Four Steps to Clean: Step Three--Maintenance

It's not enough to clean the house, declutter it, and organize it.  It needs to stay that way.  Growing up, my Ladybug mother (click here for Clutterbug styles--a ladybug is a person who loves visual simplicity, and presents as clean, but shoves clutter into drawers and hidden places because they have no idea how to keep it organized) was the queen of this.  The house would overflow with her stuff, and she'd pack it away in the guest bedroom or her bedroom drawers and cabinets.  If you wanted to see a constant mess, you could just look in her closet or our hall closet or even the basement closet.  Everything was stacked and overflowing.  She shamed me for being a Butterfly (someone who loves all their stuff out where it can be seen) because my mess was out where everyone could see.  Though she was just as messy as I was, except she craved visual simplicity and I didn't.  So to the world, our house looked organized.  But it wasn't.  She'd get a hair up her butt and say "Oh, I'm going to organize my closet/drawers/guest bedroom/etc." and she'd spend all day doing it.  But a week later, it would be packed again.  


My mother is a narcissist (she has NPD) and thought that her cleaning style made her above me because on the surface, everything looked clean.  Everything in life to her was about being above others.  She'd even brag about how organized and minimalist she was.  Except she wasn't either of those things.  She was a hidden hoarder.  

Not that there's anything wrong with that, but to make everyone believe you are organized and to act better than everyone else because of it, when you really just hiding a mess out of sight is just silly.  And I grew up believing I was broken or horrible because I was messy because that was what she wanted me to believe.  That's where the wrongness comes in.  We were both equally as messy, I just didn't hide my mess.

She, like me, had never learned how to properly organize for her organizational type.  She, like myself, always thought that type-A, meticulous micro-organizing was the only way to organize.  So she stuffed and stuffed, and stuffed her way to fill every drawer and hidden space she could.  Where I was the exact opposite, and I just let my piles of stuff (organized piles, thank you very much) hang out where everyone could see.  So the both of us would clean up whatever mess we'd made, organize, and go right back to stuffing and piling.  

Decluttering and organizing mean nothing if you do not learn maintenance.  Otherwise you'll be decluttering and reorganizing and getting messy again on a constant cycle (sometimes, I can organize, only to have it get messy again the very next day!).  Which is what makes me angry about the show "Hoarders", because not only do those people need therapeutic help to stop hoarding, they also need to learn proper maintenance for their organizational type, otherwise their house will become overloaded with stuff again.  Coming in and cleaning up someone else's space (as my mother used to do to me as a kid) does nothing to help them stay that way.  Her mantra was "Why can't you just be more clean?"  Looking back, I could have asked her the same thing.   But now I know exactly why. 

So you've decluttered.  Then you organized it all.  So now what?  

The first step on this section is to see what's working and what isn't.  I recently put my headbands on hooks on my bookshelf.  But I realize, I remove my headband and night and the hooks are really far away.  Usually when I go to sleep, I am utterly exhausted, and I need organization and maintenance to be easy for me.  And getting up after I've collapsed into bed isn't really my thing.  So I really should have made those hooks closer to where I take my headband off.  Now I will just have to train my brain to be okay with getting up and putting it on one of those hooks, or at some point, I will have to move those hooks closer.  The issue is, I do not want to put my headband on my side table, because it will stay there.  That's where the rules come back into play.  My new rule (which you make as you go) needs to be "No headbands on the side table".  I have been having huge issues with clutter on my side table, so I have to make rules to keep it as clean as possible.  

What is working is my cool new magazine rack.  I get all sorts of magazines (American Frontiersman, Willow and Sage, Family Handyman, etc.) and had no idea where to put them.  Now I have a rack that spins like a store rack and I love it!  It's visually appealing and it's organizational.  A perfect Butterfly piece of equipment!  Another thing that's been working for a few months is my curio cabinet where I store all my tarot cards.  I have a tarot website at which teaches tarot for introspection, rather than prediction and I collect all sorts of cards.  Up until I got the curio cabinet, they were over-stuffed in a drawer.  Now I can see them and they are a part of my decor.  And they've stayed organized and pretty ever since using it.  I highly suggest curio cabinets for fellow Butterflies (from!  

Now, I just recently got more books.  I am a sucker for coffee table books of beautiful things.  I have two of Alaska, two winery ones, one on Sweden, and just recently bought two lighthouse ones.  So I'm going to clean off my living room table (a side table, not a coffee table) and place them all there in a pretty stack, largest to smallest.  But the other books I recently purchased, I have no idea where I want to put them yet.  So I'm going back to the basics: sort and find a home for them.  I have a stack of gardening books I want where I can get to them easily.  So I need to find a home for them somewhere in the house where I can see them easily.  I have a stack of cookbooks that also need to find a place on my cookbook rack, which is full.  So I need to either find a home for other stuff on that rack, or I need to declutter my rack.  Or I need to ask myself I really want these books at all.  But my biggest issue are my art books.  I have no visible home for the art books in my house (I have a LOT).  They are in a filing cabinet in my garage, which I think is where they will stay for now.  So I will have to put all my new art books either in there, or store the ones I want to access to the most on my magazine rack.  

Maintenance is about taking the new stuff that comes into your home and figuring out where it will fit with everything else.  It should also be about minimalizing how much new stuff comes into your home.  Which is where I've found Marie Kondo's advice to hold something and ask "Does this bring me joy?" the most helpful.  I will be in a store and I will pile up everything I want into the cart.  Then when I am done with my shopping trip, I will grab each item and say "Do I really want this?  Do I really need this?  Can I use something else instead that I already have?  And does this bring me joy?"  By the end, I would usually put back at least half what was in my cart (meaning shopping at somewhere like Wal-Mart or the sort, not the grocery store).  Now, I am better at knowing almost right away if something I put in my cart isn't going to work for me.  Though, I still make sure by going through each item at the end of the shopping trip.  You'll be so surprised as how much you end up putting back when that initial "I want this!" high wears off.  

Maintenance is also about putting something away when you are done with it (and it needs to be easy).  I used to be a person who, like my children do now, left everything out after cooking.  But somewhere along the lines I told myself "Well, while the food is cooking, what can be put away?"  It was just a habit I needed to learn.  So now, except for the dishes I use to cook with, you'd never know I was there cooking, as I put things away right after I use them.  I made a rule for myself in order to get this done.  My ADHD brain used to be so chaotic, but that's because ADHD brains actually crave routine.  And if we don't get into a routine or are taught a routine, we are all horribly chaotic.  The change in me started when I made a friend who scrapbooked with me.  She wasn't a neat freak, but her husband was and so she became one to please him (though I did suspect there was a bit of abuse going on there, but I never saw it myself, though she did allude to it).  We'd scrapbook in her basement and she had a dresser where she kept her scrapbooking supplies.  And the moment we were done, she'd put it all neatly back into the drawers for next time (and I suspect she was more of a neat freak than she claimed to be, because it was very organized).  It was like we were never even there.  I was astonished.  I was the type of leave all my stuff right where I was using it for next time.  So, over the years, I adopted that "leave no footprint" mentality to many things in my life, one being cooking.  Which is the one that stuck the most.  So that became a new rule: Don't let them know you were even here.  And I try to use that in all of my dealings in my house.  If I can clean everything up in the project I am doing to the point that nobody knew I was doing it?  I've won.  I treat it like a game.  So remember your rules.  Write them down if you have to.  And see how much you can stick to them.  And remember, if everything has a home in your house, then all things can easily be put back in their homes.  You just have to push yourself to do it, which is the biggest hurdle after organizing it in the first place.  But this is a huge part of maintenance: rewiring your brain to the "new" way of doing things.  Which can totally happen, because I do it all the time.  And if I can, anyone can!  

Maintenance is also about taking stock every once in awhile and seeing if you really still need the things you have.  How much of your stuff is still in storage?  And how much of what you're storing are you actually using?  My cookbooks are a great example of this.  I have a bookshelf in my kitchen full of cookbooks.  I do not use a huge amount of them.  So I really need to go in there today and pull out all the ones I don't use and put them in the box in the garage where I keep my donation stuff.  I have probably every single Mr. Foods books there is.  I haven't used them since my early 20's.  I keep them out of nostalgia, as they used to be my mother's, which is silly when you're talking about cookbooks.  I do have my first cookbook I ever bought, but that's only one.  Mr. Foods probably takes up half my collection.  I also used to be vegetarian and I had a huge amount of vegetarian books that I held onto long after I started to eat meat again.  I loved those books and used them constantly when I was vegger (I just made that term up).  But eventually I said to myself "C'mon Shay, you're never going to use them again, just donate them!"  So I did.  I do still miss them, tho.  But I never wrote a letter to them or did anything to detach myself from them.  Which is a great way for us Butterflies to emotionally detach from our stuff.  We have to tell our brains "Hey, this stuff served it's purpose, but it's time to let it go".  So now I need to go do that with Mr. Foods.  Tell him goodbye, throw him a going away party, and hopefully he'll find a new home in a great kitchen with people who will read him.  So every bit of our stuff needs to be on a revolving door.  Remind ourselves "This is mine for now, not forever".  This helps you not emotionally attach in the first place.  Something I need to remember myself.

Maintenance also needs to be about the acronym I literally just made up called: "ABCNH".  Always Be Creating New Homes.  This means for both your old stuff that aren't working in their current homes and the new stuff that's being brought into the house.  And if you've run out of space, then you've got too much stuff.  Make a particular place a home for your items, and make it a rule "This goes here, and nothing else goes here".  If something isn't working in its home, them find it a new home.  If you get new stuff, create a home for it.  If you can't create a home for your items, get rid of something or store it (though don't store something you don't need).  

Maintenance also means do not create homes for items you do not need.  Do you really need more clothes?  More books (something I could ask myself regularly)?  More shoes?  Do you really need a huge rack to store a bunch of items you literally do not need?  Like pots and pans and cups and plates and whatever else?  Don't run out and get a storage thingy that is literally going to be filled with useless items.  My magazine rack is only for important magazines I do not want to store.  I have free subscriptions to tons of crappy mags that I use for art journaling and vision boards.  So those mags get stored in boxes in my basement.  My nice mags, like Altered Couture, Bella Grace, Greencraft, art magazines, and whatnot, all go on my rack.  "No Better Homes and Gardens" or "Family Circle" (sorry guys, you're like a "read once and done" kind of mag).  And I donate them if I don't take too much from them (some I take nothing from).  If I do take a lot out of them, I burn them with my other paper items.  But I would not fill up a pretty rack with my disposable mags.  Only the ones I want to keep and look at regularly.

Maintenance also means creating a short, daily cleaning schedule by not creating a schedule at all.  I will openly admit it, I am a total Flylady failure.  I do not do "zone cleaning" or anything of any sort on any kind of schedule, even though I pushed myself for years on end to follow her advice.  I have ADHD.  And I do not give two squats about schedules.  So instead, I create rules (which is sort of the same thing, but my brain processes it differently in a way it understands).  "All dishes must be in kitchen at the end of the day/night", "No laundry anywhere but in a hamper", "All dirty dishes must be sorted before bed" (we don't have a dishwasher yet), yada yada yada.  Those things tell my brain "Must sort dishes" and "Oh that shirt doesn't belong on the bathroom counter", or "I must take my cereal bowl into the kitchen before I go to sleep", etc.  My brain speaks rules, whereas "schedules" make my brain rebel.  But the rules puts me on a sort of daily schedule, without me even trying.  Granted, that schedule may look different every single day, depending what rule is being broken in my house.  But still, I am doing something.  Say there are spots on the bathroom mirror.  I don't clean it daily.  Or even every few days.  I clean it when I notice it.  My rule is "If you can see spots, clean it".  So one day I may not notice the spots, but the next day I will, so I clean it (I use and easy and simple technique of baby wipes and TP or a microfiber cloth--it really gets the job done and I don't have to go searching for paper towels and window cleaner, which I hate the smell of).  But if I make cleaning easy, fast, and only do it when I notice it?  I don't feel bogged down by a schedule and things still get done.  The other day, my mother said "Oh it's fall!  We need to wash all the windows!!"  I said "Look.  Look at the windows.  They're clean, ma.  I clean them when they're dirty, not twice a year."  And they really were clean.  I was quite proud of myself.  And it's all due to the fact that I clean what is dirty when it's dirty.  Not when time dictates me to clean it.  

Maintenance is also not letting one system fail.  Because know if you let one system fail (meaning a system put in place by keeping items in their proper homes--like a particular bookcase or a drawer), know it will be a catalyst for a domino effect.  And pretty soon, all of the systems put in place in a particular area will fail.  This is why so many people can organize an area, only to have it go right back to a mess within a few days.  So don't slack on the systems you put into place.  If you do, and have a mess on your hands?   I bet you can trace the entire mess back to that one system you let fail.  You said "Oh, I'll just put this right and here and get to it later" and never got around to it later.  In my garage, I have shelving units I use for storing toilet paper, paper towels, and other kitchen and bath essentials.  And I let stuff pile up on the floor in front of the shelf.  So now all the stuff that goes on the shelf, I can't get to, so all that stuff is also on the floor.  And it will keep accumulating until I fix it.  So don't let a system fail.  If you do, fix it ASAP before you have a complete mutiny of "stuff" on your hands.  

Maintenance is waking up and seeing that a little cutter has made its way onto a surface where it shouldn't be and applying your new rule right away.  "This stuff doesn't belong here.  Where does it need to go?"  We're so used to just ignoring it and saying "Well, it isn't that much.  It isn't a big deal.  I'll deal with it later."  Or we're used to not seeing it in the first place.  But you have to see it.  Every single day.  Look at your stuff from the eyes of a stranger.  Have you ever had someone come over and BAM!  All you see is what they see?  Do that every single day.  Look through the eyes of someone who doesn't live there instead of your own.  Train your eyes to see the clutter.  And fix it.  Immediately.  If you don't, well, you know how the saying goes: "clutter attracts clutter".  And it's true.  If we break our own rules and don't fix it right away?  Our brain forgets our rules.  You have to train your brain to remember your new rules.  Which is why you need to deal with clutter immediately.  So you wake up each day, look over the surfaces you just cleaned and/or organized and assess if it's got extra clutter on it or not.  And if it does, deal with it right in that moment.  Don't wait, because you know how you are.  I certainly know how I am.  If I put it off, it won't get done until it's a total mess again.  But if does become a total mess again?  Just clean it off and start again.  Don't berate yourself, just start over.  It takes a while for the ADHD brain to get up to speed with change.  It's no big deal.  And the more you do it, the more your brain will get used to the idea of your new rules and follow them.  Just be patient with yourself.  Disneyland wasn't built in a day, neither will your new lifestyle.  

Maintenance is knowing what to do with clutter when you do find it on a surface it doesn't belong on.  Now, the reason the clutter may be there in the first place is that you had no idea where to put it, so it ended up in a place it didn't belong.  So you clean it off, but now what?  Where does it go?  It's stuff that doesn't have a home yet and you're not sure if you know where to put it.  I think this is one of the biggest issues we ADHD Butterflies have when it comes to maintenance and the thing that gets us into the most amount of trouble.  So I'm going to do you a solid and solve it for you right now.  No, you are not going to shove it into a junk drawer or a box full of stuff that has no home.  That's just being cluttered in a different way.  Instead, you're going to use it or lose it.  Just kidding.  But yes, if you can use the item within the next three minutes and it won't take you that long to use, then use it.  Like right now I have a bumper sticker sitting on my side table.  It needs to either be pitched or put on my car.  It does not need to sit on my table, even though I just put it there last night.  I found it in a book I bought from a resale shop.  Pitch can mean trash or donate.  I like it, so I'm going to put it on my car.  That's on my agenda when I get out of bed (yes, right now I am writing in bed).  I also have a bowl of cereal I need to put in the kitchen.  There is also an extra Mini-M&M container (keep them for the smell, god do they smell good!).  But I don't need two on there, as my old one still smells great.  So I need to store the other one.  I have a "storage drawer" where I keep stuff like that.  It's not a junk drawer, because a junk drawer is a place where you put things that have a home, and are too lazy to put away, or stuff that needs to be pitched.  A storage drawer is a place where you put containers of like things that you will use later.  Like extra medicine or twist ties for storing your food after you've opened it.  Also, there is a fidget spinner on there I need to put some crazy glue on, so that's also on my agenda today.  Oh and some CD's that need to be put in a safe container (they're just loose, asking to get scratched).  And a bag of rose petals I pulled off our rosebush so I can make rosewater. I have a storage drawer that has stuff for making beauty supplies, as I make my own lotion bars (chocolate peppermint, yum!) and whatnot that I will put them in after they've completely dried out--though I don't want them on my side table to dry out.  I'll tack the bag onto my cork board where I can see them and not forget about them.  So the trick is to come up with a plan for each and every item you've pulled off a surface (or will pull off in a minute).  Just remember: use it or lose it.  Use it right now (like my bumper sticker) or lose it (pitch it in the garbage, store it in a storage drawer for later--if you don't have one, create one--and don't forget to label the item if you need to, put it where it goes, or donate it).  I have a donate bin in my garage that every single day I find stuff to put in there.  Just don't pile it somewhere else or shove it all into a drawer or a box with no rhyme or reason.  You need to train your brain to see things in an organizational light, rather than an overwhelmed and frustrated frenzied action, which is what we normally do.  You know what I'm talking about.  We see the clutter, we get angry that we don't know where to put it, and we react, rather than respond, and pile it up somewhere else.  So slow down, and think.  Ask yourself: "Can I use this right now, in this very moment?  Does this item already have a home?  Is this garbage?  Do I need this?  Will I use it later?  Could I donate it?  Does this item need to be fixed?"  If it needs to be fixed, put it on your agenda.  If not today, than this week.  Make a "fix it" day, where you spend the day fixing all the crap that needs to be fixed, or finding someone who can fix it for you (like I have a chair that needs to be welded).  Don't create a "fix it" box for later, because later will never come.  Instead, place the item right where you can see it and put it on your agenda to get it fixed or fix it yourself, even if just in between other things you need to do.  Then put the item in its home when you're done.  No more "I'll do it tomorrow" or "I'll get to it later".  Do it now, or as close to now as you can get.  Train your brain to get things done.  Eventually, it will fall into line and it won't be such a struggle anymore.  I promise.  

And remember: maintenance is about being gentle with yourself when you slack on your organizational skills.  Because you will, because we all do.  It's okay.  Don't look at your mess and say "I give up!  This is who I am!"  Yes, being messy is partly who you are, but only because you've been that way for so long.  There is nothing wrong with being messy.  For real, there isn't.  Having ADHD means our brains aren't as organizational as other brains and that is nothing to be ashamed of.  Being organized is not the end-all-be-all of being human.  It's also not the "right" way.  Because there is no right or wrong way.  Just different.  But if you're trying not to be messy, remember to give yourself slack when you are.  It's a learning curve.  We have to just develop the proper habits that fit into the way we're trying to live.  Remember, getting organized isn't for a) show, b) winning at something, c) other people, or d) self-worth.  You are worthy because you exist.  Period.  You do not need to be organized to show other people how great of a person you are.  Or to show yourself that.  You are getting organized for one reason and one reason only: to make your life easier.  That's it.  This is for you, my dear, not the rest of the world.  So let go of your need to feel like a worthy human by getting organized.  If other people don't like you because you're messy?  They can all fuck right off.  So if you fall off the "organizational wagon"?  Then get right back on and start where you left off without guilt.  You can't build habits by quitting.  And you can't feel bad about not changing overnight.  So give yourself the time and the space and resources to build strong organizational habits by being gentle and accepting with and of yourself, and just start again.  You can do this.  It just takes time.  

Maintenance is the most important step in building organizational habits, but it's also where most people quit.  Yes, it's easy to clean up your room.  But to keep it clean?  That's where the hard part comes in.  Some things in life that are worth it are easy.  But most things?  Are very hard.  So you just have to keep at it, and don't give up.  Just remember your rules, make them easy to follow and keep up, and stick with them, and you'll be heading to organizationalville, population you, in no time!

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