You stumble across a gorgeous home-design blog and think: It’s time to reorganize and de-junk! But as you take stock of the awful mess that’s been haunting your home, you realize that you’ll never have that squeaky-clean, Instagram-ready living room, and you wearily slump back on the couch for a nice self-pity session.
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Been there? So have we. But, according to Rachel Hoffman, author of “Unf*ck Your Habitat: You’re Better Than Your Mess,” it’s OK that you’ll never have an HGTV-worthy apartment. All you need is a functional home that you love and that makes you feel comfortable.
This month in the LS Healthy Reads Book Club we’re diving into “Unf*ck Your Habitat.” Join us in reading this accessible guide on how to clean for normal people — people too broke to hire a maid, college students, perfectionists and more. At the end of the month you’ll have the chance to ask the author your questions. Be sure to join the LS Healthy Reads Book Club on Goodreads.com to be a part of the discussion and to get the latest updates on author chats and the next book!
We caught up with the New England-based author to learn more about tidying when you’re always busy, how to deal with “Pinspiration” and more.
What Exactly Does “Unf*ck Your Habitat” Mean?
LIVESTRONG.COM: How did you come up with the title “Unf*ck Your Habitat”?
Rachel Hoffman: When your house is a disaster and you’re looking around, you think, ‘Wow, this is completely fcked up. I can’t believe I’m living like this.’ The first thing that pops into your mind is, ‘How do I unfck it? I want it to get better, and I don’t know how to do it.’ So unf*cking is a little bit more personal than simply cleaning or tidying.
With habitat (a lot of times writers just focus on people who live in very traditional living situations), you’ve got your own house. But the reality is that people live in all sorts of habitats. You live in a dorm room. You live in your parent’s house. You have roommates. Whatever the situation is, wherever you are, that’s your habitat. I didn’t want it to be limited to somebody’s house or apartment or whatever. It just sort of encompasses everything.
LS: How does your method differ from other cleaning guides we’ve seen?
RH: There’s no shortage of housekeeping systems and self-help books, but I feel like if those things were working, there wouldn’t need to be so many. There was a lot that was very focused on a specific type of person who would be using the system, which was always someone who was in a traditional family setup or somebody who had a lot of time to devote to housekeeping.
I didn’t really see a lot of resources for people who either had full-time jobs or were in school full-time or who maybe lived with roommates and didn’t have a traditional husband-wife, nuclear-family setup. So I sort of realized that all of these different types of people didn’t really have something that was workable in their own lives.
How to Strike a Housework-Life Balance
LS: Can you talk about what the 20/10 method is and why it works?
RH: Sure, a 20/10 is basically a breakdown of time for working and time for taking a break. First you do 20 minutes of cleaning, and then you take a 10-minute break to do something you enjoy. And then if you still have more work to do, you go back and start over again.
I think that it works for people because attempting to rectify the disaster that is your entire house is totally overwhelming. Most people have no idea where to begin. But when you have just 20 minutes, it narrows your focus to a point where you can actually get started.
LS: It seems like it could be tempting to quit.
RH: If you don’t get started again, you still accomplished 20 minutes more than what you would have done normally. As you do more of them, it becomes easier to end the break and get back to work.
LS: Can you skip the break?
RH: A lot of people customize the time to work better for them. I know a lot of people who do 45/15s. So they’ll work for 45 minutes and then take a 15-minute break. Some people do a 5/20. They’ll work for five minutes and rest 20. If you’re somebody who is dealing with chronic pain or illness or disability of some kind, that five minutes might be all you’ve got in you at that time. But when you get started on those 20 minutes and you don’t want to take a break at all, then we get into what I call marathon cleaning.
Marathon cleaning is what I think probably most of us have done for most of our lives. You wait until things get really, really bad, and then you do everything all at once. By the time you’re done, everything’s clean, but you’re exhausted and frustrated and probably pretty grumpy about the whole thing. You don’t ever want to clean again, so things just get worse and back to that point where it’s a disaster again — and then you do the same thing all over. So the whole concept of the 20/10 is to interrupt the marathon cleaning.
Why Gender Roles at Home Don’t Matter Anymore
LS: At the beginning of your book you pause to discuss how gender plays a role in how we think and behave when it comes to cleaning. Can you talk about that a little?
RH: I think, as I said, I did a little bit of research to see what systems were already out there, and the one thing that I noticed overwhelmingly was that everything was geared toward women. There’s this assumption that women are going to be the ones who do all of the housekeeping. And it’s not reflective of how people live their lives.
Maybe 50 to 100 years ago, when the work roles and the family roles were very different than they are now, that may have made a lot more sense. But everyone I know works, everyone I know has a life. There’s not that clear division of “the mom stays home and cleans the house, and the dad goes off to work.” It’s a very outdated way of looking at things.
If you live in a house, you have to learn how to take care of it. Regardless of what gender you are, what age you are, what your relationship with the other people in that house happens to be, everyone’s responsible for it. I think there’s been a bit of a lapse with people realizing that it’s everybody’s responsibility.
How to Avoid Overwhelming Pinspiration
LS: Home-design blogs and Pinterest pages can be inspiring, but they can also be discouraging because they set such high expectations. Should we just stay off those sites altogether?
RH: I don’t think so, but I think it’s worth looking at it in a very specific context. These are perfectly staged homes. You have to realize that this is not the expectation. This is not what your house has to look like.
You can say, “This is beautiful, I would love to live there,” but also be able to look around your home and think, “Hey, I like living here. It’s my own space, my own character. I do what I can, and I’m not measuring myself against all these other people who are putting out a very highly curated look at what their life actually is.”
You have to look at it as inspiration versus expectation. Don’t expect that that’s going to be something you can achieve or that you should even aim to achieve. That’s somebody else’s deal, not yours.
The 3 Most Essential Cleaning Habits
LS: What are the three most essential habits that people need to develop to keep a tidy home?
RH: The most important habit you’ll find that makes a big difference right off the bat is this: Don’t put things down — put them away. Get into the habit of putting something where it belongs rather than just putting it down wherever you happen to be.
Also, think of things — especially laundry and dishes — as having three steps. You wash it, you dry it and then you put it away. I think a lot of times we’ll wash a load of dishes, and then those clean dishes just sit there until we use them again. Getting into the habit of putting things away once they’re clean and dry will make a huge difference in the overall tidiness of your house.
Lastly, you should really make your bed every day. (I get so much pushback on this one!) The thing with a made bed is that it takes you less than a minute most of the time. But it immediately makes your bedroom look cleaner.
*This interview has been edited and condensed.
For More, Join LIVESTRONG.COM’s Book Club
Join our Goodreads group for discussion, reading guides and giveaways. Later this month we’ll be hosting a Twitter Chat with Hoffman so that you can chime in with questions and topics for discussion.
Each month we’ll be selecting a new book about fitness, health and wellness to read and share. Get a preview of “Unf*ck Your Habitat: You’re Better Than Your Mess” and purchase your own copy on Amazon.
About Rachel Hoffman
Rachel Hoffman is a blogger and app developer who launched Unf*ck Your Habitat in 2011 to motivate the lazy to get up and start cleaning. Her columns have appeared in Persephone Magazine, xoJane and Glamour. Rachel lives in New England with her husband and three chihuahuas.