Ultimate Spring Cleaning, Day 11: Get Busy (on the) Living (Area)

by Michael on April 1, 2010 · 0 comments

How to waste time: tell time with one of these. (Photo by Manky Maxblack)

Ultimate Spring Cleaning is a project to clean and declutter not only your house, but your life. Each day you’ll get a housecleaning assignment, an assignment that involves the world around you, and a project to clear your mind. You can start anytime at the Ultimate Spring Cleaning main page.

By now you should be a cleaning machine, and those skills will be tested next in the living area of your home. We’ll get it into shape for entertaining, a hot dinner date, or just lounging around. You’ll also look for the time drains in your life, and one of your worst habits will be gone forever. Sounds like a full day, huh?

Your Home: Clean Your Living Area

You’ll have four days to work on the living room. After you gather your implements of destruction, you’ll tackle it in about the same way you did your bedroom. Here’s a refresher:

  1. Take everything that isn’t supposed to be in the living area out of the living area. This includes trash, dishes, auto accessories and anything else you don’t have a place for in this room.
  2. Start at one end. Remove any loose items from furniture surfaces, put them in the middle of the room and then clean the furniture. If the furniture is a container (bookshelf, entertainment center, etc.) empty it into the center of the room and clean the drawers or shelves. Then move on to the next object.
  3. Use a duster on objects that are simply dusty, a polish on wood, and your multi-surface cleaner on anything really dirty. (If you have a flat-panel TV, you may need screen cleaning solution to avoid damage—read your manual!) Keep a clean dry cloth or paper towels for drying as you go.
  4. As you go, move the furniture away from the wall and clean the wall. Clean doors, windows, light switches, thermostats, framed pictures or art – everything that’s even a little dusty or grimy.
  5. Look at your electronics and make sure your wires and cables aren’t looking exposed and ugly. There are a number of solutions for cable clutter, from trays and zip ties to a better entertainment center. Get rid of gadgets you no longer use (if you have TiVo and a DVD player, do you really need a VCR?).
  6. Repeat steps 2-4 until the room, except the middle, is clean.
  7. Now it’s time to sort the items you’ve placed in the middle of the room. Make three piles:
    • Items you use.
    • Items you might use or have purely sentimental attachment to.
    • Items to get rid of (sell, toss or donate).
  8. Take the items from Pile 1 and put them where they should be. Clean them if necessary.
  9. One by one, pull items out of Pile 2 and determine, here and now, whether you actually need it. If you do, put it where it should be (hint: if it really doesn’t have anywhere it should be, you probably don’t need it). If you don’t need it, put it in Pile 3. Be ruthless. Things can be replaced.
  10. Take the items from Pile 3 and put them in a box or garbage bag. Put the box or bag with the items from the other rooms you’ve cleaned – we’ll deal with it later on.
  11. After your piles are gone, clean any remaining furniture. Vacuum the sofa and/or chairs, and launder everything that can be laundered (often you can throw seat cushion covers in the washing machine—check the tags).
  12. Organize your books, CDs, DVDs and any other libraries. Alphabetical, by year, color-coded, it doesn’t matter as long as you can find what you want.
  13. Vacuum or mop the rest of the room, including under the sofa, entertainment center and any other furniture. If you have to move the furniture, do it.

Again, you have four days for this. In the days to come, we’ll also look at how you can better decorate this area.

Your World: Write Down Your Day

Ever look up at the clock and wonder where the hell the hours went? Today we’re going to find out!

To prepare, get three blank sheets of paper, a small notebook or a note app on your phone. You need this document to be at hand all day long, so it can’t be kept on your computer. If you want to create a form on paper, make sure you have at least four lines for every waking hour of the day, so you can track in 15-minute increments.

Then, track everything you do for at least the next 24 hours, or even better, the next few days. From the moment your eyes open in the morning (“6:45-7:00: Lingered in bed”) to the time they close at night (“10:15-10:45: Read On The Road“) track everything you do. Work, play, meals, walking to meals, commuting, answering e-mail, making phone calls, trimming nose haireverything.

If you need to set an alarm on your watch or your phone to remind you to record what you’ve done over the past hour or so, do it.

When you’ve got a completed list of your daily activities, sit down with a pencil and circle everything you didn’t need to be doing (like spending a half-hour watching NCAA highlights or reading Facebook), everything you didn’t want to do (like commitments you’re sorry you made or work tasks that are out of your job description) and everything you took too long to do (tedious tasks, hour-long meetings that should have been a half-hour).

When you’re done, set the list aside. In a few days you’ll use this information to streamline your day and make time for the things you never thought you had time for.

We all have time-sucks that we hardly notice until the hours have just evaporated. Looking closely at them is the first step to freeing up time.

Yourself: Kick One Bad Habit

What’s your worst habit? For the longest time, mine was eating whatever crap happened to appear in front of me. This caused health problems, and while being genetically predisposed to a thin frame, photos of a certain vintage show me to have developed a noticeable gut. Changing this habit was actually a slow process (convenience, I wish I could quit you), but now I eat 2000% healthier and look it as well.

Whether your bad habit is smoking, drinking, overeating or anger, you can and should work to turn that habit into a good habit. Punishing yourself doesn’t work, and might actually ingrain that habit further, so it’s important to reward yourself and make your replacement habit one you can live with. Leo Babauta, of Zen Habits, listed these 7 keys for turning bad habits into good (comments and paraphrasing by me):

  1. For each habit, identify your triggers. What happens that makes you want to smoke, or eat, or hit somebody?
  2. For every single trigger, identify a positive habit you’re going to do instead. Make sure it’s something you like. “Instead of eating that Ho-Ho, I’m going to have a glass of water with fresh lemon.”
  3. For at least one month, focus entirely on being as consistent as possible. Every single time a trigger happens, do the new habit. You may fail. That’s okay. Leo says it took him seven attempts to finally quit smoking for good. Start again, reset the clock and make adjustments so you can do better.
  4. Avoid “trigger” situations as much as possible, to make it easier on yourself. A lot of bad habits are encouraged by your environment. Consider staying away from places and people that make it hard to avoid the bad habit.
  5. Realize that your urges will be strong, but they will go away after a few minutes. Just “ride out the wave,” and find a way you can calm or divert yourself: examples Leo gives include deep breathing, self massage, eating frozen grapes, walking around, exercising or calling a supportive friend.
  6. Ask for help. Don’t keep your struggle a secret. Enlist friends, family and co-workers. AA, NA, and smokers groups offer tremendous support. Find a class or join an online forum, and if you feel yourself wavering, call someone first!
  7. Stay positive! Everyone trying to change habits has negative thoughts. Recognize them and mentally picture yourself crushing them. Then bring a positive thought into the picture. (Just the fact you crushed that negative thought on your own should give you something positive to think about.)

It may not be easy, but when you’re able to squash a bad habit you’ll notice many different ways it changes your life for the better. It may save you time, or money, or heal friendships you thought were dead. You have nothing to lose and everything to gain. Get started right now.

Meditation will help. Do some today. See you tomorrow.

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