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The Times
  • Buttoned Up: Are you still using your mother's cleaning habits?

  • Do you think there's a "right" way to organize something, like loading a dishwasher or folding the clothes? If you do, have you ever stopped to think about who defined the "right way" in the first place? Chances are you inherited that approach from your mother, who probably inherited it from hers. And so on.

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  • Do you think there's a "right" way to organize something, like loading a dishwasher or folding the clothes? If you do, have you ever stopped to think about who defined the "right way" in the first place? Chances are you inherited that approach from your mother, who probably inherited it from hers. And so on.
    Sarah's bed-making compulsion
    I cannot leave the house in the morning without having made my bed in a very particular way. My poor husband has given up completely on ever trying to make it, as I always point out that his way of doing it just isn't right. Curious about the origins of my compulsion, I reflected on how Mom tackled this chore. Sure enough, she had a particular method for making the bed: hospital corners, tightly tucked-in sheets and nary a wrinkle allowed. She ingrained the bed-making habit in me and my siblings early on. And her mother made her beds in the exact, same way. A quick survey of my cousins and siblings revealed that nearly three-quarters of us feel the need to make our beds the right way every day. It takes about two minutes for me to make the bed, and it always puts a smile on my face because I start the day thinking about my mom and grandmother and how I'm carrying elements of their personalities forward.
    Alicia's compulsion
    Every night, no matter what, I need to empty the trashcans in our kitchen and take the trash outside. It doesn't matter if there is only one item in the trash or if we get home at 10 p.m.; it is something that must be done. This is definitely a throwback to my parents, who felt that to have a clean kitchen at night, the trash had to be out of the house. When I stop to think about it consciously, I feel this is a good rule of thumb as trash has the potential to stink up an entire house in almost no time at all.
    *****
    While subconsciously following in your parents' organizational footsteps is entirely normal, it isn't always productive. It can keep you from delegating tasks that could be effectively completed by others and may even cheat your children out of valuable skill development.
    Here are three tricks for letting go of a compulsive, "right" way to clean and organize.
    1. Become more conscious of your behavior by tracking it.
    Make a note in your daily journal or calendar program each time you complete an inherited organizational task compulsively. Write down how much time you spent on it and a happy/sad face to indicate whether it made you feel good or stressed. At the end of the month, look back and tally up the number of times you did the task, how much time you spent on it and how it made you feel most of the time.
    Page 2 of 2 - 2. Ask yourself, "What am I afraid of?" Just as you may be doing a task a particular way subconsciously, you may also resist changing that behavior because of subconscious fears, most of which don't make a lot of sense. For example, Sarah wanted to relax her bed-making standards so her husband could split the chore with her. But she really struggled not to remake the bed after he had finished. Upon a little reflection, she realized that what she was really afraid of was losing touch with the memory of her mom. Simply being aware of that has enabled her to relax and let go on her husband's days to make the bed. In addition, it has sparked her to consciously look for other ways to carry her mom's legacy forward in her day-to-day, like cooking and playing with her children.
    3. Identify a replacement habit. When you catch yourself slipping into an old, unproductive routine, you need a replacement routine that your brain can run at the ready. Take five minutes and jot down the new habit you want to adopt. For example, Alicia wanted to shift from taking out the trash every night to emptying it every other night. So now, when she starts running her old pattern, she stops and asks herself: Did I empty the trash last night? If the answer is yes, she shifts gears and leaves the kitchen.
    The writers are co-founders of Buttoned Up, a company dedicated to helping stressed women get organized. Send ideas and questions to yourlife@getbuttonedup.com. For more columns, go to scrippsnews.com.
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