Dear Home-Ec 101,
Well, I am probably the worst person when it comes to checking out—I did that literally for two years when my husband left me three years ago for almost a year. The result has been devastating. I am constantly consumed by guilt and serious insomnia. I wasted two years of life and, worst of all, our autistic sons’ life as he did not get therapy to help him.
[Redacted by Heather, as it is personal]
Now we both struggle with profound depression, and I still can’t eat or sleep well. Additionally, my mental clarity, ability, and memory have been compromised. (Took me hours to write this, not kidding).
I just wish I would have realized years ago that I have a good husband and wonderful children who deserved so much better… and I could have gotten our youngest into ABA therapy years ago, making a critical difference in his life/social skills and work ability.
I have not cleaned our house effectively from all the clutter, and it’s extremely dusty and showing signs of neglect everywhere. I absolutely cannot stand living like this, but every time I want to start cleaning, I am overwhelmed by the complete mess. No exaggeration to say that every counter, closet, cupboard, drawer, shelf, window, the surface seems uncleanable. The dust is so bad it is everywhere, and I can clearly see particles floating in the air when it’s sunny. I have let the house go so badly that I don’t know how to start when I do want to clean it. I know it’s truly horrible. Every time I dust, it ends up looking like I just need to dust. Literally just trying to dust our tv stand and end tables is awful. I am embarrassed, but any suggestions on how to approach it?
Dusty, dirty and daunted
You are in a tough place.
You cannot go back, but you can move forward. Spending time ruminating on the what-ifs steals from the present and future. I do know how hard that is, especially alone at night.
If you have not been to a licensed professional to deal with the vicious circle that is insomnia, depression, or anxiety, please make that your first step. Obviously, each person is different, but I know that I can’t sleep when my anxiety begins to take hold. The lack of sleep makes me ineffective in my day-to-day life, which increases my anxiety which makes it harder to sleep. It’s a horrible, nightmare carousel, run by my inner demons (self-doubt, fear, self-loathing). I hate that anyone deals with anything similar.
Just as an aside, dust is part of life and seeing dust motes in the air is not a sign that you’re a terrible housekeeper. And even if you are or were, it doesn’t make you a terrible person.
So, where to start after making sure you and your family are safe and fed?
My usual advice is to start in the kitchen and, more specifically, the sink. Yes, I learned this from FLYlady a long time ago.
Why? It’s manageable and as you work to clean the rest of the house is a point you’ll return to many times over. Having this little oasis of cleanliness gives you a sense of control and accomplishment, which is needed when there is just too much.
For you, I want to add a couple of other small tasks. Please note that neither of these assignments prevents you from starting. They’ll just help make your ongoing cleaning efforts more effective over time with regard to the dust that bothers you so much.
First, if you have central air/heat replace your air filter and get on a schedule to replace them regularly, don’t buy the most expensive one. Go cheaper until you are through the worst of your cleaning project and according to my HVAC guy, you may be better off not using the most expensive one. Second, if you have a bagless vacuum, don’t just empty the bin. Clean or replace the filter regularly and if you have a bagged vacuum replace the bag. If you’re not up to leaving the house, you can order them.
Please know that if you keep your windows open, dust will enter your home. Did you know that you create dust simply by existing? It’s a neverending battle, and some homes are just dustier than others, so please don’t make dust the hill you choose to die on. Yes, you can and will make progress against it, but you’ve got bigger battles to fight in the grand scheme of things.
Save your energy.
Now that you have your little oasis of clean to come back to (your sink if I lost you on these tangents), you can begin tackling the bigger project. Do not try to “clean the house” as one project in one day. You don’t have that kind of time or energy, and you’ll just get discouraged. Begin with today on the weekly chore schedule. If, as you say, each room of your house is full of clutter, make your goal to focus on that area for 15 minutes. There are daily upkeep chores on the list, too. Again, as you are starting, you are not expected to do everything from start to finish. Just do what you can: sweep or vacuum the middles, make a dent in the dishes, wipe what you can in the bathroom. As you work your way through the house over the next several weeks, you’ll find these daily upkeep chores get more done every time.
I have also created The Deep Clean Cycle. Every Saturday morning, a challenge will land in your inbox for you to work on. In three months, you’ll have made a lot of progress on your home and at the end of the series, if you want, just hit Rinse and Repeat to start over. (Homes never stop getting messy, because it’s the trade-off for living in them.)
Where you stink, I’m sorry. You’ll move this mountain one stone at a time.
Send your questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.