Saturday, December 31, 2011


I've spent the last, well, forever making covert observations of other people's housekeeping habits. Whenever I go into someone's home, I scope out the cleanliness level (or lack thereof) and compare it to my own house. Granted, comparison is typically a losing game, but growing up in a hoarded home gives you no point of reference for how to function in daily life. I've spent most of my life observing other people to get some idea of what "normal" is. Housekeeping skills are no exception.

I tend to basically ignore typical levels of dirt and disorganization in other people's houses. What really stands out to me is when a house is impressively clean and organized. If it wouldn't make me into some kind of weirdo social pariah, I would sit the oh-so-together hosts down and beg to know their secrets. How do they do it? How do they keep their houses so clean in the midst of everything going on in their super-busy lives?

I find that keeping the house clean has been a losing battle for me. We children of hoarders tend to fall into two camps -- obsessively, compulsively, spartanly neat or hoarders ourselves. I fall somewhere in the middle. I'm definitely not a hoarder, but neither am I particularly clean or tidy. This didn't really bother me as much when I was younger, but as I've gotten older, I find my inability to keep a clean house increasingly irksome. I've tried all kinds of strategies to solve the problem (Mrs. Meyer's Clean Home, Organizing from the Inside Out, scheduling tasks for specific days, apps designed to create a customized system), but nothing's really solved the problem. The house is still dirty and cluttered most of the time. And no matter how much I remind myself that this failure doesn't make me a failure, it still feels pretty darn bad.

Or it did, until I unexpectedly found my eureka moment in this book written for adult children of alcoholics and other dysfunctional parents. Housework isn't mentioned once in the book. It did say that children who grow up in dysfunctional families are never taught how to complete large tasks, so we feel overwhelmed when facing big jobs and often won't even start. And with that, my friends, something clicked. Maintaining my house completely freaks me out because I feel so overwhelmed by the size of the task. And no matter how many times I've tried to break it into smaller chunks or come up with a workable system, I eventually just throw up my hands and quit. The feeling of relief here is profound. I'm not lazy! I'm not irreparably damaged! I'm just overwhelmed! And so I have decided to scrap all of the systems I've tried in favor of an egg timer. I set it for 15 minutes a day and clean for as long as the timer is ticking. No assigned rooms, no particular task, other than whatever seems most important at the moment. If I still feel like cleaning when the timer goes off, I can. If not, I can stop. Somehow, this seems completely doable and lessens the pressure that I've been putting on myself. While my house may never be as neat and tidy as some of the homes I've seen through the years, right now it's totally livable and getting better all the time. And while it's far from perfect, it's finally good enough for me.


  1. Baby steps will help you run.

  2. You might like the FlyLady method ( It sounds like you have already stumbled onto parts of it (15 minutes, the timer). Her motto is, You are not behind, just jump in right where you are. And also let go of perfectionism and just do what you are able to do. And it's free!

  3. That's a great idea! When I discovered my dad was a hoarder, I approached his house as a project we could work on together. It was as bad as anything you've seen on the Hoarders tv show. Needless to say he wasn't much help. I was frustrated beyond belief and was to the point of begging him to work just 10 minutes a day. That's it, just 10 minutes.

    It's amazing all of the excuses he could come up with to justify not even working for 10 min.

  4. Egg timer for 15 minutes, my God that is genius! You are so right about never being taught to complete large tasks, it's overwhelming even with "the smaller chunks." What dysfunctional children are taught is to stay out of the way and don't bring attention to themselves. Doing a big old project of any kind is counterintuitive. But I can do anything for 15 minutes, even cleaning.

  5. I work daily with alcoholics and children of alcoholics and other addicts that struggle to create some order in their lives. Knowing all that I know, I've still not been able to help my wife, who hoards. However, every time I've seen anyone get better, the first step is to gain some level of control and self-reliance. While my family isn't there yet, seeing your success is so incredibly encouraging. Thanks..for the egg timer, and for not giving up.