Category Archives: Hundred Day Cleanup 2015

It’s been a hundred days

UPSwamp…since the start of my second try at getting my house all cleaned up. How’m I doing? Have I drained my own personal swamp? Is the place immaculate and empty?

Well, no. It’s cleaner than it was, and less cluttered, but there’s a lot left to do. And it’s really nobody’s fault. I’m overcommitted, and that’s part of the problem – but nobody could have predicted, more than three months ago, that I would be still be filling in for our church treasurer, let alone that my father-in-law’s health would take a nosedive.

So what do you do when you have too many things to do, and can’t walk away from the ones that eat up the largest amount of time? You make lots of lists so you don’t forget two-thirds of the things that HAVE TO get done today, and you reluctantly let some things slide that you’d like to do, and you take one step forward after another and try not to trip over your own feet.

And you cook a very simple Thanksgiving dinner, today. Never mind making Thanksgiving “interesting” – we’ll be eating roast turkey, with sweet potatoes, cranberries, salad, and pumpkin pie; just the basics, thank you.

I suppose it’s a good thing that I’m more of natural marathoner than a sprinter. I will have a clean house with no unloved junk in it – but probably not in 2015.

5 Steps to Becoming Very, Very Frustrated

UPSwamp(Plus 2 things to do next, and 5 steps to actually deal with the problem.)

1. Decide it’s time to clean things up.

2. Realize you’ve got a lot of old papers with information that could be useful for ID theft; get a shredder.

(Step one and step two can be done weeks or months ahead of time.)

3. Shred and shred and shred and shred until the shredder bag is full.

4. Take the bag out of the shredder.

5. Spill a small mountain of paper shreds out of the bottom of the bag. Realize the bag is torn wide open.


What to do next:

1. Stare at the ripped bag in horror. State at the pile of shredded paper in more horror. Stare at the bag – you know, the torn one with equally large holes top and bottom; that bag – some more.

2. Take yourself off to look at email and funny cat pictures for half an hour, until you cheer up and your sinuses recover from the dust of sixty-year-old paper.

And finally,

1. Come back and stuff the torn bag into another nice big bag.

2. Scoop handsfuls of shredded paper into the new bag until you can’t pick up any more.

3. Tie the bag shut and put it with the recycling.

4. Get a broom and a dust pan (because you already know a vacuum cleaner won’t do a good job picking up shredded paper; you’ve tried) and sweep up the rest of the mess.

5. Grumble as needed throughout this process.


(This is Day 4 of Five Photos, Five Stories – also, it’s part of the Hundred Day Cleanup.)

The Great Emptying: Expert Advice

UPSwamp…from a certified incompetent: me.

I think we’ve all come across the Number One bit of expert advice on getting cluttered papers under control – “Handle each piece of paper just once.” It sounds so sensible! Don’t waste time pawing through mountains of paper over and over. Take one piece, decide where it belongs, put it there, done. Repeat as many times as needed.

The only problem is, it doesn’t work all the time for everybody. It has never worked for me. When I try to sort through paper piles, I wind up with so many different categories that, before I know it, I’ve lost track of which papers go on which pile, and soon after that I give up in exasperated despair.

If following the rules doesn’t solve your problem, maybe it’s time to think harder about what your problem really is, and invent new rules to solve it. My problem? When I have to invent several dozen categories for scrambled papers*, I get confused and overwhelmed. So, for the past week I’ve been going through the piles gathering bank statements. Nothing but bank statements. It’s easy to sort them based on which account they apply to, and easy to set up one folder for each account and put them there.

Yes, I’m going to need to sort through those same jumbled piles again. And again. But the piles (some of them, at least) are visibly smaller, and now that I can see that I’m making progress, the idea of more sorting isn’t half as scary.

* Scrambling papers is even easier than scrambling eggs. But the papers aren’t as tasty.

24 Bankers Boxes

UPSwampThat’s what I have in my living room right now. Two dozen cardboard boxes full of papers from my mother’s house. Unsorted, miscellaneous, mostly-but-not-all worthless papers, just the way I found them while we were clearing out the rooms. Forty year old bank statements, income tax records, recipes she clipped out of newspapers (thousands of recipes), deeds to property, receipts from her doctor’s office…

And, of course, the usual furniture you expect to find in a living room: chairs, sofa, table, a desk. You can’t get to the desk or sit in two of the chairs at the moment; there are bankers boxes in the way. All in all, it looks like one of those TV shows about hoarders who have piles and heaps of Things, with only narrow lanes left clear to let you navigate through the piles.20150817BankersBoxes

This has to change.

And the problem isn’t only my mother’s stuff. I learned my lessons well – I’ve never been good at throwing things away. It’s time to master that skill, time to sort through all the junk I’ve kept for no good reason and get rid of it. Then I’ll probably need to sort through things I think I do have good reason to keep and dispose of a lot of them. The idea of all that work and decision making gives me the shudders, but looking at the handful of spaces I have cleaned so far makes me happy. Being happier with an emptier house – that’s the goal. Now, how to get there from here?

As I’ve mentioned a time or three, I intended to start this project last New Year’s Day. I was supposed to spend a hundred days cleaning out my own house and be finished by early April. Instead, my husband and I kept working on my mom’s house and bringing more and more boxes home with us, while I got more and more exhausted.

Well, now that my mother’s house is finally cleared out and sold and off my hands, and now that I’ve had a few desperately needed weeks to rest, I can start that long-delayed project. We’re in the middle of August now, and in 100 days it will be Wednesday, November 25. So I ought to be all done the day before Thanksgiving. Good timing. I don’t plan to cook a turkey dinner while I continue with major housecleaning – and being done with the Great Emptying would certainly be something to be thankful for.

I wonder if there will be snow on the ground by the time I finish cleaning?

The Hundred Day Cleanup: One Step Forward, Two Steps Sideways

UPSwampHere we are, at around 8 in the morning on the thirty-fourth day of 2015. That’s as close as you can get to one-third of the way through the first hundred days of the year. And how am I doing with the enormous cleanup project?

Some progress, and a lot of running in place. There’s some good news since I gave up on carefully spelled out plans and started just doing the most obvious things first. I’ve recycled piles of paper bigger than I am, and thrown out a smaller but impressive amount of junk that can’t be recycled. Nice.

I'm sure my grandmother knew who she was...

I’m sure my grandmother knew who she was…

The bad news? That was all stuff that we brought home from my mother’s house; boxes and boxes of old papers. Junk mail ads that my mother stuffed into plastic grocery bags and never disposed of. Birthday cards and phone bills that my grandmother received or paid in 1964. Photos of people I can’t identify, taken decades before I was born. (Actually, I haven’t persuaded myself to throw out the old photos yet.) And sorting all this paperwork is no fun at all when you’re allergic to dust.

Worst of all, when I clear out one batch of boxes that’s making it hard to walk around the living room, that doesn’t mean I’ve freed up any space. No. It means we can unload more boxes from the back of the car and lug them inside to sort.

Of course, the original idea of this project was to spend a hundred days getting rid of things I’ve been saving for no good reason. How am I doing with my own stuff, the things I should have thrown out years ago? Well, I’m not making much progress with the excess paperwork and books and clothes and who-knows-what that was here anyway. Most days, I don’t find time to deal with any of my own mountain of trash.

This might wind up being the two hundred day cleanup.

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.