It's just dawned on me that I haven't written about a project I’ve been working on for a while. One that is pretty much finished - only in need of maintaining - and one which has been central to my recovery. This is a post about some of the changes I’ve made to my home life and habits in order for me to better access my self-care and recovery routines.
I promise you this is not going to turn into some sort of lifestyle blog, and although it is nice to have a lovely looking home, my motivation behind making the following alterations has been solely to help free up some time, energy and headspace so that I have more to invest in my own recovery and therapy exercises.
I’m probably going to need to break this into a few smaller posts as I’d like to stick a few pictures in and as a single post it would never load so please keep an eye out for follow up blogs.
To make it much easier to read, I’ll list the barriers to my recovery, the solutions I found, and how I (try to!) maintain the changes.
So the overall problem:
As I started to get better I found that I gained time. I spent less time in my head battling obsessions and internal compulsions, and far less time carrying out physical compulsions. How did this extra time get spent? It got spent on chores, house work and meals – basically all the things that would have been completed properly previously had I not been spending so long in Olivia’s company. It hit me that although I knew a lot of cognitive behavioural therapy strategies, and understood the importance of self-care theoretically, unless I made the time, I wouldn’t have the chance to do it practically. And it's the practical stuff that makes a difference, right?
So here we go…
The First Problem: Too much stuff
I’ve never had a clinical issue with hoarding, but we had a ton of stuff, both from our own household and those we’d inherited. We had so much stuff that it took up most of my extra time. We didn’t have places to put it, so it just got moved around.
I used to joke about it when I was doing it by putting on a David Attenborough voice and providing a voice over to my actions: “and here… we have Catherine… undertaking the time-consuming task… of clearing out her nest. She… does this… by moving objects from one place to the other. The interesting thing about this behaviour… is that it doesn’t appear… to benefit anyone. Yet… for Catherine… this... is a daily routine”.
You get the picture.
It was obvious that this problem wasn’t something that was going to go away on its own. I didn’t want to spend hours tidying and organising anymore and so I decided to have a clear out.
The Solution 1: Decluttering
There are endless blogs out there recommending a thousand and one diverse ways to clear your house of clutter and ‘stuff’. I read them, tried a few approaches, and then decided to do what I normally do and chucked a load out in one big go. I'm not the most patient of people but it doesn't have to be that way. Decluttering can be done very slowly, at a rate you are comfortable with.
Bags of stuff went to the charity shops in the area, some of the nicer stuff got given away to particular people, offered to the community or put on eBay. I’m very lucky to have a little garage in which to hold Will's old baby stuff in case another little one comes along some day (and I appreciate that sort of things takes up loads of space in peoples homes) but I basically got rid of about 30%-40% of the items we had. Clothes, doubles of things, pots, pans, toys… nothing was safe!*
I can’t begin to tell you how much left this house, and every time a car load drove off, I felt my shoulders drop further away from my ears. I could feel a little headspace coming. Room to breathe. Freedom from stuffocation.
The Solution 2: Organising what was left
The items that remained were organised, and, as much as possible, stored out of sight in stackable storage boxes. Things began to get homes - places where they were returned to. For the first time I think ever, there was space for everything. I sorted out little man’s toys and, ahem, removed some of the never-played-with ones under the cover of darkness.
Typically me, I've lost the before picture for this but just so you get an idea you couldn't see the fireplace before I had a sort out, there were toys everywhere! I haven't removed everything, I've kept the important bits, and little man's favourite toys are still there, it just feels so much calmer now.
The Solution 3: Maintaining the change.
This was tough. Once I’d invested a ton of effort into clearing out the place, I didn’t want it to get full again so I made up some rules.
I try really hard to have a ‘does this really need to come into our house?’ filter that I apply to anything outside the house.
If new things do need to come in I try to make space for them by removing other bits first e.g. I make room for birthday presents by removing some of the already owned toys that don’t get played with or those that have been outgrown.
I have a charity shop box and anything we don’t want goes straight in it.
I do the same for Ebay.
I should add here that although the list above makes me sound like a minimalist Miss Trunchbull, I’m really not that strict. I just find that being proactive with decisions like this makes a huge positive difference to my house, head space and stress levels.
The process of having a good old clear out in the first place bought with it quite a lot of joy and I’m now left with a house the takes far less time to sort out than it did before. Even after a full on play date I can get the house back in shape pretty quickly. And this in turn leaves me with far more time to concentrate on keeping me well and doing the things that really benefit me and my family!
And if you live with OCD you’ll appreciate this one - it also helps to make my brain feel a little less busy.
And as if by magic, that leads me very nicely onto my next point…
The Second Problem: Having a very busy brain!!!
Sh*t, the window cleaner's here, what did I do with my purse!? What’s up with that tap? How long have I got ‘til…? Must remember to pick up carrots on the way home from picking up little man. I wonder how that person from yesterday is? When is the MOT due? Better book a hair appointment? Did Will have his pump before school? Ugh, look at the state of the kitchen cupboards…. I shouldn’t have watched the news last night, why DID I watch the news last night!!?? Is the cooker off.....
I have an incredibly busy brain – I know I’m not alone here. It’s often whirring away and throwing information at me which I often find just totally, totally overwhelming. The example I gave above is just caused by a combination of modern life, having family responsibilities and a very active imagination - it, of course, reaches whole new levels when Olivia joins in and the intrusive thoughts start (you can read examples of these in the Meet Olivia post).
OCD can distract me from what I’m supposed to be doing, it can stop me from noticing things that are going on around me, and I’m pretty sure it affects my memory too (my long-term memory is appalling - although I appreciate this may be because of other factors too). Oh and I should add here that things like mindfulness can do a brilliant job at helping with focus and attention so don’t forget those things but as this post is focused on home-life habits and routines, I’m just going to focus on those.
The Solution: Lists and Reminders
Discretely blue tacked to the inside of a shelf near the front door is a list of things I need to make sure I take on the school run. With an asthma pump reminder for little man. Before I leave the house, I scan down it and make sure I have everything and have done the pump. It’s a constant prompt, which has saved me a second journey many times. Leaving to go to school, and trying to remember what needs to be taken every day is stressful. I’ve outsourced that problem to a piece of paper. It took two mins to write out and stick up, and saved me hours in second journeys, has kept my stress levels low and my brain slightly less frazzled – hurrah!
I also have lists for holidays with slight adaptions depending on where we are going, who we’re staying with, the weather etc. I have a list for Christmas cards. I have a piece of paper stuck on the inside of my kitchen cupboard which acts as my shopping list. It’s next to me whenever I run out of something and gets written on straight away. There’s even a pencil tucked in next door to it so I don’t have to hunt for a pen – get me!
Dates go in the calendar as soon as they come, esp. ones from school. I put reminders up on it for phone calls/ appointments I should make, things I need to do and I finally remember to actually refer to it, which for ages I didn’t do.
I could go on. The reasoning behind this is not because I’m immaculate and is not an OCD symptom. I just find it keeps my stress levels low and saves me a lot of time. Time which, again, could be spent on other things and my recovery.
Okay – I’m going to stop there because I think any more and it’ll be a struggle to load the page. Please keep a look out for the follow up posts which will be coming out very soon.
Hope this has helped! Get creating that headspace!
Lots of love
*I should add here that there is a manifestation of OCD known as Spartanism. How did we know that OCD would show it's face for this, right?! Tut! But it's worth reading about and keeping an eye out for it in your own behaviour and choices when beginning a good old clear out. :-)