My husband has been on a house cleaning kick. It started when he took an early retirement and realized that for the past 25 years or so, we have been so busy raising kids and working full time that keeping the house and grounds up had slipped seriously down on the priority list. So far down that there was some major catch-up to do.
He recently started trying to not only clean the house but keep it clean. Whoa. He started a project he likes to call “Operation Flat Surface.” He says it’s a game but it’s really a trick to get me to put things away instead of laying them on the nearest flat surface I can find.
Here’s an example:
I went to grab a book to take to a friend at church. It wasn’t where I left it, so I assumed Ken had taken it for me. What a thoughtful thing to do!
Well, not exactly. He MOVED it off the counter to “Betty’s pile,” which is basically a black hole area in our house. Nothing comes out once it’s gone in.
I got to church (yes, we went in two different cars):
Me: Did you give the book to Jane?
Ken: No, was I supposed to?
Me: It was on the counter so I would remember.
Ken: It was on the flat surface. I put it in your pile.
Me. You moved it????
I was so angry. I had to think about it awhile. Then, I realized. Maybe it was me. I bought into the whole “let’s get our act together” idea, but I wasn’t willing to do my part.
As you can imagine, this has been a challenge for me. Changing a habit is hard. It’s that way with communication skills too.
It’s all about two key communication principles
1) You can only change you.
Try as we might, we can only change how we react and respond to the circumstances and situations around us. You can’t change any one else (though my husband is certainly trying hard), but you can change how you respond and react.
2) Get comfortable with the uncomfortable.
Changing habits takes practice. You will only improve if you start working on what you are uncomfortable with. For me, it’s still not comfortable to put things away rather than lay them down. But the more I consciously do that, the easier it becomes. I am reminded it’s a good plan every time I come home to see clean surfaces instead of a pile of junk. It feels good. Much like when you have a conversation you need to have that you’ve been putting off, or giving some feedback to someone sooner rather than later. Once you do it, you feel good about it. I call that shoveling communication piles while the piles are small, not unlike our Operation Flat Space.
You can learn more about simple steps to get your communication act together in my book: 52 Communication Tips. Now, time to start on project “Clean Corner” – I think it has something do to with putting my laundry away.
Betty Lochner is the Owner of Cornerstone Coaching & Training. She is also the Director of Washington’s Guaranteed Education Tuition Program. She specializes in personal and organizational transformation and is the author of Dancing with Strangers: Communication skills for transforming your life at work and at home and 52 Communication Tips. To find out more about Cornerstone’s services and offerings visit our website: