Dear Lois, How do I clean effectively and thoughtfully?


Portrait by James Boyle.

It’s not rocket science, nor am I reinventing the wheel: “The Method” is a way you can ensure that you don’t miss anything and you give proper attention to the entirety of your home, one room at a time.

Start at the door. Work top to bottom and systematically clean and organize the circumference of the room, then the center of the room. Vacuum from the back corner toward the door you started from and then wash the floors in the same direction.

Whether you are organizing or cleaning it should be the same process; methodically clean, declutter and go all the way with follow-through and vigor.

Sometimes when I clean, I get distracted. When I started my business I noticed that a focused approach to cleaning someone else’s home eliminated distractions, so I formulated The Method to keep myself grounded with the task at hand. The Method worked so well for cleaning that I tried it for organizing and decluttering. It worked, but I soon came to realize that this way goes very slowly in the beginning, but does pay off and the house is healthier for it.

For example, if I was going to clean/organize a room I would start at the entrance and make my way around the room. If I came upon clutter I would address it. What’s in the pile? Where do these things belong and do they belong in this room? Are these items used and appreciated or do they need to be purged?

Illustration by Lois Volta.

I go through each item and consider the room completed when all aspects of the room are addressed. It might take eight hours to move from the closet to the nightstand, and that’s okay.

Clean deeply, stay slow and be methodical. To do this, you have to have patience with yourself.

Many times when we are going through piles of neglected items, emotions can bubble to the surface. Tackle whatever feelings that come up for you with the same type of approach you have been using to clean. How do the items actually make you feel? Do they make you feel emotionally and mentally tired? Go into the feelings. Unlike Marie Kondo, I don’t believe everything should “spark joy”—let’s be realistic—but we should be able to weed out apathy and neglect.

For instance, the pile of clothes beside your bed. How does it make you feel? Why isn’t there any room for the clothes in your dresser? Is your dresser filled with clothes that don’t fit or that you don’t wear? Going through your closet and drawers is a huge task, so you might have put it off. Does this make you feel like a negligent person? You might have prioritized escapism in your down time instead of caring for yourself and putting the work in. (Self care is making sure you aren’t tripping over piles. Make sure that you have your priorities straight.)

Accept that it takes a lot of work to set things right after we let them get out of hand. Go slow, and be patient with yourself. You are working in a positive direction.

When I’m training a new staff member or teaching a client how to clean and declutter, I tell them to be like the slug. When you see a slug it seems as if it isn’t really moving at all. But when you look away and look back, the slug has traveled farther than you thought it would, leaving a trail of sparkles behind it. Be like that.

Lois Volta is a home life consultant, artist and founder of The Volta Way. Send questions to info@thevoltaway.com.

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Latest from #150 November 2021