Hey. It’s been a long time. Let’s get to it.
I wanna tell you about being bipolar and how weird it is. My moods don’t swing very rapidly normally; I spend most of my life in a (mild to severe) depressive state. I get manic very rarely and when I do it’s usually hypomania. I get manic so rarely that my therapist has suggested that maybe we look into different diagnoses.
But when I do get manic it’s a hell of a ride.
I recently came out of a deep and terrifying depressive state and ran high-speed into full-blown mania. Mania so intense I’m glad I’m broke because who knows what kinda shit I woulda wasted money on. Instead this recent bout of mania was hyper-focused on one thing: deep cleaning and prettifying our apartment. If you’re not interested in the minutiae of cleaning and decorating a small space, this post might not be for you. If you’re down, hit the jump for more.
Our apartment isn’t bad. It’s a nice little one-bedroom within a building shared by five other units that is deeper within a fairly large and nothing-special-but-not-too-bad apartment complex. It’s quiet, has central air, and our balcony has one of the best views in Ann Arbor, imo.
But we both have depression. It’s two fully grown people who struggle to keep our shit together and one older black cat with weird food and health issues. It gets messy in here. Real messy. And even when our brains are less fucked up, we’re still broke most of the time so a lot of our furniture and shit is secondhand, pretty junky, only-sort-of functional, mismatched, etc. Nothing wrong with that.
But when this mania took over all I could see was how to make this space better. Not just cleaner, but healthier to be in. It started when Alice cleaned off our dining table and decided to use it as a work space. While procrastinating said work, she decided to look for a nice piece of art to put up. We decided on a beautiful Bulma print by Babs Tarr that Alice had gotten me for Christmas a few years ago. It looks great.
All of a sudden I realized I loved looking at this new beautiful space. I felt a sense of peace and ease while looking at a corner of the room that had always sort of been an invisible mess: messy and kinda gross but always overlooked or half-cleaned.
It was like a switch in my brain was, not just flipped, but punched over and taped down with heavy duty duct-tape. For years I’d had so many plans for what I wanted to do in this apartment once I had “more time and energy” whatever that means when you’re as tired and sad as I am at all times. Or when I had more money to buy things I thought I needed to improve this space I live in.
Well, fuck that, my mania told me, you can still make your apartment a better place to live right now with the shit you have. I decided that I could make the balcony look better with just the addition of a few textiles; some throw blankets to hide the cheapness of the camp chairs, an old towel as a temporary rug, some hand-knit coasters.
Why stop there, my brain said. There’s so much more you can do. I tackled some small spaces first: end and coffee tables. The second level of our coffee table is where we store my makeup, our jewelry, miscellaneous cosmetics. All of it needed to be organized and dusted; I found an Altoids tin and designated it as a bobby pin, earring backing, and general small things holder. We have two end tables that are wooden with the centers hollowed out for storage; one is in our living room the other in our bedroom and both were completely covered in books, papers, junk, and so much fucking dust. Next to our living room bookshelves is a smaller white shelf that has old magazines, electronics, and art; it was so dingy with dust it almost looked gray. All of it cleaned, dusted, organized.
A major component of this cleaning binge is art. Over the years we’ve bought so much art that we really love. Some of it is up on the walls but much more is still waiting for a frame. I’ve recently gotten super into framing stickers; I get major anxiety about where to put beautiful stickers (mostly because I used to put them all on my laptop only for the laptop to then die right away). The cute and cheeky framed art in the below image is actually a sticker by Brad Rohloff. I stuck it on some loud paper and framed that shit. Goodbye, sticker anxiety.
Once I cleaned most of the major surfaces I moved onto something we’d been discussing (and dreading) ever since our cat Foxy died back in December: cleaning our fucking bedroom. See, even though it had been a long time since we truly deep cleaned this place every once in awhile we’d still tidy up the living spaces. Especially whenever we’d have people over, we’d surface clean most of the areas other people would be in. The bedroom though, that’s a special place where you can put all the shit you don’t want yourself or anyone else to see most of the time and just close the door. Most of us (if our brains & bodies treat us okay) don’t spend a majority of our time in our bedrooms if we have other, livable space available to us. So the bedroom can, and certainly did for us, become an area of forgotten bullshit, broken things, objects that have no permanent home, garbage you’re planning on throwing out, and other miscellaneous junk.
Cleaning this area was a multiple day ordeal. And let me remind you: I was manic as fuck during all of this. Which meant I was waking up early and spending a good 7-9 hours a day on constant cleaning (I wasn’t doing the best job eating during all this; I’m doing better now). I realized that I didn’t feel good in this room and hadn’t in a really long time. What a sad way to feel about your bedroom, the space dedicated to your daily restorative time. I became rapidly and overwhelmingly obsessed with making this room more peaceful, more open, more comfortable to just be in.
The cleaning portion actually didn’t take terribly long. I learned that we own approximately eight thousand scarves. Hyperbole aside, we have way more scarves than two women can possibly wear like, ever. I added some to our large donate pile and made permanent homes for the rest. I even made some work overtime as decoration.
Even though our apartment is of the cookie-cutter variety there are still some very charming little details. One of my favorite is our bedroom closet; it’s wall length with two sets of bi-fold doors separated by a column of wall (most of our [excessive] storage is hidden away by that wall) with three large cubbyholes at the end. The wall behind is white stone brick that actually looks very nice and kinda rustic. It’s the same type of wall that our balcony has. Unfortunately our closet was so messy and full of shit that you could barely see it. Storage piled up, clothes askew, tons of junk piled up on the top shelf, and our cubbyholes (which we use in lieu of a chest of drawers) were always huge messes.
Here’s how I dealt with this shit: I tore out all the clothes and then just reorganized from the bottom up. Everything that should be hung (dresses, dress shirts, cardigans & jackets) on a hanger; cardigans & jackets moved to the living room closet; deciding which clothes go to the donate pile, wash pile, and wear pile. We have three laundry baskets for some reason but it worked out in my favor. Even when we would organize our cubbyholes within days they’d be messy again just from us searching for what we want to wear. I put our winter/fall and less worn clothes in the baskets, pushed them to the backs of the cubbyholes, and then put summer/spring and more worn clothes in neat piles in the front. This system keeps everything in order and the clothes can be easily switched when the seasons change.
Another aspect of making this bedroom a better space was, once again, art. There was almost no art on these walls, save for some shoddily taped up prints above our drawing desk. Well, fuck that. During a late night, stoned binge reading of Apartment Therapy (which I am addicted to even tho only like maybe 60% of the content is good or useful) I found this post about using washi tape as faux frames. If it hadn’t been three am I would have started on this project right away, it lit such a fire in my mania-and-pot addled brain.
I devoted most of the next day to it. I have tons of little washi tapes from back when I pretended I was going to get super into having a paper planner (wishful thinking, I do much better with a calendar app; not everything has to be about the aesthetic). This is probably one of the most transformative things I did to this entire apartment. About a year ago, Carta and Emily gifted us these sort of corny but very soft and sweet prints by Sara Moon (who I was dismayed to find out is actually a dude) that I immediately fell in love with. I’m not hugely invested in preserving these behind glass and also feel that if you’re going to have unframed art the bedroom is the best place for it because it’s a more private, casual area.
These washi tape frames are one of the easiest DIYs I’ve ever done but it was kind of time-consuming, especially if your manic brain insists on it being as perfect as possible. I wanted to break up the flow a little bit so I went with a different tactic for the prints right above our headboard. A friend gave me a beautiful wire-wrapped Petoskey stone but I never got a chain for it. So, put it on some pretty yarn and hung it between the two prints to create a sense of some framing. I’m still not over how good it feels to be in this room now; especially when the blinds are open and the light is pouring in.
I’ve always been annoyed with the bare stretch of wall between the bedroom’s two closet doors. But the table beneath it was always such a huge and intimidating mess I knew I had to tackle that first. With that table now clean and tidy, I knew exactly what I wanted to do to this wall: snapback storage. I’ve got a small but cute collection of snapbacks and have wanted to do this ever since I saw my friend Cupcake, one of the coolest people in Chicago (book them to host your club night or write about music!), tweet about storing their hats this way. Now this wall is one of my favorite in the whole apartment.
After I was satisfied with the bedroom I focused my obsessive and never-ending energy on our non-existent entryway. I’ve read several dozen Apartment Therapy articles on the importance of an entryway & how to make a nice entryway when you don’t really have the space. We already had a good start with the (overflowing) basket on the side table; I cleaned that out and designated it as JUST for keys and mail (with the rule that we recycle unwanted mail asap). And it didn’t look terrible because of the pin board, my magnum opus of using your own accessories as decoration.
But that fucking intercom. It’s so ugly, it looks so old (way older-looking than I think this building actually is???), it’s so awkwardly placed on this stupid awkwardly thin wall. I just hate it. The only frame I really had that would fit there was one of those family collage types with all the different sized squares. What could I possibly fit in there? Then I remembered that over the years buying comics and going to SPX last year, we have a large collection of business cards and post cards that are great little pieces of art. I cut them to size and voila, something lovely to distract from that ass intercom.
I plan on putting a hook below the intercom for our purses (I’m trying very hard to move us away from setting our shit on the floor when we get home) but in the meantime the new rule is purses on the doorknob. The last little bit of my mania was dedicated to cleaning the living room closet, rearranging art in the living room, and trying to make our furniture look less bad. Our living room is full of beautiful art; prints by Alex Kittle, Kris Mukai, original art by Mickey Z. But the arrangement had been pretty stale for awhile so I switched it up. I wanted the more monochrome art to be on the wall behind where we sit and the more colorful prints in the area with more light. I also put our Keiler Roberts print right next to the bathroom so it can be easily read by any guests. One of the last things I did to spruce up this living room was cover our very broken and not-so-comfortable-anymore chaise with a pretty sheet and some pillows. It’s not perfect but I’m not in a financial position to buy new furniture or a fancy slipcover.
And that’s something really important that I’ve taken away from this bout of mania-induced cleaning. Just because I’m not in the financial position to get new furniture or area rugs or plants (all things I want for the future) doesn’t mean I can’t start making my home more beautiful and livable with what I currently have. It’s really easy to fall into the trap of thinking well, I’m poor and mentally ill so I just have to live in filth or be surrounded by ugliness. Getting to this point has taken years of slowly collecting and buying beautiful things when we could, being gifted beautiful or useful things by friends, and again, a very useful bout of manic energy. I don’t know if any of this would have happened had we not put that specific Bulma print up right at the time I was becoming manic. And mania isn’t always helpful. This is the first time for me that it’s been helpful at all; it usually gives me very unfocused energy that only results in me being very anxious and very awake for a long time. But in this instance I lucked out.
I’m starting to come down from my mania; I’m working slower than I was before. I still have things I need/want to do: cleaning the vents, deep cleaning the kitchen (which I’ve barely touched outside of surface cleaning and scrubbing the grease off the stove fan), deep cleaning the bathroom (which I added some art to and organized a bit but the tub badly needs to be scrubbed). And I have long-term goals too: area rugs, organizing and downsizing storage, rearranging the furniture. And that’s kinda nice. I feel like I have something to look forward to, something to work towards. And this year so far, it’s been very difficult to find anything like that.
Even though this manic period was definitely intense and not necessarily the healthiest my brain has ever been I feel like I’ve been able to begin instilling better habits that have eluded me my entire life. Shit like “clean as you go” and “throw trash away immediately” and “don’t leave your shit on the floor.” It’s a fuckin’ shame spiral; it feels like so much of this comes so easily for other people. What’s so wrong with me that I struggle to keep up basic cleanliness and hygiene? Why can’t I just make my bed every day? Why do I feel this bone-deep fatigue that makes the idea of standing and brushing my teeth, let alone cleaning the fucking bathroom, bring me close to tears?
I’m sick. It sucks. You might be sick too, physically or mentally or both. It’s hard as fuck. One of the most important things I had to realize was that while it’s not necessarily that much easier to be mentally well in a clean space, it’s very, very easy to feel mentally unwell in an unclean space. I’ve lived in unclean (and not just physically unclean; psychically unclean) spaces for such a long time and thought that I could never get out of them, not without something huge and life-shifting happening. And yeah, it took some serious mania to get me started. And maybe it’ll go back to being bad again someday. I wouldn’t be surprised; mental illness works in cycles, after all. But at the very least I’ve managed to give myself a fresh(er) start.
Stand in the middle of a room and really look around, especially at the corners. Where are the invisible messes in these rooms: messy areas that are kind of hidden or just have been messy for so long you don’t even really see it anymore. Attack these corners with everything you have because I promise you they are pulling down the overall good vibe of a room. Just because you’re not actively thinking about a mess doesn’t mean it’s not weighing down on you psychically.
If you don’t love something let it the fuck go. This tip is a cliche at this point but it’s really important and took me so many years to actually internalize. Fuck that shirt you haven’t worn in over a year; donate or sell it to someone who will wear it or cut it up into cleaning rags. A stack of cards from family members aren’t actual memories; recycle them or actually start that scrap book. Tchotchkes are great but too many can make your space feel cramped and mismatched (especially if you’re low on shelf space); donate it or give it to loved ones. I get it; it’s hard to let go of things that you’ve had forever or that you once loved. And it’s also really hard to figure out if you actually love something or just really hate the idea of letting it go. Figure it out and you’ll be happier for it.
Find permanent homes for small things. I mentioned having an excess of scarves and it was a struggle to find a permanent place for all of them. Even harder was finding permanent spots for tinier things: bobby pins, earring backings, paper clips, small incidentals that you kinda just have laying around. The aforementioned Altoids can is great for containing this kinda shit permanently. Small boxes, unused makeup bags, small bowls, all of these can become homes for tiny stuff. I can’t believe how much space is freed up in my brain just by me being able to know where all of my shit is at all times.
In small spaces, work up. Hang your shit up. Not just art; hats, long necklaces/earrings, scarves, bags. You have good fashion and you can use it to decorate your house. See: my pin board, the hanging spring scarves, the snapback wall. I can’t wait to get more hooks so I can hang more shit.
Don’t be afraid to repurpose shit. The “rug” on my balcony is just a tattered old towel. But it brings a sense of brightness and texture to the dark wood planks and it gives me an idea of what style of actual rug I might want when I have some extra money. If you have old blankets laying around being unused, toss them on the back of your couch or chair. We put an old kinda corny-looking place mat under our cat’s food dishes to make it look nicer and easier to clean. You probably have a bunch of shit laying around not being used for its intended purpose; see what else you can do with it.
If you’re marathoning, take breaks. A lot of cleaning blogs and websites advise against marathon cleaning: you burn out fast and then have no energy for the every day cleaning that helps maintain your hard work (never forget: housework is work that undoes itself). But let’s be fucking real. A lot of people, especially those with mental illness, let things get messy and then clean in one big go. If you do this (or get manic like I did) please try to take breaks. Even though I was spending 7-9 hours a day on cleaning I did take frequent breaks throughout the day. Try to eat or at least snack and no matter what DRINK WATER.
Don’t let your pet’s shit take over your house. I would do a lot for my cat. Hell, we’ve spent about $13,000 that we don’t have just to try to keep him healthy. But one thing you shouldn’t do is let your pet’s crap take over. I feel like with cats especially this can be a problem cause they love trash: papers, bags, boxes (straws?? our cat fucking loves straws). It’s their favorite thing! Cole had a massive amount of trash that we’d just left out for him. I’m not entirely heartless; I put the paper in a place where if he wants it he can have it. But it’s not just laying out looking gross.
That’s all I got. If you follow my twitter thanks for sticking around during my manic cleaning spree and thanks for getting to the end of this way-too-long post.