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How to “Unfuck Your Habitat” and Keep Your Living Space Clean

Author Rachel Hoffman helps you clean up your act and get organized in a new book.

Erica Riveraby Erica Rivera
Photo: Thomas Northcut, Getty Images.

Unfuck Your HabitatYour mom was right about making your bed. Not only does it make the room look bigger, it makes you feel better. If squalor has become the default state of your living space, author Rachel Hoffman is going to help you snap out of it. Her new book, Unfuck Your Habitat: You’re Better Than Your Mess (St. Martin’s Griffin, 2017) is a helpful and hilarious guide to cleaning up, organizing, and systematically maintaining a living space that won’t make you crazy. Tricks (like do the dishes every day, start cleaning wherever it stinks), checklists, and a lot of F-bombs make this not only a necessary read, but an entertaining one.

We asked Hoffman about highlights from the book and her organizational philosophy.

Crave: Why should men care if their living space is clean and organized?

Rachel Hoffman: They should care because it’s not just how your space looks to everybody else, it’s how your space looks to you and how you interact with it. I think there’s a correlation between how you care about your home and how you care about other things in your life. If you take a little time to take care of the space you live in, then you’re probably going to be more thoughtful about other things in your life as well.

You advocate a 20/10 system. Explain what that is.

It’s 20 minutes of cleaning followed by a 10-minute break. You can repeat. If, after your break, you still have more to do, do another 20 minutes and take another 10-minute break. It’s also very customizable. Some people may not be able to do a full 20 minutes so they may do a 10/20 or a 10/30. If somebody needs to do a little more intensive, they can do a 45/15.

Let’s say you’re on a time crunch and you have to choose between de-cluttering and cleaning. Which is more important?

I personally think that cleaning is more important. I think de-cluttering is one of those things that people get really fixated on but they let a lot of other things fall apart. I’m a proponent of cleaning. I don’t even like the term “de-cluttering” because I feel like people have a vision of what that is and it’s not necessarily a sustainable thing. It’s basically like, “How can I get rid of as much as possible?” whereas I like to look at it as: “How do I interact with the things that I actually need to keep?” So rather than having an end goal of getting rid of everything, I’d rather see people have an end goal of being comfortable in their homes and being able to live in someplace that makes them happy and doesn’t stress them out. I think that cleaning is a little bit more realistic of a goal for most people.

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For those who have a roommate or significant other living with them, how do you handle these cleaning sprees if the other person isn’t on board?

Primarily where people fall down in this is communication. If you just start frantically cleaning everything and don’t loop your roommate in and don’t ask for input, things are definitely going to fall apart. I think it’s important to have a very frank – not aggressive or passive-aggressive – conversation. Before it all begins, let them know what you’re doing, why you’re doing it, and see what level of input you’d like, so “Hey, if I’m cleaning up the living room and you’ve got six pairs of shoes under the coffee table, what happens with those? Do I put them in front of your room? Or will you take care of it?” I really think that talking through this stuff beforehand helps to alleviate a lot of the problems down the road.

You have a whole chapter on unfucking your digital habitat. How do we clean up our digital world?

I’m a big fan of making a storage system or a filing system for your digital stuff that makes sense to you. Name things and make folders that will make things easy to find for you. Another big part of it is keeping up with your deleted emails by unsubscribing from sites you don’t want to be getting emails from. It’s a lot easier to stop it from coming in in the first place. And also, make sure it’s a regular thing. The whole “inbox zero” thing is a really great goal to have, but you can’t expect to just do it all at once and to just do it once. You have to do it one reasonable chunk at a time, but then repeat that so you’re consistently doing a small amount of work to keep on top of things.

You write about how cleanliness impacts mental health and how cleaning can improve your outlook. What are the psychological benefits of keeping a clean house?

I think for a lot of people who might struggle with depression or anxiety, having a messy home can exacerbate those feelings. If you’re depressed and your house is a disaster, you’re going to feel upset about that. You’re going to feel depressed by it. You’re going to feel hopeless about it. By taking control of your home environment, you can actually start to affect your mental health. You can see what you’ve accomplished. You can do just a little bit of work and make a visible difference in the area around you. I think exerting that little bit of control also helps to refocus yourself. You do have control over certain things in your life, even when things are going badly. Even if you’re in the midst of a depressive episode, or you’re having a lot of anxiety, or for somebody who has a chronic illness or chronic pain, if they have a flare-up, the fact that you can do something to make a difference in that time when you’re not feeling great is really a big deal. It’s a sense of control over a lot of things you may feel you don’t have a lot of control over.

Even if someone has the means to hire someone to do the cleaning for them, do you think there’s still a value in doing it for yourself?

Absolutely. There are some people for whom that might be a better option, but my goal is to show people who don’t have a lot of free time that they can still do it. They can still devote a short period of time each day and keep on top of everything. There’s something in knowing that you’re the one to have cleaned something up, to have fixed something, to have made your environment better. That’s satisfying on some level.