A Review of KC Davis’ “How to Keep House While Drowning”
Mrs. (Kinda) Clean
Dear readers: I have a confession to make if you’ll allow me the indulgence. I’m a slob! If there’s one thing I hate, it is cleaning my apartment. (Well, there are two things I hate, and the other is exercise.) You may have seen Facebook memes about book nerds about having to face the choice between cleaning house and reading a book — and the latter wins every time. Such is the case for me. It’s not that I have no time — after all, reviewing here is a passionate side project of mine and there is no obligation for me to continue to choose reading and reviewing books over mopping the floors. It’s just that I either don’t have the energy or my household chores seem so daunting that I don’t know where to begin. So this means that I have clothes draped over my sofa (with a blanket thrown over them to hide them from work colleagues during Microsoft Teams meetings). The floors badly need to be swept. There’s dust everywhere. And I noticed a cobweb in my kitchen (which, to my credit, I promptly got rid of.) I’m such a non-neat freak that whenever my parents come over to visit that pretty much the first thing that they do is break out the broom and the cleaning supplies. (My mom is currently asking me when she’d like me to come down from my hometown of Barry’s Bay, Ontario, to Ottawa to not visit, but just so she’d have the opportunity to wash my walls. No joke!)
Therapist KC Davis knows my pain. As someone who struggles with both depression and Attention-Deficit / Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and didn’t touch the laundry for seven months after her second child was born (I’m assuming her husband did it, instead?), Davis knows what it’s like to not have the energy or motivation to clean her house. So she has channelled all of that angst into a self-help book that was originally self-published in 2020 but was so good that it got picked up by a major publisher and has been seemingly revised. It’s called How to Keep House While Drowning. It’s a slim book at some 160 pages, but it is stuffed to the gills with good and practical advice. The book’s an easy read: it’ll take readers reading it straight through about an hour and a half or so to digest, but Davis offers “shortcuts” or chapters to skip over throughout the book if you’re in a real rush and want to hit the main points in about 30 minutes instead (if you read particularly fast). There are so many key takeaways with this volume that I felt that I should be taking notes as I read it. But I’ll do my best to encapsulate the main points in the next paragraph.
Davis doesn’t believe in laziness. Laziness doesn’t exist. Rather, she feels that many people have been conditioned into believing that they must have a spotless house top-to-bottom from caregivers or society at large (Martha Stewart, anyone?). That puts some people off the task. To Davis, cleaning your house is not a moral issue. If you leave the dishes in the sink for three days, you are not a bad person. Instead, you should be using positive self-talk to say, “Wow, I fed my family for three days by cooking good, delicious meals for them! Hooray for me!” (Or something along those lines.) The upshot of this is that Davis says that you are not meant to serve your house (or apartment or condo), your house is meant to serve you. So, if it is entirely functional for you to have Pledge, some writing utensils, and shoe polish all on the same table, and that works for you, then that’s great. And when it comes to cleaning, Davis is of the “good enough” school and believes that doing a job half-assed is better than not doing the job at all. So, if it’s better for you to simply take a Mr. Clean magic eraser to your bathroom tiles with a shot of Windex for the mirrors and faucets, most visitors are probably going to be none the wiser. (Well, except for my mom. Because she notices that shit.) Davis also offers some common sense advice in detailing a five-step method for cleaning your home that goes something like: put all of the garbage in the abode in a trash bag, but don’t take the trash out; then take all of the dirty clothes and put them in a basket, but don’t do the laundry; then take the dirty dishes scattered across your rooms and put them in the sink, but don’t wash them yet! (And so it goes from there.) Davis argues that by creating quick wins, your brain will get a shot of dopamine for completing a task, therefore creating momentum and energy for eventually getting around to taking out the trash, doing the laundry, and washing the dishes. Otherwise, the task of doing all these things may leave one feeling overwhelmed.
Overall, this was a very handy book. Davis doesn’t pooh-pooh the idea of hiring someone to do your chores if you can afford it and you don’t have the time/energy to do them yourself, which is something I’ve been thinking about so I’m glad to hear this, and recommends buddying up with people to clean their homes and yours over the course of a week. There was the odd time when Davis overreaches: her chapter on car care is less than a page long because she hasn’t solved that one, so one must wonder if she might have been better served just leaving that out of the book, though I do appreciate her honesty. (It’s a good thing I don’t own a car!) However, overall, this is a no-bullshit, gentle approach to doing the things you loath doing, or just don’t have the inclination to do — especially if you have a family with young children, which is probably going to be the case for the presumed target audience of this book. This is a crucial guide to have if you want to know what you need to do to get your home (and life) in order without any patronizing. How to Keep House While Drowning may change the way you look at your home and the never-ending list of chores that are a result of being an adult. It will be particularly useful if you’re suffering from mental health challenges (there’s a whole section on how to brush your teeth when you don’t feel like it and how to shower when you’re completely fatigued). In the end, I might have to buy this book for my mom on her upcoming birthday if only to say, “See, it’s okay if my home is a little messy as long as it is functional to me!” That’s the ultimate praise I can give this little how-to Bible. It is a damned essential guide to me, and I’m glad that it swept into my life.
KC Davis’ How to Keep House While Drowning: A Gentle Approach to Cleaning and Organizing will be published by Simon & Schuster / Simon Element on April 26, 2022.
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