Everyone knows what to do around here when Mom's temperature is rising. Scatter and find something to pick up and put away. Or better yet, disappear into your room, collect all the dirty clothes from your floor, and straighten your already made bed, this time, attacking the wrinkles. They know me well. I do like a clean house. I admit it. I've always been like this. I was probably only a little older than Camille when it became my habit to carry a laundry basket around the house, collecting misplaced items and then returning them either to their rightful owner or home. And I still remember the day my mom hosted a Longaberger basket party, and the hostess had come early, organizing our home with her beautiful baskets. Pure serenity.
Source (I'm afraid this is starting to sound pathological.)
But trust me when I say that I have also learned to let things go. Five kids has that kind of curious way of forcing a mom to get realistic.
My one friend wills herself to power through twenty minutes of pick-up before bedtime. This I do not do. When it's bedtime, there's no willing myself to do much of anything besides put on my pajamas. Every night, everything is not magically re-ordered in my home for a new day.
But I've found a relative sanity in keeping things relatively ordered. My goals are changing: it's less about having the Pottery Barn catalog spread when you walk through my front door (although, mmmm, that does sound delicious). It's mostly about keeping ourselves organized enough so that nothing goes overdue (at least for very long), mornings don't get ugly and mean, and mom keeps (relatively) calm.
Here are five simple tricks:
1. Recognize your five minute jobs. I think one thing that becomes overwhelming about keeping a house is feeling like you never have enough time to give anything a thorough cleaning or organizing. But I bet throughout your day, you have five minutes here, five minutes there. Here's what I can get done in a quick, focused five minutes:
Clean my toilets
Wipe my mirrors
Dust a room
Vacuum the kitchen
Straighten the coats/shoes at the front door
Straighten my desk (depending on its state of disaster)
Clean my kitchen/bathroom sink
Collect all the toys from the family room (I still use the laundry basket trick. Only I make my kids do the putting-away.)
Pre-spot a load of laundry.
Do one part of dinner prep.
So you get the idea. Lots of things you can do in five minutes. Don't wait until you've got the half-hour block you think you need. Set your timer for five minutes, and with a bit of FOCUS, you'll be amazed at what gets done.
2. Identify your hot-spots. A hot-spot is the ONE thing that when it's clean and organized, gives you incredible peace, but when it's been neglected, you want to strangle someone. For everyone, this is different. And it probably matters whether you're a "clean" person or a "tidy" person. My hotspots are my kitchen sink, my dining room table, my kitchen counters, and my bed. If my table and kitchen counters are cleared and wiped, if my sink is empty, and if my bed is made, the day is off to a great start. I work on these areas first because they are going to generate a HUGE return when it comes to feeling sane. What are your hot-spots? Give these your focus first.
3. Involve your children. They are so capable, aren't they? Much more than we give them credit for. A great book recommendation if you're not sure where to start with assigning chores is called, Life Skills for Kids: Equipping Your Child for the Real World, by Christine Field. It's helpful in identifying ways that children even as young as 3 and 4 can begin to assume responsibilities around the house.
4. Schedule in some maintenance. Remember my confessions that I easily overextend myself? My weeks go so much more smoothly when I schedule time for maintenance. (This week, I'm suffering BIG from over-planning and erasing all my maintenance blocks.) What I mean it this: I'm a BIG job kind of person. If I have two hours in the afternoon while the twins are sleeping, I'll work two hours on my writing project. But when they wake up and we're running off to school to get the big kids, I'll regret not having spent 15 minutes to reorganize my desk, plan an afternoon snack, and put away the dishes I'd washed for lunch. A little bit of maintenance along the way can do so much. I also like to plan some maintenance for the weekend: maintenance tasks are jobs like inventoring the pantry, cleaning out leftovers from the fridge, sorting school papers, organizing library books. It's getting these jobs done that help everything run a bit more smoothly, but they are jobs easily ignored because they're a bit more detail-oriented. Maintenance blocks might work best in 15-30 minutes increments, and they keep an eye on the calendar, anticipating what's coming up next.
5. Run the dishwasher every night, and go to bed with an empty sink. This is the whole philosophy of the Fly Lady. If you're someone for whom this kind of house cleaning/organization doesn't come naturally, she's a great resource. She talks about shining your sink every night, and the idea is, that if you wake up to a shiny sink, you're going to already feel a bit more ready for the day than if you woke up to a pile of dirty dishes. I don't literally shine my sink every night, but it is always empty and the dishwasher is always run. And my breakfast helper (Nathan) never has to be told what his responsibility is in the morning. He knows that he's got dishes to put away every morning.
Here's to (relative) sanity and a (relatively) clean house!