Babyest-of-Babysteps

Long but worth the read

Dear FlyLady,

I have started and stopped this email more times than I can count, because I don’t feel like I have adequate words to explain the impact your method has had on my life, nor to thank you for your insights. I apologize in advance for the crazy length but when you pour out a whole heart, there’s a lot there.

I have been a clutterbug all my life. As a child, my room was always a mess, and my mother used housework as a punishment. It was something the whole family “had to” pitch in and do every weekend for hours on end (or so it seemed, anyway) and during the school week, woe to the child who misbehaved for he or she would be conscripted to something even my mother hated to do, like clean the bathroom. Housework was something I resented.

Because of this conditioning, when I grew up and moved out on my own, I did not have good housework habits. I’d go to classes or work during the week and then on the weekends try to do the same marathon cleaning binges, albeit half-heartedly, mostly because I no longer had a taskmistress to force me to do it. As time went by, the cleaning that got done on the weekends was less and less until I was so overwhelmed by my own mess that I wasn’t doing much beyond loading and unloading the dishwasher and washing laundry (which went from basket to body to floor and eventually back to the washer then dryer to start the cycle over again.)

As you can imagine the apartment that I lived in for 11 years was, in a word, unsightly. During this time I met the man that would eventually become my husband. He never once saw the inside my apartment. At first, he thought I was married and that was why I’d never let him inside! I did eventually confess to him my “dirty little secret” but he didn’t quite believe me because I was actually pretty neat when I was at his house as a guest.

Then we bought a home and got married almost at the same time, so we had to consolidate our households – two full homes of over a decade worth of “things” that people living alone accumulate. We moved quickly, so not much time to cull and sort, what with the stress of not only moving but a wedding as well. Add on top of that all the gifts we received and our home was a full-on mess. It was then that he got the full picture of my resentment of house cleaning. Even early in our marriage there were fights about it. We have never argued about money to this day but oh, the arguments about housework, what time to start, how long to do it, whether we should work together or separately, what our priorities should be, whether one should pick up the slack if the other isn’t feeling up to the task, who had the harder jobs or rooms to handle, whether one person “owes” the other extra cleaning time for whatever reason, the list went on and on. It was not a happy time for us as newlyweds. Again, I dreaded weekends because it felt like after a long week of both of us working at our jobs, we were being punished with housework, only this time we were punishing ourselves and each other.

I can remember a conversation we had and thinking about it makes me cry – he asked me if he wasn’t in my life if I’d clean up after myself. I said no, I probably wouldn’t. He then asked, “Don’t you feel like you deserve to live in a clean house?” My answer: “No, I don’t think I do. But you do, so I clean up for you.”

I vaguely remember signing up for your emails back in the day when I was just starting to get overwhelmed by my apartment, but for whatever reason it didn’t “stick” and then the emails stopped at some point. Then recently, all of a sudden I started getting them again. For a time I just deleted them without reading them. Then one day, I read one before I trashed it. Then I started reading them regularly. I would read the bit at the bottom that says, “You are not behind. I don’t want you to try to catch up; I just want you to jump in where we are. O.K.?” I kept seeing it over and over. I thought, all right, I just need to jump in. Jump in. Just jump in. But I was so completely underwater that I didn’t know how to do that.

So I decided to try a Kids Challenge first. I figured if a child could do it, so could I. The first one was to go through 27 stray pieces of paper. OK, so far, so good. The next day I shined my sink for the first time. After a few days of just doing that, I added in making the bed. By the second week I was decluttering in the current zone and feeling good. I’d set my timer for fifteen minutes and then be DONE  I wouldn’t even give a thought to “just a few more items” because I absolutely didn’t want to burn out and get resentful. The next week, my husband noticed what was going on. He actually did a double-take and said, “What have you done to the bathroom? I can see the counter!” so I told him what I’d been up to. I’d been doing all my routines after he’d leave in the morning and before he’d get home at night (due to his terrible commute to another city my work day is much shorter than his) so that we could spend evenings together relaxing.

These days, I still do my routines mostly before and after work, and on Saturdays we do our “Weekly Home Blessing” together, not because we “have to” but because he wants to do it with me. He does all the floors (just “the middles”!) and empties all the trash and I do everything else. With both of us working, we get it all done in less than thirty minutes, and then we go out for breakfast. It’s our reward for teamwork and a job well done. We then have the rest of the weekend to just be a happy couple. I finally got over my last hurdle with routines and bought the first pair of lace-up shoes I’ve owned in years. I bought a Rubba Scrubba and Purple Rags to make my routines easier. My darling husband laughs and says that I’m really drinking the Kool-Aid but he also says he couldn’t be more pleased with how our home looks. We haven’t had a single argument about the state of our house since I started your method.

He asked me why I hadn’t wanted to start with a clean house first, do something like a Crisis Clean all in one weekend, and then go with the fifteen-minute method. It took me a while to realize why that never worked for me.  When I was in university, I learned quickly that I didn’t do well with “cram session” studying before an exam. I’d do all right for that one test, but I’d forget most everything right away, and then at finals time I’d need to cram the same material all over again. I always did better if I studied every night after class, copying over my day’s notes and doing the recommended reading or example problems. When exam time would roll around, I’d just have to do a little brush-up on the past topics and I’d be all ready for it, plus I’d retain the information far better. For me, Crisis Cleaning for short-notice guests is like cramming for an exam – sure, you might “pass” but you haven’t really “learned” and it’s very easy to slip and need another huge cram session for the next “exam”.

I had a moment of amazement when we recently decided to have an estimate done to install a water softener, and the representative called right back and said, “I’m actually in your neighborhood and just done with an appointment, I could come over and do the estimate right now if it’s convenient for you.” A couple of months ago I would have needed at least a day’s notice, but I opened the door to him just moments later. My kitchen sink was still shining from the night before, the floor had been swept that morning and the scent of the soap I use to Swish and Swipe was still hanging in the air as I’d just done the downstairs bathroom a few minutes before the representative called.  When he came in, he looked around and said, “You have a lovely home.” I have never had a lovely home before. I was calm and able to focus 100% on the estimate because I wasn’t worrying about what this man might think of me and my dirty floors and dishes piled on the counter.

I’ve also come to realize that I do deserve to have a sanitary kitchen to cook in, a sparkling bathroom to get ready for my day in, neat and tidy clothes hanging in my closet, and uncluttered rooms to live in. I really do. It took me many, many babyest-of-babysteps to figure that out, and I could not have gotten here on my own. Thank you from the bottom of my heart, for saving my home, my sanity, and maybe even my marriage.

Finally Loving Myself in Washington State

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