Newsletter 1

Unf*ck Your Habitat: Its Time to Clean Up My Mess

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Sonja Palmer

Staff Writer

Sonja resides in Asheville, NC where she has a job she loves at a children’s nonprofit.  When she’s not working, she probably has a book or comic in hand as she tries to read her way out of the ever-growing stack in her small apartment.  On weekends, she’s probably clambering through the mountains with her husband and dog or trying to eat too much cake while watching Great British Bake Off.

When the world feels horrifying, it can often seem like cleaning your house is 1) not important 2) nigh impossible. I feel you; I do.  Sometimes you just want to crawl under the bed instead of make it.  But living in a messy house isn’t that fun, and a lot of times organization in your home can bring a little more mental space. I have pretty high anxiety, and living in chaos can ratchet it up to uncomfortable levels.

So I was pleased when Rachel Hoffman came out with her new book Unf*ck your Habitat. She’s been around for a while on her tumblr, which I’ve followed since it first started. This is the only system that has ever worked for me because it feels doable and practical, and like she is appealing to me right where I am.  It actually changed my life and my home; I’m serious. I don’t have to pick up objects and decide if they spark joy in me, and I’m not aiming for a Dwell cover here; I just want a livable home. If my brother and his wife say they’re coming over in 45 minutes with their new baby, I don’t have to panic-clean the entire apartment.

I didn’t think I would ever make it to “clean house person,” but Hoffman’s blunt way of discussing the practicalities of cleaning actually worked for me. What’s more, she addresses housework for people with chronic pain and mental illness. This is one of the things I love about Unf*ck Your Habitat, that she talks about how even just one clean surface can be a massive victory if you’re battling depression.  She focuses on what is doable and on being gentle with yourself.

I could talk more here about how she talks about all the gender bullshit that comes with cleaning, and about all the helpful checklists and practical advice, but what really changed my life was the 20/10. Just clean your house for 20 minutes. Pick a room. Set a timer. Then take a 10 minute break. Then do it again. You’d be surprised how much you can get done.  The more you do this throughout the week, the easier it is, because you have less mess.

All these things have actually helped me have a clean house. They’ve helped me feel a little less helpless and like I can actually get something done-even if it is just laundry.

I’ve applied this to a lot of things in my life lately, really. I may not be able to really fix some of the bigger problems, but I can maybe just clean off the surface next to me. I can take 20 or so minutes to try and call my congressperson or write a letter.  Life doesn’t have to be taken in marathons; I don’t have to solve every problem immediately. I can make a list-I can do what I can do. I can try to clean up the mess I made and make a little more brain space. I’ll leave with this quote from the book:

“When things start feeling overwhelming again, and they probably will, because we’re all human beings and we have a lot of shit going on-remember to treat yourself kindly, to forgive yourself for your perceived failures, and to celebrate every accomplishment, no matter how insignificant it might appear. No matter how bad things seem, no matter how much work needs to be done. You can do it. One 20/10 at a time.”