Is Housekeeping an Avoidance Technique?

Last night I found myself getting annoyed with someone being Wrong on the Internet. Instead of focusing on it, I cleaned a couple of brass candlesticks I have.

I’m looking at these candlesticks now, shining brightly in the morning light, and I got to thinking about how often I use productivity as a distraction from negative emotion.

Don’t get me wrong. I don’t consider this essentially a flaw. In fact, I consider it mostly a good thing, as it means when I am feeling something I don’t like, I can go do something else.

If, of course, there is nothing serious that needs to be done about the negative thing.

That’s the rub. There are a couple of extremes in dealing with stuff in life that I really try to avoid. The first is ruminating. I’m good at ruminating. In fact, I am so good at it that I don’t think a got a proper night’s sleep in my life until I developed the habit of listening to audiobooks to go do sleep to, and to lull me back to sleep when I wake at night.

Lest you think this is a crutch and smarm at me about what I’d do if I cannot have the audiobooks, I will point out that I did develop a non-technological solution that works just as well when needed.

I re-write the endings to books that ended in a way I didn’t like. Gone with the Wind, believe it or not, has given me endless fodder for plot points in which Scarlett gets a damn clue and grows up. This puts me back to sleep without ruminating.

Do I think that I have a tendency to pick books that have some sort of bearing on my Current Issue in some way and am actually solving a problem? Almost certainly. But the fiction gives me an emotional remove that allows me to go to sleep and let my subconscious deal with it and me to get some damn sleep.

So, I go through a lot to prevent ruminating. I’m okay with that. The alternative is pretty unpleasant.

Isn’t that sticking your head in the sand? What about Scarlett O’Hara thrusting away anything unpleasant with the whole, “I’ll think about that tomorrow” thing she did?

You do bring up a good point. This tool isn’t about ignoring problems. Notice that when I got annoyed last night and went to polish some candlesticks, that it was something I genuinely couldn’t do anything about. I’m not recommending this for things you can do something about. That would be irresponsible and it would be sticking your head in the sand about the issue.

I think the problem is at least in part our emotional makeup is very instantly reactive. In a living situation of low technology and high danger, it pretty much needs to be. That’s how we evolved, isn’t it? Being jumpy is a survival trait when you’re dealing with snakes crawling over you in your sleep and lions chasing you when you were just trying to catch dinner. Reacting with heavy emotion in a big and obvious way to the negative keeps you alive! Seeing as much of the negative as possible is likewise.

It’s not quite as useful in my air-conditioned office or upholstered living room and my full fridge.

We live in a more complex world now, and our survival trait of seeing and noticing the negative and having a serious need to do something about it RIGHT NOW just doesn’t serve as useful a purpose when problems need careful though an analysis. Nor is the emotional activation doing as much good when you’re not prepping your muscles to run away from a hippo.

That doesn’t mean that you should let things slide, though. If you have a problem, it’s fine to ask yourself, “Is this something I can do something about in this second?” Sometimes it is. And yes, the responsible thing is definitely to do something then. Do as much of the paperwork as you have the information for, make the appointment to get the car fixed, etc.

But after that? The responsible thing to do is to find something else you can do something about.

So, do I question whether or not I use chores as pseudo-productivity and an escape from something more difficult to deal with? You bet I question it!

Even so, I do think it is useful, because at least one of the problems I am dealing with isn’t unpleasant surroundings.

Is it Rude to Say No?

I’m running across something that is making me squirm a little bit. It seems that we have messed up badly in teaching the younger generation (and goodness knows my generation has its own issues) about an aspect of manners that is going to make it really hard on them.

There is this huge frustration I am seeing in the 18-24 crowd because they seem to have been taught that the act of saying no is aggressive and shows bad manners.

I am not a paragon of good manners. I was taught them and I do not always practice them. Not the fault of my teachers *grin* but a personal failing that I recognize.


Good manners is a great tool for setting boundaries. It’s bad manners to answer the phone during a meal because you’re supposed to put your attention on the people present. It’s bad manners to use mealtime to hold someone captive for a harangue because it is supposed to be time to interact pleasantly. Yes, parents using mealtime to yell at you for bad grades was bad manners. They’re supposed to call you on the carpet for that at another time. Indeed, the expression comes from the idea that you’d be standing on the carpet in your father’s study to be scolded. NOT in the dining room. (Dad didn’t have a study. I got scolded in my bedroom)

Let’s take the invitation. Good manners requires that you ANSWER the invite. It does not require you to say yes. If you want to/are able to go, you say, “Yes, thank you!” The no does require a few more words. You have to thank ’em for asking. Then you say you’re sorry you can’t come. You may volunteer a reason if you really want to, but you’re not required to, and the host is not supposed to ask for a reason.

All right, what about hugging. It’s bad manners not to want to hug someone, right?

As a matter of fact, indiscriminately wrapping your arms around people is not only horrible manners, Miss Manners herself would describe it as assault. Offering is okay, sure. But refusing the hug is perfectly fine manners. I don’t much like hugging strangers, myself. I stick my hand out to create some space and make it obvious that the touching I am okay with is a handshake. Good control of facial expression, especially around the eyes, can make this kindly and warm.

LOL. If I had my way, we’d move to the Asian greetings that don’t require touching strangers, but that’s not current North American etiquette.

Good manners was never meant to get people to knuckle under to poor behavior. The point of good manners is to help people get along. Part of getting along is having a way for people to say no to things gracefully. But good manners doesn’t even require that you sweeten a no. Good manners does not require that you answer the door every time someone knocks. It does not require that you answer the phone on every ring. It does not require that you respond to every request for money, nor does it require that you say yes to every invitation.

In fact, in Miss Manners’ Guide to Excruciatingly Correct Behavior, she says, “In fact, etiquette has no such requirement. The mistake arises from the fact that it does recognize that one has duties toward others, which is why it will not put up with such duty-dodging attempts as “Why should I thank Grandma for the check just because she wants me to?” And it does require being polite to others, even when they are no role models themselves.

“But that is a far cry from declaring that courtesy means taking everybody else’s orders.”

I know people tend either to love or hate Miss Manners, but I adore her. She’s no doormat and has an utterly wicked sense of humor. One of the things she cautions about in the chapter on saying no politely is that people usually get themselves in trouble when they try to explain themselves saying no.

So, for what it is worth, yes, one should learn to say no, and do so politely. That usually consists of a “No, thank you.” or some such then shutting ones mouth. She encourages a warm and regretful smile and possibly that’s not a bad idea. And the non-verbal “no” that is common in many cultures? No US culture (nope not even the South) requires it, so we’re off the hook for this.

Does Clutter Create Decision Fatigue?

I was reading another article on the Konmari method, and I am struck with something. It’s yet another article about going through your clothes closet.

Friends, this method is about more than your clothes. Yes, that’s a great way to start, don’t get me wrong, but that’s not the point of what you do when you’re decluttering using this method.

The idea, and this can be overwhelming, is to physically handle every single thing you own and make a decision about which of those items you want to keep.

Maybe that seems a bit overwhelming for a Huffpost Puff Piece. For that matter, maybe plenty of people do this just with their clothes and decide they’ve done as much as makes them happy.

And ya know what? That’s cool. Your house, your decision how you want to do things, and you’ll never hear me argue with that. I don’t live in your house, so I’m not allowed to make that call *grin*.

But the whole method is about a lot more than that and it does take time, which may be why we’re not seeing as many blog posts about the whole process, and a bunch of pictures about closets. Yeah, that’s cool, but the process is about the whole house. And you’re going to get your real results if you decide to do the whole house.

Is it tiring? There were times when it was more tiring than I expected, yes! I’m also pretty happy with the results.

I’ve been trying to puzzle out why. I know that when I come home from work and walk into the kitchen, I sigh in relief at the counters empty of everything but a few appliances. I know when I get up in the morning and look around a room with the Solitaire poster that makes me smile, and put my feet on the bare carpet (instead of kicking aside dirty clothes) it feels nice. I know that opening my underwear drawer and knowing exactly how much I have at a glance (thus telling me when Laundry Day should be) is really nice instead of having it hard to estimate makes me happy.

But I think it is more than that.

Are you familiar with the term “decision fatigue?” Basically every decision comes with a cognitive cost. We’re inundated with choices in our lives, and we’re surrounded with the opportunity to makes choices. A cluttered home requires more choices than the neat home. No, seriously. Even when you’re accepting Piles o’ Stuff is the way you live and prefer to live (which is fine, no kidding) you have to make more decisions. You hunt through a pile to find a particular thing. You have to make multi-leveled evaluations when you are doing a chore because you need to find the equipment for that chore. Putting things away needs to be a conscious decision because you need to play a little game of Tetris every time you put something away, never mind the fact you do decide whether or not to put that thing away each time.

Again, it’s not that it’s a wrong way to live, but I’ve discovered something about myself. I am not smart enough, nor do I have the willpower to make those decisions on a daily basis and still be effective in other parts of my life. I’ll start to zone out after a while. I’d rather zone out when I am putting away the dishes than when I am doing my taxes, just sayin’.

In her book, Marie Kondo repeatedly comments that she is inherently lazy and that she is easily confused and distracted. That sounds really disingenuous coming from a professional neat freak, but you know what? I totally get it. Yes, I too, am lazy. If there is an easy way to do something, that’s the way I am going to do it. Fortunately, I read The Man too Lazy to Fail as a youngster, so I got the point that you can totally make laziness work for you. I am also easily distracted. Wanna ensure I don’t get what I need to done? Put me in chaotic surroundings. If you think the noisy binging and quick disorientation of theme parks don’t make you buy more… Well, you get my point.

I’d like to see more articles that focus on life post-Konmari. What changed, if anything? Did new habits stick? Are there any insights? The cute little testimonials Kondo writes about in her books about people starting businesses or chucking relationships they didn’t need are cool, but I’d rather see what happened when people finish the process on their own and self-report what they did.

And I’d also like to see what Marie Kondo’s graduation rate was for her course. Because from all the closet pics I’m seeing on blogs, I’m guessing she had a high drop-out rate.

Desks and Writing Nooks

desksandwritingnooks-1I’m using my writing nook for the first time in a long time.

My mother gave me this beautiful little reproduction piece some years ago. It’s not an escritoire (no drawers), but it totally looks like a place where the lady of the house would write her notes. It holds a place of honor in a little alcove in my living room — complete with brass candlestick. It’s where my laptop lives when I am not using it. I love it because it’s pretty with dark cherry wood and brass — a combination of which I am inordinately fond.

I like the place for writing, even though I often bring the laptop to my big red comfy chair. For what it’s worth, writing at a desk rather than lounging feels more formal, as if the writing is more serious.

I hadn’t used it much because my old laptop’s wireless card had died. Since it was getting close to replacement time for the machine anyway, I just didn’t use the writing nook much any more for a few months.

Because I’d gotten out of the habit, this is the first time I’m back writing in my writing nook. I like this place because it reminds me of a desk I used to have that I also loved.

That desk was this huge Sauder piece. It folded into an armoire when not in use, but opened up into a computer desk when I was working. Because the household computer was in the dining room where we lived, it was nice to have something that could fold my desk away into just a nice piece of furniture when we were eating or had guests.

Thing is, if you have to put the furniture together yourself, chances are slim it will survive many moves. We couldn’t manage to get it to New England. For many years, my computer desk was a large foldable banquet table, such as you’d find for church basement suppers, outdoor wedding receptions or at craft shows.

It worked perfectly well, but I do like a nice desk.

I mentioned that desk to my husband recently and he commented we could afford a new one if I wanted one.

I don’t. That desk was amazingly well designed for a tower, keyboard, monitor and such. It had bookshelves and a single hanging file drawer. Goodness knows I really loved, but it’s one of those things where I simply don’t live that way anymore. I use a laptop! I don’t need heavy furniture for a computer. Shoot, in my bedroom, I have my desk from high school and it serves perfectly well when I work up there.

It’s funny to me how the laptop has changed our view of office furniture. For that matter, how digital media has changed our view of necessary storage space. I own more books than ever, but my bookshelves are not overcrowded. I use devices to read most casual works, and save the shelf space for treasured editions.

While I no longer need a new desk or anything, but I do still admire some old designs and sometime think I may let desire override need. With the advent of the laptop, one of the most practical pieces of home office furniture is a very old design indeed — the Secretary.

I’ve always loved them and the idea you can just fold away and close the desk for the day so that you don’t see the work space any more. While impractical without significant alteration for a desktop setup, oh my word are they beautiful for a laptop. I’ve even considered getting one. The kind I really like are the Queen Anne style ones. Now, I don’t mean either the Chippendale sort or even the reproductions popular in the Early Victorian period (I want to use the desk, not put it in a museum!) But I feel like at the moment since I am in a getting rid of stuff phase, I should think extremely carefully about acquiring new stuff. While I’ve no immediate plans to move, chances are slim that we’re going to live forever in our present home. I’d rather not overstuff our current home with furniture as it is quite certain that when we move, we’ll downsize. There’s a fair amount of furniture we use and love right now that may not get to stay, after all. It would be senseless to buy one right now until I know what space I’ll be in.

Chances are good that at some point I really will get such a desk, as I’ve loved these things for many years.

Habit and Possessions Tetris

I’m looking around my still-neat house.

Clutter? None. Bed made, drawers from which I pulled my clothing, neat. I see that I have three more pair of underwear left and I’m going to be working tomorrow, so I grab my laundry basket from the bathroom and take it downstairs to put on a load of laundry. I have this enormous washing machine, so what would be two in another situation is one for me.

I go downstairs. The kitchen has no clutter on the counters. Dirty dishes are in the dish washer. The few dishes we hand-wash that had been drying in the rack (air drying dishes is cleaner) were put away. I am assuming my husband did that before he made coffee this morning.

My laptop is on my little writing desk where I charge it. I grab it and my laptop desk to lounge in my writing chair to write this little essay. On the way, I notice a receipt that had flutter to the floor. I grab it, record it in my household account application on my phone and toss it. Then I prop my feet up to write.

When I do so, I look at my little to-do checklist that I’ve kept for ten years or so to try to keep me on track keeping the household neat. Some of the stuff is truly a to-do list rather than reminders to make my bed and stuff. Other stuff? I don’t do it that way any more.

  • Clear hot spotsHot Spots are a FlyLady thing — places where clutter tends to accumulate like counters and bare tables. *head scratch* I don’t have any. I have a place for everything. No kidding, I mean everything. I put it away when I’m done using it, whether it’s a pen, pair of scissors, or a laptop.
  • Declutter downstairs
    I used to spend ten minutes or so putting away stuff before going to bed. Don’t do that any more either. That place for everything? I put stuff away after I finish using it. Before I go to bed, I might put my laptop back in its place to charge and put my current knitting project back in its basket before going up to bed, if I were knitting or screwing around on the Internet before bed. We’re talking two minutes, tops. My phone lives in my pocket unless it’s on the charging station overnight, so that goes up with me.
  • Make Bed
    I used to think I needed a beepy reminder for this. The last couple of months, I’d turned off the reminder even though I left it on the checklist. *shrugs* Bed still gets made every morning. No, not to military bounce-a-quarter perfection, but I kinda don’t care, so I don’t bother.


If you don’t care about a neat house, you probably shouldn’t bother, either. I do this because I like it better and the ease of it has been a happy thing for me. What really is amazing me is that once you get the house reset, once you pare down your possessions to the point where you don’t have overflowing storage, maintaining it takes no noticeable time. I’m sure if we actually timed how long it takes to put each item away after its use, we’d be looking at a good ten total minutes scattered throughout the day, mind. But I don’t notice it.

What’s also interesting to me is that the easy storage also makes it easy for other people in the house to put things away. A good example of this would be our linens and cloth napkins.* We stored them in a drawer in the dining room hutch, but it was frankly overstuffed. Once we decluttered the storage areas and started storing the the items folded and stored vertically, even my husband, who tends not to be particular about storage, found it a simple thing to fold the same way and file them.

That’s a lot of why this is working. There’s no fancy or complex method here. Storage is not visually cluttered, and it is simple and obvious where everything should go. I guess that’s the whole “ask your house where things should go” part of the Konmari method, but I freely admit that I did not ask. When I started putting things away, because I didn’t have to play Possessions Tetris, it really was that simple.

I think I need to re-assess habits and routines and what they should look like, because I lot of the work I used to do has just been eliminated.

My mother’s method of keeping things tidy is, indeed, to just put it away when you’re done using it.  She doesn’t really use serious schedules, either.  When she sees it needs attention, she attends to it. I used to boggle at that.  But at a certainly level of tidy, I think I get the point.

* Some friends in Portland just use them casually as a daily thing to reduce waste. I was so impressed with the simple obviousness of it that I started imitating it.

Housekeeping Systems and Crab Bucket Behavior

I read up on housekeeping systems a lot. I was an extremely messy child, and over the years have learned to be neat. I suppose it could be considered to be a foolish and trivial thing to learn to do well, but in my defense, I’ve developed other skills, too. My focus on learning neatness ain’t as shallow as all that. It’s meant to serve other things in my life.

In reading up on various systems or routines, I notice a theme in the criticisms that bugs me a lot. Some facet of the system doesn’t work for the writer, so they then say the entire system is junk.

That strikes me as uncreative when I’m feeling charitable. When I’m not feeling charitable, the image of a bucket of crabs all pulling each other back leaps irresistibly to mind.

So, I wanna look at some criticisms of some of the methods and rules around housekeeping systems, talk about what I do and what I don’t and why.

Flylady first. She wants you to dress to the shoes in the morning. I actually did this for a while. The idea behind it is that if you get dressed and put on your shoes first thing in the morning, you’re putting your mind in “work mode.” Many freelancers will tell you that you’re only going to go so long working in your jammies before you get sick of the lack of boundaries between your work and your personal life and start getting dressed to work.

In my own experience as a homemaker and a freelancer, I think she’s right. I am certainly less likely to procrastinate Getting Stuff Done when I get dressed.

The shoes part?

I don’t do this. I don’t need it. I hate shoes.

Does this mean that FlyLady’s system is full of it? Of course not. For that matter, I am sure there are plenty of freelancers who get lots and lots of work done who do it in their jammies, too. I’m just not one of them.

The point is to try the system in good faith to see what works well for you or not.

The Konmari method has elements like this. She encourages people to empty their bags every night, and store the empty bags/purses only to fill them in the morning when they’re going out for the day.

I do this with my purse and it works quite well. My purse doesn’t accumulate crap like it used to, which is awesome and since I store my daily work things in a specific, easily-accesible place, it’s a matter of a minute to pack my purse for work.

My gym bag for my morning swims?

Not so much. I learned this the hard way. If I pack the gym bag in the morning instead of the night before, it is guaranteed I will forget something. Yesterday, I forgot my turbitowel for my hair. Not so big a deal, as I can use my bath towel to dry my hair as I am getting dressed. My hair just isn’t as dry when I go to put it up. This morning was a different story. I forgot my underwear. I wear a bathing suit under my clothes to the gym, since I am getting in the pool right away. This gives me the option of going braless and commando, or putting on clothes over a wet suit. I chose commando and a towel over my shoulders to hide my braless state.

But that’s two for two here. So, I found something in the system that doesn’t work for me. I pack my gym bag the night before.

Does this mean I won’t empty the bag every day when I get back from the pool? Nope. Leaving your stuff in a wet bag all day is a great way to get moldy goggles, towels, bathing suit and cap. I’m all good with emptying the wet crap out of the bag and letting the bag dry out during the day. But I clearly need to pack it the night before.

I could, of course, latch on to that one thing as a reason that the Konmari method isn’t a good one. The reality is that 90% of it does work well for me. (I don’t greet my house or thank my stuff for a good job, either). I picked what worked well for me, which I think is the core of the method — getting rid of a lot of your stuff, especially the stuff you don’t love and then designating an easy home for it, is a good one that works well.

I think that if one is going to criticize a method, it needs to be more thorough than targeting one little item in it and look at whether or not the structure of it works or not. Which most criticisms of housekeeping methods do not do and I have an uncharitable opinion why.

$150 Paper Plates

Would you pay $150 to store paper plates?

I have some sad news for you.  There’s a good chance you do.

My husband and I have been on a declutter kick lately and we’re using the Konmari method of decluttering.  We’ve been enjoying the process, as it has been nice for us to be able to have neat surroundings without much work.  Neither of us are much into putting things away and the bar has to be really low for us to want to do so. Part of the Konmari method is getting rid of enough stuff that storage is easy.

Today, we tackled this weird storage area we have between our laundry room and our cellar.  (It’s a cellar, not a basement — dirt floors and walls.  Creepy as all get out and I don’t much like going down there). This is a space that is pretty much good for storage, but not much else.

When we moved into the house, it really became a catch-all for stuff we couldn’t store in the garage, but couldn’t figure out where to store in the house.

Friends, there was stuff we hadn’t touched since we moved in there nearly ten years ago – paper plates, boxes that turned out to be empty but for wadded up newpaper packing, vases we don’t like and never use.  It was a serious mess that we never addressed.

It’s decluttered now and is being used as a cleaning supplies storage for brooms, the carpet shampooer, the vacuum and stuff like that. It’s mostly empty but for those few things, and it’s easy to access what we need.  We like it.

In talking about it with my husband, I did the calculation on how much floor space we have in the house and how much we pay a month per square foot.   One of the things we threw away was a set of paper dinner plate that did take up about a square foot of space.  I did the math and commented to my husband that we had spent $150 to store paper plates WE WILL NEVER USE.  We have glass plates for parties and stuff.  When we eat out on the patio, we just use the regular dishes and we don’t do picnics all that much that wouldn’t be conducive to a bento.   We don’t do stuff that really makes paper plates the more desirable option.

It was a little freaky to realize that those plates had used up $150 worth of storage space over the time we’ve lived here.  We’re going to give them a home somewhere else where people will use them.  But it was really weird to confront that.  Marie Kondo comments that buying in bulk isn’t necessarily saving money, and while I think she goes further with the idea than I would, I do think that calculating what it costs to store those bulk bargains is a useful part of the equation.