One of the saddest stories I’ve heard in my role as Person Who Talks About Decluttering On The Internet was told to me by a life-long friend.
I was about two years into my blogging journey, and she was one of the few people in my real life who knew I was telling my deslobification story to the world as Nony (short for aNONYmous).
She shares some of my issues, so she related to what I was writing. We talked as she read through the blog from the very beginning.
When we met up as my family traveled through her town, we talked cleaning. (I’m so fun to have around, y’all . . . )
Her story, told with tears in her eyes over the progress she was finally making, was about the most damaging thing ever said to her.
A woman in her life who helped a lot of people by sharing organizing tips gave the advice to take something with you every time you leave a room. Meaning, if you walk from the living room to the kitchen, grab a dirty dish to put in the dishwasher or a piece of trash to drop in the garbage.
That’s great advice. I’ve heard it from other organized people as well. Doing this simple thing will have a great impact on a home. It’s a wonderful habit to cultivate.
But the damage came from the casual remark that followed.
Something like: If someone won’t do that, then I can’t help them!
My friend described her heart sinking at those words.
She knew that remembering to take something with her every single time she leaves a room . . . wasn’t going to happen.
Not that she couldn’t or wouldn’t do it sometimes. She might even work hard to get to the point of regularly. Or even often.
But every single time being the standard made the standard unattainable.
And being told she couldn’t be helped if that standard couldn’t be reached told her she couldn’t be helped at all.
Which ripped away any hope she’d had.
I’m here to tell her and you and myself that there’s hope. And help. Even for the person who “can’t be helped” because they can’t remember something they really wish they would remember.
For those of us to whom a hairbrush on the coffee table or a coat in the middle of the floor might as well be invisible.
To be clear, before I get into the hows, the hope-slasher didn’t mean to hurt my friend. It was an offhanded, casual remark that was likely made in jest and she would probably be horrified to know how much it hurt.
As someone who regularly wishes she hadn’t said something she just said, and who is the Queen of Offhanded, Casual Remarks Made in Jest that have probably hurt people I’d be horrified to know I hurt, I am not criticizing her.
But I can’t not say anything for the sake of those of us who’ve heard such things (or thought we heard such things) and felt hopeless.
It has also been long enough that I doubt she would remember she said it if she ever landed on this site.
So how do you manage to keep the house out of chaos when the standard of “every single time” isn’t attainable?
Take action in the moment when you do remember to do something.
Instead of worrying about remembering or wishing you could remember, act. I could turn this into a 12,000 word blog post with all I’ve learned about combating my all-or-nothing fear of failure. But I won’t. Mostly because I’ve written two books about that.
For now, I’ll explain why the five minute pickup is the “take something with you every time you leave a room” for those of us who can’t remember to take something with us every time we leave a room.
Five minutes can happen now. I can talk myself out of fifteen minutes. 30? That’s crazy talk. But five little ol’ minutes are hard to argue against. Our coffee pot takes longer than that to brew. On my stove, water takes longer than that to boil.
Because five minutes can happen now, whenever now is, I can set my timer in the moment when I happen to notice my house getting shambly. (Shambly: made-up-by-me word to describe the beginning stages of my house being “in shambles”)
By acting in the moment when I notice, I make progress. I pick up five minutes worth of out of place stuff (20 or 25 minutes worth if the whole family is home). Five minutes of focus can produce a lot of progress.
And those five minutes of focus make up for a lot of trips taken from room to room with empty hands.
What if I Can’t Remember to Do a Five Minute Pickup?
I get it. Really. I struggled with the same thing until I decided to stop struggling.
I’ve made a conscious decision to not assign my five minute pickup to a specific time of day. Not that there isn’t an ideal time for it. There totally is.
But when I set a specific pickup time and forgot to do it at that time, I failed. I’d berate myself for the failure, hope I was going to remember the next time those numbers appeared on my clock, and repeat this scenario for days.
While my house got shamblier and shamblier.
I could aim for a time, but I decided to define success as just doing it. Whenever I thought of it. Wish I would have done one last night? That’s my reminder to do one now, and doing one now is success.
Success wasn’t defined as remembering. Success was defined as doing.
Decluttering helps me find places for things I do need (by answering my first decluttering question) and get rid of things I don’t need. So even when a room is strewn with stuff, there’s less stuff. A focused pickup time (even just five minutes) gets the room back under control. Or a lot closer to under control.
And it builds.
I remember to do five minute pickups more frequently when a space is decluttered. I notice what’s out of place since things actually have places.
And, the more I do focused five minute pickups, the more likely I am to do something crazy and formerly out of character, like . . . pick up one thing to take with me when I leave the room.
It’s like magic, but not magic at all.
Hear “I can’t help you” instead of “you can’t be helped.”
Of all the things I’ve blathered about in this post, remember this one most. Just because one method doesn’t work for you or you failed miserably at following one person’s advice, you’re not hopeless.
Try another way.
Listen to another perspective.
Start throwing stuff away.
There is hope for you. You can be helped. But you are the only one who can figure out what kind of help will actually help you.
I mentioned my book(s) at the beginning of this post. I was trying to be subtle up there, but I’m done with subtlety now. I wrote those books for the person who is where I was nine years ago. I was hopeless and felt helpless. How to Manage Your Home Without Losing Your Mind will take you from complete and total bewilderment to knowing exactly what it takes to keep your house under control. Decluttering at the Speed of Life will help you change your mindset about clutter and give you the exact steps to getting that clutter out of your house. The books are available in all formats (digital, paperback, audio) wherever books are sold. If a video course is more your thing, I have one of those too: The 5 Step Clutter Shakedown.
And if you can’t afford to buy the book(s), check your local library. Most libraries have my books, and you can ask your librarian to order them if yours doesn’t.
Morgan Hazelwood says
I’ve been following you for YEARS and I was just wondering today, what’s the difference between keeping a house less messy with older kids than when they were little?
Thank you, Nony. This truly resonated with me.
Sharon Carder says
Too bad the friend-of-your-friend didn’t know this quote: “Never deprive someone of hope; it might be all they have”. – H. Jackson Brown Jr.
My heart is breaking for your friend, and for anyone anywhere who has lost hope.
As someone who had given up on being able to do anything because I couldn’t make myself notice specific things I was supposed to start with in other systems, thank you, both for this post and all your other writing. You have made a huge difference in how I think about cleaning and keeping house.
Holly Gordon says
I love this!! There is hope as long as we are willing to try (especially your method – in a seriousness!!)
“Success [is] defined as doing.” <3
Cindy in AZ says
My mother is the Queen of Offhanded, Casual Remarks. She has NO filter. And no matter if you’ve told her more than once that her offhanded, casual remarks can be hurtful, she doesn’t care. It’s something I’ve been living with all of my life (I’m 50 now). It is deflating, demoralizing and defeating. Even when she tries not to say anything, her silence speaks volumes. She has a very judgy expression (and no, it’s not my imagination, I’ve called her out on it many times and she just says, “Well, I wasn’t going to say anything, BUT…”). She’s always made “offhanded, casual” remarks about my non-housekeeping skills. I’ve never been tidy, even as a child I was messy. My homes have always been messy. I know how to clean, just not how to maintain.
Growing up, she did try to teach me…I think. For instance, I do remember her telling me as a child that she often tried to remember put 10 things away before she went to bed. She also told me about taking something with you when you leave a room, especially if it needs to go in the room you’re going to. She even told me about the 5-minute pick up game. We spent every Saturday cleaning. My mom even tried to institute a “chore jar”…UGH! Of course her house is VERY organized and tidy.
I do try to implement any of those methods when I remember, which isn’t all too often. For a dozen reasons I won’t bore anyone with, my house is in a perpetual state of “there seems to have been a struggle” mess. I’m working on it, one day at a time,
which is why I bought both of Dana’s books (met her personally at the Pinterest Conference in Scottsdale last month). I’m also reading some other helpful books about procrastination and anxiety (I’ve got LOTS of issues).
We are currently re-doing our kitchen ourselves (replacing 2 cabinet boxes, new sink, new faucet, new dishwater, new backsplash and painting the cupboards) after some water damage over the past summer, so my home is even more chaotic. AND, with the Christmas fast approaching, I’m trying to keep it together. I know, by the Grace of God, we’ll finish the kitchen and my husband and our girls will help get the house in order, so I should try to not be so judgmental of myself, but easier said than done.
I am a work in process…
I had no intention of writing this much…I guess I needed to. Thank you, Dana, for revealing your life and home for those of us who aren’t wired like “those other neat people”. It is comforting to know there are others who struggle to keep our homes (and lives) in order. You are a blessing!
Jan S Jones says
Thank you! I feel sooo overwhelmed sometimes because of this very thing. I certainly can’t remember every time! But, yes, I can remember sometimes. And probably, the more I do it, the more I will remember! Yay! I’m going to leave the room right now, just so I can take something with me!😉
Thank you, I needed that!
Rebecca Morse says
I struggle with finding people who are organized very Boring. Seriously. And I don’t want to be one of them. For those of my friends/aquaintances that are so organized that they plan their lives around always “taking one thing with you when you leave a room”, or other life patterns that they suggest, down to the last one, I find those people very boring and uninteresting.
I know I need to look at them differently, but almost always, they are Boring people.
I so appreciate your blog! I actually found it from a friend who enjoyed your spotting, but thought it was so much “common sense”. Maybe to some, but for me, it’s been just what I needed!
We’re a homeschooling family with four kids, and for years I’ve avoided messy projects with them because the house just felt too overwhelming. It’s in no way perfect, but now I feel I can finally let them paint rocks or pull out the clay and get messy, and we can still get the table cleared off for dinner!
There are various posts you’ve made that really resonate with me, and this is one. I love that you’ve made a decision not to impose the emotional pressure of a specific time on the task, and I love that you’ve defined success as doing it when you think of it. This is exactly the mental journey that I find myself on repeatedly – removing the ‘coulda-shoulda-would ask and concentrating on not letting the emotional baggage stop me from just doing the thing, whenever I think of it. Thanks for putting it in words.
Finally, someone who I can relate to and your tip about not organizing while decluttering was the lightbulb moment for me as to why I was stuck, as well as your two questions. I have hope again & purchased both of your books, watched your videos & subscribed to your e-mails the first day I found you. I feel like I’ve found “my person” lol!
I honestly love you! Your lack of judgementalism, the way you appreciate the struggles some of us have with things so basic most people don’t even think about them. And because you’re obviously not stupid or lazy, you reassure me that I’m not either – my mind just works in a different way.
Phyllis Edwards says
absolutely love the way you write and fully explain things, sounds like me talking to myself may be why I can understand it. And this post is amazing. I was at a doctor appointment once and doing a good job of switching from drinking a LOT of iced tea every day to drinking water, and the doctor remarked to be careful to not drink too much water (yeah, evidently that’s a thing) and wouldn’t you know, it’s been a trial to get even close to substituting water for the tea ever since. So Thank you for speaking my kinda language. Love your blog, continued success.
I have always struggled with cleaning, but at one point a few years ago I was determined to keep one room clean. I quietly cleaned the bathroom a bit everyday and was able to maintain this for an entire month. At the end of the month, I quite proudly told my spouse what I had accomplished and he promptly teased, “of course, it’s the smallest room in the house.” He didn’t mean to upset me or diminish my work, but in one sentence he completely dismissed what I had worked so hard at and dashed any hope I had to maintain it. It’s amazing how a single comment can impact us internally.
Thank you for this blog, it gives me hope everytime I read it, especially when you say things like “find the method that works for you” it makes me feel heard.
Another GREAT piece to the jigsaw puzzle for us slobs!
I used to be so HARD on myself when I could not even sustain a 5-minute pickup.
Then an epiphany …. try HALF – only 2 1/2 minutes.
It worked ….. on a GOOD day. And sometimes I would end up decluttering 5 minutes.
If not, more mental self-flagellation.
Another epiphany …. try 1 minute.
Even more success. Little by little.
Now ACTION times range from 10 seconds to 45 minutes.
Yes, there are times when the BEST I can do is 1 or 2 items –
something in each hand to trash/put away/donate.
THANK YOU, Dana, for all your love, guidance, encouragement
and “walking the walk” with us.
And, Co-Slobs and Followers, WE CAN DO IT!
Caroline Clunies-Ross says
Every thing you do, even if it is “only” one thing which takes 10 seconds is better than not doing it.
One thing that has helped our family is to use a “routine” in our google hub. Every weeknight night at 8:00 it’s set to broadcast “time to do a 5 minute pickup” to all the integrated speakers in the house (living room/kitchen, bedrooms). This way everyone hears it and we don’t forget. Alexa and Apple HomeKit should have the same feature. We don’t always drop everything and do it but it’s definitely helps us do it more frequently than before.
I’ve been reading you for years, even before I had kids and your style of decluttering has been life changing. It’s doesn’t need to be perfect, just BETTER. Don’t pull everything out and make a bigger mess unless you HAVE to.
On a side note whenever I’m in my kitchen after the kids, I think about a video you made from years ago. I forget exactly what you were decluttering, but it was in the kitchen and you kept ducking your head around an open cabinet door instead of shutting it. You did it because (as you call it) your “slob brain” didn’t see it. My kids and husband are the exact same way. Every night I walk through the house shutting cabinet and closet doors and smile instead of being annoyed. Because I understand they can’t see it either.
I just recently found you, which is truly unbelievable because I am convinced we must be identical twins (regardless of the fact that I am probably 10 years older than you). In the last 3 weeks I have read all of your books and am now reading your blog. Every word I read is talking directly to me!! You are the first de-clutter expert or even friend or family member that truly understands exactly how my brain works. You have no idea what a blessing you are in my life. Thank you!!
PS. I’m in Texas too
Linda Marlene says
This is a great reminder to be careful of the words we say. Our words should build others up, not tear them down. This is a thought-provoking post. Thank you, Dana!
Dana, you continue to be such a blessing! This article is SO good! Thank you for sharing what God has given you… blessed to be a blessing. Love your books too! 👏🏻👏🏻👏🏻 Somebody “gets” me and it is so comforting besides being helpful.
This is probably one of my favorite posts of all and popped up just when I needed it. Thank you for sharing your story and words of hope!
Thank you so very much for this blog. I have been binge reading it from the beginning. Not sure how to say this without it sounding weird or bad,but my culture ( Mennonites) where I come from is very clean and orderly. Every Saturday even starting Friday all the furniture and windows are wiped all the floors swept and mopped, outside the floors all washed. Oven is cleaned, bread and sweets baked, dishes all done, and and and…..So I always feel like I am a failure, because I am a SLOB. But I am also very creative ( don’t mean to brag) household chores are just not what comes natural to me. I have learned a lot through your blog and Dawn from the minimal Mom. Now I know there is hope for me too. And even though these past weeks many in our family have been sick, including me and my Mom who had to stay totally in bed. I was suprised how quickly our house became fairly tidy and how much easier it was to clean up after the huge chaos it had become again. Sorry for the long post. Thank you once again.