Quiet Time

This is my favorite part of the day. My husband has tucked in our daughter. I’ve picked up the living room, and sat my pregnant butt down. I’ve got the stress release candle burning, and my cats are cozied up in their sleeping spots. Everything is calm and quiet, and I can just begin to feel the stress of the day leaving my body.

And nowadays I’m so fucking excited because my house no longer smells like cat pee. For clarity–we have a cat who had a territory issue and would pee in our carpeted dining room constantly. We eventually had to move him to the basement while we worked on a solution.

We replaced all the carpet downstairs with luxury vinyl tile (painting the sub flooring with killz first), and now everything is infinity percent better. My overall happiness has probably doubled just from no longer living in a pee smelling house!

Happy relaxing on your three day weekend!

–M

And Sometimes Things Get Bad Again

Well, I’ve been absent from my blog for about a hundred years. Want to guess why? Depression! (Imagine that as I said that, fireworks appeared on your screen.)

I was doing so great. Waking up at the crack of dawn, cooking healthy meals, cleaning, and then my brain just did a hard reboot and was like “nah, this isn’t working out anymore.” So I was back to sleeping in, hardly washing my hair, eating fast food, and letting the household chores pile up.

And then some funny things happened! First, I decided to quit my at-home job and return to nursing school. Amazing! But suddenly we lost my income, and had to stick to a very strict budget. Welp, there we go, have to stop eating out! Once school started, I had to wake up early and be on time every day due to my school’s strict attendance policy. Having to be somewhere every day meant I had to be clean and fresh every day, so guess who’s back to washing her hair on the regular? This girl.

Anyway, my point is this: I’m not a before and after story. I can’t point to messy me and say “that’s who I used to be,” and demonstrate that all my shit is firmly together as an “after” portrait of who I “really” am. I’m a constantly in progress, bipolar, anxious mess. And that’s okay! There are times that I’ll look to the outside world like I know what the fuck I’m doing from day to day, and there are times that if you came to my house unexpectedly you’d find me in a 10 year old pair of sweats, old makeup streaked under my eyes, and mounds of unwashed laundry scattered about.

It’s okay to not have your shit together 100% of the time. It doesn’t make you any less valid or important as a person. But now that I’ve got a few of my ducks in a row, I hope to be a bit better about posting. Until the next depressive swing, that is.

Happy adulting!

–M

Waking up is hard to do

So, sleep has never been what you might call my “strong point.” My whole entire life, I’ve struggled with sleep. My earliest memories of abnormal sleep begin around 5 years old…I’ve just never known what it’s like to be someone who sleeps well.

Until I found tizanidine. Tizanidine, or it’s brand name Zanaflex, is a type of muscle relaxant that is not addictive, nor is it mood altering. I was first prescribed it by my rheumatologist to treat the pain of my scoliosis and my diffuse muscle pain from having Familial Mediterranean Fever (look it up, it’s super weird!). He told me to take it at night in case it made me sleepy and all I could do was roll my eyes; if Lunesta and Ambien and Restoril don’t make me sleepy, surely nothing will.

So I took it once, and basically passed the fuck out instantly. Woo! Except, the thing is, I have Bipolar II Disorder. I’m a fucking wreck 99.99% of the time. Getting to sleep was great, but my depressed and anxious mind wanted to stay asleep constantly. I struggled so much with getting out of bed after my daughter was born. If it weren’t for the fact that I knew I had to get up to feed her and change her and play with her, I’d have never left my bed.

Sleep is a complicated subject for me, especially for being something you’re biologically mandated! So fine, I’ll force myself to be a member of the waking world for my daughter, but I’m going to sleep in until the moment she wakes up, and that’s just how it’s going to be.

But one day it dawned on me: if I wait until she wakes up for me to get out of bed too, then I start my day with crying. I start my day by being needed. And honestly, it doesn’t get easier from there. She’s throwing food, she’s falling down and bumping her noggin, she’s chasing kitties, I’m doing laundry and dishes, I’m trying to make dinner–it’s not really great that my day starts out with crying.

I decided to wake up a full 90 minutes before she usually does, just for one week. Just give it one week, I told myself, and I’ll see how it feels. Spoiler alert: it feels fucking awful. But just at first! I made a routine of it–force myself out of bed, look at my planner, take my meds, wash my face, brush my teeth, make a cup of tea, put away the clean dishes, and watch one episode of a new TV show, not one of the ones I’ve watched a hundred times over.

I started to notice something. I was–dare I say–happier? When my daughter woke up, I was ready to take on the day. I felt rested, restored, calmer, quieter, nicer. Those 90 minutes felt good! They kind of just mellowed me out, and gave me that “me” time that I have always craved.

And then a funny thing happened. I started sleeping easier. Instead of getting in bed at 1am and not falling asleep until 3, I was getting in bed at 10pm and falling asleep by 11. Not only that, but I no longer had to drag myself out of bed. Beyond that, too, I eventually stopped needing the alarm clock all together, as I would wake up on my own a full three hours before she gets up.

It’s like magic. I’m getting the exact same amount of sleep, but I’m falling asleep faster, sleeping better, and waking up easier. I’m not a zombie anymore. I’m happy(ish), I’m calmer with Ren, I’m more patient with her meltdowns and tantrums, and I’m enjoying the time we have together.

One thing I’ve found is that it’s important for me to have a routine. Part of that routine needs to be productive in some way (washing my face, brushing my teeth, unloading the dishwasher, etc.), but part of that routine needs to include literally scheduling time to do nothing. If my planner says “do nothing” from 8-9am, then that’s what’s on the schedule and I won’t feel bad about it. But if it’s not literally on my docket, then I will feel guilty about every second not spent on something productive.

I don’t know if changing your morning will change your life, but it has changed mine.

Happy waking!

–M

Progress, Not Perfection

Everyone who takes the time to talk to me tells me the same thing, “I want to do what you did, but I don’t know where to start.” And let me tell you, neither did I. I had a finished image in my head of what the house would look like: no clutter, clean, lots of natural light, suddenly decorated by a professional, basically looking like two adults, a baby and five cats don’t live here. But I had no idea how to get there.

Spoiler alert: I didn’t get there. I had to come to terms that what was “ideal” isn’t reasonable, and that progress is important–not perfection. But before I could convince myself of any of that, I had to believe I deserved a clean home.

My house always has reflected my mind, and my mind has always been depressed, overwhelmed, and cluttered. I never believed I deserved to live in a clean home. I was messy inside, so obviously I deserved to live in a messy outside.

So I started literally focusing all my attention on a single affirmation: I deserve to live in a clean, organized home.

That’s it. Just that one sentence. I said it out loud every morning I woke up and every evening before bed. I literally wrote it down in my planner. I told my therapist about it. I decided to just say it over and over until I believed it.

And one day, I believed it a little more. And the next day even more. And the next week more than that. And eventually it just felt like a fact, like one more thing that I just knew to be true.

So, okay, I believe I deserve it. Great. Awesome. Does that mean cleaning fairies will come overnight? Does that mean the world will just provide me with a new clean house? I mean, I hear the answer is “no,” but I’m still holding out hope the way I’m still positive my Hogwarts letter got lost in the mail.

Anyway. No. No one showed up to fix my house for me, god dammit.

So affirmation number two replaced the previous. I now knew I deserved it, but needed to believe I was able to achieve it. My affirmation became “I am capable of cleaning and organizing my home.”

Again, I said it out loud over and over. Told my therapist. Wrote it in my planner. Slowlyyyyy believed it. And then one day I said “fuck yeah I’m capable of this!”

Aaaaaand then I cried looking at my house because was I capable? This was a huge fucking mess. This was 28 cumulative years of depression and mess and bullshit. I wasn’t sure I would actually be able to fix this.

So okay fine, maybe one more affirmation. The third and final affirmation was “progress, not perfection.”

A therapist once told me I had “unrelenting standards.” I told her to check the legitimacy of her diploma because lol no I don’t. I live in filth. I’m not a perfectionist! “Why don’t you clean your house, then,” she asked. And after a bunch of circuitous rationalizing nonsense I finally said, “if I don’t start, I can’t fail.”

OH WOW. I’m a perfectionist!?

And then she spent the rest of the hour explaining that sometimes we give in to our perfectionism and become the stereotypical perfectionist. But sometimes, she told me, we procrastinate to avoid failure, or even intentionally fuck things up to prove to the world how much of a perfectionist we definitely aren’t.

You owe me $200 now by the way, which is what she charged me for that info.

I’m of course speaking solely of myself, not trying to diagnose you. I don’t know why your house is the way it is, but I do know why mine was!

So round three: progress, not perfection. But this time I didn’t just say it, I tried to practice it. I washed the dishes and put them away. Is the kitchen now magically perfect? Fuck no, lol. But is it cleaner than it was before I did the dishes? Hell yes. Progress, not perfection.

Once I proved to myself that progress was good and healthy and obtainable, I finally felt ready to take on the real project of my nightmarish house.

I deserve to live in a clean and organized home. I am capable of cleaning and organizing my home. Progress, not perfection.

Now that I finally believed that magic triad, I began. And every time that I was ready to call it quits for the night, I would look around at all I had achieved and say out loud, “progress, not perfection.”

My new affirmation is “don’t put it down, put it away,” but that’s a whole other post.

I feel it important to take a moment and say: all this rah rah I can do it nonsense is awesome if it works for you, but I need to remind you that I also spent 18 years in therapy and finally was correctly diagnosed with Bipolar II Disorder and put on a mood stabilizer that worked for me. The affirmations were great but the store bought neurotransmitters really made it possible.

If you are not capable of cleaning and organizing without some store bought neurotransmitters or therapy or help from others, or whatever else, that’s okay. You’re not bad. You’re not broken. You still deserve to live in a clean and organized home, and there are still ways to make that happen. This is just my account of what worked for me, not what I expect to work for everyone.

I believe in you.

Happy cleaning!

–M

Dad’s Beef Burgundy

Whenever my mom would be gone for the night or out of town for a conference, my dad would make me his slow cooker beef burgundy without fail. I didn’t realize at the time what an easy recipe it was, because wow, easy.

In the slow cooker, combine the cheapest stew meat you can find, a can of golden mushroom soup, then that can’s worth of burgundy wine. Cook the crap out of it for 5-7 (longer is better) on low. Serve over egg noodles. And that’s it! However I like it add baby carrots, mushrooms, and sliced onions.

And THEN, eat the leftovers on a sub roll the next day omg.

When I took the first bite I had a definite flashback to hanging out with my dad. I think he’d be happy to know I’m still making it.

Happy cooking!

–M

Lunch is probably important

So, I’m not what we’d call “reliable” with my meal times. It ranges from eating all throughout the day, to forgetting to eat until I wolf down a giant dinner because—surprise—I’m so hungry!

Enter Daily Harvest! I am completely smitten with the cups I get weekly from them. It has helped me remember to eat breakfast and lunch because all I have to do is heat it up, blend it, or soak it overnight depending on the cup! That’s the minimal amount of effort I’m looking for from my food.

And before you start wondering if the food is any good, it’s INCREDIBLE. They have soup, harvest bowls, smoothies, overnight oats, sundaes, and more! Today’s lunch was a mushroom miso ramen that was to die for, and all I did was add some broth and heat it up. Fucking yum.

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And don’t even get me started on the overnight oats—the dragonfruit oats are my favorite cup option, and I have them on hand for a quick breakfast any time.

Their customer service is phenomenal, and if you use my referral link, you can try three free cups!

Happy eating!

—M

You’re Not Alone

The number one thing people have said to me after seeing my before and after photos is, “holy fuck, I thought it was just me.” Okay, maybe not with my colorful language, but you get the gist. And if you’re one of those people, thinking “wow my house looks just like this,” then this post is for you:

You are not alone.

You are not broken.

You are not weird.

You are not bad.

You are not your mess.

You deserve to live in an environment that is clean and organized to your preferred level.

And if you don’t believe me, that’s okay, but I want you to know that I’ll keep telling you this until you believe me. And if you do believe me, that’s so awesome, and I’m here to help in whatever way I can.

Happy cleaning,

–M

Okay, I feel better, so now what?

I’m sure we all have read The Lifechanging Magic of Tidying Up, and we’ve all said “wow, that sounds amazing!” And then we’ve all promptly said “jk lol I’m super busy and don’t have time to thank everything in my life for the time its spent with me before passing it along to the trash or a donation shop.” And then, we do nothing except daydream about the future when we WILL live in a spotless house.

Yeah, I feel personally attacked by myself right now, it’s whatever.

Well, at the beginning of December, my best friend Rach said to me, “have you read Unfuck Your Habitat? You should. You’d love it.” Rach has a knack for knowing how to phrase “clean up your shit” in a way that makes you intrigued, not angry. She’s awesome. So, after being on mood stabilizers for a month or so and feeling better, I bought Rachel Hoffman’s amazing book, read it in a day, and decided “fuck it, let’s start now.”

Now, let me preface this by saying: I didn’t follow UFYH’s exact plan. I took what I loved, and modified it to fit my own situation, which I think Rachel Hoffman would give me a pass on and/or celebrate. What I did may not work for you, so just take it all with a “your mileage may vary” grain of salt.

My problem has always been not that I’m a dirty person, but that I’m a cluttered person. I’m the person who moves seven times and still has boxes from seven apartments ago. I’m the person who puts things down rather than putting them away. I’m the person with Bipolar II Disorder who can’t sustain the energy to clean and organize for more than 3-5 manic days straight (but now I can thanks to the magic of modern medicine!). I’m the person who assigns emotional value to e v e r y thing and can’t let go of the shirt I wore one time when I was considering rushing a sorority but ultimately didn’t. Yeah, I’m that person.

No matter how much I clean, the house will NEVER look clean if it’s got shit looming at me from every corner of the house. Never. So I knew I had to resolve to get rid of almost everything and make sure everything I owned had a home. When I was a kid, my mom used to tell me, “a place for everything, and everything in its place,” and instead I said “nah,” and chucked my shit wherever it landed. Mom, if you’re reading this, I’m sorry, and you were right.

So, Rachel Hoffman has this idea of cleaning in bouts of 20 minutes followed by 10 minutes of rest. I knew if I followed this stringently, it would take about two years for me to complete my goal, so I said “eh it’s fine,” and stressed myself to the max. Probably don’t do this. Or do. Don’t let me tell you how to live, man. Anyway, I decided to basically make it a full time job during the weekends. So I cleaned for 4 hours, took an hour break, and cleaned for 4 more hours every day followed by breaking for the night.

I also devised a little bit of a plan: start in the innermost portion of your house and work outward to the outermost area. For me, this is how it worked: start with the master bedroom closet. I can’t clean my bedroom if my closet is too cluttered to put anything away appropriately. An embarrassing amount of hours passed, and BOOM! Clean.

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And yeah, about 5 full trash bags of good-but-unworn clothes were donated, with like two more bags of not-good-not-worth-passing-on-wow-this-is-a-lot-of-hyphens clothes were thrown out.

So, okay, clean closet! Now what? Master bath. I didn’t take a picture so imagine:

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Wow, what a beautiful image. Truly stunning.

Okay, so clean bathroom, clean closet. Now what? Master bedroom. My albatross. The bedroom for me is the catch-all room of bullshit I don’t want downstairs, but don’t actually want to deal with. You know “the chair”? Yeah, my whole bedroom is “the chair.” You know all the clothes strewn around the place? The ones I decided to keep got to go live with their siblings in clean closet heaven. Wow. Color me surprised at how that works. Ugh. So, 8 hours later, and BOOM! Clean.

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Like I said; those are moving boxes from like a hundred moves ago. Yikes. This is between you and me; don’t tell anyone how gross I was (okay, am). And actually, this looks even better now because I was able to bring up the bookshelves from the garage (*mumble mumble*) and put them where they belong. Incredible. What a revelation, M. Put shit where it goes instead of where the car is supposed to go.

So, what’s next? For me, I worked out to the guest bath, which is what I use as my bathroom (it’s got a BATHTUB, y’all, I’m not fucking around with a standing-room-only kinda shower). It was a yikes factory, but only took about 4 hours. BOOM. Clean.

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I want to pause quickly and say that if you’re thinking to yourself “lol, there’s no way anyone is actually this cluttered,” I want to assure you that I absolutely am, and these photos were not staged.

So the upstairs was mainly good at this point (the nursery and two guest rooms were essentially fine, just some tidying), so I moved downstairs. All the shit that I was weirdly keeping downstairs that belong in the bedroom or bathroom now had a tidy place to go! Wonder of wonders, miracle of miracles.

The “box room” was next. Again, no before picture, but allow me to paint you a word picture. Imagine a living room sized room with no furniture, only partially broken down boxes, other recycling, and various bullshit accoutrements littered as far as the eye could see. Yeah. It was bad. I mean, so bad that it’s literally nicknamed the “box room.” BOOM. Clean.

Up next was the kitchen. It looks even better than this now, and this one is frustrating because most of the minimizing I did was in the cabinets and drawers. But like, can someone explain to me why we had six spatulas and four vegetable peelers and two cheese cutter string guillotine things? Why? WHYYYY? And why did we have a fridge full of expired food? Ugh. The worst. But anyway, BOOM. Clean. (The crock pot was in use and the stack of papers was waiting on a filing box, so just…pretend those don’t exist.)

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So, let’s all breathe a collective sigh of relief at these pictures. Wow. I feel so much better coming home to this less cluttered house! It took me about three weeks all said to get things this way, but it was WORTH IT.

In summation, here’s my tips for minimizing and decluttering:
-Start from the innermost part of your house (whatever you deem it), and work out.
-Just get rid of it, oh my god. If you’re holding it right now and thinking “should I get rid of it…” the answer is yes. Do it. Now. Put it in the trash and/or donate box. There, doesn’t that feel better? NO DO NOT PULL IT BACK OUT OF THE TRASH, DAMMIT!
-Remember: you didn’t make this mess overnight, and you will not claw your way out of this mess overnight. Allow yourself the time to take pride over the small areas you manage to clean, and remind yourself that tomorrow is a new day for the next tasks!
-Work to your level of ability. If 8 hours a day is unobtainable, shoot for 4 hours. Or 1. Or half an hour. Or five minutes. Whatever you can do, do it. It’ll be better off than you started.
-Progress is progress. Don’t get down on yourself if it doesn’t look perfect yet!
-Take before and after photos and show them to EVERYONE. You think I posted these on my facebook? Hell yeah you bet your ass I did. “Look at this huge thing I did!” Man, made me feel amazing.
-Find accountability partners, join a facebook group (I’m particularly fond of Making a Secular Home, but that might be because it’s my group lol), or text with a friend. Just find people who have a similar goal as you and who can help keep you on track. Or don’t! Some people work better alone and that’s fine too.
-Ignore everything I’ve said and do what’s best for you and your life.

Okay, so I think that’s it. Hit me with those questions, concerns, and troll comments below, and I’ll respond asap!

Happy cleaning!

–M

Creamy Chicken and Noodles

Wow, I didn’t have it in me to cook anything today, up to and including chopping or slicing or julienning or whatever the fuck normal people do when they cook. So, slow cooker it is again! Are you sensing a theme? Good, because this is my life. As little effort as possible, as much deliciousness as I can get.

So, again, I forgot to take a picture until I had scarfed down like half of my plate. I’m very legitimately a younger, less successful version of Liz Lemon; nothing gets between me and my food. So, here’s a picture of what it looked like after I ate most of it!

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Right, anyway. Super easy, here’s how I did it!

You’ll need:
3 chicken breasts
2 cans of cream of chicken soup (who the fuck actually eats this soup though??)
3-ish cups of chicken broth
1/2 stick of butter
As much salt, pepper, garlic powder, and/or hot sauce as you’d like.
Some delicious egg noodles

Okay, so put the chicken in the slow cooker, and then just put all the rest of the stuff EXCEPT the noodles in. Cook the shit out of it on low (like 5-7 hours), shred up the chicken, and then throw the noodles in. Cook it for another 30 minutes, et voila, you’ve got some creamy deliciousness.

I was so wary of trying this because I was afraid cream of chicken soup would make the whole thing super gross, but it turned out to be so good! Everyone approved, and it was added to the “I could make this again” list!

Happy cooking!

–M

Slow Cooker Cheesy Taco Chicken

So, okay, when it comes to my life in general, I’m a huge fan of minimum effort and maximum reward. For this reason, I love my slow cooker! I’ve been experimenting with lots of recipes, and tweaking them to fit our preference.

Last night, we had friends over for dinner, and for the first time in forever I didn’t feel embarrassed by the state of our house! That was a huge milestone in and of itself.

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I wish I could share a picture of what this recipe looked like, but we were so ravenously hungry that I forgot to photograph it! Here’s what I did though:

Add to crockpot three raw chicken breasts, one jar of any salsa of your choosing, one block of cream cheese, one bag of frozen corn, one chopped white onion, and about a half cup of chicken broth.

Cook on low for 4 hours, stirring occasionally. Shred the chicken, then cook on low for another 1-3 hours.

I served this with corn tortillas, sour cream, shredded cheddar, and hot sauce, but it very easily could be served as a dip, too! It was unbelievably delicious, and I saved the leftovers to be eaten as a dip for lunch!

Let me know if you try this one, because I was very pleasantly surprised!

Happy cooking!

—M