The woman behind the curtain

I am going to tell you something now about myself. Maybe it will help one or two of you, and the rest can either read in horrified fascination or click to someplace prettier. It doesn't make me proud, and I've been hiding it for a long time, or just passing it off as laziness, but I'm beginning to realize it's more than just a casual problem. And that it hurts my life, and I want that to stop.

I'm messy. I always thought it was just laziness, or lack of knowledge of how to organize/clean, or just a symptom of my vertical filing (I put things in piles, and forget I own things if they're put away out of sight). But the older I get, the more difficult it gets, not less. And the more it hurts me, both by wasting so much time and energy looking for things or just navigating around the crap in my house or feeling bad about my apartment, or by making me feel like a failure because I can't seem to maintain a system of keeping things tidy and organized.

But I've been watching a lot of the TV show "Hoarders," and I've realized that a) people who are hoarders have an illness or brain condition, and b) I have that brain condition to a lesser degree. Yes, thankfully, it's definitely to a lesser degree: I'd never keep garbage, and I have no problems throwing things away, and things don't all hold memories for me.

But the basics–an inability to really get on top of system of organizing that works, or to maintain a system of neatness, or to keep on top of all the chores that need to be done–that's me. And it's always been me, for as long as I can remember. It's gotten worse since I had kids, just because I have more stuff to deal with, but it was like this before I had them, too.

I know for sure that it gets worse when I feel bad. The last few years of my marriage were buried under clutter so I could hide in plain sight. But even when I'm feeling good, it's very either/or. Either I can focus all my energy and attention on purging/organizing/cleaning, or I can have a "normal" life that involves works and kids and making meals and having friends, etc. but gives me a messy house.

So I had this epiphany the other day that I'm never going to be cured. There's no grand realization I'm going to have that will switch my brain around. No book I can buy that's going to put the secret inside me. No amount of shame or guilt or self-esteem or pride that will make this go away.

instead, I'm looking at it like a brain disorder, or a chronic illness that I can manage but not cure. I've decided to work on setting up systems to scaffold myself so that I can maintain the best brain health possible *for me* for housekeeping. I've decided to use Lent as the timeframe to make these changes to help scaffold myself. (Lent, for those of you who don't celebrate it, runs from Ash Wednesday–February 17 this year–through Easter, which is April 4 this year, and is a time of reflection and self-discipline in preparation to celebrate the death and resurrection of Jesus.)

These are the things I'm going to do to help myself manage this:

1. Pray about it. If you don't pray, just skip right on to #2. If you do pray, maybe you're like me and you do a good job praying for other people, but not for yourself. I'm trying to pray for myself for this issue. Not with any specific goal ("Make me less messy!"), but just that I can let this process happen, and that whatever's supposed to open up for me will open up.

2. Stop hiding it. You're only as sick as your secrets. If I admit this and can ask for people's help or understanding, I'll be able to get rid of a lot of shame. And even if I never get any better at managing this, losing the shame will make my life way better.

3. Ask for help. A friend who loves organizing asked me if I'd let her help me get my place organized. I was too embarrassed to take her up on it, but I decided to follow my step #2 and ask her to help me. She was delighted, and we're supposed to do it in a few days.

4. Give myself limits. I got brave enough to let a cleaner come and look at my place and make a plan to come clean for me every other week. The magic there isn't that she's going to make everything better. Instead, it means that I'm only going to be allowed to drift for two weeks before I have to make things presentable enough for her to come clean. In two weeks nothing is going to get so bad or so chaotic that I can't push through it. Two weeks is the limit.

5. Document my progress (or lack thereof). I'm going to track some milestones, and I might even take a few pictures.


Comments of horror or self-recognition? I'm about to hit "Save" even though it's scaring me…

98 thoughts on “The woman behind the curtain”

  1. Hi, I don’t usually comment but felt compelled to do so because, well, I have so been there. I am incredibly organized in every other facet of my life but I had a hell of time getting my home organized. And it made me feel just terrible. BUT! I got a housekeeper and it created exactly the structure I needed. I know that I need to pick up and get organized enough each week so that my cleaning person can do her job. My life is so much better now that I made this change. No more guilt! I feel peaceful at home! I hope it works for you. Best wishes.

  2. I find that if I hire someone to come clean every other week (only $65 for me and our major financial splurge) it keeps us tidy. We have a big clean up night before she comes and the kids have been told that she’ll vacuum up anything they leave on the floor. Every darn piece of lego must be cleaned up- and is. We toss magazines we’ve read and put away books. I think I’m ashamed to let her see this place in its usual state so we work hard so she can work hard. I’ve wondered if I could pay myself the $65 but I doubt it would work.

  3. ME TOO! I saw a post the other day in which someone posted a picture of their “messy” pantry, and it just made me hang my head, because it looked so much better than the horror show that greets you when you open my pantry door. My coat closet is unusable–it is jammed full of crap, and I just call it “The Closet of Doom.” I’m always going to deal with it next week, but next week never rolls around. There is always laundry scattered around the whole house, my kitchen counters never stay clear for more than 24 hours, and we have BOXES of paperwork just sitting around the house. We’ve had a giant sheet of plywood on our landing for TWO AND A HALF YEARS. I’ve also wondered what was wrong with me, and had come to the conclusion that I was just plain lazy. Your way of looking at this is so much kinder, Moxie.

  4. I don’t think hating to clean is a pathology, seriously. I’m more like you than not (without seeing pictures I can’t say), and I don’t think it’s a pathological brain disorder–I think I just HATE housework with every fiber of my being and feel oppressed when that’s how I’m spending my time. Women tend to buy into this thing that somehow we’re supposed to LOVE housework and a good woman keeps her house tidy anf feels personally fulfilled by making that happen. F— that, no one judges men for the same thing, and if it’s a married man it’s always “His wife must be a horrible housekeeper” not “He must be a horrible slob.”Which adds another point –I struggle with organization too, but I was better when I lived alone, because with being married to a slobby man who makes me look like Miss Clean Desk America and having two kids who are too young to do too much more than put their things away, it feels like swimming against the tide. Cannot tell you how often I figure out a good system, show my husband and not a week later there’s stuff where it shouldn’t go and the system is so far messed up I can’t even remember what goes where and have to start all over.
    We’ve figured out systems that work –we both have ADD and so writing things down and having a place where certain things always go have been key for us. Another thing (should you decide not to go the cleaner route) is that we’ve instituted Friday Night Housecleaning, It doesn’t feel so much like it’s cutting into “our time” that way like it did when we’d clean on the weekends–and so nice to head into the weekend with those chores already done.

  5. Thanks for sharing that Moxie. Believe me when I say I know how difficult it is to admit to something so painful and shaming. It is all part of the recovery process. Or at least the ‘being able to deal with it’ process.

  6. Oh honey…you are not alone. You think that this is going to change our opinion of you??? Of course not…the big revelation is that you are not perfect and struggle with this–why would that ever change how we feel about you. I find that the problem is perfectionism (and laziness, procrastination). I do not know how to quickly pick up. It takes me hours to get things perfect, and then it is a long (or short) period of things deteriorating until I can’t take it, and then I will do the big organize. I and my husband and children are the same…my 2yo seems to maybe please G-d have some natural inclinations towards cleanliness–maybe she will be our savior. It is such a struggle, perhaps the biggest single most source of stress in my life, which is so so dumb. And i worry what it does to my kids, and when they will be embarassed to have friends over. I do have a lot of company, so a lot of times things are shoved in corners, and my room is a dumping ground. I like to tell people that i leave the bar low so other people don’t feel like they have to live up to perfection.But seriously, Moxie, this is NOTHING to be ashamed of, and I cannot imagine a single person changing their opinion of you. I don’t think you ever advertised yourself as perfect. I find it inspiring that you are committed to working on yourself. I wish you only the best of luck.

  7. I am glad you’re doing something to make yourself happier. And I like the Lentan frame – who knows how you will change or grow through the process. I am generally messy and pretty OK with it. I still clean up for visitors. And that’s OK – I think cleaning for the cleaner always bring up that you’re picking up. The cleaner is cleaning. Messy is not (usually) dirty.And I don’t know how messy you feel or how messy you are. My reaction was that I hope the changes you make make you happier. I will say when I visit a very neat person and she says she can’t relax or sleep unless the house is clean…I think she doesn’t seem happy – maybe even on that mental disorder continuum that you are placing yourself. When we sold our old house I kept it perfectly neat for 3 months or so. It took me an extra 15 hours a week I’d guess, of cleaning. I was a SAHM – I just took the hours away from fun and enriching things. And TV 🙂 And I hated it. The house was ready at a moment’s notice and the constant picking up did become more habitual. But I wasn’t happier.

  8. I struggle with clutter and organization (and cleaning) myself. One thing I do to keep myself from getting too bad is to invite people to dinner every few weeks. It forces me to pick up the place a little and do minor housekeeping that I should be doing anyway: really wiping the countertops, sweeping & mopping the floor, running the vacuum, etc. My in-laws are especially good invitees because although my mother-in-law has never said anything I feel the need to make her think I keep a somewhat clean and organized house.It is sorta like your idea to hire a house cleaner — except that my splurge is one day/week of daycare for my daughter and I don’t think we could afford both luxuries right now!

  9. Self-recognition. Galore. I don’t usually comment, but I feel exactly the same way. And I come by it honestly – I could definitely see my parents on that Hoarders show at some point, and I say that in total seriousness. It causes discord between me and my husband, too, who comes from different background with little clutter and a lot of elbow grease.Good for you for taking steps to deal with this! I like the idea of likening it to a chronic illness, I’m going to adopt that. Please keep us updated

  10. 1000% with you and can’t wait to read the comments.Can’t watch Hoarders. Too close to home (though like you–no prob with garbage, and I do keep enough floor for kids to stampede). But I have a purger husband and I know he despairs, and frequently.
    Thanks for the inspiration to join you in the effort to change.

  11. I used to have a boss that would always say to focus and grow what you’re good at, and manage all the rest. So, in your case, Moxie, I think it makes total sense to look at keeping clutter at bay as something to manage, not something to perfect. And to focus, as you are, on growing and perfecting the things you are good at and love to do.Clutter is a constant battle in our house for a variety of reasons. Our main issue is time. And the fact that I have a different tolerance level (lower) for clutter than my DH does (higher). Which means that I’ll more likely spend some free time in the evening straightening something up, and he’ll more likely spend some free time in the evening cooking or on the computer.
    Since DS has been born, it’s been painfully obvious that not everything in our home has a spot, or a spot that’s easy to access. My motivation to do this clean up/organization is high, and once I get started, I tend to like to spend hours doing it. Which, is why not much has gotten done. Still having a hard time to adjusting to doing a large project in very small increments over time. It’s against my natural way of working, but it’s my only choice right now.
    Of course, if I’m honest, the other thing impeding progress is that for me it has to look nice. Organized and ugly or unsightly is almost as bad as messy for me. It’s still visual clutter to my eyes if it doesn’t look good.
    All that being said, it really is a rollercoaster with us. Sometimes, main living area is a complete disaster. Just no energy to spend more time cleaning up toys etc. Other times, we tidy up at least daily and make sure the kitchen counters are clean & clear at the end of each day.
    Part of our downward spiral is linked to our after daycare/work schedule. By the time all chores (just the ones related to prepping for the next day & dog walking) and parenting tasks (i.e. betime routine) are done, we usually sit down to eat at 8:30 or 9pm on average. I go to bed at 10pm. So after we eat, that gives us exactly about 1/2 – 1 hour of time. Most of the time, I don’t want to spend the only free 1/2 hour I have washing dishes/cleaning the kitchen.
    We’re slowly getting better at the nighttime routine, but I’m giving us a break until DS is sleeping through the night consistently. And once he gets a bit older, you can bet that cleaning up will become a family affair.

  12. I’m the person who gave the wipe out a dirty sink with toilet paper and water if you don’t have time to grab a bucket of cleaning supplies advice. No judging here. Facing fear is huge no matter what the issue. It’s to be commended, imo.

  13. The every other week cleaning lady has been my savior. Seriously. Another thing I’ve done is make a conscious effort to just let go of the shame. This is how I am, my house may look better or worse from time to time, but this is how I am.The other thing I’ve seen along these lines is do to “40 bags in 40 days” of Lent. The goal is to give or throw away 40 bags, one day for every day of Lent.
    Mostly, I think your number 1 is what I need to work on. It’s too easy to only ask for others’ needs.

  14. I’m a continually reforming messie! I’ve actually made lots of progress over the last 15 years and am mostly happy with how I handle stuff–way far from perfect, but usually ‘good enough.’ What helped me a lot was Sandra Felton’s work-I started with “Messie No More.” She herself is a messie, and tackles it from all angles, including spiritual, which was great for me.

  15. My husband and I definitely struggle with this. The last few months have been easier — mostly because we’ve found places for things to go. Coats go on coat-racks, not on chairs. Mail gets sorted right away into trash/keep and the keeps get put on the bill pile or on the fridge to be dealt with or on the mantle if it’s a card.We’re focussing on keeping the public living areas tidy. And we’ve found that it’s unreasonable to require that the things we use daily have to be “put away”. We let them live where we use them, but try to keep the stuff that’s not in everyday use in the homes they truly belong in.

  16. I wonder how much influence our parents’ level of mess or order has on us. I try to keep my house so that I’m not embarrassed if someone drops by. The floors are clear of clutter, but there are papers on tables and the shower may need a scrub. This is how I remember our house being as I was growing up.Two friends of mine, on the other hand, have a much tolerance for clutter and grime in their homes. And, I remember their childhood homes being in the same level of disarray.
    So, how much is it nature and how much is is nurture?

  17. Can I just copy and paste @the milliner’s 2-5 paragraphs? Cause a big DITTO every word there.Our downfall seems to be related (as with everything in our lives) to the amount of sleep we are getting. In other words, we are totally behind on the housework this week, but last week we were on top of it!
    After having the second kiddo, I spent a good part of my maternity leave reorganizing our main living areas. I am a keeper (though not horder by any means), but I need the stuff to all have a spot and look nice in that spot. When the nesting kicked in during my last pregnancy, I realized that all the kid stuff did not have a spot, and that the china and fragile knicknacks should no longer be in the spots they were. I boxed up all the fragile/non-kid friendly stuff and put them in our storage area. Then, I re-organized cabinets and hutches to make spaces for the kids stuff. So the beautiful dining room hutch that had our crystal wine glasses? Now it holds the kids’ arts and craft supplies.
    There are still things that don’t have a spot, or places that gather clutter (which drives me bonkers!), but we are slowly working on it. We both let a lot go when the kids were infants, but now we are mostly feeling ourselves again and working to bring order back to the house.
    One great tip I got was to do a little bit each day/every few days/every week/whatever makes sense to you. I tend towards wanting big chunks of time to do major projects, but now that I’m back at work, I don’t have that luxury. So I tried working on my insanely messy closet a bit over time, and last weekend, I put some shoes away and realized I could finally see the floor in the back of the closet! It worked!
    Anyway, I’m rambling.
    @Moxie – Good for you! I hope that this change in thinking really helps you get to a place where you are happier about your living place. I think it’s awesome that you have a friend who is going to help you out like that. We did the same thing with the house cleaner, and it really REALLY worked (especially for my husband, who historically is not good at picking up/de-cluttering). I can’t wait to hear about your process, and PLEASE share any good tips you get from your friend!

  18. We had this discussion on Moxie’s personal blog one day, I think, about sending someone the contents of your closet or junk drawer and letting that other person figure out what to keep, where to store, etc. What to do with the playing cards, pipe cleaners, shoe polish, book of matches, restaurant take out menus, baggie of catnip that looks strikingly like pot, musical box for a stuffed toy that needs new batteries, ear plugs, etc?I maintain that there are things in our house that go right where they are. I had a friend do my housecleaning once (I’d have her back in a heartbeat if she’d come, but I fear my home is too far gone for her). Anyway, she kept asking me where things go. Things that were on top of the dresser or something, and I would look at her like, it’s where it goes. Apparently, for some people, a stack of baby blankets (clean, folded) does not live on top of the baby’s dresser. Well, then, where does it go? The drawers were full, the shelves of the changing table were full, I didn’t want them in the closet because the closet doors make noise when you open/close them.
    I guess I have a system for organization, but it’s not quite there yet. I’m a work in progress.

  19. @Olivia – I think you make a good point. I know that one of my hot spots is the kitchen counters. When they are cluttered and/or messy, it drives me crazy. My mom was/is the same way. However, my MIL has constant clutter on her counters. There is almost never a free spot, even though she moved into a house with a much larger kitchen a few years ago. So my husband tends to clutter the kitchen counters and it does not bother him at all.Luckily, he knows it drives me crazy and tries to keep a sembalance of clean/cleared for my sack. Or he’s afraid he’s going to come in the kitchen and find me throwing everything on the counter away. Again. hehe.

  20. In my experience, people are bothered by either dirt or clutter. Because I am a librarian, clutter bothers me. My sister-in-lawa teased that my idea of domesticity is putting my books in alphabetical order. I was greatly complimented. That is important.That wonderful friend who wants to organize your house? Pay her to do it once a month.
    Perhaps one of your children will be a clutter-buster.
    Or, just as I am comfortable with dirt, get comfortable with clutter.

  21. A couple thoughts. First of all, good for you. Second of all, I am the same way. My mom finally told me that I needed to make more of an effort to keep my house clean enough so my kids would feel comfortable bringing friends over to play. She grew up in a house where she felt she could never do that because it was SO messy all of the time, and she felt isolated because of that. So that kind of got my butt in gear to at least TRY to tidy every week and make a pass at vacuuming or dusting. I want my house to be the house kids come to after school. I don’t want my boys to be embarrassed because of my mess. I want to create a HOME for them, that is a cozy and comfy place for them to be where they feel safe and nurtured, not overwhelmed by my STUFF. Once it stopped being about me and what I didn’t want to do, and turned it into something I needed to do for my kids, it got a lot easier to stay on top of it. It’s not perfect, the bathrooms don’t get cleaned every week, but it’s neat enough where people can come over and not think “good grief. where am I gonna sit?”Second, I am going to fully endorse those clorox bleach wipes. Expensive, but a quick and easy way to clean a sink without a lot of effort or materials. They also leave the house smelling like you just cleaned even if you haven’t. There are a lot of “inventions” out there like that to make housekeeping/cleaning a bit easier, and I think for those of us who don’t have a lot of time or (any) desire, they are worth their weight in gold.
    I also TRY to focus on one room per day to just sweep through and organize the clutter. Doesn’t always happen, and some rooms like the kitchen and family room really need that to happen every day, but it helps to think about it.
    As for the endless envelopes of things and papers you need but don’t have a space for, I bought a large box that I keep on the shelf in my closet. If it’s a bank statement, or anything else I need to “file” but not necessarily pay or even open, it goes right into the box. If I need to find something later, it’s in one container and I can sort through that container to find it and it’s not piling up on my table. I don’t file. I never will. This is the closest I will come to it and I’m okay with that. At the end of the year (post taxes usually) I will go through it and shred stuff I know I won’t need. I have also been known to throw the whole kit and kaboodle into a bigger box, label it “2005” and put it in the garage though.
    Hey, I’m not perfect.

  22. This is so me! Although I dont’ feel a lot of shame and horror about it. It is what it is. I’m nothing at all like the hoarders. I just am bad at pile management. When I worked, I had an office people would take pictures of to show “bad filing” or something like that.. But I know where everythning is. So what do I care? :)I’m better since I live with other people now who can’t deal with my piles. But they still grow. Every now and then I plow through them all and come up with a plan for a new “system” and I never follow through. That part is aggravating to me and to my husband, but again, I have only so much time and energy for things.
    Definitely though having a cleaning lady come 2x a month keeps it all in check. When I was single and too broke for a cleaning lady, I would invite one of my friends down for the weekend and that would force me to clean up.
    I think you canjust accept that you’re not an anal organizer. That’s fine. Does anyone care if you have piles of mail on your table? no. They care if you’re a nice person, a good mom, a caring friend. Don’t let your piles get you down.

  23. We have been purging like crazy for maybe a year now, and for the longest time we were in worse-before-it-gets-better land, and then we spent a lot of time in I-know-it’s-better-but-it-doesn’t-look-any-different land, and now, bit by bit, room-by–room, some things are starting to improve.The big motivator for me is that *I* am uncomfortable around clutter, and a tidy space makes me all kinds of happy. So once a space is organized, it makes me feel better to keep it that way. But I need to remind myself of that, because I care a lot more about clean than I do about tidy, and it’s awfully easy to tell myself I’ll just put this one little thing here, where it doesn’t belong, and deal with it later, and three years later, Look! That Netflix movie I couldn’t find.
    Even though the purging didn’t help for a long time, it is helping a lot now as we work on keeping things organized.

  24. “The rest can either read in horrified fascination or click to someplace prettier” … @Moxie, I totally thought you were about to admit to keeping dead hookers in storage or something. Relieved to hear it’s just that you’re messy. That’s all? To this reader, it’s so not a big deal nor anything I would ever, ever judge a woman for. Even a “hoarder.” I could never watch the show – I felt it was shaming.I hear you that this is something that makes you feel a lot of shame. I’m glad you can put words to that, and applaud you for putting it out there.
    Now go back and read what @AmyinMotown said, first paragraph, at 8:26am. This is a gendered issue, big time. Please take a moment to reflect on that.

  25. OMG, I just went to the Hoarders web site and thought I’d check out an episode and now I feel a panic attack coming on.I looked up from the computer and all I can see is piles of stuff everywhere, toys strewn over the living room floor, boxes stacked in a corner.
    I had to stop the video, one that focuses on two situations where children were involved, because I don’t know whether to cry or vomit. What the hell am I going to do about this?! How does one even begin to tackle the problem? I feel like an addict desperate that someone’s going to see a track mark on my arm.

  26. You are me. In my case, I know that some of it is a true lack of knowledge about how to be organized, and maybe even some of it is laziness (I am SO lazy), but I also know that the people I didn’t learn it from are my parents and what if it’s hereditary? And what do I do about it? I hang on to some things because I am overly sentimental and some things because I don’t know what to do with them. I am trying really hard to get a handle on it but our apartment is too small for me to sort things and also too small for me to properly organize, PLUS I have two small children who are here with me at all times. It’s so beyond frustrating and I end up mad at myself a lot. Or worse, I become furious with my husband for also being messy.

  27. OK, I got it under control. I talked to my husband and we have a plan: de-clutter. I’m going to start by just filling bags and boxes up and when I am done, there is a junk removal biz here that will pick stuff up and dispose of it at a rate of $2 a bag/boxI’m going to load an mp3 player up and see what I can do in the next little while.
    I still have this panicky feeling in my chest, tho.

  28. Oh, honey, I am right there with you, and you’ve really touched a nerve with this one.My house is a disaster a fair bit of the time. With 2 teenagers an 18 month old and an almost 3 year old, it’s never really “clean”. Well, it’s clean, nobody’s going to get sick from living here, and I’ll never be on hoarders, but it’s sure as hell never going to look like a picture in a magazine either. I live in a hundred year old house with absolutely no storage, and all of the kids have so much STUFF. Every vertical surface is always piled with STUFF. Papers, cups, play-dough, my daughters drawings, the teenagers crap, all of which MUST NOT BE TROWN AWAY, but then does get thrown out and 5 minutes later they’re looking for it and they’re pissed. The dishes and sweeping are my older sons responsibilty, but they’re 16 and 17 so that gets done when I get fed up and bitch, which I hate doing. (They’ve also been responsible for their own laundry since their sister was born, thank God!)
    It doesn’t help that like you I have a fairly high tolerance for disorder, and I think it is to a point something you learn as a kid. I’ve had 2 serious relationships founder on the rock of “You’re not as good a housekeeper as my mother, you’re a lazy, messy slob.” Yeah okay, MAYBE I am, but maybe I just can’t keep up, and it’s not like either of them actually helped, they just complained and blamed me while dropping their crap all over the house (because, like their mothers, I should have been following them around and picking it up!). My last partner moved out at the beginning of December, and I’m still finding his dirty socks all over the house. I’ll think I can’t possibly have missed any by now, and, well, crap, there’s another one. You know, considering how much I once loved him, I’m no longer surprised that I don’t miss him at all.
    I despise that double standard, I hate how everyone congratulates men for doing the bare minimum, and condems women if we arn’t Marth friggin Stewart. It’s such blatent effing sexism it makes me insane. (Including my own Mom, for christ sake I grew up in a house that looked like this, where does she get off giving me shit for it!)
    At the moment the house get a superficial picking up and tiding away if my ex is coming to pick up the littles, just so I don’t have to listen to him bitch, which the older kids are totally onside for, and cleaned when they’re at his place and not underfoot.
    I’d give my eye-teeth for someone to come in a really clean even once a month, but with 4 kids and no child-support, that just isn’t going to happen.

  29. Moxie–no judging here, just sympathy. Good for you for sharing. You’re in good company.I’m finding that disorder actually does bother me now, so, like you, I’m trying find systems that will make it better. I like your scaffold analogy. We use those in lots of parts of our lives, there’s nothing wrong with that. We can’t be great at everything!
    Good luck, and go easy on yourself.

  30. ME TOO! I had the situation under control when I had a housekeeper coming every other week but then I let her go to try and save money. And now my house is a disaster area again. It’s never been this bad. Maybe because I have a two year old? I’ve been thinking I need to get the housekeeper back. After reading this I’m even more motivated to do it. I know it will help. Your solutions will help you, too! Every little change will have an effect. You’re doing the exactly right thing.

  31. @me – Good luck! Way to go, coming up with a plan and getting started!@Julie – I love your filing system. That’s one that might actually work for me. My husband files the bills by month, which works way better than filing by type of bill. I’d like to file things, but I need an easier system. Thanks for getting me thinking about easier ways.

  32. Just wanted to chime in with a resounding “Me too!” I started working on the clutter a few weeks ago and it’s going well so far. Once I’ve got the whole house down to the bare minimum, I’ll have to figure out a system to keep me on track with the daily chores that need to be done. It’s hard work! But I feel like by reducing clutter, I am making space for the things that really matter to me. I’m hoping when I’m done, a clean and clear house will help me be more focused.

  33. @caramama, 🙂 Too bad we don’t live in the same city…we could trade off days of babysitting for big chunks of time to tackle organization. And, BTW, we have the same counter battle in our insanely small kitchen. DH needs it all on the counter so he can see it. I prefer as much space as possible, so we can actually work clutter-free prepping meals (not to mention it’s easier on the eyes). And yep, when anyone tells me I should be doing something (that I don’t have time or energy for) my basic reply is “talk to me when I’m sleeping through the night on a regular basis”.I totally agree with the comments that how you keep a house is directly related to the home you lived in. Pretty much everyone I can think of (men & women) keep their homes to the same degree of tidiness & cleanliness that their parents did (with maybe some slight variations for personality type). I imagine that some people also do the exact opposite (in cases of extremes – hoarding or so pristine it’s obsessive). Considering most of us have 20-40+ years of practice living this way, it’s no wonder that it’s something that’s hard to change.
    I always have an ongoing inner battle of feeling like it’s a gender issue (and therefore totally annoying, and not right, and completely enraging. Just because I’m the woman doesn’t mean I should spend more of my free time on housework) and feeling like it’s an issue of different styles between me & DH. My approach recently is to try to pick my battles and separate what is reasonable to expect from someone with a different living style than I have vs. basic respect for someone you live with. So, yes, the glasses need to be put in the designated cabinet so we know where to find them, but no, DH does not need to organize them according to size and shape. If it bugs me, I reorganize them. Splitting stuff down (and letting details go) has helped a bit. And to a certain degree, if I organize it, DH will follow it. Somethings work, some don’t. As long as there is effort all around, can’t complain (too much).

  34. Oh, and I forgot to mention, I am SO teaching my son how to ‘keep’ a home. A gift to my future daughter/son-in-law.All tasks will be covered. Including how to find things you are looking for. What is it with men that can never find anything?

  35. @the milliner – “What is it with men that can never find anything?” Exactly!!!! I just ignore DH whenever he goes there. Such a huge pet peeve of mine!

  36. Oh, crap, am I writing blog posts in my sleep again? Because I could have written this one. You are not alone. I have plastic bags all over the house with countertop clutter I had to sweep off to make room for something (like making dinner) that will likely never, ever get put away. I spent 2 weeks organizing closets, rooms, etc looking for my daughter’s jacket, only to find it was hung up with the dog-walking supplies. *Sigh* Yeah, so much for my wacky, oh too detailed system of putting coats IN THE COAT CLOSET.And I too have totally been watching “Hoarders” but had to stop when it made me too upset (have family members that are what would be considered Level 4 or 5). But it is interesting to reflect as they discuss why they hang on to things and see if any of their reasoning sounds familiar.
    I think it’s very wise to realize that your life will never look like a furniture catalog and decide where to put your energy and emotion. I take a bit of perverse pride in the fact that there is sand all over my house, because it means my daughter is happy and healthy and likes her sandbox. I’ll take it.

  37. Wahooo! I knew we were sisters separated at birth!! This confirms it.I come from a long line of female hoarders. I myself do not hoard… I throw things away with great abandon. But… and this is a BIG but… I only tackle the great “throw things away” projects when I feel like I have the time to do it from start to finish. And as the full time working mother of three I don’t have that kind of time on a regular basis. So things get messy. The project gets bigger. And I put it off b/c who wants to listen to 3 kids whine about being bored while you clean on a pretty day when you could all just go to the zoo instead?
    All of this adds up to a messy house. There is usually laundry waiting to be folded. Mail piled up in the dining room. Shoes scattered at the foot of the stairs. Kitty litter strewn across the bathroom floor. Toothpaste in the sink. I realize none of these are the “big” projects (well, laundry sometimes feels like a “big’ project), but it just all overwhelms me so that the bigger projects (like my 7 yr old daughter’s room–which is a true disgrace) never get touched.
    Seeing the comments above about keeping the kind of house you came from makes a lot of sense to me. Even minor clutter (like Legos scattered under the dining room table) put my husband on edge while I don’t even notice them. I grew up in clutter… my husband didn’t. Thus… the kind of clutter that seems to me like a normal situation for a family with 3 kids is a major source of marital strife for us.
    I wonder if we couldn’t do an organizational “challenge” like you’ve had here before where each week we can check in to address what we’ve done to accomplish our own organizational goals? I’d love to have a team and a cheering squad while I make some changes.

  38. My house is messy. I always joke to my husband that we live in “filth” or “a pit” but really its just clutter and a lack of organization. Its been 5 weeks since I vacummed (no pets!)and longer since I’ve dusted so those are the “filthy” parts of my life. Everything else is just clutter everywhere.I do a haphazard clean of the bathroom every week or so when my parents come by so they aren’t greeted by the snickers bar my husband decided to flush down the toilet that morning (nice visual huh? I get so annoyed at him! Clean the shit out of the shitter when you gross it up!)
    ANYWAY, my point is… like others have said, we work, we take care of children, something has to give. With me its the cleanliness of my home and not time with my kids. My best friend is a fabulous housekeeper and vacumms DAILY. BUT (like others have posted) she also says that it makes her nuts to not have a clean house to the point of not being able to sleep or function if her house is dirty. Every woman I know that works outside the home, feels like her home is chaos b/c we don’t have enough time at home to do much about it. I’m not making excuses but when you’re only home with your kids 3 or 4 hrs before bedtime, do you really want to spend that time dusting? Uh, no.

  39. Sorry, also meant to add that my mother was a work-her-ass-off-cleaning-the-house kind of mom and it made me nuts. She had very high expectations and was always yelling at us about the house. It was spotless. She mopped, vacummed, swept, bleached, cleaned mirrors, dusted, scrubbed toilets DAILY! She still does. Her new home has rusted air conditioning vent covers b/c she bleaches the floor so much. The formica on the counters are worn through from bleach. I always felt the tidiness of her house was the most important thing in her life. Not us.We didn’t do fun art projects or help her cook. No way. Too messy. Be glad your kids don’t feel that way. And PS, boys could give two shits about what the house looks like when their friends come over. My friends weren’t allowed to come over at all. You guessed it, too much mess/work.I’ll stop posting now:)

  40. Yup, yup, yup. I’m pretty sure mine’s related to my depression.. which is otherwise pretty well under control. Fortunately, DH is understanding and willing to vacuum, and I have a new BFF who’s undertaken to help me “find” the dining room table on a fairly regular basis, with the excuse of sewing. Keeping things picked up so there’s room for the toddler to run helps, and so does DH’s hobby of furniture rearrangement (seriously – you’d think he was into feng shui! but he’s not). Still, I have endless bags of kid clothes that need to be gone through and either packed away for future use or taken to a swap…. yeah.Anyway, no one here is alone on this issue!

  41. @Sarcasticarrie, I heart you!@themilliner, yep – but in our house I’m the person who needs to SEE things to be able to use them, and Mr. C likes them put away. We’ve worked it out by defining areas where it’s ok for me to lay things out and areas where it’s not.
    @Moxie, I’m happy you’re changing something that’s bothering you and I have total empathy. And I would still like to have a margarita, an icecream, or a weenie roast with you any time!!! But seriously, a disorder? Bullshit. Don’t let the neat freaks get you down. I bet they are 20% to our 80% but they get defined as the norm in the media (and yes it is totally gendered!) and so we all feel inadequate when we’re just doing our best. I like your approach though – manage it as well as you can, for you, and don’t compare to people who have the neat gene. 🙂

  42. @me…a decluttering strategy I really like is to take 3 boxes (or trash bags, or baskets, whatever) and go into one of your rooms. One of the containers is for trash, one is for giving away and one is for putting away. Declutter until the containers are full. Do what needs to be done, and repeat.I grew up with a mother who did all the housecleaning (I think we all went to college having no idea how to do laundry), and resented the hell out of it. Every now and then, she would blow up and make all of us clean, and we resented the hell out of that. So. I naturally hate housework, but I also hate, hate, hate clutter.
    If I lived alone, I would have a very modern, minimalist living space. For a long time I couldn’t afford a couch in my apartment, and I loved it. Just one big, open room!
    BUT…I don’t live alone. I have a not-so-clean husband. 2 VERY unclean cats. 2 small kids whose mission it is to scatter their stuff around and drop food off of the highchair.
    BUT…I don’t want to spend precious after-work time with my kids cleaning. My solution?
    – Power Clean! Take 5-10 minutes and ZOOM through a room. Clean for the alloted time and stop.
    – Keep public spaces tidy. This means our bedroom often gets the worst of it, which is probably not so conducive to a peaceful night’s sleep, but oh, well.
    – Purge. We have 3-4 charity organizations who come to our house at least once a month for donations. I can *always* find something to put into a bag and stick on my front steps.
    – Invite others over. This is when I do the real cleaning (floor washing, dusting).
    – Share the load! My DH isn’t so great at clutter, but he’s awesome at laundry (better than me). My 4-year-old likes to do laundry, wash dishes, and will help me pick up his toys. The baby is her adorable self.
    – Relax! Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good. A little bit at a time makes for big progress eventually, and doesn’t make me feel like all I do is clean up after other people. My step-mother is OCD about cleaning, and spends a great deal of time during family get-togethers in the kitchen or otherwise tidying up. Yeah, her house is beautiful, but time together is far more important.

  43. Well, as I told you, the main reason my apt is as neat and clean as it is is my husband the clutter-hater. I’m naturally a piler and hoarder (my parents’ basement looks like an episode of Hoarders), he’s a cleaner and thrower-outer (raised by uber neat SAHM), and we balance somehow.The one bit of organizing advice that I always take to heart is that you don’t have to have a perfect, elegant system–you just have to have something that works for you. If a wonderful elaborate system takes you hours every week to maintain, you won’t maintain it. But a system like Julie’s with the big box, that’s easy to keep up with and works well enough that she can find something if she has to? *That* is a good system.
    OK, now I’m feeling motivated to tackle the big teetering pile of paper on top of my file cabinet–thanks!

  44. I’m with you, Moxie. And I ditto half of what everyone else has said. I’ve recently realized that half my problem comes from having too much everything – clothes, kitchen stuff, whatever. I mean, I look at the laundry covering the floor of the laundry room (what? isn’t that where it goes?) and can’t figure out how four people can go through that much stuff in three days. And, of course, we don’t – we have our four days’ worth of “I really like this” clothing and then loads of junk we wear when everything else is dirty that lays on the laundry room floor until everything else is dirty again.So I’ve been working on getting rid of stuff, too. I heard a great suggestion the other day to have a give-away box in your entryway and then make a trip to Goodwill every Saturday – make it a habit. I just created a “get rid of” drawer in the kitchen this week and have high hopes!

  45. Just yesterday in my Moms support group at work (yes a group of 12 of us with kids from 6 mos. to 4 years meets once a week — it ROCKS!) I said that my house had reached an unprecented level of unbearableness. Messy, filled with clutter that makes me dread coming home and really dirty. We had a housekeeper once every three weeks but had to put her in hiatus because we can’t afford it right now.It has overtaken me. Everything I read when becoming a parent said, “let it go” — but honestly it makes me depressed. I have a physcial reaction to clutter but at the same time I’m just too exhausted each night and feel I “deserve” to sit down and veg out and watch TV (love “Men of a Certain Age”). I know there are solutions but I am coming to terms with something else. I am a formerly tidy person who just didn’t like to clean and now I am officially a messy person with a dirty house.
    I don’t like to have people over anymore and that’s starting to hurt my social life.

  46. Interesting data point about cleaning to the level you lived with as a kid. I’m probably a notch below my mom–ok,my bathrooms get cleaned more frequently but there’s more clutter.My husband, however –@Carmen, he was kind of like how you describe your mom, super obsessive clean and everything had to be just so. The first time I met them, the very first words out of my MIL’s mouth were not “hello, nice to meet you” but “SHOES OFF!” Um, hi? I once put an empty beer bottle on a table (after holding it for like 15 minutes looking for a coaster and finding none) and she picked it up, muttered something, scrubbed at imaginary water marks on the table (there were none, I’m not crazy) and this went on for five full minutes.
    My SIL will get out the vacuum and start vacuuming while we’re all sitting there having a conversation. Because there’s one dog hair on the carpet.
    Being gracious and open is MUCH more important than a spic an span house. There’s messy and maybe a little dirty/dusty/hairy–then there is Hoarders. It’s a long road between the two.
    I’ll also add that t seems like the less space, the harder it is to stay tidy. Before my son was born, we had “stash spaces” in the upstairs office, etc. Now every room in the house is used, a lot, and it’s just so much harder to find places for things.

  47. This is SO not as bad as what I was imagining you were going to admit to!I do agree with you – I don’t think this is a moral failing. I think you either have that thing in your head that makes you see mess and always work to get rid of it, or you don’t. I throw things out and declutter all day long. It never even occurs to my husband. Sometimes I think I got the worse end of the deal – nothing is ever clean enough, all I ever see is clutter, I can’t sit down and relax if there’s a pile of stuff I need to deal with or laundry that needs folding.
    BUT I also totally agree – if you put systems in place that work – it makes all the difference in the world. NOT that you’re a dog – but it reminds me of how we yelled at the dog and screamed at the dog and threw things at the dog not to get her to eat trash and NOTHING worked. Then we got a trash can with a lid. Voila! Problem solved.

  48. I do not know any Italian woman who does not have a cleaning fetish! Well, maybe a couple. But my mother’s generation of Italian women spent all day either cooking or cleaning, and that includes both my mum and MIL.Hubby is a tad less obssessive about tidyness than his mother, but once he starts he will literally clean all day. I have certain days for certain chores, but only Th/F/Sa. The rest of the week, I cook, chuck the dishes in the washer, throw some clothes in the washing machine and then spend the rest of the time with the kids (or the internet). I am a SAHM with bigish kids who don’t suck up every momnet of my time (much), so I have quite a bit of time for exercise and other fun things.
    My house is tidy, because both hubby and I have a low tolerance for mess. But probably because most things have a home ( we also have a lot of cupboard space). The house looks clean, becasue we have a no shoe policy and dirt coloured tiles that do not show up food stains, which I’m sure there are. Our pets have two legs, and not very hairy. We don’t have a lot of furniture to collect dust (I’m allergic anyway) either.
    I would say our house does a great job of not showing up the dirt. That and a flexible cleaning schedule and a dust allergy contribute to our place looking relatively spic and span.

  49. Since we’re airing our dirty laundry so to speak…I can deal with some mess but I freak if my personal space is too out of control. Kids rooms, whatever, supposed to be messy but I don’t like to leave the house with my bed unmade. Anyone else actually get comfort from cleaning? I do. It’s physical labor (not back breaking these days but still requires movement) with a great end result. Like most people posting here I just don’t have much spare time and it’s down at the bottom of the priority list but if I get mad, I start at the very minimum straightening and throwing things out and move to scrubbing the bathroom, kitchen and/or laundry depending on which is more in my face with need. Btw, I honestly couldn’t care less about how neat and tidy or not anyone else’s house is.

  50. Moxie, clutter is nothing to be ashamed of! If it is bothering you (or your kids) it is worth fixing, but it is not worth feeling bad about.I fall somewhere in the middle of the clutter/cleaning scale. Like @AmyinMotown, I HATE, HATE, HATE cleaning. But I get a sort of claustrophobic feeling when the clutter gets too bad. Or when my bathroom or kitchen are skanky. So I force myself to do some cleaning to avoid that almost panicky feeling. See? No virtue there. Just self-preservation.
    I am also almost pathologically fond of organizing things and making systems. I am the daughter of a librarian. I have designed databases and been a project manager for a living… it all makes sense, you know?
    I had the good luck to marry a man who is a great implementer, but not so good at making systems. And maybe @the millner and his mother are on the same wavelength, because the man is pretty darn good at cleaning and considers it as much his job as mine.
    Anyway, we eventually recognized that we should play to our strengths, so I do the lion’s share of the “systems making” and he does a little bit more of the actual chores. I do force myself to help out, because no one should have to clean the bathroom every freakin’ time.
    The system that works for us is to have a list of chores that have to get done, and to assign each chore a night. That way we don’t waste mental energy figuring out what to do, and we don’t argue over the fact that I’m the only one who thinks the mess of crumbs and crap under Pumpkin’s chair at the table needs to be swept up every night. It is on the list, so Hubby does it, too.
    I had a long, boring blog post about this awhile back. If anyone wants the details, go search my blog on “housework” and you’ll probably find it. You will think I am disturbingly anal, I promise you. But it works for us, so I can live with that.
    I’ll share my #1 organizational tip, too- fabric bins. Seriously, a bunch of crap piled into bins based on what type of crap it is can be called “organized”. Throw in one of those cubby shelves from Target, and you’ve got yourself a “system”. (This is my approach to toy storage.)
    And I totally agree with @AmyinMotown about small spaces being harder to keep organized. Who knows? If you had a giant house in the suburbs maybe you wouldn’t have any clutter?

  51. I could have written your post.My mom struggled to keep hour home clean. She was constantly wracked with shame around the state of our home. When people would come over she always blamed it on us kids. I was 16 before I realized that this was mostly bullshit. My sister and I would kick our parents out every Saturday morning, turn on Motown and clean the house. Every room sparkled – and our parents undid our work in less than 20 minutes when they returned. Understanding that it wasn’t necessarily all my fault did nothing to undo the damage that taking the blame did all those years did. I still wonder if I would have had an easier time learning the skills it takes to keep a somewhat organized house if this issue hadn’t been so infused with shame.
    DH comes from a family of hoarders. He is the least effected of the group, but sadly we moved into his family home years ago when his parents moved out, and we are still dealing with crap of theirs. The home I grew up in was messy, not dirty. The home he grew up in was fairly filthy and incredibly cluttered, but if he ever felt any shame around it he’s never let on.
    We joke about our “organized fantasy” and try to change our ways. I have books like “How Not to Be a Messy” and “Confessions of an Organized Homemaker” that help me get out of the shame and get a bit more analytical about building skills I missed in my early years. But ever time I fail – which is daily these days – the old shame hits and I spiral a bit.
    I big piece in my recovery was hoeing out the house my parents lived in for 45 years – the one I grew up in. There was just too much to save. I was overwhelming and it seemed like we’d never get through it. I had to prioritize the items I wanted to keep. I am much less sentimental now. That helps, but I still have a long way to go.

  52. Moxie, don’t be too hard on yourself. I think about you and your daily commute when things get chaotic around here. The limited time you get with your kids is worth a little backlog in the cleaning arena, I think.That said, I think I’m a closet slob and don’t want to admit that it’s a problem. We keep things in relative order most of the time around here, but if I get lazy for a few days, I end up with piles of laundry and cluttered paper in places. I bought a bunch of baskets at TJ Maxx recently and organized my kids’ toys, which really helped.
    Still, though, with the space I have, it’s not as organized as it should be… To answer Cloud at 3:43 pm, I think if you’re prone to clutter, it will only be worse if you have more space to clutter up. I have a friend with a teeny tiny house. She has to keep everything tucked away and it’s super clean all of the time as a requirement. So, who knows!

  53. Oh, oh, oh, I have so much to say and no time! Amy in Motown and Hush–what they said re: gendered issue, for sure. I really hope I can stay awake tonight after the girls go down so I can comment at length.

  54. I am firmly convinced that if it’s not under control, it’s because the system is too complicated. It’s not you, it’s your system. Seriously. For example, are coats piled up on the sofa in the living room instead of in the closet? This is not your fault for being too lazy. That extra step of OPENING THE CLOSET DOOR is TOO HARD to do EVERY SINGLE DAY. Put hooks up in your entryway. Your coats will go there and you will put them there. Is paper clutter an issue? It’s because your paper system is too hard. You need a system such that once a piece of paper comes into your hand, it takes less than 30 seconds to process it. If it takes longer than that to file it/note the date on your calendar/put it on your bulletin board/whatever else it won’t get done. Don’t lose hope, and don’t think of this as an unsolvable problem. Break it up into much smaller problems (housework, paper clutter, toys, coats, keys, etc) and tackle one problem at a time. The key is making your system EASY.

  55. I’ve always been slightly freaky about clutter and mess, but am trying to come down to earth because of a two year old who likes to “help.” I don’t particularly enjoy cleaning however (but get a really big charge out of throwing things away), and see a mess much sooner than my husband will. Our solution has been a chore list, like a couple of other posters, and an every other week house cleaner (recently instituted and worth every single penny). This allows me to keep the level of cleanliness that makes me happy and I get to throw things away!Somebody else mentioned the fly lady website and I’ve found that very helpful when I feel like things are getting out of control, I especially like her timer recommendations (basically set a timer for 10 to 15 minutes and when it goes off, you’re done. I find it very helpful to allow me to start a project — usually I don’t like to start unless I know I can finish). I used her more before the house cleaner, but some of her stuff is a little scarely stepford-wifey.

  56. Self-recognition. Utterly, completely. I agree with most everyone who’s commented here. (Paola: What’s up with that Italian cleaning fetish? My mom–who is not Italian, but has many Italian friends–will go over and marvel at how incredibly clean and tidy their houses are. Of course, at least one of them is a spinster with no pets and no children.)I hate how this issue is wrapped up in shame. I hate how my husband blames me, or says things to imply that I am at fault for our messy house, even though he picks up less often, leaves his crap around, and piles stuff that he can’t find a home for on MY DESK. But I also hate cleaning and have a housekeeper who comes (luxury of luxuries) every week. It makes me tired, tense and a little ill thinking about tidying.
    I grew up in a very cluttered but clean house–my mother’s bedroom is more than 50% filled with Tupperware storage containers crammed full of clothing, which she is ashamed of, but not ashamed enough to do anything about. I have a lot of issues about my mother and her anger and shame over housekeeping, and even though I strive to not be like her, I can imagine a scenario of a depressed me screaming at my kids to pick up their Legos.

  57. Hey, I’m a formerly messy person here to say: there is hope!When I was growing up, my Mom wasn’t terribly messy, but not much of a housekeeper either. Our house was medium. My college dorm room on the other hand…well, I usually couldn’t see the floor because of all the clothes. When I lived alone, I had no problem leaving dishes in the sink for days, piling stuff up on the desk, clothes on the floor, etc.
    Then I met Mr. Neat. They guy immediately cleans up after himself, whatever he is doing. He leaves no trail when he goes through a room. Weird. We argued about chores, eventually made a chore chart and I started adjusting, slowly. BUT, I hated every second of tidying up… it was so loathsome to me, even something as simple as putting away a pair of shoes. Still, I tried for lovable Mr. Neat’s sake.
    Then, a revelation during my yoga teacher training: home is a sacred space. This is MY place, my family’s place of rest, refuge, and comfort. It is as sacred as any church. So– and I know this may seem nuts to some of you– I started to see chores as sacred. First, the chore itself can be like a Bhuddist meditation. There’s a famous zen quote: before enlightenment, wash your bowl, after enlightenment, wash your bowl. Second, in doing the chore, your making a comfortable place for yourself– a place you’ll feel more at ease in, so it’s an act of self love. Think about that– by making a nice place for yourself to live, you are respecting and loving yourself. That was huge for me, and helped me stop hating chores so much. This is an especially helpful attitude considering chores NEVER END! Might as well figure out a way to make peace with them.
    Practical tips:
    1. Outsource as much as you can. We have a cleaning lady every other week and, since we don’t have w/d in the house, we send the laundry out. This is HUGE.
    2. It will never be easier to clean later: dishes only get crustier, spills only get stickier, piles only get bigger. Just do it now. We clean up and wash dishes right after dinner (DH pulls his weight and DS already helps clear and put things away– teamwork!). Toys are picked up and put away as soon as we’re done. Desk piles are a constant battle, but I try to attack them before they get too big.
    3. Make a place to land right after work (where you put your keys, charge your phone, stash your purse or wallet, sort the mail; have wastebasket there and toss junkmail immediately). Go to and search “landing strip”.
    4. Set the timer for 15 minutes and do as much as you can. Kids, too (make it a race). Everyone has 15 minutes a day (maybe you even have 15 minutes in the a.m. and 15 minutes after dinner).
    5. Teamwork– everyone who lives in the house has to do chores and pick up after themselves. Make a chore chart if you have to. Great lesson for kids: we’re all in this together!
    My fave site for this stuff is
    A Reformed Clutterbug

  58. Hey, I’m a formerly messy person here to say: there is hope!When I was growing up, my Mom wasn’t terribly messy, but not much of a housekeeper either. Our house was medium. My college dorm room on the other hand…well, I usually couldn’t see the floor because of all the clothes. When I lived alone, I had no problem leaving dishes in the sink for days, piling stuff up on the desk, clothes on the floor, etc.
    Then I met Mr. Neat. They guy immediately cleans up after himself, whatever he is doing. He leaves no trail when he goes through a room. Weird. We argued about chores, eventually made a chore chart and I started adjusting, slowly. BUT, I hated every second of tidying up… it was so loathsome to me, even something as simple as putting away a pair of shoes. Still, I tried for lovable Mr. Neat’s sake.
    Then, a revelation during my yoga teacher training: home is a sacred space. This is MY place, my family’s place of rest, refuge, and comfort. It is as sacred as any church. So– and I know this may seem nuts to some of you– I started to see chores as sacred. First, the chore itself can be like a Bhuddist meditation. There’s a famous zen quote: before enlightenment, wash your bowl, after enlightenment, wash your bowl. Second, in doing the chore, your making a comfortable place for yourself– a place you’ll feel more at ease in, so it’s an act of self love. Think about that– by making a nice place for yourself to live, you are respecting and loving yourself. That was huge for me, and helped me stop hating chores so much. This is an especially helpful attitude considering chores NEVER END! Might as well figure out a way to make peace with them.
    Practical tips:
    1. Outsource as much as you can. We have a cleaning lady every other week and, since we don’t have w/d in the house, we send the laundry out. This is HUGE.
    2. It will never be easier to clean later: dishes only get crustier, spills only get stickier, piles only get bigger. Just do it now. We clean up and wash dishes right after dinner (DH pulls his weight and DS already helps clear and put things away– teamwork!). Toys are picked up and put away as soon as we’re done. Desk piles are a constant battle, but I try to attack them before they get too big.
    3. Make a place to land right after work (where you put your keys, charge your phone, stash your purse or wallet, sort the mail; have wastebasket there and toss junkmail immediately). Go to and search “landing strip”.
    4. Set the timer for 15 minutes and do as much as you can. Kids, too (make it a race). Everyone has 15 minutes a day (maybe you even have 15 minutes in the a.m. and 15 minutes after dinner).
    5. Teamwork– everyone who lives in the house has to do chores and pick up after themselves. Make a chore chart if you have to. Great lesson for kids: we’re all in this together!
    My fave site for this stuff is
    A Reformed Clutterbug

  59. Oh, and Freecycle is great for getting rid of items that you don’t want to go through the hassle of selling, don’t know anyone who needs, and don’t want to end up in a landfill; the things that normally sit there because you feel guilty about trashing. I replaced our nursery rug yesterday, listed the old one on freecycle, and within 5 hours someone came to pick it up and give it a new home. I love the idea of it being out of my house, but not in the landfill!!! I’ve freecycled half used toiletries, pet food, dishes, even hangers; someone out there wants it!

  60. Just wanted to add that one of my friends has issues that run on the opposite end of the spectrum. She waxes her garden hose each Spring. I’m not kidding. She is just as tormented with her housekeeping issues as I am. Possibly more. At least I get to play with my kid while I’m ignoring my home.

  61. I feel as though you turned a mirror on my life, Moxie. Thank you for helping me come to grips with my own “illness” – maybe now I can get help!

  62. I completely understand. Also I have beat myself up for a long time about this. I go berserk when company is coming and I must make the house presentable, which makes having company less fun, which is a real shame. I found having the house cleaners come every two weeks was an excellent solution for the same reason – I have to clean up before they arrive! Sometimes I find myself cursing them because it is so stressful to have them come – but if they didn’t I would be trapped under my own disaster. So good luck, you are not alone, and the house cleaners will help!!

  63. I was trying to tidy one Sunday and my son said, “Who’s coming over”. After I stopped laughing I realized that we just weren’t keeping control of the mess. Hiring an every other week cleaning person has made a HUGE difference. Watching Hoarders has helped. I’m trying to also work on acceptance that I’ll never live up to my mother’s standards.

  64. Oh Moxie – I am honestly relieved to read more about your humanity. You always offer such spot-on, wonderful advice that although I’ve read your posts where you’ve shared your doubts and concerns, those pale against your wisdom and kindness. So it’s great to read you’re messy, though not great to read that you feel shame over it. I am by inclination a neat freak, who has struggled to get over it for many years so that I could enjoy guests rather than making them cringe whilst I shove a coaster under their drinks. 🙂 Yes, that was me – I meant no harm and didn’t growl at guests but I really couldn’t help myself. I become seriously negative when my house gets too dirty or cluttered so we sacrifice to have a housekeeper come every other week. I used to spend an entire Saturday cleaning my house – much of it with a toothbrush (like the kitchen floor…) so don’t wish for that gene, either! Everything in moderation – I now strive for generally tidy and fairly clean and remember how much more important it is to spend time with my lovely daughter and husband rather than cleaning, which never made me happy at all.

  65. i hate ‘hoarders’ because i think the show sets them up for fave is ‘clean sweep’! ok, partly for the hunky carpenter, but i love the system of trash, sell (or goodwill), keep, and then a second hard ruthless run through the keep pile.
    and i so so agree with making systems simple enough to actually use. i have the same perfectionist therefore can’t do it now because i don’t have time to do it right so fuck it, what’s on tv? thing. at least i know that now & can work with what makes sense for me. and now, moxie, so do you!

  66. Wow, it is SO NICE to know I’m not alone. There were a lot of things my mother did not clean. Our house was bad, like, I don’t want to talk about it bad, a lot of the time. As a result, I didn’t really know HOW to keep a house clean. I did know a lot of the component parts: wash a dish, do laundry, vacuum… but I didn’t know how to make it a cohesive whole. When someone would say “I have to clean the bathroom” I would feel defeated and left out because I didn’t know HOW to clean a whole bathroom.I have since come to understand that the cohesive whole is just a bunch of smaller steps, most of which I do, in fact, know how to do. I can wipe a sink, scrub a toilet, clean a mirror, sweep a floor. There are some things, though, that still feel foreign to me. Mopping, for instance. I have learned how to do it, but I feel uncertain about it and, sort of, I don’t know… like I’m faking it somehow. Doesn’t make much sense.
    Also? Dusting. To this day, I don’t really know what that means and I don’t do it.
    My house is not like my mom’s was. I do maintain a certain level of cleanliness, but I feel a lot of shame about what I don’t know how to cope with, and some of what I do know but just don’t have the energy/time/will for.
    And now that we’re living in a smaller house, with almost no storage space, clutter has become a huge issue. It didn’t used to be; I don’t think I’m a natural clutterer when I have storage space. I do hang on to things – photographs, mementos, etc., but I like to have them be artful rather than a jumbled mess. I really need some organizing help in this house, so that someone figures out where everything should go and tells me. The toys, the art supplies, the paperwork – none of it has a good system right now, and after 8 months or so, I’m coming to see that I am not going to come up with one.
    I would also love a biweekly housecleaner to keep things manageable and handle the dusting/mopping category of chores that freak me out, but money is definitely an object.
    Anyway, thanks, Moxie for the topic, and thanks everyone for creating an environment where we can come out of the (overstuffed) closet about this!

  67. My mom is a hoarder; my dad was an enabler, and one of the (many) reasons I’m 38 and childless is that I have refused to inflict that pain on another generation. I spent my 20’s and much of my 30’s reading de-cluttering and organization books thinking/hoping that if I could just find a “system” that would work, everything would fall into place in a way that would make me finally able to keep up with the tasks of daily living and organization that seem so much easier for everyone else. And thus finally ready to have kids. But that time has not yet come, and I know it may never.(And by that I mean that other people seem to be able to do them and still have time for a child. I can barely keep up with taking care of myself.)
    Despite the fact that I haven’t found a magical cure, I have developed some habits over the years that have largely kept my primary living space presentable to visitors, and this is a huge accomplishment for me — when I was a kid, we NEVER never never had visitors over. Too much mess, too much shame about the mess. For me, sharing my truth with others has been a key to getting better and developing new habits.
    A few tips I have found useful or habits I have been able to develop over the years:
    * Make the bed first thing. I went 37 years without regularly making my bed, but last year I picked up a habit I first saw my college roommate do: since she first had her own bed, she has made her bed as soon as her feet hit the bedroom floor after waking, before she goes to the bathroom or brushes her teeth or anything. For me, just that one thing has totally reframed my relationship with my living space. Now, the only time my bed is not made every day is when I’m dangerously depressed, and it has become an important warning sign as well as one simple thing I can do each day to love myself.
    * For me, one key to battling clutter has been acquiring much, much less stuff. I try not to buy things I can’t pay cash for. I try to go for days and even weeks without buying anything except food, toilet paper, kleenex, and Clorox wipes. It has forced me to make do with what I have, and I have much more stuff than I usually remember having (much of which goes unused b/c it is buried under other stuff.)
    * When decluttering, the most important tip I have in my arsenal (which I think I got from Sandra Felton’s Messie series) is this: KEEP ONLY WHAT IS BEAUTIFUL OR USEFUL. That’s it. If you’re deciding whether to keep something, just ask, is this thing beautiful? Is it useful to me? If you answer “No” to both, get rid of it. (Gotta be disciplined on the “useful” thing…not maybe someday it will be useful, but is it actually useful NOW?)
    * Barriers to the above for me: sentimentality and not wanting to throw out things that still “work”. (Like, no, it’s not beautiful or useful to me, but it reminds me of my first boyfriend/dad/trip to Ireland. Or no, it’s not beautiful or useful to me, but it still works and it cost a lot so I hate to throw it out.)
    *Helpful to overcoming sentimentality barrier: Take a digital picture of the thing. Type in electronic journal the memories attached to the thing, and embed the picture in the journal entry. Then get rid of the thing!!
    * Helpful to overcoming “but it was expensive/it still works” barrier: Freecycle, Goodwill, recycling.
    I have the hardest time with the second one. I have a couple of big boxes of “someday I ought to have a tag sale” stuff. I hate getting rid of stuff I’ve wasted a lot of money on but never use. It’s part stubbornness. But being aware of how much money I’ve wasted helps me not keep acquiring more shit.
    A friend of mine who has kids who also struggled with being raised by a hoarder mom has developed an ironclad rule for her two kids and small apartment that really works for her — if something new comes in, something must go out. It’s simply the only way she can survive with limited space without getting buried in stuff that no one could possibly keep organized. So if her son gets two new pairs of pants, two other pieces of clothing have to go. If her daughter gets a new toy, one of her toys has to go. (They all go to Goodwill or another charity.) She says it helps not only with clutter, but with keeping her kids focused on how lucky they are to have all that they have, and to develop good de-cluttering habits themselves.
    I’d love it if we could share our organization/decluttering experiences here as you go through your journey.
    Thank you so much for your courage in sharing your experience.

  68. Oh my goodness. Every word of your explanation is something I could have written – our messy tendencies are so similar. So, your approach to working on it and potential solutions are very interesting to me – thanks for posting.

  69. THIS–> “But even when I’m feeling good, it’s very either/or. Either I can focus all my energy and attention on purging/organizing/cleaning, or I can have a “normal” life that involves works and kids and making meals and having friends, etc. but gives me a messy house.”oh, moxie, i’ve always known you and i are kin. i’ll cut you the slack i don’t cut myself and say that some day when we’re old and gray we’ll be happy we had the latter vs. the former. clean houses and organized stuff be damned- i need the fun stuff to lighten up all the heavy.
    agreed that we feel better when we have cleaned and purged out whatever space but honestly it just gets all cluttered up in a day or two anyway. part of me doesn’t care anymore. part of me cares enough to not want to turn into a hoarders episode waiting to happen. part of me cares very much but the reality of our life right now makes it impossible to keep up with it all anyway.
    love you, love your self-reflection, and i know you will make progress here just as you always do in the spaces you need to. glad i had the time to check in and see how you all are doing. i cut way back on online time at the beginning of the year, but i miss this place and all of you so much! a good and productive lenten journey to all of you on it!

  70. This is really common. I’m messy too. In fact when my daughter was between 1-3 my apartment seriously approached squalor at times.I don’t know how useful it is to be invested in the idea of having a sickness. I’ve come a long long way looking at this issue like a skills deficiency, and doggedly pursuing housekeeping skills the way others pursue academic degrees.
    Flylady helped, as did a strange book I got free from LLL (it was being thrown out from their library!) called Confessions of an Organized Housewife or something lame like that. It was chock full, chock FULL I tell you, of practical tips to be more efficient with space and time. I use knowledge from that book every day.
    My house looks crappy sometimes but on average it looks 100x better than it used to, and that is because I finally internalized the idea that I have to be doing little maintenance crap ALL THE TIME but that once it’s habit to do that crap, it takes less and less energy (physical and mental) to do.
    You CAN have a clean house and it really helps the mental health in my experience. You CAN do it. If I can, anyone can. I recommend reading through Flylady’s (unfortunately schmaltz-filled) website, discarding the schmaltz + anything that doesn’t sit right with you, and trying to put her main ideas into practice. (Forget subscribing to her weblist, they send a million messages a day – it’s just more clutter!). Look at it like a job or an academic class, suss out the main points, put them into action as if you were going to be graded on it.
    You will backslide. Try again.
    Try again.
    Try again.
    It will stick.
    These things are harder for some than others but unless you are really at the Hoarders level (and maybe, even then) I don’t think it rises to the level of brain disorder. At any rate, I don’t think that paradigm is helpful. If it *helps* you in a real practical sense to frame it that way, so be it, but otherwise, I recommend tackling this from a problem-solving perspective.

  71. I’m the same, only I’m the exact opposite. (Wait, there’s some logic coming.) I didn’t take the time to read all the comments to see if anyone else is like me, but I have serious, serious control issues around having a clean, tidy house. If my house is messy, my whole life feels messy. My emotions get out of control, I become irrational and crazy . . . it’s Not Good At All.So as I said, the same, but opposite. The worse I feel, the more in control of my mess–and I use that term very broadly–I need to be. On the surface, my life ran like a well-oiled machine right after my husband died. I cooked meals from scratch, worked full time, took care of my baby twins, kept a spotless house . . . but all because I needed so, so badly to exert control over my life.
    Since getting over some big grief hurdles and making my life calmer and happier, my house has gotten messier. For me, it’s a good thing. But I feel that urge to clean to get control all the time. If I start to get irritated about something the kids are doing, one of my knee-jerk reactions is to start straightening up any “mess” I can find and forcing Maddie and Riley to help me.
    I’m totally rambling here, but what I want to say is yay, you for recognizing your particular flavor of problem and taking steps to make your life healthier. It’s one thing to want your house to be less messy. It’s another thing entirely to realize that the messy is a symptom of something bigger and be willing to take that on.
    Peace to you, Moxie.

  72. Getting a housekeeper was an absolute must for the health of my marriage. My husband is a piler, like you are, and I am organized, but am not good at keeping things clean (toilets, the oven, the shower pan, etc.). Between the two of us our place would have turned into a dump if not for the bi-weekly housekeeper visit. It does force us both to put things away, get rid of crap we don’t need, and prohibits us from letting piles sit around for too long. We have to tidy up before the ladies come, and after they’ve left, I love that our house feels really and truly *clean*. Not just neat but clean. And now that we’ve had 2 kids in 2 years, it’s that much more important to our physical and mental well-being.I think you’re brave to face into the wind and surrender to the truth that the clutter is not doing you any good. That’s half the battle right there. Way to go!

  73. It is so heartening to hear how not alone I am in this! Moxie, thank you for once again rallying us with your thoughts and plans. Best of luck with your next steps! Hope you get some quick successes along the way.I saw a bumper sticker once with something like “More fun, less stuff” or something like that, and I am still trying to act on it ;>

  74. Moxie, don’t forget one important aspect of your situation: you live in what I assume to be a tiny (by American standards) apartment with two kids.(I assume it is tiny, at any rate, because you live in NYC, which must be like Paris or maybe worse in that 500-600 square feet — 50-60 square meters — is normal to generous for a family of three.)
    I am more like the neat/control freaks that have commented above (amen, Snickollet!), but I’ve had to let a lot of that go. A LOT. For my sanity and for my husband’s. Because not only we’re now three in a 60 square meter 2-bedroom apartment, but we’re crazy enough to try and fit six bookshelves of double-shelved books and a floor loom (yes, you read that correctly) into our living space. Add in toddler toys and clothing, and all the constant reorganizing and putting away I do feels for naught, most days.
    I dream of the day we move farther out into the suburbs and buy a house, even a small one, or at least a bigger apartment.
    My only point is that if your ideal doesn’t fit your current situation, you may be inclined to just give up. Or beat yourself up more than you deserve. I keep reminding myself that good enough really is just that, for now.

  75. One of my problems in letting go of stuff is my tendency to think, “Well, we might want this if [perfectly reasonable scenario].” When I was ditching stuff, I made my think, “If we found ourselves in a situation in which this would be useful, what could we use/do instead?”For me, Freecycle has two benefits:
    (1) People take away our clutter (I was going to call it stuff, but in our house, it counts as clutter), and
    (2)I know that if I give something away and later wish I had it, I can probably get one free.

  76. @mom2boys, you’re not alone. I’m exactly the same way. Though I do get resentful when I get no help with the basics and that turns something I generally like into drudgery.

  77. Thanks, BlueBirdMama. I like the meditative attitude shift: I’m hoping it’ll help me get over the occasional resentment (justified or not) that I am the only person who will pick up on a regular basis.(And I am somewhat relieved to hear that having a cleaning person inspires/forces messy people to be tidier instead of enabling the messiness, ie why pick up my stuff if someone else will do it? Which is one of my fears for myself and my children.)

  78. I didn’t read all the comments (I’m in minute 39 of 1 month old’s annoyingly short 45 minute naps plus 2 year old still needs breakfast) and I’m sure others have said this, but a cleaning service every 2 weeks really works. We used to be messy and have clutter everywhere and did not clean the house as well or as often as it needed it.The cleaning service was initially intended for the cleaning – tubs, showers, floors, etc. – but the bonus side effect I didn’t realize would happen is that it forces us to tidy up and put stuff away every second week before they come. Our house is so much tidier.
    Also we’re moving in a couple weeks, and putting the house up for sale also triggered a major purge of clutter. Plus I’m not moving all this crap, I know I’ll get rid of more.
    Good luck Moxie. And anyone else with this problem. If you can afford a bi-weekly cleaning service, DO IT.

  79. Thanks for being (characteristically) brave enough to share about what is so personal for you and yet what so many of us are also struggling with. It helps so much to know I’m not the only one.I, too, recently have been having brief confrontations with my own shame on this issue. I, also, have recently begun to think I may have this disorder to a slight degree. I have piles and piles, boxes even, of mail, some of it years old, because (as I claim) I don’t have time/energy to process it. I’m pretty good at grabbing and dealing with regular bills before they get buried, but some important things do get lost in the shuffle. (I also have trouble deleting photos, videos, and text messages, even though I have saved copies of all but this last category.)
    I’m not sure I’m ready to use your post as inspiration to get organized, but I will use it as permission to try to accept this about myself as something to be managed, but not eradicated. And, I’m going to try to stop comparing myself to my mother, who somehow managed to keep a clean house despite working full time and raising 2 kids. I’m not her and that’s okay.
    So thanks, Moxie, and best wishes in your efforts to improve your situation.

  80. I don’t think you have some kind of hoarding spectrum mental disorder, Moxie. I think you watched some bad tv, and it triggered shame in you that lots of us carry around, because we are women and mothers and perhaps single in this patriarchal society, with its unrealistic and unfair set of expectations.I do wonder if you might be depressed.
    I hope you continue to search within yourself and your past until you find the answer.

  81. Yes, the cleaning lady forces this I’d-rather-do-ANYTHING-than-clean mom of two to at least straighten up every two weeks. She does what she can and avoids my inevitable piles. Having friends over regularly used to help also, but the kid thing squashed that. Oh well, my (two year old) daughter seems to have some neat-nick qualities…Maybe she’ll get things under control!

  82. ahahahahahha!OK, shouldn’t laugh at your pain, but in my experience, working mothers can either spend ridiculous amounts of time cleaning and straightening and tidying, or live in mess most of the time.
    I’ve seen two types of working moms: those who clean up every night after the kids are asleep, and those who frantically run around trying to clean up before company comes. (I’m one of the latter)
    Because I like people to think I’m one of the former, I invite people over on a regular basis to force myself to clean. Especially other moms who seem more “together.” It keeps the pressure on. 🙂

  83. I have looked at many sites on this subject and not come across a site such as yours which tells everyone everything that they need to know. I have bookmarked your site. Can anyone else suggest any other related topics that I can look for to find out further information?

  84. I think ultimately it comes down to recognizing we are born and exit this world flawed, and knowing that it’s a) okay to feel uncomfortable with one’s flaws, and b) okay to feel okay with asking for help to deal/cope/overcome them.

  85. Don’t worry about it too much, Moxie. Pre-motherhood, I was obsessively clean/neat, and that problem steals a lot of joy from your life and the lives of those who live in your house.

  86. I love this board. It never fails to explore topics that are close to my heart.I am messy, too. And I appear to be raising messy children.
    Now despite my messiness, I have a low tolerance for mess! This is the perfect combination for … utter misery. It’s a never-ending cycle of mess making and misery over the mess making and then the obsessing over when can I get it clean? Then once things are clean, they seem to get so messy again so quickly … sigh.
    Anyway: Housekeeper. Get one. It really, realy helps to get that baseline clean every two weeks.

  87. It’s not what the cool blogging moms do, but if you can embrace it, it will change your life and your habits: It’s free. I’ve been doing it for almost a year now (in fits and starts, one step forward, two steps back) and it really does work. Try to see past the ads and the constant barrage of emails (some are ads, some are testimonials from some wise people, some are instructions, some are advice), and take it one step at a time. My home is a world away from where it was one year ago and my mindset is 100% better!

  88. I love FLYlady. It’s a truly inspirational site – this woman’s motto (one of the many): “You are NOT behind, I just want you to jump in where we are, ok?”One of her big tricks? Put on the timer for 15min, and do as much decluttering and tidying as you can. Then, stop!! Have some tea, read a little. It’s amazing how much you can do in 15min.
    Check her out – it’s all about building small, teeny habits, and building on them. And a lot of love. What does it mean to FLY with Flylady? It means to Finally Love Yourself.

  89. Flylady saved my sanity and my marriage. I’m another one that’s struggled with housework and this system managed to both be structured enough that I actually did something, and flexible enough to fit my life. Seriously, hit the website and try it out. Its all about taking the time to get new habits that will not only fix the problems, but prevent them reoccurring without judging when starting over happens

  90. I so know where you’re coming from. It’s a cycle that has to be broken. Getting help is great. We are not super women and once we realize that then it releases some of the guilt. I wish you much luck in your plight to “unmessy” yourself and your home!

  91. Few social netrowk members know that, from about March-July 2009, new registrants to Facebook and Twitter were, halfway through registering, required to enter their primary (yahoo, etc.) email address AND PASSWORD on a page that exactly mimicked their primary email login page, identically copying those fonts, logos, etc. Only if you checked the URL would you know that you’re still working on the Facebook/Twitter server & that you were about to surrender your primary email account, password, and all its contents, including private, financial data, credit card numbers, purchases & receipts, etc. This mimicking was clearly an attempt to deceive and defraud new, naive registrants and posed a serious ID theft danger, not to mention loss of privacy. Later, they made it optional and added it was for your convenience, to copy over your address book, but that mammoth security gap still exists and has never been publicly exposed. I doubt those registrants know their email accounts are open to others. I complained to the appropriate govt. agencies & the media, but no one seemed to care.-Pamela Muraca (retired tech writer from HP & Microsoft)

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