Incremental Gains

Well, my week break is over. I did a much better job managing expectations this time, but I still feel disappointed by what I accomplished. I realize that I need to drastically improve the state of things around the house, so that I don’t feel like a failure when I can’t commit my weeks off to get things in order.

The problem is that I let things get so bad that I feel like I have to wait until I have a lot of free time to clean things up. This is only the case in certain areas of the house, but it’s such a small house that I can’t really avoid those areas when they are stressing me out. What I have to do is dedicate 15-30 minutes to upkeep every day. That way I wouldn’t always feel like I needed 5 straight hours to get things where I want them to be.

There is a chunk of time, daily, that I feel I can use to work on the house, the problem is it will be exceptionally hard to motivate myself then. The time I’ve identified is right after I’ve put the kids to bed. I usually spend the 15-30 minutes after I leave my daughter’s room in the glider, playing solitaire or mindlessly scrolling through my news aggregator. If instead of plopping my ass down and zoning out, I spent 15-30 minutes tidying up a problem area, the house would look pretty fucking amazing most of the time. And while yes, I do use that time playing mindless games on my phone to relax, the state of the house is a continual source of stress; managing that would be a much better stress eliminator in the long run.

I attempted to do this Friday night, after a particularly long evening at my daughter’s school helping with their African American Heritage Night. It was SO HARD to get my ass out of that chair and simply pick up random shit in the living room, but I motivated because I knew that it would make me feel better in the long run. Just like it can be hard to throw on a sports bra and work out, but I’m ALWAYS glad I did it.

So I heaved my sorry ass out of the chair and picked up. And I did feel better. I know if I could tackle a few big problems areas in my room this weekend I’d feel better about the state of things in general, and then maybe I could even weed out the superfluous Tupperware at some point too.

I have spent a fair amount of time this week feeling down on myself that I’m STILL not doing some of these things that I DESPERATELY want to do. I don’t know why I can motivate to do so many things that are hard for me but find other goals impossible to meet. And it’s not just the state of the house. I’m failing on the financial front, big time. I promised myself that I’d go back and track my spending in January and February after the fact using my bank and credit card statements, along with the notes I’ve attempted to keep about cash spending (which I don’t do much of). I also can’t say that I’ve only bought things I absolutely need in the past few months. That goal continues to elude me.

I know I’ve written many times about how these perceived shortcomings feel more and more like massive character flaws the longer I struggle with them. I don’t know how to change my ways on this stuff. Maybe I really do need some professional help, like a therapist to meet with weekly for check-ins. Maybe without that kind of support I really can’t do this.

But I can’t possibly afford a therapist right now, not in time or money. So I suppose I’ll keep trying and failing on my own. I do think I’m making small gains in the right direction, but holy shit it’s taking a long time for me to make any real progress. It’s so dispiriting.


  1. Try FLylady.Net.
    And 15-30 mins is WAAAY to long given your real life. Try 10-15 mins for starters. Really does help. IF need be, give yourself credit for 5-10 mins per day. With the children I used to set the timer for 3 (THREE) minutes of all of us picking up. ONLY 3 mins. Made a difference. (also do a hullabaloo for what was accomplished.)
    You do seem to always expect yourself to eat an elephant in one bite. Never works and then you beat yourself up.
    PS: After 10 or so mins picking up, do your mindless reward. Rewards ARE REALLY IMPORTANT.
    GO YOU!!!! I am proud of you, you are making progress. Perfection never happens.

    1. I think this is a great idea, and I’d add (since you said you were doing this after the kids are in bed)- why can’t the kids help? I know I was younger than your daughter and I suspect about your son’s age when I started having daily and weekly chores to help at home. It was just part of life. I’m sure lots of it I did wrong, but along the way I learned, er, with the exception of washing windows/mirrors. They still streak. I live with it. LOL Some things I remember doing by the time I was 3-4: making my bed, sorting (And some folding) of laundry, taking garbage out, putting toys away/cleaning up my room (long before that I think!). Just a crazy thought……

  2. I could have written this re: state of my house. Kudos to you if you spend time every day. I can’t even promise that bc it just won’t be done.

  3. I totally second purple and rose’s comment re: setting a timer. I don’t even have kids but do this for myself (“How much meal prep can I do in 1 hour? GO! etc, lol).

    Also, start small and build up over time – habit development requires small, incremental changes every day, not massive changes (hence why people fail when they go from never working out to trying to go to the gym 5 days a week!) What about setting VERY easy/realistic goals and then celebrating their achievement? If you can do 3-5 minutes of tidying each day for a month, then extend to 8 minutes, 10 minutes, etc.

    I actually agree that a therapist is really great at keeping one honest. Knowing that you are seeing them and have to tell them about your progress is a real kick in the butt – and they call you on your bullshit! In the absence of being able to actually see someone, could you use the blog to keep you accountable? Like, track your progress, give weekly updates, etc?

  4. I think its hard to see the progress you are making but I really do bet things are miles better than they were a few years ago when you hadn’t put any time/energy into the endeavors. Just remember things like keeping a house neat (when other people live in it, especially) or changing ingrained spending habits will be a lifelong journey and not something you can ever “finish”.
    I think the idea of doing X minutes (where I agree, X should be <10) every day is a really good idea and will keep things from building up over time. I LOVE the idea of including the kids in this. Can you all do 5 minutes of pick up? Play a couple songs and make it "fun"? If they are like my kids, they may actually help out (instead of whining the whole time) 1 out of 4 times at first, but at least they will see you doing it and eventually it may become more of a habit.
    What we do is: clean kitchen nightly—this is thorough and we take turns every other night doing this while the other does teeth/stories for the kid. I try to do the mail every day, too, because I loathe it when its piled up. I don't have a good system for anything else, but I try to pick up the living room at least one-two nights a week, throwing away shit the kids brought home for school, and putting toys away. I really should get the kids to do this. Every other week we have housecleaners, which forces me to put things away in the bedroom/bathroom too, otherwise we haves piles.

  5. Have you considered using a service like Talk Space for online therapy? They’re much cheaper than traditional therapy (I think I pay around $130/mon for unlimited access) and you use it when it’s convenient for you. Might be worth looking into.

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