Cleaning House Without Distractions

Last October, I wrote a post about my cleaning strategies. After having read the book, Unf*ck Your Habitat, I see now that the marathon cleaning sessions I would engage in once every rare while were the cause of my problems, not the solution. Twenty-minute cleaning sessions are far more effective, even if I only do one per day. Listening to audiobooks, however, has been revelatory. I got a ton done this weekend while listening to almost all of Becoming by Michelle Obama.

Here is the original post, from October 27, 2019:

ADHD, depression, anxiety, chronic fatigue, recurring headaches…

It’s understandable why my home is generally not very clean.

Tidying up quickly before friends come over is something I can do. Knowing there is a deadline puts pressure on me, and I perform well under pressure. (ADHD and Cleaning)

It’s an adrenaline thing. My mind and energy snap to attention when there is something at stake. ADHD medication (I take extended-release methylphenidate) tries to trick my body into feeling this way more reliably and consistently and to some extent, it works, but nothing is as effective as a good old fashioned time crunch.

The occasions where a cleaning more intense than a quick tidy up are needed are few and far between. The areas of my home that aren’t seen by casual company are harder for me to keep up with.

Piles of unopened mail have been shoved out of view. Laundry gets washed, but it’s never folded and it overflows the several laundry baskets that sit on the floor of my bedroom. The top of my bureau is buried underneath clutter. I don’t remember the last time I changed the sheets on my bed.

There is a vanity in my bedroom. The sink in it desperately needs to be cleaned. The skincare and makeup scattered all over the counter need to be organized. The jewelry needs to be put away.

My aim for today is to take on these tasks. Opening mail, folding laundry, changing my sheets, and cleaning the vanity in my bedroom.

We’ll see if I wind up doing anything with the top of my bureau. That might be more than I can handle on one day.

It’s currently 6 am. I have all day to accomplish four tasks.

Mail. Laundry. Bed. Vanity.

Phrased that way, it doesn’t seem overwhelming. I have 14 hours in which to do four tasks.

Staying focused and actually getting these simple things done is more challenging than one might think, though. For years I’ve struggled to follow through with completing basic tasks, never mind actually starting any of them.

My whole life, people have told me to “just put on some music and have some fun with it.” I tried so hard for so long to adopt this strategy, thinking of it worked for others I must be flawed in some way or doing something wrong if turning on music didn’t help me clean.

I’ve come to accept that listening to music is the opposite of what I need when I’m trying to clean. I wind up not finding a flow, and taking “breaks” that I don’t come back from.

For me, music is distracting, not engaging. I absorb the mood of a song too intensely, and since the average song lasts less than 5 minutes, I wind up feeling overwhelmed and exhausted by emotional channel-changes.

Plus, as soon as there is a pause between songs, my brain skitters away from the work on which I’m trying to focus. Emotionally, I brace myself for whatever might be coming next. If I had been in a good, productive zone for one song, I fall out of that zone as soon as the song ends, and I may or may not get back into it when the next song begins.

Overall, I find listening to music isn’t conducive to accomplishing any task that takes longer than the length of one song. Music, for me, actually makes housework more stressful and emotionally exhausting, rather than less.

Over the past six months or so, I’ve started realizing audiobooks work far better as housework background noise. The less intense the book, the better. If the story engages my mind without getting me overly engaged emotionally, I don’t notice that my hands are folding laundry or cleaning my kitchen while I listen.

I don’t get distracted from housework as easily when I’m listening to a book. The flow of sound is consistent and engaging. It isn’t interrupted by a silence every few minutes. It doesn’t change dramatically in tempo or tone over time. And I’ll continue with tasks rather than becoming bored with them because I will want to find out what happens next in the book.

As most of you know, I’m rather in love with libraries. One of many things I love is the ability to borrow audiobooks using the Libby app on my phone.

CNBC Article: How to borrow free audiobooks from your local library on your phone

I’m currently listening to Eggshells by Catriona Lally.

The author is Irish, as is the narrator, Alana Kerr Collins. It is a gorgeous book to hear read aloud and I’m looking forward to listening to more of it today.

Mail. Laundry. Bed. Vanity.

I’m ready to tackle my day. And with a good story to listen to while I perform these relatively mindless tasks, I should be able to accomplish them in no time.

Wish me luck.

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