My lifelong aversion to housework has finally caught up with me. I had a challenging post planned for today, one I began researching and thinking about months ago. And inside a yellow legal pad, I’d jotted extensive notes and a rough outline for the post. That legal pad also held notes on other blog post ideas. I know that I’ve seen this yellow pad recently, but it was nowhere to be found when I was ready to write, not in my house, not in my car. Except that I know that it is, somewhere, in this house. I would say that I tore the house apart searching for it, but unfortunately, the house was already torn apart.
During this search, I began wondering if the Feds could declare my home a disaster zone. Probably. The force of nature that produced it wasn’t the unstoppable power of a tornado or hurricane or flood, or even toddlers, but rather, the slow and steady power of my own malignant neglect.
The Long Decline
When I began working a full-time social service day several years ago, I immersed myself in the work, often spending 60 hours in the office. I battle chronic fatigue syndrome but after many years of deterioration I’d found a nutritional supplement program that worked very well for me. I felt largely cured, and thought that I was ready to take on a demanding position. The “cure” couldn’t hold out against the stresses of the job, though, and my health gradually deteriorated again. I came home late every evening, ate, and fell into bed, which is where I also spent a lot of recuperation time each weekend. My poor husband tried to keep up with the domestic chores, but couldn’t do it all alone. By the time I’d finished my coach training and left the social service job last fall, the state of the house had nearly reached it’s current disastrous state.
On top of this, I piled the boxes of stuff I’d brought home from the office. And then there were all of the notes and binders and DVDs from my coach training, the files full of information I printed from the internet. All in overflowing stacks. Then a bathroom pipe busted, and the ensuing flood crept into our walk-in closet, where cardboard boxes of “stuff” had been accumulating for years. They all had to be pulled out of the closet and stacked in the bedroom, mingling with clothes to be sorted for Goodwill, books, and all of the other detritus that had taken over while I was holed up at the office. And um, did I mention that I’m a terrible pack rat?
And of course, there is the constant shedding of fur from my beloved canine buddies – Mooshka, a Siberian Husky, and Cappucino, a German Shepherd/Border Collie mix – that puts the final layer of icing on the cake, so to speak.
Remember the illustrations from “The Cat In the Hat?” The damage caused by Thing One and Thing Two? That pretty much sums it up.
My last day on the old social service job was the last Friday in September; the first day of my new career was October 1st. I was raring to go, and didn’t want to halt my enthusiastic momentum for the weeks that it would take to clean and organize my environment – ugh, housework – or the additional weeks that I needed to rest.
It wasn’t long before my long-depleted body put me to bed, and I had to halt my progress on creating the coaching career anyhow, and search for the supplement cocktail that would build my energy levels this time. I’ve found a combination of supplements, exercise and lifestyle changes that is helping, and I’m gradually increasing my stamina. But hours spent searching for one legal pad hasn’t done much for my energy or irritability levels today.
And so I’ve come to the very unwelcome realization that it’s time to get organized.
At this point, the idea of cleaning up the mess feels like one of those nightmares in which your feet are firmly rooted to the ground, and when you open your mouth to scream, nothing comes out. How to even start, under these circumstances?
So, I’ve decided, this is a matter of “Coach, coach thyself.” Where would I suggest that my clients start?
1. Create a plan, beginning with a task that can make a large, visible difference fairly easily, and will thus provide encouragement.
For me, this means cleaning my desk and the area around my desk, which are located in a corner of our family room. I spend many hours a day in this location. Having it organized will make my life much easier. And in searching for my legal pad today, I’ve already begun the task by sorting some of the mess into piles, so that it won’t take an enormous amount of time to get ‘er done.
2. Break the goal down into tasks, and steps, and sub-steps, if necessary.
My next task after the desk area is the bedroom, partially because I believe that this is where that legal pad may have found its resting place. I’ll break that down into steps: clearing the nightstand and chest of drawers and dresser, switching out current and out of season clothing…and sorting through those dreaded cardboard boxes.
Then I’ll work on my new office space – a bedroom abandoned by my North Carolina daughter (whose pack rat tendencies and aversion to housework echo my own) when she went off to college several years ago. Everyone in the family has made disheartened attempts to clean up this space. My daughter who formerly inhabited the room puts time into it every time she comes home for a visit; when my other daughter and her fiance wanted to earn some extra money, I paid them to clean it, but they preferred yard work. Nonetheless, it’s reached the point where I can begin to see the light at the end of the tunnel. Plus, I’m planning a visit to my North Carolina kid soon, and she’s made room in her apartment for the huge chest-of-drawers and bookshelf that I’m eager to re-locate from her old bedroom.
Then comes the dining room, then the living room. And so on – one room at a time, one step at a time.
3. Plan rewards that enhance natural consequences.
A serious natural consequence of letting the house get to this state is that I am unable to find what I need. It’s what has finally prompted me to make a change. A natural consequence of cleaning it up, therefore, will be the ease of finding stuff in the future, but this natural reward can be further enhanced to create more motivation for moving on to the next step.
When a task is finished – unless it was a relatively small one or you’re very eager to get to that next step, create an appropriate reward. When my dining room table is cleared of its stacks of mail and other debris, and prettily polished, it will be anointed with a big, beautiful vase of flowers from our wonderful, local Farmers Market. That alone will spur me on to the next task. When the new office space is clean (and painted), I can move my new desk and other furniture in, stock the bookshelves, hang pictures and lay rugs purchased especially for that room, furnishings that have been set aside for months, waiting for their time to shine… When the kitchen is organized, I think it will be time for a dinner out at my favorite Italian restaurant.
And when everything is nice and orderly, I might just persuade my baby sister to bring herself and my adorable little niece and nephew down for a visit!
4. Keep plans realistic and flexible, put them on a calendar, and allow for extended deadlines.
If we decide to have dinner guests before the bedroom is cleaned, I may wind up putting off work on the bedroom and new office until the more public areas of the house are up to speed. And that’s okay. If I put tasks on my Outlook calendar, it’s easy enough to move them around if necessary. And no matter how determined I am to allow plenty of time for a task, problems always crop up that hold up my plans. And that’s okay, too. Personal deadlines can be rescheduled.
The most critical thing to remember is this: steady, baby steps, and never abandon ship.
5. Ask friends for support.
This is where you come in.
And no, I’m not asking you to come on over and clean my house. Not that I wouldn’t be happy to provide beer and pizza, but you’d faint in shock and I’d die of embarrassment. Thing One and Thing Two are taking full responsibility for repairing this damage.
Here’s my proposal: if you will “like” my Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/pages/JustVentures-Coaching-and-Communications/147339475363095), I’ll post regular updates on my progress and celebrations. If you don’t see an update for a few days…ask me how it’s going. A few reminders from my followers about the commitment that I’m making here, and my butt will be kicked into gear. Either that, or I’ll stay off Facebook for a while, which could be a very good thing. And in return, I’ll be happy to provide you with a couple of gentle reminders as you work toward your goals, either via email or through Facebook – just let me know what you’re trying to do and how I should “nudge” you.
If you don’t see a new post here next Friday, it’s probably because I’m buried under an avalanche of books and papers and dog hair and Goodwill donations. But I’ll dig my way out, and will be a more satisfied, organized coach and writer when my next post hits the blogosphere!
What are the “natural disasters” in your life that are holding you back? What’s your plan to tackle them? And how can your friends help?