Monday, February 13, 2023

How to Keep House While Drowning by KC Davis (Read it if the title speaks to you)

How to Keep House while Drowning: A Gentle Approach to Cleaning and Organizing
by KC Davis

Evidently, I’m in book-finishing mode. This evening I reached the end of How to Keep House while Drowning by KC Davis. I’ve been listening to it while running, and it’s easy to follow in that way, although I prefer listening to it when driving or doing something more low-key. (Tonight I listened while cutting vegetables.) Mainly, several times I needed to rewind because my focus swayed from her advice but I wanted her advice and so listened again. 

The book is not like a diet book that suggests new organizing solutions or 25 ways to clean grout. The book is a guide to redirecting the mental blocks that many people have to cleaning--from lacking motivation to the overwhelming effects that mess can have (or do have) on us to the extent that we find the whole task unsurmountable, if not debilitating. In sum, the book doesn't "up your game" but explains the game in order to play it, as well as providing some explanation as to why the cleaning game needs to be played, despite one's reticence.

The writer is the reader of the book, and she’s both personable and easy to listen to. She has good timing for the comedic, which helps to keep the book feel light, possible, and moving--despite the seriousness and attention she gives to the subject. 

The book is very aware of its readership and all the backgrounds readers could come from, and as such, makes a point to provide an abridged version, suggest how our relationship to cleaning and tidying could be affected by childhood, class, race, disability, and gender. She promotes a care-centered approach to the person who is cleaning/tidying/organizing, which seemed odd at the beginning (because caring for the cleaner is rarely a focus)—but by the end, I was completely onboard and feel relieved to now think of cleaning in these terms. It has made cleaning feel more manageable and possible.

Many times throughout the book, she gave advice or ways of shifting perspective that led me to thinking, Oh, yes! *That* will help. Good.

For example, she spends some time reminding readers how it's unfair for anyone in the house to leave all of the cleaning to one person, and she discusses splitting household tasks and child-rearing in terms of leisure time rather than by who in the couple has the "harder" day-job. This has made me more aware of the tasks I assume my partner will do, and start questioning why I leave it to her instead of assisting or doing it myself. 

Thanks to the author, I've begun rethinking our living space in terms of its functionality. Rather than feeling despair when I see the kitchen counter covered in dishes, spare change, lunch bags, unwrapped dog bones, and random pens and pieces of paper--now, I think, This counter is no longer functional. 

One of the most important take-aways is her reminding us what is “morally neutral” so that we might let go of any shame/guilt/blame that we attach to cleaning or completing (or not completing) care tasks—such that the emotional relationship to chores can fall away so that we can start considering why we clean the way we clean (or avoid cleaning as a way of cleaning). 

Seeing the task as morally-neutral makes dealing with the kitchen counter feel easier. I want a functional counter. What has been impeding cleaning is my guilt at not cleaning it and/or my shame of letting it get messy in the first place. Turns out, my emotional relationship to cleaning is getting in the way of cleaning.

I've also felt and noticed improvement in how I clean. And it suddenly feels unforced and possible.

Laundry baskets in every room? Why not!

Sorting as a necessary first step to tidying? Of course!

Not letting boxes accumulate, regardless of their intended transport to thrift store or summer yard sale? Thanks for giving me permission to stop this.

Stop folding clothes that don't need folded? Yes, you miracle thinker, you! Yes!

I appreciated the book and her time in writing it, her steady clarity and effort to be clear, and her awareness of many kinds of readers. I’ll be listening to it again and have already shared chapters with my partner, which led to useful discussions that we would not have otherwise thought to have.

In sum, How to Keep House While Drowning is a very helpful guide to cleaning for those of us who dread/avoid/curse the inevitable such that, by the book's end, we can see how to manage the manageable.