Friday, December 30, 2011

Deal With it Day

It seldom happens, but yesterday I reached my chaos tolerance threshold.

Not to worry, I didn't go postal or anything, but I did do something almost as unheard of...

I cleaned.

Actually, more than cleaning, I picked things up, threw things away, and dealt with the numerous piles of crap that I've been avoiding for the past few months. 
And I have to say... it feels absolutely AMAZING to get rid of the many anvils that have been perched over my head waiting to fall.

Seriously... the dishes are done, the litter boxes are clean, the carpet is vacuumed, the clogged drain is un-clogged, the heaps of dirty laundry have been washed and put away, the pile of debris on my desk is gone, the "deal with it pile" has been dealt with... I even made the dreaded OBGYN Pap appointment (Oh, the joy...)  And while I haven't achieved "neat and tidy" by any stretch of the imagination, at least I'm out of the fire hazard category!

It feels so wonderful, in fact, that I'm left to wonder why I am not able to keep things in a relatively chaos-free state all the time. Generally, at this point, I would start making vows to never let it get out of control again... but you know, I think I'm getting old enough to recognize that promises simply don't work in this department.

Because... already the gobs of cat fur are gathering on the carpet... and there are new dishes waiting to be washed, and the nylon stocking lint trap burst on the last load of laundry meaning that the drain will need to be snaked again soon, the litter boxes are gathering new "tootsie rolls" as we speak, and new emails are arriving by the moment, and... well, you know... life is a transient state and nothing ever stays done for long!

But I do think that I learned a few things during my "deal with it day" so I figured I'd share my brilliant insights.

Insight number one: 
If you want things to get done, you must set aside time to do them.

OK. Now, I realize that this fits into the category of the excruciatingly obvious, but for some reason it's a lesson that, despite my forty-some-odd years on this planet, I have yet to learn. I seem to carry around the ridiculous notion that if I were just a "better person," things like cleaning, and picking up etc would just somehow magically do themselves.

I'm sure some of this comes from my childhood. I was raised by a single working mother, and most of my friends had stay at home moms... but somehow it never clicked that the only reason their houses were neat and tidy while ours was a mess, was because they had mothers who devoted many hours a week to cleaning and tidying, while I did not. I guess I always just assumed it was genetic.

So yesterday, I decided to devote the entire day to dealing with shit - no television, no internet, no distractions of any kind. You know, it's really rather amazing what you can accomplish once you accept the idea that you're gonna have to devote some time and energy to the process.

The other thing I did was to refuse to hurry. Generally, when I'm tackling something unpleasant, I just want it to be over with as soon as possible. So the entire time I'm doing it I'm pushing myself to move faster. When I didn't let myself do that yesterday, I discovered that the tasks aren't nearly as onerous as the hurrying is.

Insight number two:
Unpleasant tasks don't become any less loathsome when you avoid them... 
in fact, they generally become worse because not only do you have the task itself to deal with, you've got all of the wasted mental energy tied up in avoiding it.

I think I should have this one tattooed to my forehead... well, actually, I'd need to come up with more concise wording before that would work, but you know what I mean.

Really, seriously, though... the doing of the thing is never as bad as the dreading it was. You know, it's the old If you think the worst and get the worst you suffer twice, but if you think the best and get the worst you only suffer once.

Anyhow, during my deal with it day, I didn't let myself weasel out of all of those things that I generally like to avoid. And really, snaking the drain and committing to the OBGYN weren't nearly as bad as the knot in my stomach that was caused by avoiding them.

Insight number three: 
Clutter is really just postponed decisions.

OK, to be fair, this is not really my own insight, it's one I got from the television show, Neat, which I used to watch on HGTV back when I still had cable. Because, you know, it's sooooo much more fun to lay on the couch and look at other people's messy houses than it is to deal with your own! Anyhow, the host of Neat is a woman named Hellen Buttigieg, a professional organizer and life coach, who I found to be just brimming with insightful revelations regarding the psychology of clutter, and this was one of the things she said over and over.

Seriously though... I think that 99% of the crap that gathers in my house, simply does so because I can't make a decision about what to do with it. Like... Oy, I really have no interest in this book my brother sent me for Christmas, but it would be rude and a hassle to send it back... but I can't decide, so there it sits, along with the box and packaging... And then there's the laundry... let's see, I wore it for three hours, so it's technically not clean, but it doesn't smell bad and isn't visibly dirty... but should I really put it back in the closet once it's been worn?

AAAARRRRGGGHHHH!!!! Just make a decision already!!!

But you know, most of the decisions that I avoid like the plague, simply don't matter that much. And as the song goes: If you choose not to decide, you still have made a choice.

Insight number four: 
Perfectionism will get you nowhere.

Back when I still had a "real job" I had the most fabulous and wonderful assistant ever. We worked together for over 10 years, and that girl knew me WAAAAAY too well. One day we were chatting about housework and I remarked that I hated vacuuming more than any other task.

She was incredulous, so I explained that it really wasn't vacuuming per se that I hated, but rather the three hours that it took to do the entire house. Once again, she was incredulous. So we chatted a bit more on the subject and then she said "Oh, I see what your problem is. You're suffering from vacuum perfection syndrome. Perhaps you need different levels of vacuuming... you know... just do the visible areas every week and save the moving the furniture part for spring cleaning."

Hmmmm... did I mention she was brilliant? I mean she was totally right, and the older I get, the more I realize that all of my perfectionistic tendencies are really just another form of procrastination.

I'm not sure I completely understand the psychology behind this one, but it's certainly true that I can set off to clean the bathroom and 6 hours later I'm still scrubbing the same tiny section of grout. Clearly, in the broad scheme of things, it makes more sense to not let the perfect be the enemy of the good.

So yesterday, I refused to let myself descend into perfectionism. And the results were totally amazing! I actually got the vacuuming done in 20 minutes! Granted, I didn't get behind the litter boxes, or under the coffee tables, or behind the bookshelf, but it feels WAY better than it did before, and I can always do the nitty gritty some other time.

And the other thing I did was to refuse to beat myself up for being a slob in the first place. I think this goes along with the "genetic flaw" theory of slovenliness, but really, cleaning is so much more pleasant when you're not standing behind yourself with a whip the entire time.

Insight number five: 
Clean house or dirty, you're still the same stupid person.

So as I dealt with shit yesterday, I noticed a very interesting issue repeating itself over and over. I'd pick up all of the dirty laundry... except for two pairs of socks that I just couldn't bring myself to deal with. I did all of the dishes, except for one casserole dish that I just had to let sit in the sink and soak. I winnowed the "deal with it" pile down to two little insignificant things, but then couldn't quite manage to tackle those last tasks.

Hmmmmm...  what is this, some sort of completion anxiety?

The more I thought about it, the more I realized that deep down, some part of me has a fear of not being a slob. I think it's similar to the fear I had about losing weight, or quitting my job or any of the other myriad of changes I've undertaken. I mean, these are things that I REALLY wanted, but what I didn't want to do was to face the fact that there was something I was getting out of the status quo. I mean, I think on some level there can be something really comfortable about being stuck in whatever it is that you're used to being stuck in.

I guess having something that's "wrong" in my life serves a purpose. It allows me to blame all of my "yucky" emotions on the thing that's "wrong," rather than having to come face to face with the raw feelings.

I mean, shit... I lost 40 pounds, and have kept it off for 10+ years now... and while that's great, it didn't actually solve all of my problems. And I saved my money, adopted a frugal lifestyle so now I don't have to work... but surprisingly enough, that didn't mean that I suddenly morphed into a carefree being filled with nothing but bliss and happiness.

I guess, perhaps it's the same with the whole neat and tidy thing. I mean, I made myself pick up those last pairs of socks, and I washed the last casserole dish, and finished those last two things in the "deal with it" pile. And it feels great... but there's also a bit of a let down. I haven't somehow altered the essential core of my being and become one of those "perfect people" that I always imagined my childhood friends to be.

Perhaps this is what happens to people who win the lottery. I've heard over and over stories about somebody who strikes it rich, and then ends up more miserable than they were before. But I guess the truth is that we are not the sum total of our money, or our accomplishments, or our "neat and tidiness." We simply are who we are, and I think learning to accept that is the real trick.

I do think I'll try to have "deal with it day" a tad bit more often though!


  1. I am so in love with this post I want to marry it and have its babies. Yes, yes, yes! I suffer from the perfection as procrastination lunacy as well. And I frequently fantasize about how everything will be rosy once X is achieved, as if I will somehow morph into an entirely different human being. Ahhhhhh. This is a fabulous reminder. Love, love, LOVE this post!

  2. Drat. Well, if I can't marry this post, I'll just have to adopt it instead.
    Or its precepts, anyway. :)

  3. Ladies, ladies... nobody said polygamy was illegal in terms of marrying blog posts!

  4. Seriously though, you would think I would have learned these lessons back in junior high when finally getting the "right" Nike tennis shoes and Levis 501 button fly jeans did absolutely nothing to alter my footstool status in the social hierarchy.

  5. Man, I just did five loads of laundry after having put it off for a long time and can totally relate. After hauling it all up, I decided enough was enough and filled grocery bags with clothes to get rid of. I'm starting to see that I'm not naturally tidy enough to have as much stuff as I do, and that I'd rather get rid of stuff than clean more.

    As a terminally indecisive person, I find the whole delayed decision thing to be an epiphany. I'm going to see if thinking about things in those terms helps me be neater.

  6. "the doing of the thing is never as bad as the dreading it was"

    Yes, yes and yes.

  7. Jennifer - So one of the things I dealt with yesterday was this stupid box that some Christmas stuff arrived in... It was sitting in the middle of the living room because I kept thinking that instead of just recycling it, I should really fill it with stuff for the thrift store, but I couldn't decide what to get rid of... bla bla bla... Anyhow, I decided that I had to shit or get off of the proverbial pot, so I just took the box and walked around the house filling it with crap that I really don't want. It took a grand total of 10 minutes and now I not only have no box in the middle of the living room, I have less crap that I don't want! Oh... what liberation!

    Steph - Oh the dreading... I dread dreading things!

  8. Wisdom & laughter rolled into a single blog post. Face it - you're the WiseFunnyEcoCatLady. Have you considered Stand Up Comedy? Or turn your blogs into You Tube videos? I shall continue to worship at your blog altar. YOU ROCK!

  9. Yay you!

    And, don't feel bad about things reverting to a state of chaos. I'm constantly amazed at how dirty the house gets despite the fact that clean every week (and pick up between weekly cleanings). I blame the cats. :)

  10. Connie - Ha! Somehow, I doubt I'm quite so funny in person... but thanks for the vote of confidence. Have you ever considered a career as a self-esteem booster? :)

    Candi - Weekly cleanings... hmmm... now that's something to aim for. But in terms of blaming the cats... absolutely! They are dust-bunny creating machines!!!

  11. I need to schedule a "Deal with It Day." The clutter and mess makes it hard for me to be calm and focused. My mind feels cluttered and chaotic right along with my living space.

    The thing is, I can ignore it for awhile, but then when I get stressed or down about something else, the state of the apartment compounds the feelings, so I very quickly reach the "everything is out of control and the world is going to end" point. Hmm, maybe another insight?

  12. Melissa - I am right there with you with the everything is out of control and the world is coming to an end stuff. Somehow it always seems that the root of most of my issues has to do with control. Sigh.

    God grant me the serenity
    to accept the things I cannot change;
    courage to change the things I can;
    and wisdom to know the difference.

    I'll just keep saying it over and over and maybe someday it will sink in! :)

  13. I soooo relate to this, especially crossing the chaos tolerance threshold. I'd kind-of spotted the deferred decisions thing for myself - I had that flash of recognition when I read it here - but I haven't figured out yet how I make those decisions!

    I'm not sure I'd fancy swallowing a 250,000 mg chill pill - that's half a pound! Maybe that's why they're so hard to take ;-)

    At the same time, cleaning every week? That is not something I aspire to. I clean before guests come round. If they turn up unannounced, well, they get to see what a slob I am the rest of the time. I had a neighbour who wouldn't invite anyone into his house because it was such a mess (you couldn't even get into some rooms), which I thought was rather sad. I decided I didn't want to be like that. I've yet to have anyone run screaming from the house ;-)

  14. Rachel - I am comforted to know I'm not the only self-described slob out there. I admire your attitude towards the whole thing... if they turn up unannounced they get what they get! How refreshing!

  15. I am also in love with your post. Today is the first time I've seen your blog (followed a link from Beth Terry Plastic Free Life) and I cannot believe how appropriate every single word is to what I'm going through myself right now. Big thank you.

  16. Helen - Thanks so much for stopping by, and for your kind words. I'm glad you managed to find something of meaning in my sarcastic ramblings! :)

  17. Terrific post, but am I the only male here? :)

    I stopped making resolutions many moons ago, it seemed everything would go on the opposite side of what I was hoping to.

  18. Hey Sergio - Thanks so much for stopping by. Don't know why I get so few folks of the male persuasion who stop in to visit, perhaps the CatLady thing scares them off! :~)

  19. At last - someone else with the fear of vacuuming syndrome. I never thought of just doing the visible bits. It took me ALL DAY on Monday to vacuum. In 30 deg C ambient temperature and 80% humidity. This post is going to be bookmarked for instant access for whenever I get one of those deal with it urges.

    1. Vacuumphobics unite!!! I'm so glad to know it's not just me. :~)

  20. I think there is a self help/ productivity book that I read the free sample of that is called 'Eat That Frog', and the idea is to do the worst job of the day (at work or at home) first (eating the frog, as I guess frogs are pretty un-tasty) as then all of the rest of the things are fun by comparison.
    I didn't read the rest of the book, so not sure how to do this!!
    Like the idea though- I to have excessive dread of tasks that are really not that bad in reality...

    1. Eee Gads! Well, that' an interesting theory, though I do think I will skip the frog. My problem would be that if I knew I had to do the worst thing first, I'd probably never get out of bed in the first place! :-)

      My tactic for dreaded tasks is to put on my favorite CD (I know... I'm old school) and tell myself that I'll just work on it for the length of the CD. Seems to make it much more bearable.

      Of course, I've pretty much set up my entire life to minimize dreaded tasks in the first place.... if only I could get the cats to clean their own litter boxes!


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