I’ve talked about the process of re-wiring my brain so I can actually notice clutter. The downside is that now a mess really BUGS me. Many years of hoarding and being too ill to clean much left me with such a disaster it was impossible to make headway. Years ago I had hired an organizer who had given me tools that started me on this path. Sadly she retired, so I was back on the road finding a new one. I finally trimmed down to one, Julie Hook of Five Star Organizing and Design. This is my journey to clean.
I don’t like people coming into my house for the first time. I think it’s impossible not to judge at least a little bit, when the house is dirty, smelly and disordered. However, Julie was so warm and friendly when I contacted her I knew I would be ok once I got past the first few minutes. I thought of all the things that might be challenging, offsetting them with the benefits I would gain. Would I have a meltdown panic attack? I’m down to the things that mean something special to me, would I end up in a corner, thumping my head against the wall, crooning over a childhood relic? I did some visualization, some planning and some serious cat therapy. The underlying feeling though was “Yes! I’m ready to do this!”
When I opened the door to Julie and David it could have been an episode of Hoarders. Almost immediately I felt reassured. These are nice people, so showing them around my apartment wasn’t as traumatic as I feared. Still embarrassing of course, but not intimidating. We discussed a game plan and decided to focus on the kitchen. And speaking of focus, I had no trouble keeping on track. I really had no problem with letting them take over. Maybe you have to be OCD and a hoarder to understand what a major breakthrough that was.
My kitchen is large, with room for a table, that area is taken up as my sewing area. I couldn’t get into it for boxes and other things in the way. It was filthy. On the kitchen side, the counters were stacked high with dishes and other things. I have a counter top dishwasher and still didn’t know exactly how to operate it. There were boxes of dirty dishes stashed around the house, my solution to passing inspections. I had multiples because it’s so painful for me to stand long enough to wash a bunch of dishes, so I would just pick up a few more at the Dollar Tree. I have never had an uncluttered kitchen in this apartment. I’ve cleaned it many times, but there was always too much stuff to put away, so it got messed up again in no time. When I come home from shopping I’m already tired. I put the perishables away, shove things in cupboards to protect them from Majyk’s thievery, then collapse. Most of the time where they landed was where they stayed until they were used up.
The first thing Julie did was unclutter the doorway and path through the kitchen. This left enough room to put up my folding table. Then they attacked my food cupboards. This alone would have sent me into a tailspin a year ago, but I had steeled myself and decided I would let them make decisions for me. I knew the spice cabinet would be the most challenging for me, so I watched while that one was being gone through. I did well, I think I only rescued three or four things. Heck, I’m not cooking so I figured I wouldn’t need to go out and buy twenty expensive spices to replace them. As they emptied the cabinets and drawers they cleaned them, then organized the space as they refilled the shelves.
Next they hit the dish shelves. Now remember, there are Boxes Of Shame tucked here and there. My main contribution at this point was to ferret them out and give them to David, who was washing every dish in my house. David washed and Julie organized, I’ve seen jugglers with less coordinated acts. I left them to it and wandered off and began to go through some boxes I had trouble with before. I’ve learned that it is much easier to deal with things that trigger me when there is someone else there. I grabbed a handful of beloved learn to read books, walked out the door and handed them to the kids playing outside. Julie saw I was slightly stressed and talked to me until I felt better. Soon I was on to other things.
Maybe you have heard of boxes bigger on the inside than they are on the outside. Julie and David somehow made that happen with my kitchen. All my counters were cleared off. I have no idea how. I have never had such uncluttered kitchen counters. I opened the cupboards and there were all my dishes, clean and waiting for me. There was actually room in my food cupboards. Several small appliances that I thought were gone suddenly showed up. The floor was clean. All the counters sparkled. Something in my brain went kerchunk, as years of hoarding mindset fell away and set me free.
We discussed our next session, I am keeping them to 4 hour chunks so I don’t get exhausted. Julie gave me some homework, to decide what I need to keep out of all the dishes I suddenly have. In four hours my kitchen had turned from disgusting to beautifully functional. I can now reach my sewing area. I find myself remembering things I use to make when my daughter was growing up. I made muffins. Cooked pizza. Thought about how I might want to decorate the kitchen. Remembered that I use to like to bake.
It’s been three days since my kitchen was transformed. Instead of wanting to take to my bed out of exhaustion, I’m riding on a cleaning high. I borrowed a steam mop and my floors are probably cleaner than when I moved in. All my dishes are done. Instead of feeling overwhelmed I’m working as long as I can, taking a break to let my back relax and then right back at it. I marvel at how easy it is to do things when it’s uncluttered. I’m excited to weed out my extra kitchen tools. It’s much easier to visualize how my home will look clean and tidy. I feel light instead of light-headed. I’m more clear minded in general and making better decisions. I’m buying fruit instead of candy bars. I feel fiercely protective of my clean spaces. Even the kitties are happier, more space to play and if I’m happy, they are happy, and I’m positively euphoric.
The hardest part of all this was accepting that I couldn’t do it alone. Accepting that I would have to let strangers into my house. Accepting a major life change. The main part of cleaning up was cleaning the space in my mind that insisted on clutter. I’m realizing more each day how trapped I was by that clutter mindset, how much more room I have in my life to be happy, to be creative, to share my life with others.
Each day is a new adventure.
Update: Usually shortly after an area is cleaned, it fills back up again a few days later. That’s because I basically just moved the junk around (hence, Boxes of Shame) Julie first came on March 28th. It is now April 13th and it’s still clean. I weeded out more more things since I could now see what I already had. I’m eating much healthier. I don’t let the dishes pile up, in fact after I made a cake I washed everything up immediately. So, a yummy strawberry cake AND a clean kitchen. Life is good!