I knew a gal about 20 years ago whose house was a messy disaster. She had 3 kids – 5, 6, and 7 years old. She was super creative; she baked, sewed quilts, and loved scrapbooking.
But, she struggled with anxiety and depression. Her home was overwhelming, and she had a ton of “mom guilt” because she rarely felt up to doing things with her children.
There were 3 main reasons she was in this state, and I want to talk about how we can all learn what she learned.
First, she didn’t have any kind of cleaning habits.
She waited to deal with things until they were so messy that she was forced to deal with them – like the dishes had to be washed because there were no more clean dishes, or the laundry had to be done because no one had clean underwear.
People often ask where to start decluttering because when your entire home is a mess, it’s really difficult to pause and decide where to focus first.
And what I tell people is:
1. Start with habits
I know some people have cleaning habits – they already do the dishes every day, and it doesn’t feel like a burden to them. But then there are those of us, like my friend, who hate doing dishes, and it feels like a complete waste of time – the dishes will just get dirty again tomorrow.
It’s an endless cycle of thankless drudgery.
Unfortunately, there is a lot of that in life. That’s what it is to be an adult. Life is full of tasks that need to be done that no one will ever notice unless you DON’T do them.
It might be something as simple as taking the trash out or as complicated as records for an ICU nurse.
One of my close friends is about 6 years into her addiction recovery, and she admitted at one point that she was looking for validation for what she was doing – she had been showing up to work on time, paid her taxes, and got car insurance.
She was very disappointed when people around her didn’t notice until she realized that she wasn’t doing anything exceptional; she was doing stuff that responsible people do every day.
Yes, it was a big deal for her, it was wonderful.
But for people who didn’t know her past, those things are expected. We don’t get gold stars for doing the daily things that need to be done.
Unless YOU give yourself gold stars, which I encourage you to do if you need to establish cleaning habits!
Back to the gal that was a mess – the second issue she had, was too much stuff.
Everything we own requires some kind of management – cleaning, storing, etc. And one human being is only capable of managing a certain amount of things. When we get past that point, we get overwhelmed. We know things need to be organized and dealt with, but when there is too much, we can’t possibly do it all, so we either give up or we freeze up, allowing our anxiety to consume us.
To alleviate that, we have to
Bit by bit, layer by layer. We have to reduce the amount of items in our home so that we create space to put things away.
Most of us have clutter around the house because those items don’t have a place to belong. Remember the saying, “A place for everything and everything in its place.” We can only do that if we have open places to place things.
If every cupboard, closet, shelf, and surface is full of stuff – we can’t organize and tidy it.
This means we have to weed through and let go of the things we aren’t using to make room for the items we use regularly.
Thirdly, this friend of mine had too many projects. Too much that she expected of herself.
She needed to narrow her focus and
3. Have fewer hobbies
I know it’s a hard pill to swallow. Creativity is important. But the truth is, we can’t do everything.
Madeleine Albright is quoted as saying,
But most of us do try to do it all at once:
Have a huge garden, sew our children’s clothes, and make cheese after we milk our cow. At the same time, homemade bread bakes in the oven, and our seven children homeschool at the table in front of us, like perfect angels. Oh, and we got up at 4 am and started a new Etsy business so we could afford our month-long trip to Italy next summer, you know, in between the kid’s private tennis lessons and our intro to foraging backpacking trip.
Please tell me I’m not the only one who thinks this should be my life.
All kidding aside, we expect ourselves to be able to do all that AND be a wonderful mother, spouse, friend, etc. But the truth is, none of us can do it.
We can’t have 17 different hobbies and maintain our home and our relationships.
At one point, I homeschooled our children and I was trying to run this blog at the same time.
I found myself consistently frustrated because I either had the mental energy to teach my kids or I had the mental energy to write an article.
I didn’t have the mental energy for both things on the same day.
I had to choose – we only have a certain amount of mental energy. Where are we going to use it today?
Because when it’s gone, it’s gone.
If you have something in your life that you enjoy, maybe you’re a quilter. That takes quite a lot of time and space, and when you enjoy it, it’s worth it!
But because it takes up so much time, space, and energy, it’s not realistic to expect yourself to read 52 books in a year, have milk cows, sheep, and chickens, breed standard poodles, tend a full-sized vegetable garden, and all the typical things that a normal adult has to do.
There is nothing wrong with having a lot of things that you do and a lot of different hobbies. But it’s unfair to expect yourself to be able to do all those things and all the hobbies and maintain a clean house, all at the same time.
Like Madeleine Albright said, life comes in segments.
When we’re in college, our mental energy is consumed by learning.
When we have babies and toddlers, all of that is busy and physically exhausting.
When we have teens, we’re navigating the maturing relationships and spending time chauffeuring kids.
When we’re retired, we have more time-freedom for hobbies, but we often have grandchildren we want to be involved with.
There are so many things that are wonderful, exciting things, but realistically, how much time do we have to invest, and what will we actually willing to work on?
Because the things we dream of doing are not always the things we do.
Heather, in my Facebook Group, shared a couple of weeks ago: “Fantasy self, fantasy children…these people have accumulated so much stuff, and they’ve never even lived here!”
Minimalism is really letting go of the person we would like to be and embracing the person that we actually are.
Because the person I thought I wanted to be, or thought I should be, collected so many supplies, but the real me hadn’t used any of it.
Now that I’ve reduced so much excess in my life, I do have time for things, and I find myself with a very full life.
But I’ve also learned to be picky because I can still get caught up in the dreaming phase. I STILL love the idea of sewing all our clothes from repurposed fabric.
But the truth is, I don’t want to spend my time that way.
The idea is what I love. Not that actual work part.
Anyway, 20 years later, my dear friend has decluttered, put cleaning habits in place, and reduced her hobbies to a select few. And her home doesn’t overwhelm her anymore.
I know because that lady is me.
I was utterly overwhelmed. And I feel like I have escaped a prison that I had made.
Embracing minimalism took my home from being a constant mess to being very easy to maintain.
That’s the freedom that people talk about: freedom from stuff – When we limit the amount of stuff in our home, we shift from having to take care of our homes to our home supporting us in the things we want in our lives.
If you want to read about all the hobbies I had intended to do but never got around to doing, check out these posts: