Unf*ck Your Habitat

One of my 2019 goals was to find a way to slowly bring our current house into reasonable order. As it is with any partnership, I am the partner that becomes more unsettled when things are cluttered or untidy, and so I wanted to find a way to do everything I wanted to do without becoming resentful of the husband, who may not feel the need to clean/organize as often or as thoroughly as I do.

A book that kept popping up as a recommendation on Amazon as well as in Goodreads (thanks targeted marketing!) was Unfuck Your Habitat by Rachel Hoffman. I caught it on a Kindle deal and figured that just like any self help tome, it had to have at least three useful takeaways that would help me move forward. In this way, UYH did not disappoint.

TAKEAWAY #1: Stop Marathon Cleaning

I tend to want the entire house to be clean all at once. The dream is to walk through it as though it was a model home, marveling at all of my hard work and how good everything smells. This is not reality and more likely than not I see all the things I need to do (oh god the walk in shower tiles…) and then my mind simply gives up. But once in awhile, if someone is coming to visit or I’ve just had enough, I clean as much as I can all at once, which continues my bad relationship with housekeeping and tires me out, making it certain that it will be awhile before I get around to any of the maintenance type things again.

So I am taking Hoffman’s marathon cleaning suggestion to heart. I have slowly been cleaning in little ways every day. For example today I sprayed down half the shower with a bleach foam cleaner and then scrubbed and rinsed it away. Did it get up everything in the first try? No, but tomorrow I can spray it again and get a little more. Dusting is another culprit, one that I have started attacking with a single Lysol wipe. If I’m waiting for something or bored I get up and grab a Lysol wipe and start cleaning the tops of things I don’t think about. When the wipe is completely dirty or whatever I’ve been waiting on is ready, I stop. I don’t have to dust the entire house all at once.

I do a good job with doing the dishes, vacuuming, laundry, the regular type stuff, but the rest I am going to start tackling just a little bit each day. Counters, dusting, even power washing the pool deck – a little bit each week, each day and eventually it’ll all be a reasonable 2 minute chore I do and it’s done.

TAKEAWAY #2: Don’t Put It Down, Put It Away

Our house is very tiny, and the living room and kitchen are separated by a breakfast bar type countertop that also hosts the dishwasher and sink on the kitchen side. We don’t use the breakfast bar for eating, but we do use it for setting everything down. Right now there is a bag of bananas from the grocery delivery, a box of dog dental treats, a pint-sized personal ice cream maker, a dirty Nalgene bottle, and an empty seal-top container (the kind that pops up a thing that you push back down to seal it closed). All of those things have homes that are not on this counter, but there they sit because that’s where they were set. When I’m done typing this I’m going to get up and put them away.

I mentioned earlier I’m good about doing laundry. That’s true, until I have to put it away. I don’t usually put it away as well as I wash, dry, and get it into my laundry basket. Honestly I’m considering getting rid of the laundry basket because that would force me to put away my laundry right out of the dryer with no place else to put it. Putting the laundry down but not away is my worst habit, I think. I throw trash away, I put books back on shelves, I keep my side table clear…it’s the small knick knack stuff and that damn laundry.

My current mantra is “don’t put it down, put it away” or alternately “where is its home?” and my depression thanks me for keeping the clutter to a minimum.

TAKEAWAY #3: Do A Little Every Day

I am a completionist. This makes me at risk for marathon cleaning. I hate to do a job halfway. So what I’ve been trying to do is just clean part of something, and later clean the other part of it. Maybe today I just vacuum the livingroom rug, and tomorrow I vacuum down the hallway. Dusting just one room. Doing even one thing every day makes everything better.

I’m already starting to notice certain things becoming a routine. It’s nothing for me to grab a Lysol wipe and just walk around a room wiping off surfaces and picture frames. I run a Lysol wipe over the toilet surfaces every night and squirt in some cleaner before I go to bed. I’m vacuuming more often, doing the dishes faster, and noticing cleaner counters and cleaner air the longer I work on these life skills.

It’s ok to do a small bit every day as long as whatever you do gets finished. This viewpoint is really making cleaning and organizing much less intimidating for me, which means I’m more likely to do it.

***

I’ve been putting many of the tips in this book into practice for the past 3 weeks or so, and I can report that I am noticing a big difference. Every little bit helps. Even on days when I am fighting a depressive episode, I find that simply dusting the picture frames in the hallway or throwing away a few pieces of trash makes me feel accomplished, like I am fighting the effects of depression with action. A great strength of this book is that it takes mental health into consideration when offering suggestions for regular housekeeping, and offers suggestions for those with both mental health struggles and physical disabilities.

My house isn’t as cluttered and the small cleaning tasks are ones I can keep up with as I move through the house square foot by square foot, day by day, bringing things back to square one so that I can maintain them in 5 minutes a day instead of hours all at one time once a month. Doing this in a better way has improved my moods and made me feel more productive and sane at home. I strongly recommend this book if you want to change how you approach housekeeping. Take what works for or applies to you and leave the rest, skip around and find ways to make your home more comfortable and clean.

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In Winter’s Kitchen

In Winter's Kitchen

I don’t read a lot of nonfiction. It’s like listening to podcasts or audiobooks, reading nonfiction puts me to sleep. I blame all the articles and books I had to read in my masters and doctoral programs. Nonfiction is like I’m making myself take a class in something that I also have to teach myself and sometimes I’m tempted to highlight what I’m reading but I CAN’T IT’S A LIBRARY BOOK AMANDA GET IT TOGETHER.

If I’m being honest with you I bought this book thinking it was fiction. I am a sucker for a book with food at the center. One of my favorite books from the first year of this blog was Kitchens of the Great Midwest by J. Ryan Stradal. He blurbed In Winter’s Kitchen, so I didn’t ask questions, I just bought it. Let me be very clear that I have no regrets.

Beth Dooley begins her local food/memoir tome by describing the first Thanksgiving that she hosted for her family away from their traditional New Jersey home. She attempts to make the meal only from the ingredients that she obtains from either the local farmer’s market or local farmers and makes a total mess of things. The bird is too small and dried out, the potatoes aren’t quite right for the sweet potato dish, and she uses this intial food illiteracy to launch into a series of chapters that focus on individual parts of the meal: potatoes, wild rice, turkeys, apples. Each chapter introduces us to a food source and shows us the reality of being a local or organic farmer in that industry.

You’ll make cheese by hand, harvest wild rice with beaters, and slaughter turkeys in a schoolyard. I was shocked at how many different kinds of apples there are as well as how many there used to be, and it being one of my favorite fruits meant that I wanted to immediately fly to Minnesota and demand 5 kinds I’ve never had before. I was most surprised by the corn chapter. Even though I knew how plants are pollinated and grown, I hadn’t had the time to consider how a GMO field’s pollen would be blown far enough to infect and alter the organic crops grown by locals, which means they would no longer be able to label their produce organic through no fault of their own.

As I moved through this book I felt my poor self competing with my progressive self. I appreciate the need for local and organic farming. There is nothing better than an excellent farmer’s market or driving to a local orchard or dairy farm to get your food. You feel connected to your community and often the food just tastes better. I hate that here in Florida there isn’t a decent farmer’s market to go to.

But then the reality that there are BILLIONS of people in this world to feed and that the US provides pretty large percentages of the world’s food supply in certain areas reminds me that large scale farming and creating crops that are resistant to pests is so important to making sure that people have enough to eat. In addition to quantity, we also want to make that food affordable, and buying small scale from local growers is not necessarily cost effective.

The question I kept coming back to while I was reading, and keep coming back to whenever this conversation comes up, is is a balance possible? Can we find a way to separate large scale growing and local production while maintaining soil and environmental health and sustainability? The only answers I could find included a shift in the Farm Bill that provides funding to farmers to support the shift to organic, and increased regulation in zoning commercial farms to avoid cross-pollination with local and organic crops. But I would like you to think about the likelihood of either of those things passing within our current political reality and then think about whether we’ll have a solution soon.

Recently a climate change report was released by the United Nations that outlines a dire future if we don’t get things under control in the next ten years, but the people who run the American government refuse to believe in climate change and continue to fund and encourage the expansion of the fossil fuel industries because they are able to line their pockets in return. If we can’t manage to make big changes to save our existence on a large scale, how are we going to prioritize sustainability on a small scale here at home? Anyone with the power to make any kind of change just turns away and laughs all the way to the bank.

Sorry, that got bleak there for a second, but the concern and question is ever present in this book. Woven among the concern is the warm comfort of good food and home cooked meals. Families passing down knowledge from generation to generation to create a tradition of raising food and sharing that tradition with their communities, to the point that they become a linchpin in the local economy. That closeness of family and tradition warmed my cold, angry heart and made me wish I had those kinds of traditions for myself. My kingdom for a decent farmer’s market!

Dooley brings it all back together at the end with another Thanksgiving dinner, but a more successful one now that she has obtained all the knowledge necessary to handle these local offerings with care. You can almost smell the chestnut stuffing, taste the cranberry jelly, and see the marshmallows melting over the sweet potatoes. Her preparation of the meal seems less stressed and harried than how she opened the book, and pleasure is laid over all her efforts.

This was an enjoyable, delicious, and informative read. If you like to read about food take my advice and seek this book out. If I enjoyed it and made it all the way through, you can too. Go get you some.

Without You, There Is No Us

without-you-cover

A.K.A. You can’t spell us without U.

Get it?

GET IT?

I read this book completely on the recommendations of my Facebook book club Bitches Gotta Read (shout out to Samantha Irby at http://www.bitchesgottaeat.blogspot.com) and I would have NEVER picked it up on my own. In the midst of our current political climate, however, I am glad that I did. I discovered that we may have more in common with North Korea than we think.

Suki Kim traveled to North Korea to teach English at a new university meant for the sons of the country’s most elite people. She keeps the fact that she is a writer/researcher/journalist a secret somehow, and goes under the guise of being one of many Christian missionaries who have been recruited to teach there. She is of Korean heritage herself, and part of her journey is also to explore how her country has changed after being divided for so long.

I won’t lie, this is a tense tale. She is always watched, everything she does on the internet is monitored including emails. Every lesson they teach has to be approved ahead of time. Not only is she being watched by the North Koreans around her, but also by the missionaries she is there to work with. It is exhausting watching her exhaust herself as she attempts to keep up the required level of awareness and compliance.

We get glimpses of the famine ravaged population, and several field trips that the teachers take as a group reinforce our knowledge of the staged nature of visiting this country. Monitors, play actors, rehearsed lines, and staged people are all incorporated when the teachers are taken outside of the school walls. The TV stations only broadcast how great the leaders are. The songs are of the country’s prosperity and loyalty to the country and its leaders.

So while the book was very informational when it came to opening my eyes to how terrifying visiting this country would be and how sad and random the division of the country was for families and the people who live there, as I read I kept hearing echoes of American ideas being spouted today, now, in our present time. I shared the following paragraph on Facebook and I want to place it here as well. Read it and think about where you’ve heard similar sentiments.

without-you-no-us-excerpt

There are several times toward the end of her tenure at PUST that Kim becomes emboldened and tries to sneak in information and open her students’ eyes to the world outside of their country. But they had been told for so long and so fervently that they were the best, the rest of the world crumbled around them while they were the pinnacle of government and achievement, that no logical or factual argument could sway them. Granted, she could not work too hard to convince them or she would face some pretty severe consequences, but every time I saw her try to bring truth to them and get shut down by their indoctrinated ways, I thought of the times I have talked with friends and family about the important issues in our American lives today, only to be screamed at or shut out with common lines like “you can believe what you want, I have a right to my opinion” even in the face of issues that are factual and not opinion.

Reading this book helped me understand why North Korea is the way it is. I shudder to think at the level of effort it would take to alter over 60 years of brainwashing and dictatorship in a populace that has been cut off from the rest of the world and its events and advancements for just as long. Once you have been doing something for that long, it would be easier to continue than to exert the effort to change and learn. I am certain that for these citizens it would be at least equally terrifying to catch up to the world if they were free to, than it would to continue to accept their current conditions.

Only 8 years of Glenn Beck, Fox News, Rush Limbaugh, the Republican Party were enough to turn a good percentage of our country to the same brick wall mindset, and I know what it’s like trying to convince someone that “Obamacare” isn’t an actual health care plan that is run by the government while they scream Benghazi in my face. I truly hope that we do not slip the rest of the way into a regime that will insist that we call everything great, fabulous, fantastic, and wonderful when they really are not. There are lessons to be learned by reading this book and warnings we should heed. I just hope things turn out okay for us and that it isn’t too late.