How's your living space feel lately? Cozy? Comfortable?
More importantly, how do you feel when you think about your living space? Overwhelmed? Frustrated? Embarrassed? Ashamed?
Even if it's not a client's primary issue, when I hear someone struggling with their house I ask questions because our homes so deeply affect the way we feel. There are shelves upon tidy shelves of books about how to keep house and I'm not about to dive into that arena no matter how fascinating, but there is one idea I return to often that seems to help. I call it "completing the cycle."
I first came up with this idea when I was reading the book Home Comforts by Cheryl Mendelson. It's huge and it covers everything from how to iron to what bacteria in your kitchen can kill you (eek!). My favorite part is the very first chapter in which she talks about how the best-feeling homes run on routines and rhythms that keep necessities and comforts in abundance. For her, these routines are the ultimate self-care.
Routines and rhythms, I realized, are rooted in cycles. (Yes, there are way more than just housekeeping cycles, but we'll stick with those for now.) There's the laundry or dirty dishes kind of cycle: clean stuff gets dirty, we clean it, put it away, and start again. Or the food cycle: we buy it, prepare it, eat, it, buy some more. Or you can mash up those cycles and call it dinner.
Once you look around, you can see lots of cycles, like bills, beds, lawns, toys, library books, carpets ... and you can see all the places those cycles have stalled out. The laundry cycle that stopped on the couch. The dish cycle that stopped in the sink. The cup-of-tea cycle that stalled with the tea envelope on the counter. Most of the mess in our houses is from stalled out cycles.
There are lots of things about these cycles that we can control (like content - take out or cooking?) but for the purposes of this discussion, the most important is duration. It's pretty simple. Short cycles are usually tidier, long cycles are messier. A short cycle means cleaning up dinner that night. A long cycle means days of dishes in the sink (yes, this could also be considered "batch processing," very efficient!).
If you look around and your house (or your life, for that matter) feels out of control, some of it is probably stalled cycles. When you can see that, cleaning becomes easier - you can pick just one cycle to finish up instead of feeling overwhelmed by the whole mess. And eventually you can start to think about completing cycles when you're in them or, even better, when you start them! That makes things feel a lot easier because you can be deliberate about stopping mid-cycle - we've all had nights when we're too tired to clean the kitchen. And if that's the case, you can go to bed without guilt and pick up again where you left off when you can. If you're mindful of your cycles, you're in control of them, not the other way around.
Keeping up with cycles (at least mostly) might seem like more work but here are some things to keep in mind. 1) You're going to finish them eventually, so why not right away if you have time? 2) It doesn't actually save energy to do them later - you still have to do them (unless you get someone else to do them for you!). 3) Finishing something up makes it easy to start again anytime. And 4) You get a reward: necessities and comforts in abundance. Which, for me, at least, means feeling cozy at home AND having a whole bunch of things crossed off your Tracking List. Awesome.