at my computer for more than 5 minutes for the first time this morning. I got sick and then realized that I had a huge mess that I had let build up and had to climb out slowly. These posts are inspring, thank you for sharing that it’s real and authentic to slip from time to time and start picking up the pieces little by little.

Emilys last blog post..Link Love: Baby, It’s Cold Outside Edition

5 Imani February 7, 2009 at 1:39 pm

How wonderful to know that I am not the only one! I don’t even have children around anymore; I am retired. So what is my excuse? Beats the hell out of me.

I’ve really enjoyed this post. Thank you for sharing your life and your honesty. I guess it is ok to give ourselves a bit of slack. But the catching up is a real pain!

Best regards,

6 Laurel Plum February 7, 2009 at 4:05 pm

@Emily: After reading your article, I’m linking to you for Part 3. Thanks for letting me know you are in a similar spot!

7 Laurel Plum February 7, 2009 at 4:08 pm

@Imani: LOL. Trust me – the little guy did not contribute anymore to the mess than the rest of us. We can be REALLY messy people. I just did not realize how much. The catching up is a real pain, but it is worth it. I’m glad you stopped in!

8 Cyndie February 8, 2009 at 4:25 pm

Thanks so much for this. I am nearing the end of my marriage, and have 2 children, both have been sick, up 3 times last night with the 4 year old and 5:30 this morning is when I started my day. I feel like I have been spinning in place, and sinking slowly. This gives me a reasonable starting point, and a way out of the chaos. I’ll just focus on the dailies till they become easy, and not worry about all that I’m not doing.

9 Liz February 9, 2009 at 4:04 am

I too am climbing out of the mess. I started only last week. It didn’t work so well when I over committed myself for some outside projects. This week my plan is to slow down and be in the moment. My therapist and I talked this week about letting go of the things out of my control and really feeling with all of my senses the things I am choosing to do.
This is a fantastic post and I will be subscribing. You have inspired me today.

Lizs last blog post..Crimson is complete!

10 Laurel Plum February 9, 2009 at 4:03 pm

@Cyndie and @Liz: I am so moved by both of your comments. I do not even know what to say other than hang in there and thank you for joining us. Remember the only rules here are the ones we set for ourselves – so be kind.

11 Cara February 10, 2009 at 3:17 pm

This is a great article. I wish I could be so methodical with the way that I do things around my house, but I have this habit of starting new routines and almost NEVER ever (ever) follow through. There are very few things that I have stuck with. I don’t know why I’m like this. Anyway, not to ramble…

I do love your idea about one full, complete load of laundry in one day. That would solve my problem of washing three loads a day that don’t actually get folded until weeks later (if ever). Let’s see if I can stick with that routine!

Caras last blog post..First-ever product giveaway (!)

12 kristin February 15, 2009 at 10:41 pm

Wow! That certainly inspires me! I’m not a morning person, always up early but slow to get going . . . it helps to have a routine so you at least know where to start. Thanks for sharing yours.


kristins last blog post..Still . . . Head Over Heels

13 Tamie May 8, 2010 at 8:15 pm

Thank you for this. It is just what I need. I spend a LOT of time cleaning but our house is still often out of order. I’ve got three little ones, two with special needs, and so they are mostly mess-makers and not mess cleaners! We are starting to work on some cleaning up and chores for them, but we are definitely at a stage where it is more work and more of a mess for me. But I know it’s important to start somewhere. Still, I have tried various routines and nothing seems to get our house CLEAN on a daily basis. I am going to try your suggestions…and thank you so much for breaking it down like this for when things need a lot of work. Just going through the house and putting everything away would take me all day right now…and then the first room I’d started at would need me again! Anyway, it helps to have a routine written down that I can just refer to as I stop and start throughout the day to tend to the children.

14 Shruti August 2, 2010 at 3:19 am

I’ve always wanted my house to be neat and organized… but i always waited to find the right system for me… it was after i came to your site that i realized that there was nothing ‘right’ until i start with something and modify it to make it right… your articles have inspired me to log off from my PC and actually start working!
Thanks a lot…
Cheers from India!
Shruti´s last [type] ..Vote for me!

15 Kristi July 12, 2013 at 11:25 pm

Thank you so much for this post! You get what I am experiencing even though I own my own cleaning company. I didn’t realize how depressed I have become until reading about your experience. I feel like I will be getting back on track this weekend. :)

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