File under: a little self-awareness makes everything better.
I have known for a good long while that when it comes to projects, I am an excellent beginner and halfhearted finisher. I love big ideas, and bog down in the nitty-gritty. I enjoy the process … except when it comes time to tidy up the loose ends.
Of course this applies to big picture scheming and dreaming, but you know what else it applies to? The laundry. The dishes. The mess that is my office.
If being an adult means learning how to clean up after yourself, I am really struggling with this adulthood thing. Still.
When it comes to habits like this, self-awareness is the first step, but where to go next? I’ve never been able to frame a solution in a way that enabled or inspired me to follow through, the goal here to not leave a path of devastation (or general untidiness) in my wake as I move through my home each day. I knew the problem, but couldn’t figure out a good system for doing something about it.
(The personality geek in me wants to explain this in Myers-Briggs terms: as an INFP I need good systems and habits, and can “work” those systems once they’re in place—but have a terrible time creating them.)
But recently I stumbled on an Apartment Therapy post that framed the problem—or rather, the solution—in a way I could grasp.
In it, the author explains that having a home that’s generally tidy is a matter of habit. She called this habit “completing the cycle,” and it means, basically, that you finish what you start. You clean up after yourself. But isn’t “completing the cycle” so much more satisfying to say, if only to yourself?
(Timeout to say: this isn’t about having a perfect home. If that makes you happy, that’s great, but that’s not my goal. This is about having clean, unwrinkled clothes, clear-enough counters, and a level of organization that allows me to actually find my stuff when I need it.)
It’s clear to me that my own frustrations come from not completing the cycle. For an obvious, oft-repeated example: Saturday morning, I started the laundry. An hour later, I dried and folded half the load. Those clothes got put away. Two days later, a bunch of socks and t-shirts are still sitting in the dryer. But the cycle isn’t complete until the dryer is empty and all the clothes are put away.
Earlier this morning, I made breakfast. (Three fried eggs + Trader Joe’s sweet and spicy jalapeños, every morning.) Last week, I would have made breakfast, put the eggs away, left the jalapeños out, and put off washing the skillet till later. Today, I put everything away and cleaned up—because I wanted to complete the breakfast cycle while it was still breakfast time.
I take a lot of pictures for this blog. I usually wait till afternoon—when the light is good—and then I drag everything (books, plants, odds and ends) to a big window and start shooting. Then, more often than not, I leave everything where it is and rush out the door to pick up my kids from school. And later, probably not till tomorrow, I’ll be annoyed with the mess I left behind, because who wants to clean up yesterday’s project, today? That happens when I don’t complete the cycle.
There aren’t any miracle tricks here: I still have to clean up after myself. But I believe in the power of a well-articulated problem, and a corresponding solution. Adulting is hard, but “completing the cycle” sounds so satisfying it just might work. This week, I’m resolving to give it a try.
What systems do you rely on to keep your spaces in a state of non-chaos? Do you talk to yourself about “completing the cycle”? I’d love to hear your answers and your favorite organizing tips and mantras in comments.