Author: Rachel Hoffman
During Lent, last year, I had given-up book purchasing and was suffering the consequences. Imagine how excited I was when my husband, a mischievous glint in his eye, showed up with a surprise for me – a brand new book: Unfuck your Habitat: You’re Better Than Your Mess. While handing the gift over, Trav hopefully said, “you’ll really read it, won’t you!?”
My husband is a neat freak for the most part. I am an unrepentant pig. The problem with me is three-fold; 1) I appreciate and enjoy a clean house but it’s just not worth it to me personally and I have zero, read it, zero motivation to change; 2) I need my “me time” or I get seriously depressed, not to mention exhausted (compound this with the fact that I work long hours, commute long hours, and seem incapable of functioning safely with less than nine hours of sleep); and finally, 3) I bloody don’t know how.
But really – a self-help book? Like losing weight, there is no short cut. Want to fit into that dress again – eat less, don’t eat the food you like, and exercise more. Want a clean house – don’t do the joyful, soul refreshing things you would be doing to rejuvenate yourself from a stressful work day, instead pull out the broom and mop and just drudge. So, what’s so special about Unfuck Your Habitat, other than its zany use of the f-bomb, and what can Rachel Hoffman possibly say to make me sacrifice the rarity of free time for a scrub around the bathroom?
The answer is that no matter what, cleaning is a horror. Hoffman just straight up acknowledges that, knowing that the people coming to her book aren’t the Martha Stuart wannabes, but those of us who just don’t want our home condemned (or our loving spouse to become homicidal.) Hoffman makes no bones about who she’s targeting – these aren’t your Container Store junkies who adore organizing but the reluctant, cursing, mumbling, messed-up hordes. In other words, my people.
Hoffman has several special sections dedicated to people with depression and mental or physical illnesses which limits their ability to clean. It’s nice to finally have someone admit that it’s not always possible to clean. Hoffman then goes on to talk about the daily grind of modern life – i.e. no stay-at-homers anymore, but a beleaguered assortment of millennials who drag home only to be greeted by life part two. She takes all kinds of limitations into mind from just-don’t-want-to to just-physically-cannot, and in so doing slams the “marathon clean.” The sudden, mess defying collection of strenuous hours (sometimes days) spent in non-stop cleaning is a show stopper that teaches those of us with bad attitudes and limited time to abhor cleaning and, ultimately, avoid it altogether. Instead, the main-stay of this short little guide is the entire rule of 20/10s, something that I have tried with quite a bit of success. Instead of the all-day cleanathon, Hoffman advocates spending 20 minutes on a dedicated project, which could be as simple as “clear up the desk,” followed by ten minutes of break time. These 20/10s can be repeated multiple times (or not) throughout a day, and help to diminish the “I gave my life to the duster” blues.
Hoffman compliments her 20/10 concept with its flexibility (it could even be 5/10 for people with disabilities or cleaning triggered anxiety). The area should be small, the focus manageable. Instead of looking at an entire kitchen to clean, Hoffman suggests making a goal, such as just cleaning the right-side of the counter, and sticking to that without letting the overwhelming nature of the mess stop cleaning before it even begins. She further goes on to detail methods to keep you motivated (such as taking pictures and joining challenges on her website – http://www.unfuckyourhabitat.com/) with a few chapters thrown in from the perspective of the beleaguered spouse/parent/roommate and advice on how to talk to a messy person without becoming judgmental or asking too much. A few chapters for both hoarders and those who love them are included to walk people through the gradual shift of cleaning and, more importantly, getting rid of items that are not useful or don’t fit in the space. An appendix with some cleaning tips for general areas of the house (i.e. kitchen, bathroom, etc.) are included to help you work fast and efficient and, for those of us totally foreign to how the beast is tackled, a game plan of where and how to get started.
It’s not rocket science (but did you really think a book with “fuck” in the title would be?) Hoffman mostly just speaks common sense (such as, get your laundry washed and that will take care of a lot of the mess or put your clean dishes away and bam, you have counter space again). The common sense is repetitive with Hoffman coming up with a lot of different and encouraging ways to say the same thing – start small, have breaks, be reasonable and don’t burn out, do your best and let that be good enough, throw things away that you don’t need, etc.) There are not many of the scrubbing oriented tips because really, the concept of cleaning is simple. The concept of organizing is simple too when broken down – don’t buy or keep things you don’t need and you won’t have as much of a space problem.
In some ways it gets annoying to hear the same thing over and over – but there ultimately isn’t a lot to say other than “change your attitude” and “keep trying.” For all that, the book is oddly inspiring. Maybe it’s just because it gets us thinking about the things in our lives that we want to fix and makes us excited to do so. The advice does work. I won’t marathon clean, but read a book and putter around putting things away every chapter or so – sure, I’ll do that. Give cleaning a mere 20 minutes of my day? Not so bad. The important thing is little steps count and are really more important than the long-haul cleans that don’t last or establish better habits. Hoffman’s website is likewise helpful, when combined with the book appendix, to give us ideas of where to dive into the mess and begin untangling the junk that binds.
– Frances Carden
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