I Can't Read Because of...Piles…of What?

This month our blog was to be about books we've loved and inspired us to set our writerly feet on the path to our own publication. I love reading. I've read into the thousands of books--yes, I'm counting the re-reading of favorites that are like wonderful friends--always there no matter what is happening, any hour, day or night.  But, as an adult, I have to limit my reading time. I hate that. I'm a farmer's wife and an author so I live where I work. No longer do I have long commutes on city buses where I can enjoy reading twice a day. No long hour rides to and from school.  No more mom does the laundry while I hide in the attic, a chore list no-show.


I have these piles.

I've had piles. For years.  Piles everywhere. Then I would sort them into usable piles, or so I thought. But really, I was making more piles.

My sister had the very good fortune in her formative years to hire on to a large hotel as a maid and the very, very, good fortune to be trained by an expert in cleaning and efficiency in that hotel. There were random inspections monthly. Should she not pass, she had to re-clean the entire room or suite under the watchful eye of the inspector.

Fast forward thirty years.

You should see my sister’s house.

Recently, she had an ankle injury that put her in a bed or chair for twelve weeks.  She has a husband, who is nice, but not so good at housework at all. She also has two very lively dogs.

I did not do her housework. I was in charge of hauling her to doctors.

After twelve darned weeks her house still looked better than MINE!

That was my breaking point. I have read reams of material on how to keep house and what surfaces need what done to them over the thirty years it has been my job to take care of a home. I have written to Pledge and also called to talk with them at the factory. Pledge gave me back four of the days of my life each year. (I have a LOT of woodwork.) After watching my sister’s house during the recent twelve weeks, I gave up and realized I have a problem. I need retrained.  My sister needed to train me on the way out of my mess.

I made her do it.

First Step: Recognize you have a problem.  No sweat there. I definitely had a problem. I tripped over a pile in the dark as I exited my office. No comment on the outcome….

Second Step: Determine to change.  Oh, yeah, me and my broke t…. are behind some change.

Third Step: Seek a wise leader. Got it! Yes, guilt sister into teaching me.

Fourth Step: Listen to teacher.  That is NOT that easy. Why? Because what she told me was almost directly opposite from everything I’d read. Really.

Fifth Step:  Believe.  Ok, so I had to take another look around her place. I was a believer. She only had to vacuum and dust and she was back in shape on the home front—or so I thought.  She admitted to having to clean the fridge too. Nah, really?  The fridge too? After a mere twelve weeks? I almost fainted. My fridge would have had the health department after me in twelve weeks.

Sixth Step: Take notes. Oh, yeah. I took notes. I made her tell me and then explain things.  The first thing she does is a walk-through of the area needing cleaning. Walk-through?  What for?  The entire house is a wreck!  What’s to see except more of the same? She looked at me like I was an idiot. Remember, that’s a sister. So, I had to ask what the exact purpose of the walk through was for.
Ahmmm…It is to assess exactly what you need to take care of today. The overall chaos doesn’t matter. What matters is how much time you have. The walk-through lets you take a look and determine what you have time to take care of.  As she put it, if you merely start, without the walk-through, aren’t you going to be surprised when you get to something Gawd Awful? Think really foul and hidden under a towel by a very short someone who shall be nameless…and you don’t have time to deal with it properly because you started somewhere else.
Recap: The walk-through is to determine what you’ll be doing and what you’ll be doing it with in the amount of time you have to dedicate to it.

Seventh Step: Decisions, or as they say in the medical field, triage. How to select the worse from the more worse.  She says money first. If your bills are all over the place, get them in one place and do something about them. You can’t concentrate on other items if your mind has a growly over money. Know where you are about your money, no matter how bad the picture.
So, in the midst of the mountains of papers on my desk, I did my bookwork. Had a coughing fit from the dust, but managed to survive. (And darn it! I was a lot more relaxed about the mess afterward.)

Eighth Step: Who knew? So I made an emergency call to her after I’d spend about four hours sorting the huge piles of paper into consistent piles. I noticed that I’d spent four hours and appeared to have gotten nowhere. And four hours is pretty precious. I’d lost them to diligence. I called her to ask when things were going to get better because I’d just spent four hours and seemed to get nowhere! Her calm answer was, “You’ve been sorting, haven’t you?” Silence from me. How did she know?
I whispered, “Yes.”
She said, “Stop that!” And went on to explain that sorting may seem efficient, but doesn’t really get anything done. I’d have been better off to assess with a glance through what was in the piles and determine if I was going to use them in the future. Anything of a permanent nature needs a home.  Make a file.  Then you have someplace for the paper instead of another pile. Any paper that will not be in a file needs to be tossed or acted upon immediately.  Determine how important each piece really is, vital to health? Hearth? Home? New novel? I wanted to hit myself in the head with the phone handset. Four hours I’ll never get back now lost to laundry-sorting thinking.
Two weeks later, by using little bits of time, I can now see most of the top of my desk.  The paper piles on the floor are gone. TWO large black bags of paper have been removed from my office, been shredded, and disposed of.  Several piles are now gone from our eating area. You certainly couldn’t call it a dining area-yet. I have a small heap still there, but it is much smaller.

Ninth Step: The vehicles.  The house blew up.  Well, it seemed like it.  Another emergency call to you know who. Beloved and I had taken a short three day trip and there was everything all over the house. I asked her what happened.  She told me there is an order to after a trip. Don’t sort laundry to do unless you need the clothing immediately. Empty the vehicle immediately. Set the luggage out of the way. Set all boxes and bags out of the way. Deal with ONE bag or box at a time as you have time. If you need the laundry out of the way, then deal with it. The purchases you made are not immediately necessary or an emergency. They can wait their turn.

Tenth Step: Deal with what bugs you most even if it seems trivial. The guru said it was because dealing with things that bug you make you calmer. Calmer is a good place to be. Trivial items add up and soon there will be nothing that bugs you that can’t wait while you go enjoy yourself doing whatever you want to do or need to do.

My sister takes naps. Goes and does professional photography. Has tasty, nutritious food at her house. Works full time. Keeps up a huge yard with a thirty-five foot pond, watches TV, reads books, and has a smile on her face. Her place isn’t perfection, but very close.  She has more time to goof off than anyone I know.

I wanted to share this with all of you, because by following her instructions, which I have given here, (I’m sure there are more, but this is as far as I’ve gotten to date.) I can see all but a quarter of the top of my desk. I have had a pedicure, which previously I was unable to schedule.  I have a cleaner house. I am calmer, much calmer. I have been able to devote some time to this blog, which I missed doing. I am doing some re-work on one of my novels-in-waiting. New ideas are popping.

I’m getting my life back for me.


Rox Delaney said...

Priceless, Nina! And oh so timely. There isn't a room in our house that doesn't need disaster help, and I've been telling myself that it's time to do something.

I am printing your blog post for reference. Yes, I have how-to books galore, but only once was I able to stick to it for any reasonable length of time. (Sidetracked Sisters?)

If only we could train the grandkids, too. We'll have them for the last two days this week and all week next week for Spring Break. I've thought of running away for the duration. They are individual tornadoes, and after watching over them--so they aren't injured or, worse, found dead in the street--my youngest and I are exhausted. We have been discussing this and hope to come up with some practical steps to take...beyond locking them in closets. :)

Pat Davids said...

Awesome advice.
Kiss your sister for me. I think I see a new path ahead. My house isn't a disaster, but other parts of my life need some serious help.
Walk through, assess what needs doing. Select the worst from more worse and get it out of the way.
Thank you, and thank your sister, too. SERIOUSLY.
I'm a propetual procastinator. You wouldn't think it from the number of books I've written, but I shove everything aside until it has to be done or heaven forbid, it's already late.

Nina Sipes said...

I too tried the Sidetracked Home Executive and then graduated to Flylady.net, a person who took the Sidetracked etc. into the modern era. The problem I had was I'd hit a rhythm then things would change and I'd be off on my housekeeping cards. The system didn't address specific irritants either. My sister's method is working for me. I have more notes. If you all find this useful, I'll blog more details.

I did nanny a few years. My advice on childcare (as if you need any!) is for you to plan three things. One something very physically tiring (think running around the outside of the house a dozen times or around a playground). The second: plan on doing something important that makes them feel as if they have achieved something meaningful that may be admired. Cleaning a flowerbed, emptying a garage and hauling out....The third, cook some cookies together.
Those three things done in one week make for lifetime memories.(As well as run the fidgets out of them to make them bearable.)

Nina Sipes said...

Remember, do what bugs you. And I can say from a tiny bit of experience now, that my sister is right. I'm calmer, a lot, and serendipity is kicking in. The little bits of random stuff that bugged me that I took care of is becoming more and more noticeable--like putting together a jigsaw puzzle.
My kitchen table has been cleaned off completely for four days. That's a record.

Rox Delaney said...

We planted flowers in pots last year, then the heatwaves hit and fried them. By that time the gkids didn't care. If the weather is nice, they'll play with some of the neighborhood kids. Mallory likes to bake cookies with them, and they've enjoyed that...mostly. In the summer we go to the library on Friday, so they have things to read if they can settle down. We visit parks, too. They have their favorites.

Thanks for the tips...on decluttering and kids. I'm always open for suggestions. Now to go print that blog... LOL

Rox Delaney said...

Don't let Pat fool you. Her house is peaceful and neat. ;)

Reese Mobley said...

I recently cleaned out a few closets and my office. I set up some new files, organized the crap and it made for a more peaceful work space. Now, if I could get my family to stop using the dining room table as a drop off point, I'll be a happy camper. Good luck with whipping yours into shape and hoping you can keep it that way.

Rox Delaney said...

Only one drop off place, Reese? I'm impressed! The g-kids come in from school and everything is tossed wherever. Shoes get lost, coats and homework forgotten, and we're left to gather at the end of the day, usually the things that should have gone home with them. They also hit Mallory's room and my office. My bedroom is locked. ;) In fact, I nearly tripped over a basketball in my office as I made my way to my desk to type this.

Joan Vincent said...

Love it, Nina. You have such a knack for good informative writing which also inspires a chuckle or too. At least from those of us who also have messy houses. I've been slowly trying to eliminate the clutter from being in our home for 23 years. And my desk, hopeless until I have someone coming and actually clean it off. I doubt after 40+years of a messy desk I'll ever conquer it!

Rox Delaney said...

Joan, it must be spring cleaning fever. I'm about to tackle a few boxes of papers to sort, file & toss. Somewhere are the research notes I printed for a book. Why I decided to do this while 4 kids are here this week on spring break, I'll never know.

Rox Delaney said...

Nina, your post was obviously timed well. Or spurred us to actually do something. Take your pick. :)