This has been a hot topic of late. It’s hard to miss the hype. Tidying Up on Netflix was a huge hit last winter, Gretchen Rubin’s book, Outer Order Inner Calm, came out in March (hear more specifically in Episode 12 of The Fit Mess podcast), and it’s a subject of many podcasts I listen to.
Now, let’s take a step back and remember my reality. I have three very young kids. Kids not yet old enough to actually be very helpful in cleaning. I also have four dogs and a husband who also works. I do not have a full-time housekeeper, nor do I want to make my kids keep everything pristine every moment. Often, the best creativity from my older kids comes from random stuff around. However, I am struggling with this juxtaposition of keeping a clean house while keeping my sanity and also allowing my kids to be kids.
As I say this, I have a confession. I LOVE to organize…other people’s stuff. In high school, I cleaned houses as a second job and it was awesome. I also really like to clean at my parents’ house. They live in a very full home. They keep everything. When I visit my parents’ home, I always commit to cleaning something. It drives them a little crazy, but it is so incredibly satisfying. Also, it is so much easier to organize other people’s things. I don’t need to agonize over every little thing. I take ‘before’ and ‘after’ pictures, I pat myself on the back and feel really accomplished.
My own home is something different.
In my own home, with our own things, I do agonize over many little things. I remember who gave what to my kids. I feel guilty about getting rid of things other people spent money on. I stew over whether we’re truly done with something, or if it may be useful. I can’t decide if I should sell, donate or trash certain items.
As we have started recognizing the time spent putting things away, cleaning and feeling embarrassed by the state of our home if someone comes over unexpectedly, we’ve tried to get practical. For my son’s birthday last year, we had a long conversation about his party and presents. We discussed the toys he has, that we’d need to get rid of them to make space for new ones and we (not so subtly) suggested that he ask for donations to a charity instead. He thought about it for a long time and he agreed. We got him a gift he really wanted and for his party, we collected donations for a local food bank.
This was something that has stuck with me. There were multiple benefits here. First, no one had to go out and buy a random toy or game that may or may not even get used or enjoyed. Several parents made online donations or threw a 20 dollar bill in his card to be donated. Second, I didn’t need to make more room somewhere in my house to put these toys and games that may or may not be used. Last, my kids loved it. We delivered the bags and bags of food (his friends’ families were incredibly generous with this request) to the food bank and they got to feel really food about doing something good. Other parents also commented on the value of this, as several took their kids to the grocery store to pick out the food to donate.
Do we really need more stuff?
You might be thinking that I’m a mean selfish mom at this point. That I’m choosing a clean house over my kid’s joy at his birthday party. Judge away, but know this- my son was not sad. Not once has he said he regretted his choice or wished he had more toys around. Also, this little anecdote is part of a larger conversation in our house now. Do we really need more stuff? More clothes, more games, more crap from the One Spot? Most often, the answer is a big fat ‘no.’
Yes, of course, my kids get clothes and shoes as they grow, but we don’t need a new shirt every time we go to Target, just like they don’t need eleven pairs of shoes (because no matter what I do they will choose one pair that they like and refuse anything else). I’m incorporating this into my own life also. Fewer impulse buys at Costco and from online ads because I can recognize that my drawers are full. I have clothes that fit and do their job perfectly. Landfills, donation centers, oceans, barges, and even recipient nations are overflowing with the first world’s discarded clothes (among so many other things).
I’ve found a few strategies that I want to share
I’m delving deeper into my own happiness, wellness, and mental health. I try really hard to let go of certain worries and stress and recognize what is worth the worry, but this issue of cleanliness is a constant struggle. In these commitments we’ve been making, I see glimmers of hope. My son’s birthday party remains a beacon for me in the success of that choice and I’m actively working to make other similar choices. On this journey, I’ve found a few strategies that I want to share in case your household struggles with similar issues. They may seem obvious, and you may already know them, but I’m sharing anyway!
- Make time. We are all so busy and booked up that it can feel like there is no time for anything, much less cleaning. That’s not completely true though. We are in charge of our own schedule and time can be found- you may just not like the options. My husband gets up early and empties the dishwasher and cleans up any remaining pots and pans from the night before. Working from home, when I need a brain break, instead of scrolling Facebook or CNN, I’ve started getting up from my desk, setting a timer and cleaning until the timer goes off. It’s amazing how much you can accomplish in eleven minutes if you devote yourself wholly to the task. My husband and I have been devoting a little bit of time every evening to going through something- whether a single drawer or an entire dresser. Progress is made and even one newly empty drawer means that something else can have its “place” to go. If you like to watch a show on the couch before bed, what if you can fold laundry at the same time, or sort the junk drawer/mail/kid art while you do it?
- 2. Give things a designated place. This can be really challenging with young kids, but I have found that everything is easier when items have a home to go to. My kids do much better at helping when there are cubbies and drawers to put toys into. When I’m picking up after a crazy day, it is so much faster when I don’t have to think of where to put things. We now have two drawers in our hutch next to our dining room table dedicated to art and school supplies. I can easily tuck the crayons, paper, scissors, and pencils away into their places and it’s so much simpler.
- 3. Get real. Take a look at your schedule, life, and home and decide what is actually workable for you. I have friends’ homes that I visit and they are immaculate. They have kids too and somehow they keep perfect magazine-worthy homes. I have spent more time than I’d like to admit feeling envy over these homes and piling on some guilt and embarrassment over my home for good measure. When I step back, however, I can get a reality check. I like to have my kids at my house. I like to encourage their creativity and allow them to live here as kids. It might be possible to keep a perfect house, but right now, I know that I cannot have a perfectly clean house, work, exercise, cook, raise my kids, stay married and stay sane all at the same time. Most days, there needs to be some give, and I can keep a clean enough house for my own peace. I can be real about my family and accept that some people may have a different situation and THAT IS 100% OKAY! I have also come to recognize that if someone comes to my house and judges me for some clutter, that’s on them, not me.
- 4. Think about your purchases. This can be a really hard one, but really take a moment to think about something before you put it in your real or digital cart, and if it makes it into your cart, take another beat. Is there a place for it to go? Do you already have something similar? Will it be used? In a culture of consumption, we are surrounded by so many messages of needing more- more clothes, more shoes, more space, more toys, more electronics… the list goes on. Our homes, wallets, and environment need us to lower our consumption. Simply giving away stuff to get new things isn’t what it once was. We also now have great options for smarter choices. Do you want new shoes? You can now get ones made from recycled water bottles (and leggings too)! You’re considering a new purse- what if you sell your old one online first before committing to getting something new? Sometimes simply delaying the purchase can show you that you don’t actually need more. Help your kids learn this too. Get out of the habit of saying “yes” to things just because perhaps they are cheap or small. Help your kids understand why we don’t need another plastic toy, in plastic packaging, that will get thrown in a bin in the basement with the twenty other similar items. I’ve started working with my kids to have them save up for bigger items they really want. If they can get through a store trip without getting anything, I will add two dollars to their savings (my son is now saving for a metal detector and has started realizing that he’d rather save more to get a nicer one rather than rushing to just get one he could buy right now).
- 5. Take advantage of the internet. It is amazing how easy it is to rehome items now. There are people out there who can fix, repurpose or use just about anything. In building our treehouse, a window got broken. I put it on Facebook Marketplace for free and it was picked up within hours. We recently installed wood, attached baby gates at our stairs and I’ve been able to sell every single baby gate lurking in our garage. I sell clothes, shoes and used makeup on Poshmark. Thredup takes bags of clothes to sell for you or donate. I bought used clothes from Le Tote for a steal instead of going to the mall. There are so many amazing ways to clear your house without just throwing things away, and you can buy used things that work great and keep items in use.
What does this have to do with health and wellness?
As I close, you may be wondering, what does this have to do with health and wellness? Isn’t that what this is about? Well, with me, you’re going to get the holistic approach to wellness and that includes the external factors that may be causing you to sabotage your own wellness journey. If you are worrying over the clutter when you could be exercising, it is impacting your health. If you are spending your weekends madly cleaning and sending your family to do fun things without you, you might be harming your mental health.
Finding ways to keep your home at a state of calm for yourself and your family will have myriad benefits for your wellness. Make sure your partner is aware of your feelings and is supporting you and spend a few minutes to decide what you could do to help your everyday routine at home and you’ll thank me later!
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