Where To Start: Deep Cleaning A Bathroom

Welcome! This post is part of a series I’m starting this week on deep cleaning. Often deep cleaning can be intimidating because it’s difficult to know where to start, so each week I’ll give you a short (but by no means exhaustive!) list of what you can clean (and how to clean it) to start making your house feel cleaner and fresher, one room at a time. Follow for more each week!

This week, my house has felt particularly dirty without really being cluttered or messy. I’ve been keeping up on my regular chores, but nothing feels really clean or even smells very fresh after I clean it. This is always a good sign that it’s time for me to set aside some deep cleaning time to refresh my space and get me motivated. Tackling one room at a time instead of a whole house isn’t as overwhelming, so I downloaded an audiobook I knew I’d get invested in (Book 3 of The Witcher series — so good!) and got to it, starting with the bathroom.

Spirited Away has the best animated cleaning and the best animated food. I will die on this incredibly trivial hill. / vie Giphy

My basic bathroom clean each week includes scrubbing the sink; cleaning the mirror; scrubbing the toilet bowl and wiping down the lid, seat, and rim; and scrubbing the shower (my least favorite chore by far, but a grimy shower is like dirty sheets: it makes the whole room feel worse). I usually vacuum throughout the week, but when I do this weekly clean I vacuum and then go through with a spray mop.

Since I wanted to deep clean this week, I set aside a bit more time for the two bathrooms in my house. There are two ways to approach a deep clean: clean what you normally would plus extra, or just let go of the regular clean (or elements of it) in favor of deep cleaning tasks. Bathrooms, however, really need to be cleaned at least once a week (if not more — I don’t have kids and very rarely have guests, so I can get away with once a week more easily), so the best bet is to complete a regular clean plus extra. Here’s what I did today to deep clean:

  1. Clean the drains. If you only have time to do one thing on this list, do this to your sink and shower/tub!
    • If you’re able, unscrew the drain stopper and pull out as much hair/dirt/misc. as possible using your fingers. You can also use an orange stick or a paper towel to grab/wipe, but do not use something metal or sharp! Many drains are literally just plastic (not ABS or copper like the surrounding pipe) and it’s easier to punch a hole than you’d think. I won’t lie to you, this step will be straight gross, and you’ll definitely want to use some gloves.
    • Once the drain is clean(ish), scrub the inside of the drain and the stopper with your shower cleaner of choice and a toothbrush. Get as deep into the nooks and crannies as you can! Rinse.
    • Now, while the stopper is still off, sprinkle some baking soda into the drain (2-3 tablespoons should do it). Pour about 1/2 cup white vinegar in, and let sit while you head to the kitchen to boil water. I usually just fill up my kettle or a medium saucepan — no need to measure. Once the water is boiling, carefully carry it into the bathroom and pour it all straight down the drain. Now turn the tap on (hot if you can) and let it run for a minute or so to remove any leftover baking soda (if you’re in a drought zone and/or concerned about water use, just hop in to take a shower at this point and kill two birds with one stone).
    • Finally, replace the stopper. It should thread in fairly easily. Cleaning drains is a bit involved, but just remember: cleaning your drains regularly helps prevent larger clogs (and if you really hate it, buy something like a TubShroom to help keep gross stuff out and make cleaning easier).
  2. Give your cosmetics some TLC. This is a fairly small step, but it makes me so much happier on a regular basis. When’s the last time you wiped off your face cream? Never? If the lid is dusty or dirty, wipe it off. Clean your toothbrush holder (put it in the dishwasher!). Clean your hairbrush and wash it with a bit of shampoo. Throw out anything expired or that no longer sparks joy. Cosmetics are really all about self care (either the really necessary kind like toothpaste or the less necessary like my Pixi Steam Shower Mask), so it makes sense to spend some time making them more of a pleasure to use. Set face serums and creams out on a nice tray. Organize your nail polishes by color. Whatever makes you feel good!
  3. Get under the seat. Another gross job. But again, worth it! Most folks regularly wipe down the toilet seat, rim, and toilet surrounds. To go a step further, remove the toilet seat/lid and clean underneath the plastic hardware. To remove the seat, reach underneath and unscrew this nut:

    Depending on the type of seat you have, you may be able to “unlock” the top hardware, but I still prefer removing the whole bolt as it’s a lot easier to clean the porcelain. Once you remove the nut, you should be able to lift the whole seat off. Spray the area down, wipe clean, and replace the seat and nut.
  4. Wash your shower curtain. This really freshens the room! If you have a plastic liner, you can still wash it in a washing machine. Just pop it in with a couple of towels and wash on “normal” (sanitizing cycles can be a bit too rough on plastic). If you have a fabric liner, bleach it if possible. You can put fabric shower curtains in the dryer, but never put a plastic liner in, and avoid putting the fabric ones as well (they come out of the wash fairly dry anyway). Just hang the liner straight back on the rings and let it air dry.
  5. Clean your baseboards. If you prefer to do all your baseboards at once, feel free to skip this step, but I always find my bathroom baseboards need a little extra elbow grease and need to be cleaned a little more often, and it’s a small room so it doesn’t add too much extra work. Run a clean, dry cloth over the board to start, follow with a wet cloth (add your all purpose cleaner of choice), then dry with another clean cloth. I know this is a bit involved even for baseboards, but you’d be amazed how much dirtier these get in your bathroom with all the hair, cosmetics, humidity, and dust.
  6. Detail your switch plates. I spray my light switches down with a disinfectant spray a couple times a week, but I like to use some all purpose spray applied to a clean dry cloth to give switch plates (including plugs) a solid clean every so often (be careful and don’t ever spray cleaner straight onto a plug. Work around them and stick to cleaning just the surrounding plate). This task is a great trigger task (a chore that makes you automatically do other chores), as it can often go past the switch plates to spot cleaning the walls or wiping down the door.
Now go have the world’s best cup of coffee! / via Giphy

Phew, that’s it! Doing any one or all of these things is a huge win, so treat yourself! Taking time to take care of your space is a form of self care, and even though it’s not always how we want to spend our time, deep cleaning can be really satisfying. If you can get to everything I’ve listed here or even want to do more like cleaning your cupboards or washing the walls or scrubbing the grout, go for it! If you can only get to one thing, that’s awesome, too! Every little bit helps 🙂

Thanks for reading!

I Tested Emergency Stain Fighting Methods So You Don’t Have To

We’ve all been there. We’re trucking along, on our way to work or eating lunch out in the world, and BAM! Coffee down our fronts. Ketchup on our new pants. Stains happen, but like running into exes or your printer running out of ink, they often happen at the worst time. That’s why I don’t understand a lot of laundry guides’ stain removal sections. Yes, sure, ideally we have a Tide pen on our person at all times or can mix complicated concoctions to apply before a stain sets, but those options kind of demand that you’re in the right place at the right time. Most times I’ve stained something I mind being stained (home clothes are home clothes for a reason), I’m going somewhere important or nice and I don’t necessarily have access to more than a public bathroom or some napkins.

We’ve all been there, buddy. / via Giphy

Because of my perpetual under-preparedness, I decided to test the stain fighting options most folks usually have access to when they’re untethered from their laundry rooms on the stains most people get pretty frequently: ketchup, mustard, oil, and coffee. Yes, there are definitely many other things you can stain your clothes with, but I figured this covered the stain “worlds” pretty well (for instance, when you get a spaghetti sauce stain, it’s mostly the tomatoes and oil that’s staining the fabric, so you can still get a good idea from these samples of what would work best).

Before I talk about the method and results, a couple of notes regarding other frequent stains: ALWAYS use cold water to get blood out (run it under a faucet as cold as you can and gently rub with your fingers, and hand sanitizer is the best option for tree sap. Trust me, I’ve bled on a lot of stuff and sat in a lot of tree sap, and those are the best ways, hands down.

The method. I tested strips of fabric (I used 100% cotton) stained with each substance. I dabbed the excess off with a paper napkin, applied the treatment, rubbed with my fingers, then rinsed with warm water. None of the stains sat on the fabric untreated for more than a minute (I assumed most people would notice a treatable stain within a pretty short window — a dry stain noticed much later is a different ball game). I did use an Oxi stain stick on one strip as a sort of control so I could see what would happen if I were in an ideal situation where I had access to a stain stick and a sink. I also let everything dry completely before photographing.

The results. As you can see, not a ton of big surprises here, but some interesting findings nonetheless. Dabbing at a stain doesn’t really do much (this was the only strip that you could still see coffee on). Rinsing got the coffee out, but otherwise it doesn’t really seem to be worth getting your shirt wet if you don’t have anything else to treat with — the other stains weren’t really any different with water added. Hand sanitizer was better than water. This method is actually my go to when I stain my clothes and can’t use a bathroom, and it does seem to help the stain come out later in the wash. Plus I usually have hand sanitizer on me or in the car (especially these days), so it’s better than just dabbing or even rinsing.

Unsurprisingly, soap-based treatments won the day with all these food stains. What was a bit surprising, though, was how well dish soap did. I originally tested it because it’s what I would go for if I stained my clothing at a friend’s house or someplace where I didn’t feel okay about poking around the laundry room. And amazingly, dish soap outperformed the actual stain stick! I’ve written before about my love of dish soap (read more here), but I never really thought of it for stains besides oil. The dish soap left only the faintest trace of ketchup and mustard and completely removed the oil and coffee, but with the stain stick there was a discernible (if faint) stain. I honestly may just start treating at home stains with dish soap as well — an easy solution that works!

Finally, hand soap did okay (better than just dabbing, just water, or hand sanitizer), but it couldn’t seem to remove anything completely, even the oil. Still, probably the best option in a pinch, as most folks don’t carry dish soap everywhere (but maybe we should?).

My overall findings? Go for the soapiest thing you can find, but sub in hand sanitizer if you don’t have access to water. Rinsing isn’t worth it unless you spilled something very liquidy like coffee or soda. And remember: time is always important with stains. The longer something sits, the more likely the stain will fix. If you can’t do anything about the stain in the moment, no worries, just brush it off and deal with it when you get home. Ideally with dish soap.

Thanks for reading!

10 Cleaning Tips to Keep Your House Livable

Funnily enough, people who hate cleaning often make the best cleaners. When you hate something that’s a necessity, you’ll do anything you can to improve it or make it easier. I HATED cleaning growing up, but like most adults, I eventually figured out clean rooms are nice to live in (go figure).

In the name of livable rooms with minimal infringement on my Masterpiece Theater and blank staring time, I’ve done my best over the years to figure out the easiest and most efficient ways to keep my space clean. Cleaning is an art and a skill, and as is the case with so many things in life, knowledge is power. So, in the name of scientific endeavor, here are my 10 tips for keeping your house livable and clean(ish).

I’ve thought a lot about this and if I could train woodland creatures to help me clean I’d do it. Even if it ended up like Enchanted with rats and pigeons … I’d still do it. / via Giphy
  1. Never go with empty hands. This is a rule in restaurants for a reason. Think about how often you walk from one room to another in a day. If you’re passing through the kitchen, grab a dish. Headed out to the car? Take out the garbage on your way. It won’t eliminate clutter, but it will definitely help. (It’s also fun to say this phrase to family members in a sing-song voice whenever they leave a room. Seriously, people love it.)
  2. Make it fun! I love a good cleaning playlist, but sometimes I need more than good music. I switch it up by listening to an audiobook (I often keep cleaning because I’m invested in the plot) or a podcast. Try the Overdrive or Libby apps from your local library to get an amazing selection of free books. I also like to turn on a movie or a show, especially if I’m folding laundry or straightening up the living room. Keeping myself entertained makes it easier to take on big tasks.
  3. Toothbrushes are gold. Never throw away a used toothbrush! Toss it in the dishwasher and keep it for cleaning around faucets, scrubbing window tracks, cleaning gunk out of drains, and basically any task where you need to get into small cracks or details. I strongly believe that there’s not much a toothbrush and Simple Green can’t clean — words to live by.
  4. Start by clearing the floor. I hear a lot about cleaning from top to bottom (which is important), but if I’m tackling a specific room, I actually start by clearing the clutter off the floor. Pick up clothes, put away toys, and clear as much off the floor as you can before you start cleaning. It will make the actual dusting, vacuuming, etc. much easier.
  5. Wear gloves! Most cleaners, natural or not, are rough on hands. Also, humans are gross. Cleaning a toilet is a lot easier to tackle when your hands are protected. Just make sure you buy a pair for each room (mark them with a permanent marker).
  6. Clean your tools. Give some cleaning love to the things that help you clean! Empty the vacuum canister when you’re done cleaning. Wipe down attachments. Wash out the mop head. Wash your broom (and store it bristles up!). Clean your washer. We often forget to clean these things, and they really do need cleaning and maintenance. A full vacuum cleaner that hasn’t ever had its filter changed isn’t going to work very well, and you can extend the life of your tools by keeping them in good condition.
  7. Toss or keep, don’t shuffle. You know the stuff that lives on your dining room table? The old mail, notebooks, hand cream, etc.? It’s a better use of your cleaning time to either find a proper place for it or toss it. Shuffling it and cleaning around it ends up taking a lot more time, and your space will look so much cleaner without the clutter!
  8. Treat yourself! Some days incentives are pretty much the only way I get anything done. Save a cookie for after chores. Rent a movie. Take a bath in your sparkling clean tub. Go to Starbucks. Sometimes a clean house or a job well done is motivation enough, but don’t forget the carrot part of carrot and stick.
  9. Sometimes good enough is good enough. Give yourself credit for making an effort. If you’ve had a tough week and you can muster the effort to load the dishwasher but not scrub the sink or do a load of laundry but not vacuum the house, that’s ok. Nobody is Pinterest-perfect all the time, and I’ll bet good money that a lot of those pictures have the dirty laundry pile cropped out.
  10. Break the rules. Yesterday my husband told me one of the reasons he doesn’t really like mopping is because he feels like he has to vacuum super thoroughly beforehand. I told him I often vacuum, mop, and then sweep particularly dirty floors. His response? “Wait, you can do that?” Just because that’s how it’s always been done doesn’t mean that’s how you have to do it. If you try something and it works for you (and makes basic chemical sense), go for it.
If he can do it, you can too! / via Giphy

What are your best cleaning tips? Let me know in the comments!

Thanks for reading!

Homemade Window Cleaner (That Works!)

Weird confession: I love cleaning windows. We all have the chores we love (for me: windows, vacuuming, and scrubbing sinks) and the ones we hate (for me: scrubbing showers/tubs, emptying the dishwasher, and putting away folded laundry). Windows are the ultimate detail work for me, and a clean window (or mirror, for that matter) has an instant impact on a room.

Because I like cleaning windows, I’ve developed a lot of opinions about how I like to clean them and what I like to clean them with. I love Windex, but sometimes I prefer to make my own to switch it up or save money or just because. I always make my own window solution when I’m doing a deep clean, because I like to make a big bucket with hot water and a spritz from spray bottle of cleaner just doesn’t feel as satisfying and hot water and suds.

Simply the best. / via Giphy

My window cleaner recipe, like many out there, includes rubbing alcohol and vinegar. However, I also include dish soap, (which some folks don’t do) because I feel the soap helps break down grime and grease marks better and more quickly (also I use dish soap for everything — read more here). It also helps the solution cover the glass — vinegar and alcohol without the soap doesn’t cling to the glass very well. So don’t skip the dish soap!

Here’s how I make glass cleaner in a (standard 23 oz. size) spray bottle:

Yes, I reuse a bottle from a certain famous glass cleaner company.
  • Add the following straight to the bottle: about 2 tablespoons rubbing alcohol (any percentage will do); about 1 teaspoon dish soap (again, any type will do, but blue Dawn gives the blueish tinge that means “window cleaner” to everyone’s brain); about 2 tablespoons white distilled vinegar.
  • Fill the bottle about 1/2 to 3/4 full with water. Make sure to tilt the bottle so the stream of water hits the side and doesn’t create too many bubbles.
  • Replace cap and use! You can give the bottle a quick shake to reincorporate the ingredients before each use (a bit of separation is natural, like Snapple says).
See what I mean about the suds?!

You can add the same ingredients in similar proportions (but overall larger amounts) to a bucket and add hot water to make a great window cleaning solution for bigger jobs. Use a rag (don’t wring it out too much, you want it to be like a wet mop) to scrub the window and remove the excess with a squeegee. Trust me, your windows will literally be squeaky clean.

All clean!

Thanks for reading!

Pandemic Habits I’ll Keep

If it’s been written once it’s been written a thousand times: the pandemic has and continues to change how we live our lives, in both big and small ways (I know — super original statement). Some folks have been talking about getting “back to normal” and some maintain that life will never be the same (honestly, they’re probably both right — life has a way of being achingly normal and shockingly bizarre at the same time), but most everyone has drastically altered their everyday behavior from pre-pandemic standards. I’ve been thinking a lot about the world after the pandemic and the habits I adopted as a result, and there’s a lot I like and will probably keep doing. Let me be clear at the outset, though: 1) the pandemic is ongoing and probably will be for awhile, and 2) it isn’t my intention to make light of a serious time — I get that many of these are trivialities.

Photo by Leohoho on Unsplash
  • Wearing a mask. I like that masks have been a little more normalized. I used to feel weird about wearing one in public, but they’re great for allergies, for keeping your germs away from others if you’re sick, and even for helping me breath a bit easier during the Northwest’s awful fire season. I’ll keep my collection in regular rotation and while I may not wear them in public constantly forever, I’ll keep wearing them when they’ll help keep myself and others safe or stop my head from feeling like a bowling ball each spring.
  • Washing my produce and taking food out of boxes. This may sound a bit odd and probably isn’t for everyone, but at the beginning of the pandemic I was in full panic mode and started disinfecting my groceries. I began washing all my produce and taking items in paperboard (cereal boxes, snacks, etc.) out of the box before putting everything away. And even though it’s a bit extra, I will probably keep doing this for the foreseeable future for two reasons: produce washed immediately stays fresh waaaaay longer, and getting rid of the boxes early saves a ton of space.
  • Paying attention to my mental health. This one’s a bit more on the serious side, but the past year has been TOUGH. I’ve kept up my talk therapy via telehealth, and it’s been really helpful. This year I really learned the importance of putting my health — mental and physical — first, and I’ll continue to make extra room for self care.
  • Saying ‘no’ to events I don’t want to go to. I’m a super private introvert, so I’ll be honest: the pandemic didn’t hit my social life all that hard. If anything I see friends more now that folks are more open to Zoom happy hours and the like. But yeah, I’ve definitely been glad for the built-in excuse of the pandemic meaning I didn’t have to go to some event I wouldn’t have wanted to attend in the first place. It’s not strictly a habit of saying ‘no’ that I’m after: it’s recognizing that I can just admit I don’t really want to go somewhere and that I am allowed to value my time.

Again, I know we’re not out of the woods yet and the pandemic will probably continue to change how we live, but I think it’s interesting to think of the unexpected benefits of this brave new world. I guess I’m bright-siding it, but it’s nice to think I’ve learned something good from all of this.

Thanks for reading!

Feeling Overwhelmed? Pick 6!

This time of year has a way of getting on top of people. The school year is winding down, spring/summer activities are picking up, and life just gets chaotic quickly. More often than not, I feel a little extra-overwhelmed in April and May because I have what feels like a million little things to take care of. Work stuff, home stuff, you name it. I’ve got graduation gifts to send, work to send out, Mother’s Day coming up, birthdays — just typing it all stresses me out!

I’ve got a few ways of working my way out of the overwhelmed feeling, but one of my all-time favorites (and very frequently utilized) is to pick 6. It’s a method adapted from Ivy Lee’s own pick 6 method. Now, Ivy Lee’s version differs a bit from my approach, and some of you may find her way more effective (after all, Charles Schwab liked his results so much he paid Lee $25,000 for the method back in 1918, so clearly she was doing something right).

Naturally, all my to-do lists are also in soft focus.
Photo by Glenn Carstens-Peters on Unsplash

So how does it work? Simple: at the start of my day, I write down every to-do item I can think of. Every passing “Oh, I need to…” that enters my head. Then, I pick 6 things that I absolutely will get done that day and put a star next to them. I allow myself a couple of softballs (stuff like logging information on a spreadsheet or sending a quick email), and I usually try to add at least one or two big things or things I’ve been putting off (see also my post about picking just one tough thing here). The point is, I just have to deal with those 6 things that day. After that, I’ve showed up for the day and been at least somewhat productive, and it’s okay if I only get to those 6 things (I can always pick 6 more tomorrow!).

This method works for me for a few reasons: first, writing everything down works a bit like a data dump (where you write down every thought for a timed period to help empty a crowded mind). Ivy Lee’s original method encourages you to only list 6 items and avoid writing the rest down, but my brain tends to circle back on tasks that need to get done at the least helpful moments (remembering that I need to wash the car while I’m trying to write an email isn’t super helpful), and writing down all the tasks I’m thinking of helps get them out of my head, even if it’s just for the day.

Second, picking 6 items lets me prioritize. By doing a task data dump and then picking 6 things that really should get done, I’m goal-setting and helping my brain home in on the few must-dos for that day. Prioritizing is an important part of productivity (Dwight Eisenhower’s productivity matrix is actually based on prioritization and assessing urgency, post on that coming soon!), and it’s another way to help your mind put down the little things that don’t really need to get done today and focus on actually getting stuff done. Basically, it helps you keep calm.

See what I did there?
Image courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

Finally, this method helps you feel accomplished and make slow and steady progress. When I’m overwhelmed, it’s easy to enter a cycle of anxiety that (surprise, surprise) stops me from getting anything done! Making a list and setting some goals for the day helps me work through busy periods, even if it’s just 6 items at a time. 6 is also a bit of a magic number — it’s enough to fill a day and feel like you’ve been productive but not enough to overburden. You can always do more if you feel like it, but by picking 6 you can basically guarantee some level of productivity.

Thanks for reading!

UGH, No.

I’ve had a week, y’all. Lots of ups and downs, personally and professionally. So when it came to writing my weekly post, a big part of me thought … “No. I don’t want to.”

Indeed, Christopher Walken, indeed.

Obviously, I wrote the post because you’re reading the post (thank you!), but I’ll be honest and say it’s not coming easily. I haven’t done much in the way of cleaning or cooking or organizing in the past few days, so I’ll have to write about my feelings instead. And friends, I have many of them.

This is not the first time I have used this gif. It will not be the last. See gif for details on why.

Thinking about a thing I didn’t really have the energy to do got me thinking about the many other things that, as I’ve gotten older and very marginally wiser, I’ve actually stopped doing because I just didn’t want to. The things, people, and obligations that I finally said no to.

For the liberated amongst you, saying no has become pretty easy (or maybe has always been easy, if you’re in the like top 5%?). And that’s amazing! But for me, it was and continues to be really hard to say no. There are probably two big reasons for this: I care too much about what other people think of me, and I reeeaaaallly want to make people happy.

Now maybe you are one of the lucky few who don’t really care about what people think about you. If so, an honest and hearty congratulations to you (with a smidgeon of side-eye and jealousy tbh). I am not one of those people. And that makes it really hard for me to, as my DARE officer told me, just say no.

Still, in recent years, I’ve gotten a bit better at saying no and, shall we say, going my own way. A lot of it is down to getting older, a bunch of talk therapy, and playing Brené Brown audiobooks on repeat. But it’s still tough. I have to work at it and decide whether I really want to do something, and then once I’ve made my decision, I have to effectively and politely communicate it. Then, toughest of all, I have to stick to it. I’ve got a few methods/concepts/thoughts for doing these things, which I will naturally now bullet-point:

  • “No thank you, not today!” My nephew started saying this, and it’s kind of become a family motto. If you don’t want to, just firmly and politely say “No thank you, not today!”
  • Time and energy are finite. There was recently a TikTok discussion about “revenge bedtime procrastination,” a phenomenon where people stay up super late doing not much of anything to get back at others and themselves for being constantly busy. We need time to respect our need for downtime, which means we sometimes have to say no. Respect your own boundaries!
  • “Good for her! Not for me.” Again and again, I come back to this quote from Amy Poehler’s amazing book Yes, Please. We don’t have to tear down others’ choices to validate our own, and we don’t have to follow someone else’s lead just because.
  • You deserve to take up space in the world too! I have to tell myself this a lot. I get stuck thinking about how my life affects others, but that’s not really fair to myself. Don’t I (and you!) deserve the same consideration we give our friends and family?

To be fair, I said yes to writing this post, mainly because it matters to me and I ultimately decided I wanted to. But I like to think that, if I really needed to, I could say no.

Thanks for reading!

What Ben Franklin (and Mark Twain) Taught me About Productivity

I have to go to the dump. It’s my Ben Franklin.” This was my response to the Starbucks clerk’s polite “So what are you up to today?” (I know, I should just say “nothing much,” but the clerk at the drive thru is one of my five weekly social interactions in COVID times.) Needless to say, she was a bit confused. The pandemic has really eroded my conversation skills.

What is a “Ben Franklin,” you ask? Well, the short answer is that it’s my family’s shorthand for something we don’t want to do. The long answer, however, which is what blogs are for, is that it’s sort of a creed we’ve taken up. A way of life. My mom always told me Ben Franklin said that you should to do one thing you don’t want to do every day. Trusting, as all Americans do, the word of that wacky inventor, I took the maxim to heart. Just one thing, each day. Simple, but kind of revolutionary (pun 1000% intended). Call the doctor. Figure out that insurance question. Go to the dump.

This guy got stuff done. But, you know, so did my guy Twain. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons. PD-US-expired.

But here’s the kicker: Ben Franklin never said this, Mark Twain did. I know, I know, plot twist. We still call our one thing a day a “Ben Franklin,” mainly because a “Mark Twain” doesn’t quite roll off the tongue. But regardless of who said it, the advice still works.

Ben Franklin actually is a bit of a productivity guru in his own right–people still write about and use his block scheduling and 13 virtues. But while he’s got a lot to say on how to be productive, he doesn’t have much to say about how to motivate yourself to be productive. (This is as good as it gets: “Resolve to perform what you ought; perform without fail what you resolve.” Cool, Ben, will do.)

Mark Twain said, “Make it a point to do something every day that you don’t want to do. This is the golden rule for acquiring the habit of doing your duty without pain.” I love this, mainly because it explains how to actually build good habits. Just one thing. We can all wrap our heads around just one thing. It’s like a 10-minute exercise video–even if it’s been a day, I’ve always got 10 minutes.

This guyyyyy. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons. PD-US.

When I started college, I was very shy and had trouble speaking up in class. I went to a university where it was kind of a prerequisite to speak up in class and was even part of our grade, so this quickly became a problem. I went to one of my professors and told him I was worried about my participation grade going down because I didn’t feel comfortable giving my two cents. “I listen,” I said, “but it’s just hard to get involved in the conversation.” And he gave me Mark Twain’s advice: “Just say one thing per class. Write it down if you have to. Don’t worry about whether it’s clever or good or right. Just say one thing, and then you don’t have to do anything else.” That’s how I know this advice works. I said one thing during each class period, and slowly, I became more comfortable with speaking up in class. And it was pretty painless. If I wasn’t feeling like speaking up, I could just say one thing, and if I wanted to, I could say more.

Now there are a lot of people who have said something similar. Ralph Waldo Emerson said “Always do what you are afraid to do.” Eleanor Roosevelt said “You must do the thing you think you cannot do.” And that is also good advice that I’ve taken to heart. But I still go back to Twain, because it’s about building a habit and handling the everyday kind of tough stuff. It’s not necessarily about fear, it’s more about making steady progress and getting the things you’ve been putting off done. I’m not really afraid of changing my car’s oil, I just don’t want to do it. But if I make it a point to do one thing each day, the oil will get changed. And it will be pretty painless, because I just have to do the one thing.

So whether you call it a “Ben Franklin” or a “Mark Twain” or just “my one thing,” give this a shot. Start today, or tomorrow. Just pick the thing that’s been bugging you to get done and just do the one thing. And then you’re all done!

Good luck, and thanks for reading!

Decluttering in the Time of COVID

I read somewhere last summer that Goodwill was having trouble dealing with the volume of donations brought on by lockdown. Apparently, people got stuck in their houses, realized those houses were waaay too crowded to be stuck in, and decided to use their newfound free time to box it up and throw it in the garage until it was safe to donate. But recently, I heard that in some places Goodwill now doesn’t have enough donations! They’re actually losing money, and not because people aren’t shopping there because of COVID-related fear — go figure. (Goodwill has actually done a lot of good during the pandemic and most have safety protocols to keep customers and employees safe.)

Photo by Sarah Brown on Unsplash

What I really find strange about all of this is that it was actually the other way around for me. Lockdown and all the fear and uncertainty surrounding it set me back in more ways than one. In 2019, I was merrily KonMari-ing and Swedish death cleaning my way to peace and happiness. In 2020, I was stress-hoarding butter (yeah, I can make it through life rationing toilet paper and hand sanitizer, but I NEED EXTRA BUTTER) and keeping old yogurt tubs by the truckload.

Last summer, I wasn’t ready to give anything up that I “might need later.” I bought extra food when I went to the store in case they ran out of something (I had one packet of yeast left when everyone decided to take up stress baking) and so I’d have to go out less. I thought twice about getting rid of old clothes because 1) I live in Zoom purgatory now so why bother and 2) shopping for clothes in person kind of stresses me out now. Living in a pandemic upended all the things I used to tell myself while decluttering: “You can always buy it again if you end up needing it.” “There will always be enough.” “If you get rid of these clothes that no longer spark joy, you can enjoy shopping for some that do!” Instead I thought, especially when shopping for food: “What if they run out and I really need it?” “What if the factory shuts down because of an outbreak?” “What if I lose my job and can’t afford to buy more?”

I bought so much bottled water during the first lockdown. A somewhat panicked decision, in hindsight. Photo by Mick Haupt on Unsplash

Obviously, this wasn’t the healthiest thought cycle. Like most people, the last year has been pretty fear-driven for me. Fear of the unknown, it turns out, is kryptonite for people like me who coaxed themselves towards minimalism. But here’s the thing: it turns out, that wasn’t really a sustainable way of decluttering anyway. All the ways I told myself it was ok to get rid of something relied on me being able to get a new one or buy more stuff. Of course a pandemic that disrupted the supply chain and upended the economy would make me think twice about only buying the groceries I needed for the week!

This is an ongoing process for me, and I’ve been turning over this realization in my mind, trying to figure out what it means for me. I like my life with less clutter in it, but I also don’t want to force myself to let go when I still am dealing with a lot of fear and anxiety. My lizard brain is starting to chill out, and I’m starting to be able recognize items I no longer use or need again and be okay with letting them go, but I still worry about the what-ifs. It’s an uncertain time, and it probably will be for awhile. I do know I want to find a more sustainable way of letting go, in all senses of the word. I want to get rid of what I no longer need, but I want to make sure it’s recycled, if possible. I want to buy new if I need to, but not just to get a serotonin boost from “treating myself.” Mostly, I just want to find some peace of mind — go figure.

Thanks for reading!

My Favorite Kitchen Unitasker (For the Person Who Hates Them)

Thanks to years of watching Alton Brown, I have a pretty healthy dislike of unitaskers. I don’t like clutter, and I tend to just MacGyver anything I don’t already have on hand.

via Giphy

But obviously there’s a “but” here. One unitasker I bought and have kept, used regularly, and loved for over 5 years: my hamburger press.

via Amazon

This is my particular model, courtesy of Amazon. Granted, it’s pretty cheap and doesn’t take up a ton of room, but for those who are wondering why anyone would need a gadget like this (kitchen minimalists, you know who you are), I’m just saying that this is worth it. I have had some truly microscopic kitchens, but I’ve kept this little press through them all.

Did I buy the press because I love burgers or do I love burgers because I bought the press? / via Giphy

Weirdly, though it’s clearly a meat-oriented tool, it’s actually super useful for vegetarians and vegans. If you want to try making your own veggie burger mix, this tool goes a long way in helping you achieve a more consistent, easier-to-handle patty. Same goes for the meat-eaters; patties are easier to handle and cook, and you can make stuffed burgers (again, you might wonder why you would need this, but stuff a burger with blue cheese and get back to me).

Long story short, despite this thing saying it’s 3-in-1 like it does sooooo much more than make patties, that’s all it does. You put the meat in and use the handled top to press down. It’s really not rocket science. But I will say most people who see I have one say, “huh, that’s cool” and have ultimately splurged the $10 on one of their own.

So that’s it. That’s the post (forgive me, I got my vaccine yesterday and I am dragging). This thing is cool, and I’m just saying it’s worth having. Even if you don’t eat burgers all that often, you’ll find you’re more likely to make them (or any puck-shaped foods).

Also, if you’re going all out on burgers, I highly recommend the Bob’s Burgers cookbook (you can buy a copy here). It may seem like overkill, but we’ve made a fair few of the recipes and it’s actually a really solid cookbook.

Enjoy, and thanks for reading!