How Cleaning Your House and Addiction Are Related

How Cleaning Your House and Addiction Are Related

Today we’re going to be talking about one of my absolutely favorite topics: Cleaning.

Now you might be thinking, “Michelle, what the heck does cleaning have to do with addiction?”

A lot actually. We talk about tools.

Well, cleaning is one of the tools that can have many, many benefits when you are living in chaos. Because addiction is chaos. Addiction provides instability, and it can make us feel incredibly out of control.

And let me be the one to lovingly tell you that you don’t need to stay in ‘out of control’ mode. You don’t need to continue to live in this land of unpredictability. Let’s take accountability for you and your life and your actions.

One of the ways to do that is to keep order and cleanliness in your favorite places: your home, your car, your desk or workplace.

This may sound a little crazy at first, but let me tell you how healing it can be to spend an afternoon organizing a closet. Have you ever tried it?

It provides you with the ability to make decisions about the items in your life. You can say, “Do I want this? Do I need this? Does this give me joy? Does this serve a purpose?”

And if you’re willing to honestly answer that question about the items you find in that closet, you can let them go. You can donate them, which will also feel good because someone else can benefit from them.

If the item isn’t worth donating, just toss it. That will feel cleansing. Here’s the loving truth: it’s healthy to let things go.

Do you see a theme?

When you’re able to let go of items in your life, you’re practicing letting go of control.

And here’s the elephant in the room: you cannot control your loved one’s addiction. And that’s hard. That’s heavy. That’s tough. So practice on little things, like giving away items that aren’t serving you anymore. And not only is it good practice, but it’s symbolic. It’s a small gesture that makes a big difference.

And at the root of the small gesture is being honest with yourself and evaluating your own personal needs. It’s the very beginning on taking a true self-inventory. At the core of taking a self-inventory is the commitment to be brutally honest with yourself, even when it’s scary or not what you expected. It’s giving yourself permission to be that honest. And giving yourself grace when it’s scary, you want to stop, or it feels too hard.

When you’re cleaning, you may come across things that you should’ve gotten rid of a long time ago.

Or items that you haven’t used or thought about in years. You’re giving yourself the opportunity to ask, “Why was I holding onto these?”

It’s a very deep and real question to ask ourselves why we hold onto things that don’t bring joy or serve any purpose, no matter what the item may be.

It could be because you’re afraid to let them go. Or it could be because you haven’t had the courage to tackle the clutter or disorganization in the past. But you’re here now. Ready to do some hard work. In your closet and beyond.

I’m going to give you an example.

I love and adore my dad. He lives in an apartment in New York City, and he’s lived there for a long time.

My dad grew up very, very poor. He grew up in a boarding school in England. He’s British, very British. They were so poor that they could not afford anything but bread and jam. He was malnourished and he lost his hair at the age of 18 due to malnutrition.

He grew up and became an incredibly successful businessman and went to Harvard. He’s a very great success story. But he’s always had this tendency to hang on to stuff longer than he should. And the reason I think he does that is because the fear of giving things away came from when he was extremely poor as a child.

So he has a hard time letting things go, which makes total sense. And there’s never any judgment here.

He’s been in his apartment for a long time, and likes to hold onto belongings to combat his childhood memories of being without what he needed.

And this is actually very common for people who grew up poor and then acquired wealth at a later age.

When I go to visit my dad in his apartment, it just drives me crazy. I’m notorious and I have a reputation in my family with my friends for throwing things out. I hate clutter and I want everything organized. I want everything in its place and I cannot stand holding on to things that don’t serve me.

Because I formed this habit when I was married to my now ex-husband who suffers from addiction.

I formed the habit that I’m about to teach you of clearing away the unnecessary crap, so that we can make space to breathe.

We need space to heal. It’s this physical space that needs to be clean. When we look around, open drawers, go to closets, or walk into rooms we need to see and feel organization. We need to have order. And find a calm environment everywhere we are.

Having that white space, that clean, open space will bring us joy and peace. It will give us space to process the chaos that comes with living with someone suffering from addiction. The last thing we need is beating ourselves up about all the cleaning that needs to be done or the fact that we can’t find something that we’re looking for. When we can find it, and the spaces are clean, it’s a small win worth celebrating.

So let’s go back to my dad. I used to visit him in New York, and I would walk into his apartment and it would just be clutter everywhere. And I remember being pregnant with Henry, very pregnant with Henry. I was hugely pregnant, like gained 70 pounds pregnant.

So I flew to my dad’s in New York when I was seven months pregnant and said, “I can’t stand this anymore. You need to leave and you need to let me do my magic on your apartment. And you need to give me full permission to go through your stuff and decide what you need and what to donate.”

And my dad, being the trooper that he is, and incredibly trusting said, “Okay.”

So my husband and I made a plan to go through my dad’s apartment in phases to help him get organized. Phase One was donate or throw out. We went through every inch of his apartment.

We went through everything: bedding, books, clothing, soap in the dishwasher, plates. In the kitchen we even went through the takeout utensils and the sushi chopsticks. All the frozen food that had been in the freezer sitting there for a year, the 12 bottles of shampoo when only one is needed, the clothing that hadn’t been worn in months. Even photographs. We don’t need 1000 photographs, pick your favorite hundred or 200, whatever, then get rid of them or put them in an envelope and mail them to family members. I worked really hard.

He was so grateful, but I made one mistake that he will not let me live down. I threw away his three-hole punch. He is still upset that I threw away his three-hole punch.

So Phase One was complete, and that felt really good and he still wasn’t allowed to come home after that.

He was staying in a hotel until we were finished.

In Phase Two we donated all his furniture. Everything that he had in there, we moved out and donated. We ordered all new furniture from Pottery Barn. We also had the apartment painted and regrouted, all of this. Everything was refreshed and new.

My dad came back home to his apartment, and for years, he thanked me because it was so emotional.

He said, “Michelle, I have not been able to invite people back to my apartment because I’ve been kind of ashamed and embarrassed. And now, I want everybody, all my friends to come to my apartment and see the work. I’m so proud of it. I’m so happy.”

And I found things in his apartment that were beautiful things.

Everything I found that was beautiful and meaningful, I framed and hung on the walls.

And those things that brought back painful memories, I got rid of.

He had an abusive relationship with a woman while I was in boarding school. And she had gone out and furnished the entire apartment. And he still had all that furniture in there. It was so cleansing to remove it. Removing it let him feel healed in a way from that period in his life.

So when you ask what organization and cleaning have to do with addiction… The answer is a lot, really. And this is something new that we don’t usually talk about in this way.

I hope this story inspires you to take a look around your own home. Make time to organize and clean up. Start with something small if you’re feeling overwhelmed. It doesn’t have to be an entire home all at once.

And of course, I’ve asked our Secret Community for their helpful cleaning tips, because spring is right around the corner and what better time to really make space, take self-inventory and commit not to a minimalist mindset, but to a mindset of, “This is a great way to continue my healing. To take one step further to learn how to let go of things that I need to let go of.”

So, without further ado, here are some helpful tips from our community.

I plant flowers seeds from my flower boxes. It’s so amazing to watch them grow and to be able to transplant them outside.

Gardening in my greenhouse and getting the outside ready for spring. This spring, I plan on doing some major decluttering or my closet. This is very much overdue.

Decluttering always feels so great to me. I feel incredibly happier and lighter.

Planning veggies to plant. My kiddos love watching and eating their homegrown goods.

Sometimes I feel it’s overwhelming to spring clean the entire house. I started with a super small area that will have a big impact. I have a little entryway table with a few baskets, a lamp, and some small decoration. And it’s the first thing I see when I walk in the house. So that’s where I start. I spend an hour deep cleaning that small space and it has a huge impact. Sometimes that’s just enough motivation for me to pick up another small area of the house and then work on to the next.

I hope you enjoyed these tips and my story.

And we hope you’re feeling inspired to make some changes yourself. And I just love what we’re building together and I love that we’re growing so much. I can’t believe how fast we’re growing.

Thank you for those of you who write me and tell me that you are recommending this to your friends and family. I cannot tell you how grateful I am.

We don’t do a ton of social media. We don’t do a ton of marketing at all. That’s not where we put our efforts. We would just rather write things and produce things that help you. So we really rely on you guys to share with other people about us and you are doing so. So thank you, thank you. I love you guys, and I’ll talk to you next week.

Michelle Anderson

Michelle Anderson

Michelle Anderson has over 10 years of personal experience with loving someone who suffers from addiction. She was married to a good man who suffered from addiction to alcohol, illegal drugs, and pornography. She's used her experience to create powerful resources for women in the same circumstance. Using her own personal experience, combined with years of research and studying, she presents ideas, tips, and tools on how to handle this disease, and take care of yourself, and your family.

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