The Hundred Day Cleanup: How Not to Do It

UPSwampI’m already twenty days into my big clear-out-the-house-in-100-days project, so things should be starting to look good, right?

Wrong. I haven’t made much progress at all in draining my swamp. It’s time to figure out why and decide how to do things differently. Let’s see, the first thing that went wrong – back in the first week of January – was that I had to spend two days (there were problems) updating the financial and payroll software on the PCs at my church. Things like this happen a lot – I have a habit of accepting responsibility for all sorts of stuff that later makes demands on my time.

What can I do about this? Right now, not much. One of the skills I need to learn is how to judge how much time I have that’s unclaimed. Meanwhile, there are various things I promised to do that people are depending on, and I’ll just have to work around them.

Then I tried to catch up by following the suggestions in one of my how-to-get-organized books – the Don Aslett one that calls for spending two days working as hard as you can. And that tipped me over the edge into what was probably a mild case of flu. So much for most of the second week of January.

What to learn from that? Pretty simple: know my limits and respect them.

Wellll – respect my limits when I can. Last Thursday was devoted to the usual trip to work on clearing my mom’s house, a project that set me right on the ragged edge of physical endurance several months ago and has kept me teetering there.

And this is another unfortunate situation in which I’m not free to learn anything, or at least not free to apply what I learn. The house has to be cleaned out so we can put values on what’s left and pay the state of Pennsylvania its estate tax; they want their money by the end of next month. It’s the kind of situation in which you just sacrifice whatever else you can sacrifice and force your way through to the end.

After the trip to my mom’s, as usual, I wasn’t good for much for the next day and a half. By then, it was the afternoon of the seventeenth. All right, said I to myself, let’s do something that isn’t strenuous; I started trying to follow Marie Kondo’s advice to clean out and organize everything in a specific problem category at one time. I’m overflowing with paperwork, some of it mine, some my mother’s, and some paperwork of my grandmother’s that my mother never disposed of after she finished settling her mother’s estate, thirty-five years ago.

So much to shred.

So much to shred.

Oh, there’s a lot of paper.

Too much paper, it turns out, for me to start with the Kondo method. (Though I’m still fond of Kondo’s book – probably because she tells you, step by step, how you ought to clean. Yes, I do need that level of detail right now.)

I’ve seen houses that are messier than mine is at the moment, but not many. There isn’t enough room to work. I can throw paper away, but there’s no space to sort and organize the keepers. After a few days of fighting with the mess, I was frustrated, angry, exhausted, and depressed. What to do, what to do?

Time for a little creativity. If I can’t get the house clean and organized by forcing myself into working strenuously for several days, and I can’t make any progress by dealing with all of one problem before moving to another, what can I do?


I can do the easy stuff. I can grab an armful of my own papers, and throw most of them away. Do that a few times and I’ll have an empty shelf to work with. I can take the books that are lying here and there and put them back where they belong. I can find the things I was too hopelessly exhausted to clean up last fall, at my low point, and take care of them. And as more space opens up, I ought to be able to tackle problems I can’t even make myself think about yet, like how to file the estate paperwork appropriately.

We’ll see how well it works.

3 responses to “The Hundred Day Cleanup: How Not to Do It

  1. I think you have it right when you say you can do the easy stuff and really that is where you need to start – how about this one – never leave a room without taking something that either doesn’t belong there and putting it where it belongs or even getting rid of it or when you sit down take a pile of something with you, a pile of papers say that can easily fit on your lap and a rubbish bag, if you need to shred then you need to have that appliance at hand too, never put something down again with deciding where it should go.

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