It’s Shavuot, which means that this week, in addition to getting Monday off for Memorial Day, my office is also closed Wednesday and Thursday. Since my birthday is on Saturday, I decided working Friday was for chumps, and am taking it off as well.

I didn’t make any official plans for my five-day birthday weekend, but I went into it knowing that, in addition to taking time to relax, I wanted to spend some time tidying the apartment. My partner is fantastic at envisioning ways we can make our space more homey and inviting, and while I am, in theory, more than willing to help those visions along, I have historically not done the best job pulling my weight in that regard.

I’ve never been great at cleaning. Past roommates could tell you stories of my mild hoarder tendencies. When I lived alone, I mostly managed to keep my apartment from falling into complete chaos, but I rarely vacuumed, tended to put off the dishes until they were spilling out of the sink and over the counters, and ended up throwing out a fair number of what should have been reusable food containers, because the food in them had probably developed sentience and I didn’t have the mental space to deal with it. On more than one occasion, I decided to go to Target and buy underwear and/or socks to avoid doing laundry. The only time I remember dusting my old apartment (aside from when I was moving out) was the night my partner came over to my place for the first time, and my nerves demanded I do something while I waited for him to arrive.

When my partner and I moved to Chicago and into our first official shared apartment, I was determined to do a better job of housekeeping. I had visions of equally divided labor around the house, and was convinced I’d be able to develop new habits in a new space.

It didn’t happen. I had convinced myself long before that I functioned better in a cluttered space, that a tidy home was a home that didn’t feel lived in, and that wasn’t what I wanted. (I have all sorts of theories about why I had such a major mental block against cleaning, but that could be a whole blog on its own, so we’ll skip it here.) There were all sorts of reasons things didn’t work out the way I was hoping, of course – for the first nine months we were in Chicago, I was underemployed and miserable at my job, and while my partner was kind enough to share his (already established) friends with me, it took a while for me to feel like they were really MY friends, too, and not just putting up with me because they liked him. My mental health was in shambles, I was increasingly dysphoric, I was wracking up all sorts of credit card debt just trying to get by. By the time things got better, I was even further entrenched in my bad habits.

Eventually, though, I started to realize that having a tidy space actually felt…nice. (I wouldn’t have figured this out without my partner’s Herculean efforts to keep up with housekeeping when I was being less-than-helpful – neither of us are perfect, but I wouldn’t have experienced “tidy” on my own.) When my partner read Marie Kondo’s The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up and suggested that we actually go through all of our stuff, I decided to go along with it, ostensibly to make my partner happy…but I also realized that a lot of the stuff I had acquired over the years had stopped bringing me joy (or had never brought me joy in the first place).

It’s been a couple of years since we started the process of going through everything we own, bringing a greater intentionality to our purchases, and trying together to keep the house tidier. I still feel like I’m not great at housekeeping, but I’m basically a different person for how much I’ve changed and grown in that regard.

So this week, since I have so many days off, I decided to make a departure from what I often do with long weekends (read: overpack my schedule and/or avoid responsibility), and actually try to tackle some areas of the apartment that have felt neglected recently.

Yesterday, I tackled the kitchen and dining room. I don’t have before pictures, because I didn’t think to take any, but I did all of the dishes, completely cleared and wiped down the kitchen table, cleaned the stove, and swept the floor, and when I was done, I was actually surprised at how much better I felt about our apartment.

clean stove, empty sink

Clean stove, empty sink

The kitchen table hasn't been this clear in at least a month

The kitchen table hasn’t been this clear in at least a month

I have other things I want to get done this week/end – particularly laundry and cleaning up some areas of the apartment that are distinctly mine (and distinctly disorganized) – and I know there is more I could do in the kitchen, but I feel really accomplished. Not just because I kicked ass and cleaned a bunch of things, but because I actually recognized an area of the apartment that was stressing me out because it wasn’t tidy, and I did something about it instead of pretending it wasn’t there.

Last week I ran across the idea of the “hearth” for the first time in a while, and how most modern homes don’t have a hearth in the traditional sense of a fire in the center of the house, but there’s still an area that is the gathering place, the metaphorical center of the home. Our kitchen is tiny, and our dining room has not always been the most comfortable place, but it felt like an important (and perhaps even necessary) place to start what will hopefully be a more extended cleaning spree than I usually go on. Of course, the trick is to keep it tidy once I’ve lost steam, but I’m less worried about that than I used to be. Because I’ve learned that I really do like my space tidy. I like knowing what stuff I have and where it is in my home. I can be creative without clutter. It may not seem like much, but right now it feels like a huge victory to be able to say that.