Sunday, July 27, 2008

A Really Big Cleaning Problem - One Reader's Touching Email...and How I Hope to Help

I've been putting off doing this post, because I just know it's going to be an emotional post...but I promised Cleaning Challenged a reply, and so here goes...First, here is her email to me:

Dear Christina,

I noticed that you sometimes answer questions on your blog so I thought it might be worth it to take a shot. I'm a 24-year-old college graduate, but my cleaning "education" as a kid consisted of my mom going off on my sister and me every few months for "not pitching in," and going on what we called "cleaning binges" in which things were shoved out of the way into boxes or random drawers and we couldn't find anything later. I suspect this is because as a foster child she grew up without consistent guidance on cleaning.

As a result, I don't know how to clean. Because a mess was my normal environment, I just don't see clutter or things that need to be cleaned until they reach epic, discouraging scale, at which time I procrastinate until some emergency prompts my own cleaning binge. On average, my wardrobe is approximately 75% on my bedroom floor, 15% on my bathroom floor, and 10% still in the hamper from the last time I did laundry. I make bowls out of aluminum foil to get out of doing dishes. I know it's ridiculous but I don't know how to change what I'm doing when it's based in something I don't notice. I don't have a neat-freak roommate or close friend to learn from. I've tried to find books and websites to help me, but tips for getting a stain out of the carpet do me no good when I can't find the carpet.

If I ever have kids I don't want to pass this along to them. How do I fix my complete lack of cleaning habits?


Cleaning Challenged

(please don't use my real name online)


Hi CC,

Thanks for emailing me. I do apologize that it took longer for me to reply on the blog than I'd first told you, but I wanted to mull over your question for a while, and hopefully provide something constructive, something that would actually really help.

There are likely a lot of people in your shoes - people who grew up without a regular cleaning routine. So you know what? I really want to help you learn some gradual cleaning routines that you can stick to, so you don't feel overwhelmed by it all.

So, first things first - I want you to learn about cleaning bursts. They've really helped me (a recovering slob, but still with a 'happy slob' nature) to keep our place a lot tidier, so I won't freak out if people happen to stop by. Starting tomorrow, do one cleaning burst a day - even if it's for five minutes.

Second, we're going to set up some time for you every day to tackle the closet-out-of-a-closet syndrome that's going on. :) Seriously, you're not the only person whose clutter gets out of control! I don't want you thinking you are, and thinking you're somehow awful because of it. We can gradually decrease that and then learn how to keep it contained.

So, for this week, here are two goals for you:

  1. One cleaning burst a day. A cleaning burst is basically a timed period of cleaning. Aim for about 5 minutes a day and hit the areas that people (including YOU!) will see the most. My cleaning bursts always include kitchen, living areas, and main bath. Put 5 mins on the timer and then set to work tidying. DON'T WORRY IF YOU DON'T THINK YOU'RE DOING IT ALL PERFECTLY! Seriously, none of us do this perfectly, but over time we develop a few more cleaning skills.
  2. 5 minutes decluttering in your 'danger zone' - the closet! Once you touch an item that's out of the closet, deal with it. Again, put the timer on for five minutes. If you can work for a few extra minutes, that's a bonus, but if not - five minutes is fantastic. Aim to spend five minutes a day. Make a pile of things to give away, things that need to be thrown away, and things that need to be laundered, repaired, etc.

Next week I'll post again and see how you're doing. E-mail me back, please! I want to know how you progress, and I'm sure all of the blog readers will want to, as well. But, two steps to start is doable, right? And I'm really proud that you emailed me at all. We'll tackle this together! (And next week we'll start to tackle dishes and the kitchen in a more specific way.)

Take care,


P.S. Anyone who reads this and was as touched by CC's words as I was - please post an encouraging comment for her...Thanks!


Anonymous said...

Hi Happyslob and CC!
First of all, noticing a behavior you don't like is half the battle! Congratulations on noticing!!!!
I am a mom of two happyslobs and married to one as well. I am not an HS. But I never the less was crippled by how I was taught to keep house. Mom did it all. We were responsible for putting our clothes away. Ugh. Had to learn all by myself.

Just telling yourself to put things away really is not enough. Where does it have to go? Everything NEEDS its own home. YOU get to decide where.

Taught my daughters that all clothes have a home, clean in the closet and dresser, dirty in the hamper, and worn but clean enough get folded or laid across a chair for another day of wearabliity. No clothes on the floor because that is NOT where they live. I have a basket for ironing, a drawer for mending, and a basket for drycleaning. As soon as a coat or sweater comes off it gets hung up on a hook or hanger. YOU decide which.
Bath towels dry faster on a hook. Always hang them up to dry so they can be used again, at least 3 times in a row.

Happy, I have been enjoying your blog for only a short time and hope to continue. With CC's concerne, she sounds like she just may need a little bit more handholding. She just might need more step by step, then telling her to set a timer for a certain amount of time. Divide and conquor is my motto. (All papers in the living room first.All clothes in the living room next. All dishes in the living room next. You get the picture.) She needs to be deprogramed from doing things in a slapdash fashion. I hope I haven't stepped on any toes. I had to learn the hard way but for a different reason. Wendy at

HappySlob said...

Hi Anon,

Thanks for the great suggestions. I'll wait to see how CC feels about things, but just a few minutes a day, I'm hoping (and without anything TOO specific) will just get her in the habit of cleaning and tidying a bit every day. And then we can get more specific from then.

I just don't want to scare you away, CC, from, definitely take to heart Anon's comments too, but please just don't feel overwhelmed and give up.

Anonymous said...

Please change the text colors on your blog. They hurt my eyes, I quit reading.

HappySlob said...

Hi Anon - oops, sorry. :) I get a little too 'creative' with the font colors. I'll stick with less colorful choices from now on...

Thanks for the input!

Anonymous said...

I was reading your email and it reminded me of myself. My mother never really taught me how to clean either. There are some great books out there that can help you.

One is "Speed Cleaning" by Jeff Campbell, which explains what sort of tools you need to clean, and how to keep yourself organized. One tip I really liked is to always wipe from side to side, not in circles. And if you use both hands, you can get the job done faster... And by keeping all the supplies with you in a caddy or tool belt, you don't have to backtrack between rooms, grabbing what you need.

You can read the "Rules" of Speed Cleaning here.

There's also the Dummies and Idiot's guides to cleaning. They are helpful too. "The Complete Idiot's Guide to Cleaning"
by Mary Findley and Linda Formichelli

My library had books on cleaning, and they were helpful.

Also look on the internet, there's lots of blog and websites with tips on how to clean and organize, such as this one!

Maybe some of your friends or family members have tips they can share with you? Good luck!!! You're halfway there already by just asking for help!!!

Anonymous said...

I am so glad I found this blog. I am a huge slob who was never shown how to do housework. My boyfriend and I just bought our first home together. It is right next door to his parents. I have a busy lifestyle and cleaning has sunk to the bottom of my priority list. It takes me forever to do the same chore it takes my boyfriends mother 5 minutes to complete. She is constantly harassing me about my messy house.I hate it! I am going to try some of these tips. I feel for you CC but I know we can do this!