You’ve spent the whole day at work, or you’ve been home taking care of the kids, or you’ve managed to squeeze out some time for yourself after taking care of everyone else. Now, exhausted, you sink into a chair after a good day’s work and look around.
Tell the truth. How bad is it? Do you have piles of unfolded laundry flowing onto the floor? How’s the trash situation? Is every flat surface you have in your house fully covered? How long has it been since the dishes have been done? Let’s not even talk about the bathroom.
Don’t despair. First, it’s important to recognize that our culture gives us mixed signals about housework. On the one hand, we feel guilty about a dirty house while on the other, housework belongs to a category of work which is beneath us – unless we’re paid to do it. We have a distorted view of physical work in this country and I for one, am tired of being pushed around about it. I want some level of cleanliness in my home.
So, the second thing to do is to decide what level of cleanliness you can realistically do. You need to consider your work hours, your commitments to family and friends, your health, and your budget.
If you are working full time or you have a chronic health condition, you might consider someone coming in once a week or longer to get to the things you cannot get to. If neither of these are possible because of your budget, you can still manage to keep some order by attending to a limited number of tasks each day.
And to help you get started, I highly recommend the following book:
How to Manage Your Home Without Losing Your Mind by Dana K. White
(Please note that I get a commission if you use that link)
I really liked this book because it was close to my own approach to housework: I hate everything about it, but I also like the results of a tidy home. Also, I learned something new that helped me with some tasks that I was still struggling with and how to fix what I was doing wrong.
The first revelation was that we tend to think of house cleaning as a project and not as daily tasks that must be done. I believe this is because that is how we approach our work lives. I have worked at jobs that are task oriented and others that were project oriented. So, I can see that I put housework in the project category. When it was done, my mind checked if off. Sure, we have daily things to do at work, too, but we are paid to do them, so we put a value on those things. Anything “extra” that we do at work we think of as projects. And certainly, in our minds, anything we don’t get paid for tends to fall into this “extra” category.
To get over that mindset, we need to make a list – a list small enough that we can keep it in our heads. Now, I make lists every day. I have lists for my lists, but the value of having a list of daily household tasks is that it becomes second nature as I’m moving through the house. I don’t have to keep checking my lists while I’m doing the “daily tasks.” And I check them off as one thing – which makes it more settled in my mind that they must be done every day.
A second difficulty I had was recognizing the bottleneck in my daily work. Ms. White and I have the same bottleneck – the dishes. Whenever I made a list of chores to do, I did them last. It’s not that I don’t like doing the dishes (as long as it’s not every dish in the house), but that when they are done, my mind thinks the daily tasks are over and I don’t want to tackle anything else. But, doing it that way also sabotages other things I want to get done. I can’t mop if the sink is full of dishes. I can’t clean rags from dusting is full of dishes. I can’t make dinner if the sink is full of dishes and so on. It was self-sabotaging to put that task last. It should be first – or near the top. So, I found this liberating idea immensely helpful in keeping on schedule and finishing the day’s work.
And there plenty of other ideas in Ms. White’s book that reinforced what I already knew and gave me confidence that I wasn’t doing it all wrong.
Some other highlights from this book include:
- Use timers to prove to yourself the tasks are not endless.
- Choose 5 tasks to remember. Then build on the success of the original five.
- Creating new habits over time. The author provides a calendar to help you through the process of building your cleaning skills.
I do have two caveats to add to Ms. White’s wonderful little book:
- Impossible Days
There are days where a mess can’t be avoided. Say you had a great day with the kids and the house shows it, but there’s no time left to clean up. Or, say there’s an illness running through the house that leaves no time for normal activities. It could be anything that stops the cleaning process cold. On those days I try to clear the dinner table and have a meal prepared (or takeout delivered) when everyone is all together.
If that’s not possible, try to have a table cleared and food ready to heat up when each member of your household arrives home. The evening will go a lot smoother and everyone will be under less stressed about the mess. Always remember – nothing is permanent. There’s always tomorrow to get it all cleared away. Another advantage of having a daily cleaning list is that it gives you confidence that you can return the house to some level of normalcy in a very short time.
2. Deep Cleaning
If your house is so disorganized that you can’t think straight, this is not the time to worry about deep cleaning. Get the daily chores under control first. I will write more about the deep cleaning problem in part 4 of this series.
So, remember this: You’re not alone in feeling stressed about your home. Whether everyone works in your home or someone (male or female) is at home, a plan can be worked out so that your house is a home where its members want to return to and guests don’t cause panic, but are welcome at any time.
Until next time. 😊