Too Many Bright, Shiny Objects: How To Avoid Distractions When You’re Trying to Find Cleaning Focus
Where Can I Buy Marsupial-Proof Locks?
Do you ever gaze around your house in wonderment and think “when did a gang of deranged kangaroos storm through here?”
“And why were they eating Cheetos on the couch?”
I swear, sometimes it takes less than 24 hours for my house to go from “company ready” to “close the shutters, lock the doors, and for Pete’s sake, don’t post any photos with this nightmare in the background” condition.
Middle Schoolers Need Naps Too
I figure the aftermath of Kangaroo Jack and his buddies leaves me with four choices.
- Run away.
- Go back to bed.
Good thing it’s still unmade.
- Resign myself to a life of wedging my body into the opening of the front door whenever anyone stops over.
Sorry you can’t come in, the baby’s sleeping. Yes, I realize he’s in 7th grade. What’s your point?
- Figure out how to fix it, put on my hip waders, and get to work.
Darn, I hoped you wouldn’t go there.
Lack of Focus: Because ADHD
If you need to get it back together quickly, check out When Your Mother-In-Law Is On Her Way: How To Rescue Your House…and Fast!
But if time is not the issue, and it’s focus you’re after, then try one of these methods to zero in and dig out.
The (Count Von) Counted* Pickup
- Pick a number, depending on your motivation level, energy level, time constraints, and the level of mess.
- Start counting what you pick up. The goal is to reach that number before taking a break. Do not do anything but pick up and count.
My husband takes this game too literally. He picks up one thing in the mess and takes it all the way to the other side of the house to put away.
Sometimes we do not play well together. This is one of those times.
The goal of The Counted Pickup is not so much to pick up and put away “X” number of things. The goal (dear husband, I’m talking to you) is to get yourself moving and focused. If you choose the number 300, you decide what 300 means to you.
300 is my standard number for getting focused in a wrecked house. It sounds like a lot but it’s easy if the house is destroyed. After all, everything is right there just waiting to be picked up.
300 would take my husband until next year.
So before you panic and say “I have to pick up how many?!!,” here’s an example of how I do this.
Say my house is at DEFCON1. Nowadays, 300 will usually get it back to a reasonable state. In the past, I may have had to go another 300 or so before I noticed real progress.
- Start in dining room. Pick up backpack (1). Throw everything sitting on the table into it (2, 3, 4, 5, 6).
- Put backpack by dining room door (still 1 because I’m still holding it).
- Sweep hand across table to remove crumbs (7), then brush off chair (8).
- Move coats draped over chairs (9, 10, 11) to top of laundry baskets sitting nearby.
- Put one laundry basket (12) on top of other laundry basket (13); take both baskets to foot of steps.
- Hang up coats (14, 15, 16).
- Grab baskets (17).
- Throw junk on steps (18, 19, 20, 21, 22) on top of basket and carry the whole mess upstairs.
- Put items from top of baskets away (23, 24, 25, 26, 27).
- Move folded laundry to bed (done in 3 hand movements so 28, 29, 30).
- Toss some of the miscellany nearby into basket (31, 32, 33, 34, 35), including a handful of 15 Legos (36).
- Drift into bathroom. Put away bottles on counter (37, 38, 39), throw away used dixie cup (40), close cabinet door (41), rehang towel (42), close shower curtain (43)…and so on.
You get the picture. I’ve done 43 out of 300 in about 5-10 minutes.
I appear to be wandering aimlessly from messy room to messy room.
But I’m not as distracted as I seem.
Sure, I’m flutter budgeting here and there, but I continue to clean in every room. I don’t change tasks. I don’t stop:
- To try on clothes,
- To make sure Tivo will record This Is Us,
- To open the windows for fresh air, or
- To combine half-empty shampoo bottles.
I allow my inner distracto to run amok but in a purposeful way.
When you’re not in the mood to race a timer and you’re too scattered to try to stay in one room at a time, this game is a lifesaver.
Counting the entire time keeps you on track. You go wherever you want and still make progress.
All while being your fluttery flittery self.
The Counted Pickup is my hands-down favorite for dealing with random messes.
Even if there are zero. Zero peanut butter sandwiches.**
Hula Hoop/String Method
There are also times when you need to focus on very menial, repetitive, or overwhelmingly mind-numbing straightening tasks. When that happens, grab a hula hoop.
No, I didn’t say go hula hoop. I said grab a hula hoop.
- Lay a hula hoop down on top of the mess. Clean up only what’s inside the hula hoop. If you don’t have a hula hoop, use a belt or a piece of string. When it’s clean inside, move the hula hoop.
- 5,000 Legos to pick up? Hula hoop. (Can you tell by this post I have Lego PTSD?)
- Kids get overwhelmed easily? Hula hoop.
- Mom gets overwhelmed easily? Wine Hula hoop.
- Say it with me: “Hula hoop.”
It works for weeding the garden, too. Bonus!
Dirty But Neat Method
Or leave the hula hoop in the toy box and try the Dirty But Neat Method.
Your house is dirty and messy, but you don’t have the mental energy to tackle both things at once. Why not separate the two?
Using the Dirty But Neat Method, I go room to room picking up. That’s it. No cleaning yet.
With this method, you don’t even clean the sink or wipe off a counter. Even if you want to.
All of your attention is on one task – picking up and putting away. Period. Do not clean a toilet. Do not sweep. Do not start a load of laundry.
Pick up. Put away. Repeat.
This is gold for someone like me. Someone who starts off picking things up, goes into a fugue state, and somehow ends up on the deck watering plants. That doesn’t happen if I’m only picking up and putting away.
“I lift things up and put them down.” – Lunk.
This also helps you “see” those secondary messes that creep in and become part of the décor. Like delicates you hang in the laundry room to dry, and then they stay there until the next laundry day…and the next one.
Or the coat that takes up permanent squatter status on the kitchen chair back.
No, seriously, man, this is my home. I have rights! Please don’t put me back in the closet. Please! The Boogeyman is in there!
You’ll be surprised how motivated you are to clean when the entire house is neat everywhere you look. It’ll feel like you are polishing the house when you go back through and make it nice by wiping and sweeping. You might even feel like some rapturous Disney princess or something.
Skipping is permitted.
Another method, one I got tons of use from when an out-of-control house was my every day normal, is the UPS Method.
Since I rarely use this method anymore, I’m thinking it may be more suitable for when your house is still pretty cluttered and disorganized. Or if you have kids who constantly take things all over and put them in illogical places.
This method keeps you from making tiring micro-decisions over and over. Do that enough times in a day and no wonder you end up in an exhausted heap on the couch watching Shameless.
It’s perfect for peeling back an ever-present junk layer to get under it and actually clean.
- Get several big containers (tubs, laundry baskets, whatever).
- Label them with areas of the house, with an extra one labeled “IMPORTANT.”
- Put them out of the way but easy to get to, in an area with plenty of room left around it. Like the dining room table and floor.
- Use additional empty containers to gather everything in your house that’s out of place. Fill a box and bring it to the central area. Then you can sort it into the other tubs or leave it for now, your choice. Then start again with an empty box.
- If you come across anything important, such as the coat that you will need tomorrow or paperwork action items, guess where you put them? Immediately!
- If you come across something really messy or leakable, use common sense. Keep it away from things it might harm (clothes, papers, etc). Preferably right into the sink where it can sit and leak to its heart’s content.
- If your goal is to once and for all put everything in the house away all at one time, then stop at regular intervals to sort it all out and put away what’s in the boxes. Or do it all at once before you start to clean.
By the way, if you don’t yet have a place for everything, put entire tubs into the general area where they belong. That’s why this works for the more cluttered homes. You may not be hitting the bullseye yet, but this at least gets you on the board (instead of sticking in the back of someone’s head at the bar – this is a weird tangent dart-throwing analogy in case you weren’t paying attention).
- Or, alternatively, if your goal is to finally get a chance to vacuum the playroom rug (good goal – I wasn’t gonna say anything, but that rug is nasty), then do that first, before you put stuff away.
If you have to stop at any point, try to put everything away right then if at all possible. If not, put lids on the tubs to keep it all from getting scattered again.
I used to live with a scatterer. He’s at college now. Soon he will be educated. But probably still a scatterer.
Resist the urge to stash the tubs elsewhere “just for now.” This is the stuff you use the most (which is why it was out all over the place), so you’ll probably be looking for it sooner than later.
The Matching Game
If you’re looking for a more low key method, try The Matching Game.
In this game, you focus on finding like items. Here’s how you do it.
- Pick up only one category of items at one time. Get a trash bag and only pick up trash. Then get the recycling bin and only pick up recycling. Then maybe pick up all the clothing. You decide what to work on. Focus solely on one category at a time.
- Go through the entire house or do this room-by-room.
Kids, especially, do well with this method. “Put all your books on your bookshelf” works better than “clean your room.”
Although maybe not as well as “clean your room, I’m not telling you again, or the iPad goes in the trash, mister.”
I Also Have My Cottonheaded Ninnymuggin Days.
I’m not always scatter-brained. I do have my more clearheaded days.
When my house has collapsed in on itself, I rely on other methods for those days. But when I’m lacking focus, it helps to have some countermeasures on hand to halt the downward spiral in its tracks.
- The Counted Pickup that divides husband and wife (“I don’t even know who you are anymore!”),
- The Hula Hoop Method, because horses wear blinders for a reason,
- The Dirty But Neat Method – a terrible name, true, but a helpful way to focus on either tidying or cleaning instead of trying (and failing) to do both at one time,
- The UPS Method where you pretend you are flying planes from all over the country into a central hub where they are sorted and sent back out. I have no idea if this is really how UPS works. And, finally,
- The Matching Game where you aren’t really matching anything but you do get to sing “one of these things is not like the other” if you’d like.
Maybe if you bookmark this post, it’ll rescue you on those days when your brain is trying to learn to pogo stick when you need to clean.
I’d like to think I’m not the only one tricking my mind into paying attention.
Okay, it looks like we’re done here. I’m feeling sort of snackish.
Did I hear someone say we have Cheetos?
*I admit to being slightly obsessed with peanut butter. But this time, it’s a Sesame Street thing. Big fan here. But not as big as I thought, apparently. I planned to put something about “a la peanut butter sandwiches,” but then I looked it up and that was Mumford the Magician. The purple football-shaped head confused me. I hope that doesn’t make me Muppet-insensitive.
**See. What did I tell you? Obsessed?