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Struggling to keep your house clean? This therapist's framework may help


The end of the year is a time when many people travel to see loved ones. Maybe you have family or friends coming over for the holidays, and you realize, oh, it is time to clean up. OK, don't panic. No matter how big a mess you're looking at, therapist KC Davis offers this perspective.

K C DAVIS: The only thing that actually matters is whether my house is functioning and whether I'm able to live the kind of life I want to inside of it.

SHAPIRO: Life Kit host Marielle Segarra talked to Davis about her book "How To Keep House While Drowning," and they have an action plan for getting your space under control quickly.

MARIELLE SEGARRA, BYLINE: It's called the Five Things Tidying Method because Davis says there are really only five things in any room.

DAVIS: There's trash, dishes, laundry, things that have a place and things that don't have a place.

SEGARRA: You start at the top of that list and go category by category, ignoring everything else in the room for the moment. So first, trash - get a trash bag or a trash can and move around the room, picking up the garbage. Do not take the trash out yet.

DAVIS: 'Cause one of the things that gets us stuck is that we get distracted. So if you - the more times you leave that room, the more likely you are to get distracted on some different project.

SEGARRA: Step two - dishes. Gather them up. You could use a laundry basket without holes in it or get a small rolling hamper. It depends on what works for you.

DAVIS: What kind of makes your brain feel like it's on a greased track? The reality is there are going to be ways of doing things that make you feel like you are grinding gears with no oil, where every step of the process kind of feels miserable, and you have to force it.

SEGARRA: So don't do things that way. You're going to put the dishes in the sink, or if the sink is in a different room, maybe you put them in a corner for now. Step three is laundry. Now, there are often in a given room various types of laundry. There's clean but not in the drawer. There's dirty, maybe a little stinky, not going to wear it again. And then there's the in-between. I don't know. I mean, I could wear it again, but it's not exactly clean enough to go back in the drawer.

DAVIS: So here's what I do. I don't have all those categories. And I'm not saying that I don't, but, like, I don't. I just - if it's on the floor, it's going into the hamper, and it's getting washed. And that really simplifies things for me.

SEGARRA: Whatever you decide, gather the laundry. Put it in a basket or a bag, and bring it to the laundry machine or set it by the door of your home. Then move to step four - things that have a place. This one is pretty straightforward. Put the things away. Finally, step five - things that don't have a place.

DAVIS: This is always sort of my check-in moment where I kind of check in with myself, and I go, OK, how are we feeling? What else is on the agenda today? How motivated are we? What's our body feeling like? What's our concentration level? - because sometimes I just put it aside in a basket and have to do other things, go, you know, throw the trash away.

SEGARRA: But if she's feeling ready to tackle this, it's time to make some decisions. Is there anything she can purge or donate?

DAVIS: And then I go, OK, is there anything in here that kind of, like, has cousins or close friends?

SEGARRA: Meaning maybe you don't have a designated spot for that box cutter, but you do have a drawer where you keep the scissors. That could work. Now that you've made it through the five things, take out the trash and decide whether you have the energy to do the dishes or the laundry right now. Davis says in these moments, you want to think in terms of kindness to yourself. Maybe right now the kindness is washing one bowl and one cup so I can use them in the morning.

DAVIS: And sometimes I say, I'm not going to even touch these dishes because I deserve rest. And I do that out of kindness, too. I'm going to go let myself lay down on the couch.

SEGARRA: She says when you start to treat yourself with kindness, things can change. For NPR News, I'm Marielle Segarra.

SHAPIRO: You can find more life hacks and tips at npr.org/lifekit.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Marielle Segarra
Marielle Segarra is a reporter and the host of NPR's Life Kit, the award-winning podcast and radio show that shares trustworthy, nonjudgmental tips that help listeners navigate their lives.

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