Ultimate Spring Cleaning, Day 12: Plants or Pets?

by Michael on April 2, 2010 · 0 comments

A good pet lets you know who's boss. (Photo by B Rosen)

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.

While you’re cleaning your living area, start looking around for ways you can improve your living space. Maybe a new arrangement of furniture, maybe replacement of old or inadequate furniture or fixtures, some new decor…or perhaps a living thing.

Your Home: Bring Life Into Your Place

If you live alone, it can be very convenient to keep only inanimate objects around you. After all, a LCD screen doesn’t need watering, a lava lamp doesn’t need food, and a neon beer sign never has to be walked. But while your gadgets and decor don’t require interaction, they don’t make your home more inviting either.

There’s another, even more important reason to consider a plant or creature: pets and plants can make you healthier. Caring for a life can give you purpose, the love of a pet can make you feel happier and more confident, helping you to live longer. Studies at NASA have confirmed that plants can act as “a living air cleaner,” absorbing toxins in the air while expelling fresh oxygen.

And if you’re going to be entertaining women, the fact that you can nurture a life form is a primal cue to her that you might be able to care for her as well.

The question is not whether you should have a plant or animal, but what kind. Consider these factors in making a decision:

Living situation: If your landlord prohibits pets, you don’t have much of a choice unless you move—but check, because some buildings may allow a fish tank. If your apartment is small, a big dog will get bored fast (and may take it out on your stuff).

Lifestyle: Most pets will require you to be home to a certain extent; if you travel a lot you may want to stick to hardy plants. A dog requires walks and attention at regular intervals, which is great if you crave routine and structure but bad if you travel or spend most nights out. A cat is less rigid in its demands, but you’ll still need to make time for play and litter box cleaning. A cat or rodent may not be the best option if you’re a light sleeper (no, you don’t put a cat outside for the night). Allergies may also be an issue.

Finances: The larger the pet, the more you’ll have to spend to keep it fed and healthy. Good quality food, regular vet visits and other comfort items (chew toys, scratching posts, sunken-ship replicas) will be necessary. If you go out of town, you’ll need to either board your pet or have someone come in to take care of it. A plant may be more expensive to begin with, but proper maintenance is cheap.

Look at your current life and determine whether a pet will fit. If you’re not fully prepared to care and tend to a pet from the day you bring it home until it dies of old age, you should instead look at plants.

To say there’s a wide variety of plants to choose from is a massive understatement, but what you probably want if you haven’t had a plant before is something hardy:

  • The snake plant is an Australian weed, and is as hardy as the name implies. It’s not the most pleasing plant to look at, but it will be hard to kill. It is, however, quite toxic, so if you want a plant and a pet this may not be optimal.
  • The agave is manly in a number of ways: it only flowers briefly, so most of the time it’s a kind of green star-shaped plant; it’s edible, in case you’re caught without food; it’s what they use to make tequila.
  • A bonsai tree can actually be a number of different plants: what makes it a bonsai is how it’s grown. Each type of tree will have slightly different care needs.
  • A ficus tree is larger and more of a focal point. Requiring water only about once a week, it will also drop its leaves when you first get it home—don’t be alarmed—and sometimes in winter. Because it’s a tree it will continue to grow and may require pruning.
  • If your primary requirement is that it’s almost impossible to kill, the cactus may be for you. Of course, there’s the small matter of the needles or spines, but you’re not going to be petting your cactus.

There are many more types to consider: the cane plant, jade plant, bamboo…check out a few at a nearby nursery. I don’t recommend buying plants at IKEA or a department store—then again, if a plant dies on your watch no one will put you in jail.

Your World: Cut Down Your Online Time

While you’re in the middle of tracking your daily activities, keep a log of where you go online. It’s easy to get caught up in the Web, spending too much time on Facebook, following Ashton Kutcher’s tweets, or arguing with strangers in an online forum.

The challenge is very simple:

  1. Track every site you visit more than once a week. That includes visits from home, work and your mobile devices.
  2. Rank these sites in their importance to your life. Not time spent, but importance.
  3. Look at the sites on the bottom of the list. Do they further your plans or are they just a place to hang out? If they aren’t enriching your life, circle them and avoid them for at least two weeks. If you don’t miss them dearly in that time, keep avoiding them.
  4. For the sites at the top and middle of the list, assess the time you’re spending there. Can you get the same information in less time, either there or somewhere else?
  5. Look into ways of getting the important information faster. Can you read them faster by using an RSS reader? (Most browsers have RSS capability built in, and Google Reader is free and fast.) Is there an app for your smartphone to help you consume information faster?
  6. Enjoy the extra time you’ve freed up.

As we continue these activities to declutter your life, you’re probably going to notice hours of time you thought you didn’t have. It’s important to take these hours and schedule in activities to help make your life better (including fun and downtime). In a couple more days, when you have a better idea of what makes up your day right now, we’ll finish up that process.

Yourself: Have Some Fun

The original schedule for Ultimate Spring Cleaning puts Day 12 on a Friday, so just like Day 5, I want you to enjoy yourself tonight. enjoy the company of your friends, see a movie, play mini golf, go dancing, whatever helps you blow off steam.

Just remember we have two more days to go before you can have any alcohol or juice, so the soda-water-and-lime mocktail is still the best option for looking like you’ve got a drink in your hand.

Tomorrow I’ve got a new and different activity for you—all I’ll say right now is, make sure the clothes you look best in are laundered. See you then.

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