Clean Your Room

And, hail lobster, and other such coded phrases. But mostly, clean your room.

I’m not an organized person by nature or training. Stuff lands on flat surfaces and stays there until I need it again. Empty flat surfaces don’t stay empty for long in this house, possibly excepting the floor. This creates a chaotic environment, distracting and not conducive to productivity. Right now, I’m writing at my sewing table, so there’s a sewing machine, scissors, measuring tape, thread, fabric, etc., along with my laptop (desktop is increasingly erratic, so I’m switching over) water bottle, coffee cup, phone (I’m waiting for the cat vet to call) all competing for my attention. It’s mentally wearing, and my saving grace is that there’s a blank wall behind the table, so I can rest my eyes by looking at that.

I also keep books, snacks, gardening supplies, extra tack, my fabric stash, shoes, and my exercise equipment in my office. Yikes. No wonder I have trouble settling down to any one task; every time I let my eyes focus on something, it becomes a distraction.

This is all complicated by my not really knowing how to clean a room. I have some vague idea that you’re supposed to move everything out of it, clear away all the dirt and dust, and put everything back in organized fashion, after throwing away unneeded items and shunting misplaced ones to the correct room. Rinse and repeat, through the whole house. Sounds exhausting. So, I don’t do it. I sit around writing blog posts wondering if there’s a better way.

My mom tried to teach me to put away objects once I was finished with them, but the lesson stuck weirdly. I put woodworking tools away, but not sewing tools. Gardening tools sometimes get put away. And if I have to leave a project unfinished for some reason, forget it. Nothing gets put away.

What is a poor writer to do?

Clean the room. Clean a corner of the room, if the whole room is too much. Or, if you’re me, clean a different room in the house. I can’t recommend that solution; it solves other problems but you’re still left with a messy workspace.

Most humans respond well to order and routine, and certain tasks can become automated by keeping a consistent environment. If you always write while sitting in a particular chair, and do nothing else, eventually your writing brain will kick on every time you sit in that chair. Visual chaos interrupts that routine, and I’ve got nothing but visual chaos in my workspace at the moment. Time to change that.

What strategies have you developed for keeping clutter out of your workspace? What quirky routines have you developed to help kick-start your brain for certain tasks?

25 comments

  1. I have a writing chair. And, I do sprints with some other writer folks at 9 a.m. Eastern every week day. The sprints are phenomenal for getting writing done. We’re laid back, so editing counts, too.

    There are two tidying books I’ve found helpful. One is the ubiquitous Marie Kondo’s The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up. The other is Decluttering at the Speed of Life by Dana K White.

    Then there’s the husband. A couple years ago he got the bright idea we should devote one hour (and only one hour) every Saturday to decluttering one room until we were done with that. We started someplace fun, like a guest room. I was all in. Then his evil plan was revealed in its entirety: the basement was next. It took us six weeks. Mostly, we apply the Speed of Life principles to these exercises. They work. We’ve gone through closets, rooms, the kitchen, the pantry cupboard, you name it. The garage still looms.

  2. There’s no space on my desk for anything. That helps. At Day Job, I have to put things back so the cleaners/repair-people/whoever can do their thing easily, so a lot of that carries over to the house. As long as you don’t look at the stacks of stacks of books and papers. In fact, I need to sort and tidy once this week finishes up. The dust is starting to pile up and make me sneeze.

  3. Battle of attrition.

    See something, pick it up, go put it away. Pick up the thing you stepped over to put it away, put that away. Pick up the thing that was in the spot the second thing was supposed to be in, put it away. Get broom, sweep up mess you noticed on the way to put something away. Put away 8 things that were hiding under edges in the kitchen. Put away 12 things you picked up on the way to putting those other things away. Spend half an hour looking for the box of items that are supposed to go out to the Specific Outside Area, cleaning as you go. Discover box three days later, where it was moved because Someone was looking for a tool and then they never put it back, and/or under the bag of canned goods that need to be put on the shelf…..

    K, we have a horde. It’s not exactly the same. The peck-peck-peck away solution does get stuff done, too, even with a half dozen chaos machines in the house. 😀

    1. *taking notes* Thankyou, ma’am. this seems to work with what I’m already doing. Important because my brain is not organized. I will take all the tips I can get!

  4. I suggest FlyLady.net Works great and is pretty easy to get started. Her biggest advice? Jump in where you are.

    Get a couple or three baskets, when you come across something that doesn’t belong in that room, put it in the basket (like dishes), then when you go to the kitchen, take the basket with you, drop stuff off there and take the basket back to the previous room (the work room) to be ready for it’s next delivery job.

    Usually, if you have things lying around, it’s because there isn’t a place where it “BELONGS”. So, think about where does it belong? And why are you having a hard time getting it there? Maybe it’s because it doesn’t actually belong there. So, where is a better place? Create your own “feng sui”, what is ergonomically the best for you and your house situation and your health/attention span situation.

    I also suggest “How to ADHD” channel on YouTube, whether or not you have it, it has great organizational ideas and alternate ways to accomplish things. I’ve found it very useful.

    Lastly, this is also a FlyLady.net thing – Set a timer. 15 min. Put as many things back away as possible in those 15 min. Then stop! Do something else you need to do, write, make phone calls, pet the cat, drink some water. After 45 min, set timer again for 15 min and put away as many things as possible in that time. Speed is of the essence!

    We often think it’s going to take forever to do something that actually only takes 7 minutes or 2 minutes. And so we procrastinate it.

    Just my thoughts. (And some experiences!)

    1. I second Fly Lady. It was rather a relief to realize that Housekeeping wasn’t a single skill that I had completely failed at – it’s an entire interlocking set of skills and routines, and I didn’t have anywhere near the whole set yet, but I had more than I thought. And that it was okay to fail to maintain the standard I had been raised to expect of myself, and to iterate better.

      1. Back when I was single, I tried two or three times to read Fly Lady’s site. Each time, I bounced hard off of, of all things, her style, like her habit of writing LOL after far too many sentences for my taste. It was good advice, as far as I remember, I just couldn’t stand reading her writing style. Feels like kind of a shallow thing to admit, but it’s how I felt.

        Now that I’m married, I’m very grateful to my wife for being far better organized than I am and being willing to help me figure out a good place to keep everything. I can pick things up, it was figuring out where they should go that was always the challenge.

  5. Hey! Just watched this, maybe it might help? I like a lot of this guy’s stuff, too.

  6. I’m bad about this in my “office” area. I have -Stuff- on my desk. I’m looking at my plastic iguana co-pilot I’ve had for so long I can’t even remember where he came from, Hot Wheel cars, anime figures and assorted doodads, post-it notes one of which says “Nov. 6th 2022 SAO goes live!” So I guess we know what I’ll be doing that day. ~:D

    Periodically I dust the collection, remove items like the random hose clamp or the rubber foot off something, two or three times a year I go through and delete a bunch of collected papers, usually because I want to sign something on my desk but can’t because there’s Stuff in the way.

    I don’t worry about it. This is how I work, and nothing bad happened because of it, so I’ll keep going.

    I do admit to generally doing a major clean-up-and-put-away in the workshop before starting a project. I also sweep the floor every day as part of my shop ritual. You leave shavings and sawdust lying around, bad things can happen. I’m even more clean-y with my metal lathe, that’s a whole new kinda dirt that will f- things up in a hurry. Little springs with -razor- sharp edges, double-plus ungood.

    Tidy up when it is important, relax when it isn’t. That’s my theory, I’m sticking to it.

    1. This. My airplanes were always immaculate, even the air ambulance with the *shudder* white leather interior that collected boot prints. Why? Because it was vital to safety that they stay clean, in part so the pilot could see seeps, leaks, and surprises as early as possible. The interior? Because the less stuff flying around the cabin/cockpit in rough air, the better.

      1. Yes indeed. The truck may be dirty, but the windows are always clean. Because you don’t have to look good, but you do have to see.

  7. Back when I worked in an office, Friday afternoons were good for filing. It was work. It was dull. It was sometimes all I had left in me. I need to revive that practice now that I work at home.

  8. I’ve heard that cleaning one spot until it’s done then moving to the next is “the way.” I don’t clean that way. I clean where I am. When that takes me to another room (e.g. emptying the office wastebasket takes me to the kitchen trash can), I continue there.
    It seems that many people dislike this method because there is very little apparent progress until suddenly WHAM! everything is done.
    One of the reasons for new small house is that I spent every Saturday for 20 years doing that to the old big house. I got tired of it. It’s _much_ faster to clean 800 sqft than 3000 – and smashing 3000 sqft of stuff into 800 sqft insures that everything has a place – a lot of things found out that their place was the dump or the thrift store (I’m surprised that I’m not missing the big dining room table).

  9. It’s simple enough; when you finish using a thing, you put it back.

    The problem is that some things don’t *have” a specific place to put them back. And all the likely places are already full. So I stand there holding something, looking around, and eventually putting it back where it was.

    Something similar led to people being surprised when they visited my place when I moved out on my own. It was a very small apartment. I noted that the refrigerator contained only Dr. Pepper and some condiments, so I assigned all that unused space to store my crash helmet, pistols, and ammunition.

      1. A friend in grad school opened my fridge and said, “Yes, you are from Texas.” There were six kinds of salsa, milk, and a few veggies.

  10. They’re old and I’m dating myself, but I like the Sidetracked Sisters. They had several books detailing their methods.

    The thing is, they were super-slobs when they began digging themselves out of slovenliness.
    Thus, they *understand on a visceral level* that if you weren’t born organized (which some people are) it’s harder. A lot harder.

    A big part of it is having a place for everything and being willing to start small.

    Most libraries have their books or you can get them through the inter-library loan.

    Don Aslett is very good too.

  11. I broke down and bought a six drawer cabinet. Labeled each drawer by book/s. So when I need the list of character names or that sketch map or . . . it’s either in the drawer, or in one of the piles of paper on the desk . . . and when I find it and anything related going through the pile, it goes in the drawer! The paper stacks have dwindled in both number and size .

    Oh, and don’t hatch a chick. You haven’t seen messy . . . fortunately it’s closing in on old enough to become an outdoor pet.

Comments are closed.